Yesterday I was listening to a talk show on Spin 1038 about an Instagram account called Bloggersunveiled. The account was set up to call out bloggers for untoward practices and to help provide more transparency in the Influencer Industry. The talk show host, Lauren, had a number of callers giving their take on the account, and when the account wanted to defend itself, the person behind it would have to message Lauren their response via Instagram, which would then be read out on air. The person at the helm of the account could not go on air for fear of being identified.
When I first heard about Bloggersunveiled, I liked the idea. I really liked the idea. Those of you who follow me will know that I am a particularly honest person when it comes to social media and that I am the first person to call out bloggers (or anyone) when needs be. I always do this from a social media account which identifies me. The page, in my mind, was doing stellar work. It called me out at one point for snapping the village of Skerries while I was driving through it. It was 100% right to call me out. Snapping at the wheel, even if it’s only at 5mph, is completely wrong.
While I did think this page was doing a good job, the one thing that never sat well with me was the fact that the person or people running the page were anonymous. The person or people behind the page were not willing to identify themselves. Why was this? If you are doing something which appears to be ‘the right thing’, why feel the need to hide? This is one element of the page which I have never respected.
When you are not showing your face online, you are free to say pretty much anything. The majority of hate I get on Twitter is from fake troll accounts. After all, trolls can say whatever they want when they have the luxury of being able to hide behind the face of a cat.
The anonymous element of Bloggersunveiled has always been a concern for me. We don’t know if it’s one person running the page. We don’t know if it’s five people running the page. We don’t know if it’s a failed blogger, motivated purely by envy. We don’t know if it’s a competitor of the subjects it has called out. If the page is operated by four people, for example, perhaps only three of them possess a moral compass. When Paul Stenson calls out a blogger looking for a free 5-night stay in his hotel, he does it as himself. He is willing to take the stick for it. The fact that he puts his name to what he does means he cannot cross a particular line that people who hide beneath a cloak of anonymity are free to cross, should they so wish.
For a long time, I have feared the day when Bloggersunveiled would cross the line. I knew it was always a distinct possibility. Why wouldn’t it be? When you’re anonymous, there is no line.
I am not the first to say that the page has gone from one that’s ‘doing its civic duty’ to one that has descended into a toxic playground of hate and vitriol. It seems to be a platform where women tear each other apart on a daily basis over apparently petty and seemingly innocuous issues.
I can understand the need to ‘call out’ influencers over questionable practices, and that’s fine, but what the page seems to be doing now is picking on the same person, again, and again, and again. It has gone from calling out a blogger for doing something wrong to incessantly picking on them. This isn’t defined as ‘doing a civic duty’. This is defined as ‘bullying’.
I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am not an advocate of influencer marketing. I think it’s flawed. Indeed, I have called it the ‘biggest embarrassment of modern day society’, but I would never dream of picking on anyone over and over again, particularly if I were protected by a shield of anonymity. We know that bullies are cowards, but at least the schoolyard bully was willing to identify themselves.
I was bullied at school. I despise bullies. I don’t mind what Bloggersunveiled say about The White Moose, they are free to criticise me as much as they like (and indeed they have undoubtedly increased our following), but I do take exception when I see anyone picking on people unnecessarily, especially when we don’t know what the motivations of the ringleader are.
At the end of the day, the people they pick on are only human. They are as prone to bouts of depression as the rest of us. Their mental health is as fragile as our own. They fuck up as we all do. Calling them out is fine, but endless bullying and shaming is not cool.
The Most Popular Religion in Ireland
We know that we have a huge number of Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, but I am firmly of the belief that the most popular religion we have on our land is one called ‘Begrudgery’.
We Irish hate to see our fellow people do well. In America, if people do well, their compatriots pat them on the back. They’ll congratulate them. Here if people do well, we look for a reason to pull them back down. I am pretty sure the saying ‘green with envy’ is not a pure coincidence and that it exists as a means of paying homage to us Irish.
Bloggersunveiled now has 148k followers. This is massive, but is it any wonder? In my opinion, the popularity of Bloggersunveiled is testament to our propensity to begrudge those who become successful.
In the past, I have said that the majority of Bloggersunveiled followers are unemployed women. This may be an unfair statement. I have no doubt that the majority of their followers are female, but it may not be just unemployed women. I am sure there are stay at home moms following the page too. Whatever the demographics of the followers, one thing’s for sure, they have an awful lot of time on their hands and they thrive on bringing people down.
The normal course of events is that Bloggersunveiled post something and then their followers comment on the post, tagging their friends in a kind of ‘have you seen this/look at her’ way, which allows them to then ‘gang up’ in packs on whatever subject BU has chosen to target. The subject, who (unlike BU) is identified, is then the target of hate and vitriol on their individual platforms. This involves horrible comments, including death threats, hitting their inbox.
I will not mention any names during this post, but I am aware that some of the people at the receiving end of BU hate campaigns have suffered from mental breakdowns as a result. This is not right. I am also aware that on the other hand, BU has received death threats. This is also unacceptable. However, there is a difference between getting a death threat when you are a well-known personality and getting a death threat when nobody knows who you are. It would be fairly difficult to kill someone you cannot identify.
I am led to believe that much of the content posted by BU is one-sided and oftentimes false. I have heard this from various sources. For example, one particular influencer was selling a swimsuit and uploaded an image of the bathing suit with the caption ‘never worn’. BU found a picture of this influencer wearing what appeared to be the same swimsuit and uploaded this image beside the ‘never worn’ photo. What BU failed to acknowledge was the fact that the influencer in question owned two of these swimsuits, and that one of them was, in fact, never worn (the one for sale). When advised about the existence of two suits, BU ignored this fact. They didn’t feel the need to tell their followers about the second suit and the original post still remains.
Similarly, one another occasion, BU made a false claim that I had asked my followers to negatively review a certain bar in Dublin. This is also false. I did go on a bit of a rant about how Jason and Nicky were treated by the security of this bar, but I never once asked our followers to give the establishment one-star reviews as BU claim. Despite my asking BU to prove where I asked followers to leave these reviews, they have not been able to provide this proof and the original post still remains on their page.
An anonymous Instagram account that facilitates hate towards a particular person is bad enough, but when the hate campaign is based on information that is dishonest and one-sided, this makes it so much worse.
While listening to Spin 1038 yesterday, it was glaringly obvious that all of the calls coming in were against BU. Not one of the calls that came in were in support of the page. This did not surprise me. It backs up the point I make time and time again. People are spineless. They will write stuff online that they are not willing to say to you in real life, whether it’s in person or over the phone. Surely if people believed that BU was a force for good they’d be able to defend its practices over the phone on a talk show? If BU is necessary, why not speak publicly about how great it is?
Is it perhaps because they realise that what BU do is morally questionable? Do they realise that it’s nothing more than a bullying page? Do they feel guilty about supporting a bullying campaign? When the ringleader is too cowardly to identify themselves, is it any wonder that this doesn’t instil much courage in its supporters to speak up publicly?
The only messages of support that came in for the page where via text message. The same medium its supporters use to spew hate about its targets. The easy way. The spineless way.
The Comments Section
I find it interesting that the comments section on all the Bloggerunveiled posts were disabled around the time of the Spin 1038 interview. This was not a simple coincidence, this was done on purpose.
The majority of the hate and bullying originates in the comments. The comments section is a playground for bitching. The person behind the page claims to moderate these comments, and this may indeed be true. However, even if they do moderate, the moderation will probably be as one-sided as the original post. They also have a tendency to ‘tee up’ the post using language that is conducive to bullying. For example, on one of their posts which targeted me, they included the hashtag #neededmorehugsasachild. This kind of language doesn’t bother me. I have been called much worse. I see horrible comments as ‘par for the course’. My point is that when the supposed ‘moderator’ is cooking up a post with hashtags like the above, how can we expect the comments section to be in any way rational or balanced?
Moderating commentary is good, but when (a) the moderator needs moderation, and (b) we don’t even know who the moderator is, Houston, we have a problem.
Can The Page Work?
Yes. The page can work if it does what it says it strives to achieve – transparency. If the person at the helm had identified themselves, from the outset, there is a chance it could have worked. If we could see the person posting, then perhaps we could tell if the picture they shared showing a model’s photo-shopped image alongside an unaltered image of the same model was motivated by jealousy or by a real desire to call people out. Maybe it is the latter, but how do we know? As it stands, the admin behind BU is nothing more than a cartoon. Until they identify themselves, we will never know if they’re nothing more than a bitter, jealous bitch, and the post showing the model (which has since been deleted) will forever be regarded (by many) as incredibly mean.
Women can be bitchy. A woman who is unhappy with their own weight will be only delighted to drag down the girl with the ‘perfect body’. If we knew who the admin was and saw that she herself had the perfect body, then we’d know they were doing their civic duty and not simply ‘out to get someone’ they begrudged.
My worry is that we’ve gone past the point of no return and that it is too late for the admin of BU to identify themselves. I genuinely worry about the person behind Bloggersunveiled. He or she has built up a following of supporters but also haters. When the person at the helm is identified, and they will be, I worry about the outcome. I feel their fall from grace will be somewhat dramatic. I worry about the mental health of the person or people behind BU.
Can We All Just Get Along?
I was sitting in the lounge of Charleville Lodge yesterday evening having had my one-hour Reiki session and my healer was talking about how the Planet Jupiter was in retrograde. I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about, but it made me think about the universe. It made me think about the human race. It made me think about how our time on this planet is limited. How each of us is nothing more than a speck of dust in the overall context of time and space. We mean nothing. We are nothing.
We can spend our lives worrying about silly shit such as BU, or we can get up off our arses and make a difference. We can make a positive impact on this world. There are plenty of ways for us to make an indelible mark on this planet, but I’m pretty sure writing vicious comments on BU is not a way to do this. Get your priorities right, people.
Bloggersunveiled may ignore this blog post, they may also offer some form of rebuttal. All I’ll say is that if they do respond, and it’s under the veil of Bloggersunveiled, it has no credibility. Identify yourself, stop harassing women incessantly, and then maybe, just maybe, you will have my respect. Until then you will be nothing more and nothing less than an anonymous bully in a toxic playground of hate.
It was the morning of Tuesday 16th January 2018. I was checking up on emails in bed. Most of them were the usual boring shite one would expect to see in the email account of a hotel manager, but one email, in particular, stood out to me. Not because it was addressed to me, but because of its content.
The email started with the words ‘hi there’. When you read an email entitled ‘hi there’, you immediately feel a little neglected. You immediately feel that this person doesn’t care much for you. You feel that this person may not even know your name. It would appear that the sender has simply included you in a copy and paste email to many different recipients, not making you feel in any way ‘special’ at all. Suffice to say that the email didn’t get off to the best start.
The email writer then proceeded to brag about how great she was, how popular she was. If her lack of care about who she was writing to wasn’t enough, the ‘me, me, me’ style of writing that ensued suggested that not only was the addressee of the email non-existent, but there was a particularly strong chance that no other human being on planet earth existed, other than the emailer.
Most normal people would now exit the email function on their phone, get up and have a shower, or maybe put on a Nespresso to brew, but not me. I was amused. Greatly amused. I didn’t think it possible that somebody as self-centred as the emailer walked the face of the earth. How wrong was I.
I kept reading. The writer then went on to advise that she was coming to Dublin for 4 nights just before Valentine’s Day. Why wouldn’t she? Dublin is a beautiful city. She continued to say that she noticed our hotel and thought it was “stunning”. When I read this word, I immediately smelt bullshit. We run a 3-star budget lodge. People have called it “nice” and “grand” and maybe even “good value”. On the odd occasion, people even refer to it as a “shithole”, but never in the 24 years that we have owned this building have I ever once heard it described as “stunning”. I am not ashamed to say this. It’s fact.
At this point, I thought the email couldn’t get any worse. I mean, how could it? The writer then advised that she’d like to feature us in her videos. Again, this was of no real consequence to me, seeing as ‘we’ were no more and no less than any of the many other Dublin hotels she had spammed. She didn’t want to feature ‘us’ at all, she wanted to feature whatever hotel (if any) was gullible enough to believe that a ‘hi there’ email was actually addressed to them. It was, however, the next few words which made my blood boil.
She would do these videos in return for ‘free accommodation’. When I read these two words, a whirlwind of emotions ran through my mind and a cacophony of expletives emanated from my oral cavity.
A girl who has the gall to send a non-personalised email to a hotel she has done no research on is now looking for a free stay from said accommodation provider. I momentarily put myself in her shoes to see if I could come to some form of rational conclusion in my mind as to what she had done. However, I couldn’t find one. In fact, I couldn’t even begin to understand how any decent human being could be able to do something as shameful and cringe-worthy (in equal measure) as she had just done. Has this girl got no self-respect? Has she no shame? Where the fuck is her dignity?
When I took my shower that morning, I wasn’t singing my usual rendition of ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush in my best falsetto voice, it was much more along the lines of ‘Let’s Face The Music And Dance’ by Nat King Cole.
I was hemming and hawing as to whether I would write a public response to this girl on the Facebook page, and after an internal debate in my head which lasted at least a full nanosecond, I arrived at the words ‘yes I will’.
Before I shared her email, I needed to make sure none of her information was showing. I screenshotted the email and then cropped it to omit the sender’s details. I then edited the screenshot by scribbling out the personal details, using my fingers as a pen. I had to go over each word twice or three times to ensure full opacity. Once I was happy that I could not make out any of her personal data on the phone, I saved the edited changes and then began to write my reply.
Please note the following (and for the purpose of emphasis, I am both emboldening and capitalising the words):
AT THE TIME OF POSTING MY REPLY, I HAD NO IDEA THAT ANY DETAILS IN THE IMAGE COULD BE REVEALED IF THE IMAGE WAS DOCTORED IN ANY WAY.
In case you aren’t one of the 450 million people who’ve already read my reply, here it is:
Unsurprisingly, there was a huge and immediate reaction to this post. I knew there’d be. I know that the vast majority of people on this planet work very hard for a living and would take issue with a self-entitled, self-proclaimed social media influencer with delusions of grandeur looking to blag a free room for 4 nights. I knew that people would be outraged, on so many levels.
We have a chronic homeless crisis in this country at the moment. There are people living on the streets every single night of the week who would give their right arm to have shelter for one night, never mind a ‘stunning’ hotel for four. This was going to be massive. The internet was on fire. All because of my public reply.
At this point, I think it’s important to note one thing. AT NO POINT THROUGHOUT THIS WHOLE DEBACLE HAVE I EVER MENTIONED THE NAME OF THIS PARTICULAR SOCIAL INFLUENCER. Not on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, PornHub, Grindr or anywhere else. I have never mentioned her name to my family, my friends, my dogs, the cat across the road who torments my dogs, my therapist, my alcohol anonymous colleagues, NOBODY. Indeed, I have made a point of not mentioning her once. For the purpose of this bog post, I will be referring to this girl as SMI (Social Media Influencer).
I was in my car with Jason and our three children (Renko, Rocky and Disney) driving up to boarding kennels before we headed off to Amsterdam the next day for our 3-year anniversary, and my phone started to rattle furiously. People were sharing a video with me that SMI had just posted to her YouTube page. Jason started watching the video, and after about three minutes I told him to switch it off. Not because of what she was saying, but because of the number of fucking edits in the video. During the first 3 minutes we watched, there must have been at least 120 jump edits.
Apart from the fact that I was more worried about the girls editing skills than I was her actual response, it was clear to me that this girl’s intention was to draw everyone’s attention to the story. Don’t forget, I hadn’t outed anyone so presumably the purpose of this edited-into-oblivion video was to out herself. In many ways, she was right to do this. At the end of the day, YouTube pays her money for the video views she gets. This was a controversial video full of amateur dramatics and tears. This was going to be a real money-maker.
I had no issue with SMI capitalising on the controversy. After all, she has to make money some way and this was a far more inventive way of getting views than putting on tight pants and shaking her bottom on camera (which apparently is what she usually does). My issue was with her supporters and fellow SMIs. They were now bombarding my business with false 1-star reviews in their droves. A lot of these people were ‘influencers’ themselves. When you are a self-proclaimed influencer and you leave a fake review of a business, isn’t it reasonable to assume that those over whom you exert your influence will be influenced to do the same?
But it’s not just the leaving of fake-reviews by influencers that calls into question the integrity of influencer marketing. SMI’s original proposal already did that quite effectively. If I had caved in to SMI and granted her request by giving her the free room, would her review have been fair? Would it have been biased on the basis that she wasn’t paying anything? Where is the transparency there for either those she influences and/or Joe Public?
It’s All About Reach
Businesses right across the globe are constantly looking for innovative ways to get their brand out to the world. They pay digital marketing agencies huge fees to obtain a decent reach. A respectable reach is only possible if their content is truly unique and appealing, and this is something you don’t see very often.
In the past, I have used various different crises to make a name for ourselves. We’ve battled entitled vegans, people with make-believe diseases such as gluten intolerance, half of Brazil who got lost in translation, breastfeeding mums who didn’t get the joke and, on this occasion, the bloggers. The bloggers were an absolutely ideal portion of society to tackle. Why? Because of the size of their reach.
Each blogger, whether you agree with the content they put forward or not, has a reach. If you can manage to piss them off, they will display their annoyance to their following in the form of talking to them about your business. Whether what they say is positive or negative doesnt really matter. In 6 weeks time their followers won’t remember why we’re ‘such monsters’, all they’lI remember is our name. I am kicking myself for not thinking of bloggers up until now.
I have always said that the most ideal reaction to a social media post is where you get a 50/50 split i.e. 50% of people agreeing with you and 50% of people fucking hating you. This gets two armies of people fighting over you and all you have to do is sit back and watch while the cash register takings grow. Unfortunately for me, #bloggergate was more of a 90/10 split. However, this was not necessarily a bad thing. The very fact that the 90% was so impassioned in their fight against freeloaders, and because the 10% had an audience they could ‘influence’ to fight on their behalf, this had all the hallmarks of being one hell of a battle. This was a shit storm of unprecedented proportions. It was fucking awesome.
When things would seem to be too one-sided, I’d lob in a post to keep the fighting going. To ignite the flame. To enrage the fury. My first poke came in the form of an official apology for not thinking of bloggers up until now. This really upset them. It resulted in some really horrible commentary. In other words, it was a huge success.
The bloggers lost their shit, but not all of them. Just the useless ones. I like to divide bloggers into two very distinctive groups. The PIBs and the AIBs. The PIB is the ‘Professional Influencer Brigade’. These are people who have a huge following, they don’t go begging to brands, brands come to them, they have ‘real’ influence on people and, most importantly, they are good at what they do.
The AIBs or ‘Amateur Influencer Brigade’ have a smaller following, they usually become a blogger because they are incapable of doing anything else with their lives. They beg for free stuff because they either can’t afford it or are just too cheap to pay for it. They have little dignity. Little talent. Their self-respect is non-existent. Sometimes AIBs can become PIBs purely on the basis of being good-looking, but usually, it’s because they possess talent.
My fight with bloggers didn’t involve any PIBs, indeed most of the PIBs who did get involved did so purely on the basis of personal commentary. Two which come to mind are Keemstar and Philip DeFranco. The people fighting me were nearly all AIBs and any of the PIBs who did attempt to fight me will now find themselves veering towards the category of AIB, which is a shame for them. They have let themselves down (you know who I’m talking about – adventuregirl).
I don’t have an issue with PIBS, indeed, I have given PIBS free food in the past, the main reason being that they never asked for their food to be free.
The petulant, infantile outrage displayed by the AIBs got stronger and stronger. This brought the fight more and more towards the ideal 50/50 split, but unfortunately not quite. The people who didn’t agree with freeloaders still made up the majority. I had to find some way to enrage the bloggers more. How else could we do that other than to ban them from the café.
I uploaded the following post and it did have the desired effect. The bloggers were up in fucking arms.
Throughout the whole debacle, the one thing that amused me most was the fact that the bloggers didn’t think that people over 30 understood how social media works. Here I was, completely using them to help my business get worldwide publicity, for free, on social media, and I was the one who didn’t know what I was doing.
The bloggers were now really angry. The negative reviews were pouring in. We even broke TripAdvisor. People tried to hack into my Facebook page. It was all kicking off just nicely. However, the blogger ban didn’t just throw the bloggers into a state of frenzy, it (unfortunately) garnered support from pretty much the rest of the world. 50/50 was still in reach, but the high-end news outlets running stories on us weren’t really doing much to help.
Up until now some of the insignificant news outlets (like Lovin Dublin) had run pieces on us, but after the ban, the big knobs started to pick up on us. LadBible, George Takei, Daily Mail, Mashable, Imgur (the list goes on) were all running stories on us. Some PIBS started doing YouTube videos on us. While the 50/50 was still a good distance away, we were all over the fucking news, I mean EVERYWHERE.
News outlets all over the globe wanted an interview with me and all I wanted to do was get stoned. I was in Amsterdam at this stage and, when in Rome, as they say. I felt sorry for Jason. Although he was having a great time troll bashing on Twitter, we were supposed to be enjoying our 3-year anniversary in the Dam. So, we went out to an Amsterdamian café and got monged.
My favourite part by far of all the free news coverage was the fact that LadBible, who have 30 million followers, was calling our budget lodge a “luxury hotel”. This had a snowball effect. Other articles began referring to us as a ‘5-star hotel’. If that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is.
Jason and I were in Madame Tussaud’s in Dam Square when a Tweet entitled “We’ve crunched the numbers on #bloggergate. Take a look and see who has benefited most from the controversy” came in. My concentration on wax-constituted humans took a momentary pause while I checked out this Tweet from Clear Story.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The article indicated that our small little 35-seater café in Phibsborough had been featured in 53 news articles in 11 countries with a potential reach of 120 million people. Yes, you read that correctly, 120 FUCKING MILLION. It goes on to advise that if we were to have spent money to advertise our business in these publications, it would have cost us over €2,000,000. We had done this without being anywhere near 50/50. The lowest we got was, I’d say, 75/25. This was unprecedented.
The article continued to point out that SMI was featured in 114 articles across 20 countries with a potential reach of 450 million people which would cost €4,300,000. While I must admit this pissed me off a little bit, as I thought the contest would have been a lot fairer, I was actually happy for SMI. Any feeling sorry for her after watching the first 3 minutes of her tear-and-edit-filled video now disappeared pretty much instantly. Not only was this girl creaming it in terms of publicity, but she was fucking beating me.
I then figured that the reason she was featured in over twice the number of articles was that a lot of these articles would have been written by fellow bloggers who would have conveniently left out a small but significant piece of information – our name. Some of the bloggers may well have understood my game.
Tears of Bloggers
Any hope of achieving the 50/50 split was now further and further away. The publicity tornado had 80-90% of people in my favour. The review rating on the Facebook page had originally gone from 4.1 to 4.0 on account of the bloggers, but the people supporting me had brought it back up to 4.7. This was not going my way.
I had to do something to reignite the fury. So, I asked Ramesh our waiter to clean down the Gluten Free Breast Milk container so I could christen it with a name more appropriate to the current fiasco, and ultimately something that might bring us closer to the elusive 50/50. After some momentary vacillation, I decided that, by the power vested in me, the container would be named “Tears of Bloggers”.
Did I leave the vegan container in the shot on purpose, you ask? Most certainly. The fact that the bloggers were not really making any ground made me think that we might need the vegans to come in to help them. A joint vegan-blogger coalition, as it were. Did this help? Nah.
The story continued to spread like wildfire. Polls were created. An MTV poll indicated that people were still massively in favour of the Moose over the Freeloader. This didn’t mean that we weren’t still getting hate. The hate coming in from the blogging community and their followers was still very significant, but against the love and support we were receiving, it was a bit like Bray Head versus Mount Everest. It was by no means ideal.
Still dumbfounded as to how much publicity SMI had got, or more aptly, how much publicity I had got her, I decided to highlight this by way of an invoice. I needed to send out the message to anybody worried about her mental health that she was doing just fine, she was laughing all the way to the bank. Her video had nearly 1.5m views at this stage. She was killing it.
Anyone who had managed to actually sit through her 17-minute video (without stabbing blunt pencils in their eyeballs as a result of the number of edits) may have jumped to the conclusion that the girl was genuinely upset. They needed to be put right. Some of them may not have understood that the ad preceding her video (that they can skip after 5 seconds) was in place to earn her money. SMI was making ‘dolla’ off the back of her amateur dramatics.
The other purpose of the invoice was to keep the story going for as long as possible. I wasn’t happy that SMI had achieved a reach of 450 million people and I a paltry 120 million. As expected, news outlets picked up on the invoice story. Articles were again written all over the world and in many different languages. This was amusing. Highly amusing. Not only was the general public gullible enough to believe that the invoice was real, but supposedly upstanding and eminent authors from publications such as the Daily Mail fell for it too. This was outstanding. Just what I wanted.
I am going to frame the invoice and place it here in the hotel for everyone to see. It’s just too good to throw in the bin. There is undoubtedly a monetary value to this piece of paper.
The Press Conference
We have done many videos in the past with various different videographers, but by far the best guy we have worked with is Gerard Walsh. He is a god when it comes to making videos. He came to me with the idea of a press conference video on Saturday afternoon, and I fucking loved it. I always believe that the best way of getting your message across is by using humour.
This has always been my modus operandi, and it seems to work. I use humour to get an underlying message across to the audience i.e. our customers. The customers are therefore conditioned to behave in a certain way when they come to our hotel or café, all thanks to humour. For example, since the time I threatened to put Valium in the juice of screaming babies, the babies have stopped screaming. Since the time I threatened to shoot vegans dead if they came into the café, the vegan entitlement has dissipated. Since the time I demanded a doctor’s note for people requiring gluten-free food, people have copped the fuck on and started eating normal food like everyone else.
A number of months before #bloggergate, Gerard and I produced a video called ‘House Of Influencers’. This was a house of cards style piss take on how social media influencers carry on. In the video, the social media influencer tries to blag free accommodation in the exact same style SMI uses 2-3 months later. I didn’t realise I had psychic powers but that’s definitely a skill I’ll be adding to the CV.
The press conference video was an ideal opportunity to use humour to highlight the reality of the whole situation while giving people a chuckle (which is what I’m all about) at the same time.
SMI’s video was growing and growing. This surprised me no end. I couldn’t believe there were actually people on this planet who could stomach a video as heavily edited without projectile vomiting onto their computer screens. But aside from people’s ability to stomach the 345,734 jump edits, one thing was certain, the money she was making on this video was growing in direct proportion to the growth in views. She wouldn’t be buying bags in Primark anymore, Louis Vuitton was putting out the red carpet for her imminent arrival.
I couldn’t allow her to capitalise on this drama without doing so myself. So, I got #bloggergate t-shirts designed and started selling them online. Of course, the object of this exercise wasn’t solely to make money, it was to spark anger in the blogging community yet again. Guess what? It worked. But not only did it spark another wave of abuse, it created the impetus which led SMI to create yet another video.
When I heard she had released a new video, another volcano of emotions erupted. The main one of which was fear, fear that this video would be edited to shit again. This new video had a very different message. Its sole purpose was to milk the cyberbullying card so that nobody could ever use it again, whilst demonising the White Moose Café and labelling us as “big bullies” in the process.
The Cyber Bullying Card
I was bullied in school. I absolutely despise bullies. However, I do believe that it is morally wrong to use the cyberbullying card as a means of generating cash. It makes light of the very worrying phenomenon that is cyberbullying, and those who are genuinely bullied (who don’t have the luxury of being able to cash in on their horrifying experience).
The minute I heard that SMI was the target of unjustified and horrible comments, I took to Twitter and asked people to lay off her. This tweet was 2 days before her ‘cyber bullying’ video.
Some of the comments the girl (who I have never once named) is getting on her Insta are horrible. I don’t condone these comments and I think it’s time people laid off her. Insult me all you like, but leave the girl alone. She fucked up. She’s learnt her lesson. The end.
In her second video, SMI was very quick to tell the world that she received death threats and that people wished cancer upon her children. If this is true, I think it’s reprehensible. However, the cynic in me can’t stop thinking that the reason SMI broadcast this message so loudly was to generate views on her YouTube video. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, SMI is making money off this controversy. The more graphic she makes her videos, the more views it will get. The more she pulls at the heartstrings, the more people will feel sorry for her. This sympathy will ultimately translate into YouTube views and therefore CASH.
For the record, but not that it matters, Jason and I received death threats too, the most serious of which was last October. It was quite a stressful time for us. It involved the Gardaí (Irish Police) and there was a good 2 week period where Jason and I could go nowhere without looking over our shoulders every few minutes. The person who had made the threats was a known criminal (as opposed to a fake social media profile) and there was a bench warrant out for his arrest.
If we had played the victim in a YouTube video and informed the world that we were receiving genuine death threats, there is a fair chance the views on this video would have skyrocketed and we’d now be sitting on a nice paycheck, compliments of YouTube. Maybe we’re fools.
Despite my efforts to defend her, the media still reported that we were the bullies. They ignored the very significant fact that it was SMI herself who drew all this attention to herself and we were getting the blame. This was not the end of the world as the 50/50 split was becoming more of a reality, but I found it intriguing how it took falsehoods to achieve the ideal split.
Having made a point of defending SMI and telling people to leave her alone, there was a small part of me expecting that she would tell her followers to stop giving negative reviews and posting nasty comments on a café they had never visited before in her second video. Alas, I was wrong. I guess I shouldn’t have really expected this as it would go against the ‘me, me, me’ way of life to which this lovely lady was so accustomed. Again, I’m the bigger fool here.
SMI prides herself on being a businesswoman. She puts herself forward as being a confident person who knows exactly what she’s doing. It’s curious how all of a sudden this strong independent woman persona disappears when she is called out. One minute she is a grown-up woman, the next a little girl. I would have thought that people who live their lives in the public eye should understand the vagaries of those who inhabit public life. Humans are weird. I don’t particularly like people. I much prefer dogs. But as someone who has chosen to put myself out there for the world to consume, I understand that the shit can hit the fan. I understand that people will call me nasty names, I may even get death threats. But I refer to this as ‘par for the course’.
As the old saying goes “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. If you are not fully prepared for the harsh reality that people can be assholes, the internet is perhaps not the best place for you.
Putting things into perspective
As someone who has a significant following, I too have been offered freebies. I can’t think of one occasion where I haven’t accepted them. I have been brutally honest about how I feel about the products (much to the disappointment of the sender on occasion), but I will accept them all the same.
Whenever I stay in hotels, I will always ask for a special hotelier rate (which is the norm in the industry). Most of the time I’ll be given a preferential rate and/or a complimentary upgrade. But never, and I mean NEVER, would I EVER ask for anything for free. I just don’t have it in me.
On the evening of Thursday 25th January 2018, I received a Snapchat message which really hit home and put everything into perspective. The message was from a girl who had been recently made homeless through no fault of her own. She and her partner had checked into Charleville Lodge that evening. They paid for their room on arrival.
The girl’s message was one of thanks. She thanked Jason and I for making her laugh during dark times. Considering all that happened the week before, this struck a chord with me and brought everything home. Here is a couple who are in need of a home but want to pay for their hotel stay. It’s a bit like the situation a friend of ours is in. Her name is Niamh Flanagan. She’s living with a rare form of bone cancer called Osteosarcoma and whenever you ask her how she is, she says she “can’t complain’. She’s the brightest, bubbliest and loveliest girl we know and I am proud to say that she’s our friend.
Needless to say, we refunded the guest’s card. They had already paid for their room on arrival, but they received their money back the next day. If anybody deserved a free stay, they did.
POINTS TO NOTE
This whole fiasco indicates that there is no authenticity, honesty or transparency in influencer marketing.
I never intended to reveal her name, but as it so happens, the revealing of her name seems to have had a positive outcome financially on both parties involved.
The person or people who doctored the image I shared in order to reveal her name are responsible for outing her.
If you are a good blogger, the brands will come to you. Don’t go begging to them. Have some dignity. Play hard to get.
I must be psychic.
Using humour is a very effective method of getting an important underlying message across to customers.
SMI uses dramatics as a means of making money.
Using the cyber-bullying card as a means of ‘cashing in’ is not cool.
If you are big and bold enough to put yourself in the public eye, you are big and bold enough to take whatever nastiness comes your way on the chin.
Some people are more deserving of free accommodation than others.
P.S. The final tally on publicity gained is in. This puts the total for White Moose at €8.4m and €20.7m for she who shall not be named. You’re welcome, SMI.
See more stats, compliments of Clear Story, in this article
My fourth year placement wasn’t as liberal as my time in Switzerland. It was in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin so I was living at home with my folks. Weed was not an option so I had to settle for drink. I always much preferred weed. After a joint I was in a good place. I didn’t need drink. The highness I reached was very satisfying. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother going to the bar if I had smoked a joint on a night out. My ideal mix would be 3 pints, then a joint. If no joint was available, I’d keeping drinking until I reached the same level of high I’d get from the mix. In other words I’d black out.
One evening during my fourth year placement I went out for drinks with mates. A friend of ours had momentarily come home from America. I fancied her. I was actually kind of obsessed with her. Her awesomeness intimidated me to the point that I’d have to be pissed drunk in order to be able to even talk to her. I’d be speechless around her otherwise. That was a very long night. A night of extremely heavy drinking. I got home at about 4:30am and needed to report for duty in the hotel at 5:30am. I somehow managed to order a taxi to pick me up at 5:15am.
I decided not to go to bed when I got home. Instead, I just laid on the couch for the 45 minutes available to me. I fell unconscious and was awoken by the taxi driver calling my phone. I didn’t have time to have a shower and was just as drunk when I woke up from my mere forty winks as I was when I got home from town.
When I got into work I put on my uniform, grabbed my pager and staggered up to the Private Dining department where I was supervisor. This was probably one of the most unenjoyable jobs I have ever had in my life. It was boring as hell and oftentimes demeaning. Private Dining was effectively conference and banqueting, but because it was a 5-star hotel, such common words couldn’t possibly be used to describe the department. They were by no means pompous enough.
There were about 8 different Private Dining rooms. Only when functions were taking place in these rooms were there any humans to be seen in them (apart from the staff). For a large part of your day, you’d be setting tables, polishing glassware, folding napkins, all in empty rooms. Some of the staff were good craic, but others were just plain fucking boring.
When guests would enter these rooms, there was always a fair chance they’d be people of the wanking variety. In 5 star hotels, you have two types of guests. Those with money and those who pretend to have money. Interestingly enough, those with money are usually very pleasant. For example, Liam Neeson would come into the room, shake your hand and treat you like a person. He was one of my favourite guests.
Guests who pretended to have money would be the pricks who’d click their fingers at you. They were in the hotel to ‘be seen’. They wanted to ‘be seen’ to have money. They want to ‘be seen’ to be important. In actual fact all they ended up ‘being seen’ to be was complete wank stains.
On that morning we had a group of American guests coming in for a private breakfast at 6am. There were only about 15 of them, but every single one of them was a head-wrecking arsehole. The coffee wasn’t hot enough. The buffet didn’t have enough sausages. They wanted cream instead of milk. Sweetener instead of sugar. Nothing was right for them. The worst part of it all was; they never fucking left. I was still steaming drunk and urgently needed to help myself to the Full Irish breakfast buffet, but I couldn’t. They were still all sitting there, shiteing on about kissing some rock in Blarney. Between their incessant complaining, their continued inability to leave the room so I could gorge on sausages and bacon, and the significant amount of intoxicating liquor still circulating around my bloodstream, I decided “I’ve had enough”. I threw my pager on the desk, staggered back down to the locker room, took off my uniform and walked out of the job. I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t have given a flying fuck. I walked down to Grafton Street and got my own Full Irish in Bewley’s.
After breakfast, I got on the 46A bus and headed for RTE to find a real job, but that’s another bog entry entirely. When I returned to my house, sobriety kicked in. A realisation of “what have I just done” hit home hard. I hid in my bed. My parents weren’t home. My phone had died as I hadn’t been able to charge it the night before. As it charged and life returned to the device, there were notifications by the second. The phone wouldn’t stop beeping. My voicemail was full to capacity with calls from various levels of management in the hotel. The house phone was ringing intermittently too. I wasn’t going to answer it obviously. I didn’t want to deal with the world. I couldn’t face the music.
I heard my mum come through the front door but didn’t alert her to my being in the house. Soon after she returned, the phone rang. My mom answered. She was in the hallway so I could vaguely hear what she was saying. I remember the words “no, Paul is not here, he’s at work” followed by, “he’s not at work?…what do you mean?… he got a taxi to work this morning…”.
Then I heard my mother coming up the stairs. I didn’t know what to do. She was going to come through the bedroom door and whoever she was speaking to was still on the other end of the handset. She peered into the room, to her surprise she saw me lying in the bed. She proceeded to hand me the phone, to which I responded, non-verbally, with body language which, if translated into written words, would read “no, no, no…I’m not here…tell her I’m not here…PLEASE MOM”.
My mom was both confused and worried in equal measure. She didn’t have a clue what was going on. So, in the absence of knowing what to do, she all but threw the phone in my direction. I couldn’t possibly answer, I was too ashamed, so, I did what I felt was the right thing at the time, I pressed the end call button. My mum tried to establish what the hell she had just witnessed. I couldn’t tell her. I went back to sleep and covered my head from the world.
This all happened on a Friday, I spent the whole day and night in bed. On the Saturday afternoon, I surfaced but was still full of guilt and shame. I couldn’t leave the room, never mind the house. I was not due back to work until the Sunday but hadn’t made contact with the hotel since walking out. On the third day I rose again (in accordance with the scriptures) and built up the courage to call the hotel to tell them I’d be ok to come back to work that morning.
When I rang, I asked to speak to my manager. She wasn’t there. Instead, the Food and Beverage manager answered. I decided to play it casually, not to mention, or perhaps somehow play down the anarchic event that took place merely two days prior. I said something along the lines of “hello Marianne, it’s Paul here, eh…just to confirm my shift starts at 11 today?”. The F&B Manager replied along the lines of, “Paul I think it’s best if you come in to talk to HR tomorrow”.
As you can probably guess, I was fired from my job the next day. Below is the actual report the hotel had written on the incident.
This wouldn’t have been such a major deal if it had been a standard, full time job, but don’t forget, this was my fourth year college placement. I was representing the Shannon College of Hotel Management. My dismissal would need to be communicated to the college. I wrote to the college telling them I had been let go and they summoned me to a meeting in Shannon. I drove down for a meeting with the director and deputy director of the college. As I had let down the college in an act of such gross misconduct, I was suspended from the college for a year. I was advised that I could appeal the decision to the disciplinary sub-committee of the College Board.
I’ll never forget one question the director posed during that meeting. He asked me if I “had a problem with alcohol”. He said he had been made aware of the ‘various cocktails’ I would drink on a night out in Shannon Knights. How would he have known about this? I’ll never know the answer to that question. Of course I strongly refuted the claim that I had a drink problem.
I could handle being fired from The Merrion, but the news of my suspension did not sit well with me. I wanted to graduate with my mates. I couldn’t be left behind to graduate with a different year. I thought I’d be in a stronger position to appeal the suspension decision if I were reinstated in The Merrion so I wrote a cute, hand-written letter to the General Manager of the hotel apologising for my behaviour and asking for my job back. After various meetings in which the management established that I wasn’t a total head case, they gave me a second chance. How wrong were they (about the head case bit).
The main condition of my reinstatement was that I’d be located as far away from other human beings as possible. I was stationed in the switchboard office which was a room the size of a coffin located in the basement of the hotel. There was little to no human contact. I had to answer phones. All day. I liked it, but it was boring as fuck. However, as I needed to prove myself, I did the best job possible and within three weeks I was moved up to the reception desk as receptionist where I was nearly fired again for carrying out a 999 prank call a matter of weeks later.
After a disciplinary sub committee hearing in the college, the board decided that my suspension would be lifted subject to my fulfilling a number of criteria. I’d have to pay €300 to a charity. I’d need to receive 8 weeks of counselling. I’d need to have a squeaky clean file in the Merrion until the end of my placement. I’d need to make regular calls to the Head of Hotel Management letting her know that I was behaving myself. I felt a bit like a criminal signing on at the Garda station every week. There were one or two other conditions that slip my mind, but no matter what they asked me to do, I did it. I really wanted to graduate with my classmates and nothing would stop me.
As part of our degree, we had to submit a thesis in August of the following year in advance of graduation in November. There was a very strict deadline. It needed to have physically arrived at the college no later than 6pm on Friday 21st August. Even if you had posted it before the deadline, but it didn’t arrive until the Monday, it would not be accepted and you would not be able to graduate.
I did what Paul does best. I procrastinated. I left it a whole year to do the thesis and started a few days before the deadline. I was getting a couple of thousand words done a day but left a fair chunk until the very last day. I had an appointment with the thesis centre to have it bound at 11am on the Friday and then a friend was going to drive down to Shannon with a number of theses to hand in just before the deadline. I was up all night on the Thursday working away on the thesis and must have written a good ten thousand words in that one sitting. At about 7am I had no more than an hour’s work to do. The content was there. It was now just a matter of formatting it all. At that point there were many different windows open on my computer. Most of them were MS word documents from which I was copying and pasting. To tidy up my work space, I proceeded to close down the unnecessary windows. I got myself into a rhythm of pressing the X then clicking no when asked if I wanted to save my work. Pressing the X, then no. The X, then no. X, then no.
When it came to my most recent draft, which contained over 50% of the thesis, what do you think I did? I pressed X, then no. I had not saved my work since the night before and in two clicks of a mouse, I lost both my thesis, and my ticket to graduate with my classmates.
Part Five of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow
I had a number of wake up calls during my drinking career. While some of them drove me to abstain from drink, sometimes for months, others didn’t yield the same results.
The Leather Chair
I was out drinking in town one night in my mid-twenties (I think). On this night I didn’t manage to secure an after party as the point of being compos mentis had past long before I exited the night club, so I ended up back in my family home in Terenure. I imagine I was probably helped into a taxi and subsequently into my house as I wasn’t capable of making the journey up to my bedroom. I ended up sleeping on a leather couch in the breakfast room that night. Surprisingly my mom and dad, who were upstairs, slept through my undoubtedly noisy return home.
My memories of the next morning will haunt me forever. As I had drunk to the point of not being able to move, I hadn’t been able to make the bathroom during the night. I woke up with my trousers around my ankles. The leather chair under my semi-naked body was covered in faeces.
I had consumed so much alcohol the night before that it wasn’t my body clock that woke me up, it was my father. All I can remember is seeing my dad stand in front of me, in a state of shock. He was visibly upset. This sight will stay with me for the rest of my days.
I can remember him raising his voice at me. I think it was because he was panicking that my mum would soon come down and witness the sight he had just seen. A shouting match ensued. I can’t remember the exact content of our exchange, but I can remember one sentence I shouted at dad as I was going up the stairs to my room. That sentence, that I can still hear me saying to this day, was “can you not see I have a fucking problem, man?”.
I would love to say that I cleaned up the chair that morning, but I didn’t. My dad had to do it. I headed up to bed to hide from the world. I stayed there for at least three days. This was the type of person I was when alcohol existed in my life. A horrible, shamefully selfish person.
A group of ten of us from the Rathgar & Rathmines musical society went to Chernobyl to volunteer for a weekend in April of 2011 and raise money for Chernobyl Children International. While it was one of the saddest experiences of my life, it was strangely one of the most uplifting too.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Chernobyl, it’s a city in the Ukraine that endured a chronic nuclear catastrophe when a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded in 1986. The accident released radiation 200 times greater than that released by both atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Radioactive wastes continue to poison the environment and affect genetics of the people who live there. Thousands of children are born with serious physical disabilities.
Children who are born with such disabilities in Chernobyl are placed in orphanages. They are unwanted. We visited one such orphanage in a place called Vesnova which is in Belarus, outside the exclusion zone. It was a very cold institution and I don’t mean physically cold. The care assistants were, paradoxically, very careless. They’d show very little compassion when working with the kids. They would provide basic care. They’d ‘shovel’ food into the children’s mouths. They’d change their nappies, not when they needed to be changed, but at nappy-changing time. It was all very industrial, almost like a bell would ring at 6pm and all the kids would have to be fed (sometimes by force) their gruel within a 10-minute timeframe, then their nappies would have to be changed, en masse, at 6:30pm, whether the kids needed it or not. The workers resembled people you’d see operating a production line in a factory rather than people who were caring for disabled kids in an orphanage.
Every time a group of volunteers came to visit the orphanage, the kid’s lives would change momentarily. They would be in their element. For a few days, they would be loved. I’ll never forget seeing their faces light up when we arrived. It was heart-warming and acutely saddening, all at once.
While we were in the orphanage we weren’t allowed to take showers as there was a possibility that the water would be contaminated. This is the water the orphans drank every day. The orphanage was divided into various different wards according to the children’s ages. We visited each ward every day and sang songs for the kids collectively and then split up to hang out with the kids individually.
Ward 1 was particularly tough for me as it was home to the youngest orphans. It contained babies with deformities who were lying in cots. They were too young to speak. They had their full lives ahead of them. You would walk into a room containing maybe 20 cots, and there wouldn’t be a care assistant to be seen. Babies lying in their cots, most of them crying, others sleeping, in the presence of many other babies, but for all intents and purposes, alone.
The upstairs wards were a little more ‘fun’ in that there were orphans in their early teens. They were doing what all teenagers would do; mess. You could have the craic with these guys. Throw balls around, dance. We threw a disco for them on the Saturday we were there.
My favourite ward, however, was Ward 5. It was here I met my little buddy, Nastia. It is quite common for volunteers to develop a bond with one particular orphan, and for me it was Nastia. She reminded me a bit of me. Very cheeky. Very bold. I do not remember a minute of the time I spent with her where she didn’t have a smile from ear to ear. She used to smack me in the face. It was hilarious.
We stayed in rooms that were allocated for visitors. There was a communal bungalow where the volunteers would gather every evening. What do you think us Irish got up to after the kids went to bed? All I’ll say is games of chess were not part of the agenda.
Given our current location, the vodka was flowing as if it were on tap. We would have drink-fueled sing songs each night, but on our last night in particular we (I) overdid it completely. While I didn’t want to leave the bed the next morning, I had to. I wasn’t at home in my cosy bed where I could hide away from the world for days on end.
We were leaving for Minsk later that day but had an hour or two with the kids that morning. We were sitting in ward 5, very hungover, and a young lad reached out to me. I picked him up and sat him on my knee. I guess the kids must have realised that their time with us was limited and it was coming towards an end. I’ll never forget the next few minutes. I was sitting there with this helpless, severely deformed, young orphan, with little or no prospect of a good life on my lap, and all I could think about was my hangover. There was something not right. In fact this was very wrong. In a moment where I should have been giving all the love in me to this poor child, I allowed alcohol to interfere.
We left the orphanage that day and I didn’t have a drop of alcohol for 14 months. Those 14 months were unreal. The best months of my life. He doesn’t realise it, and for all I know he may no longer be with us, but I owe those 14 months clean to that poor boy.
Unfortunately the disease crept back into my life. I was in Spain with my folks in June 2012 and decided that I had ‘done my time’ and that I could now go back drinking normally. On that evening I did. I drank a few beers. I enjoyed them. I didn’t get wasted. The problem was that I had ‘broken the seal’ and I was back drinking. The next weekend I went out in Dublin, this time with my friends. Again I tried my newfound skill of ‘controlled drinking’ and ended up blacking out. This behaviour continued again for years. The old Paul was back.
Tomorrow I will discuss one of the highlights of my drinking career; being fired from The Merrion Hotel on my fourth year placement, creating huge embarrassment for the Shannon College of Hotel Management, my family and myself. You can probably guess what the root cause of my dismissal was.
Part Four of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow
As a teenager I would have gone ‘knacker drinking’ once or twice. The most I would have consumed on these occasions was one or two cans of Budweiser. I was forced to cap it at two, not because that’s all I wanted, but because that’s all I could really afford. I was a teenager. I had no income. I had to rely on mom and dad.
The first time I remember getting ‘out of it’ was in my mid teens when my cousin’s husband brought a bottle of Schnapps to my parents from Austria. My cousin, who is actually my godmother, lives in Austria and is married to an Austrian called Johannes. The couple had come over to the house for a drink before heading out to dinner with my folks. I remember overhearing Johannes telling my parents that the drink was ‘very strong’ and to ‘go easy’ with it. They would’t dare have a drop of it before dinner. It would be a night cap kind of drink.
When I heard them talk about this dangerous but ever so exciting liquid. my ears perked up a bit like Pavlov’s dog hearing the gong. I said to myself ‘wouldn’t it be great to try this, even just the one sip’. Given that I had already broken my confirmation pledge by downing cans in Marley Park, the decision process was very short-lived. I was going to try some of this liquid magic, and that was that. It was just a case of waiting for the four grown ups to get the hell out of the house so my experiment could begin.
They left for dinner and I studied the bottle, wondering how I could have some without them noticing. It was a transparent liquid not dissimilar to water. My options were to drink a little and fill it up with water or drink a little and hope nobody noticed. I didn’t spend too much time contemplating my options however. I was much more interested in tasting the stuff. I poured myself a drop. I can remember thinking it was absolutely horrible. It was worse than cough bottle. It gave a hot sensation. It would make you wince and shake your head furiously to shake off the hideous taste.
After a few minutes, I remember feeling a sensation of lightheadedness. Suddenly the hideous taste was overpowered by a feeling of intense happiness. I liked it. In fact, I fucking loved it. I needed more and so I had more. No longer did I care about anyone noticing the missing fluid. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
I can’t remember how much I actually drank that night, some twenty years ago, all I remember is bouncing around the house. My two sisters, who I was looking after, mustn’t have known what was happening to me. My next memory of the night is lying in my bed, in a pool of vomit, with my parents looking down on me in a state of complete worry and confusion. My memory of that night is vivid. My dad stayed in the room with me. He lay on the floor beside my bed for fear that I might choke on my own vomit while asleep. He left the light on in my room all night so he wouldn’t fall asleep.
I don’t really talk to my parents about that night, but I’d say it’s a night they’ll never forget. I have no doubt they knew they had a ‘problem child’ on their hands from that day.
My College Days
My days in the Shannon College of Hotel Management were some of the best of my life. I say days because I don’t really remember the nights. I made lots of great friends during my college days, but one of my best buddies was a fella called drink. Drink would help me socialise. I would use it to medicate my acute shyness. It would also get me places. It would make me popular. I could do things on drink that I’d be too mortified to do without it. For example, impersonate teachers, sing loudly, dance like a lunatic.
Sunday and Thursday were our big nights out in Shannon. We would come back to Shannon from our respective homes on Sunday evenings in advance of classes on Monday morning. To celebrate our ‘reunion’, we’d go down to the crossroads pub for ‘a few pints’. A few would invariably become ‘a rake’ and we’d end up in the only night club that exists in Shannon; Shannon Knights, familiarly knows as ‘Shannon Shites’ or just ‘Shites’.
Whenever I went to Shites I would be well looked after. My friend Sean had a part time job behind the bar, and he would always sort me out with my aforementioned ‘special’ drink. The sheer amount of alcohol consumed on Sundays and Thursdays would allow me to still be tipsy and inhibition-free in class the next day. As the day would go on, the hangover would kick in and I’d head back to the apartment to hide. I was still in my early twenties so, while hangovers were bad on occasion, the post-binge depression wasn’t as intense. We were in our early twenties after all. Everyone is invincible in their early twenties.
As part of our four year course in hotel management, we needed to complete two industry placements, both lasting a year. My first placement (Year Two) was spent in Lausanne in Switzerland. This was one of the best years of my life. Weed was legal in the German-speaking part of the country, so I would travel to Bern every week to purchase my bag of greenery. While the number of various lines of legal weed available was many and varied, my weed of choice was called Alpine Rocket.
The laws in Switzerland were pretty odd. It wasn’t illegal to possess the weed in Lausanne. You could carry it on your person with no fear of arrest, but if you were in possession of skins and a lighter at the same time, you were in trouble as it indicated the probability that you were actually going to smoke the stuff. I know, weird, but this is Switzerland we’re talking about.
I smoked weed every day in Lausanne. The moment I’d get home, I’d roll one, Iie on the bed, light it up and allow myself to pass into a magical space. Everything was so great after a joint. I’d call people back home and chat so confidently to them about shite over the phone. I was full of wisdom when stoned. So intelligent. The fact of the matter is that it was a fake reality.
The high I’d get from weed was so much better than booze, as there’d be no major hangover. I was highly addicted. This posed a major problem when I returned to Ireland for Year Three. It wasn’t so plentiful in Ireland so my crutch had disappeared pretty much overnight. I had to return to my old friend drink in order to medicate.
About 3 weeks after returning back to college, all the students in my year had to work at an event in Citywest. It was a VIP event so Citywest hired the best possible waiters in the business. In my station there was a group of important people from Brussels. My friend Barry was working the bar at the event and he sorted me out with some wine while we were working. Pint glasses of red wine. I got so pissed at that event that I spent more time chatting loudly and inappropriately to the Brussels folk ‘en francais’, than I did serving them. My classmates told me the group really enjoyed my craic and banter although I can’t confirm this as I can’t remember. Some time later I passed out and needed to be brought to one of the bedrooms in the hotel to sober up. One of my friends took over my station.
Tomorrow I will be posting the chapter called ‘My Wake Up Calls’ which will detail some of the more sinister events that took place during my drinking career. Here, I’ll briefly talk about some of the more amusing incidents that I remember from my twenties.
A few years after my Swiss placement, I went back to Lausanne for a weekend with two friends, Mary and Gillian. We spent the weekend doing a lot of what we would have done when living there: boozing. I was still in the closet at this stage but had begun experimenting with guys (provided that I was drunk enough). I remember losing the two girls one night, getting into a taxi and asking the driver to bring me to a gay bar. At that stage of my life, I would usually be far too embarrassed to do this. However, given the fact that I was probably at stage 10 of drunkenness, coupled with the fact that I wouldn’t have to say the word gay (I asked him in French), I was able to ask to driver to bring me where I wanted to go.
The man brought me to a place that resembled a parish hall where geriatrics would play bingo. There were middle aged men and women sitting around round tables with a glass of wine in front of them. Up on stage there was a band singing Barry Manilow songs. Perhaps this was why the driver associated the venue with homosexuality.
It seemed like a private event. There were no guys there who were obviously gay, or my age, but once I saw booze flowing, I entered. Alone. My memories of the night are a little vague, but I do remember walking up on stage, uninvited, and harmonising to the band’s version of ‘Mandy’. There was no security, as it wasn’t a club as such, but as far as I can remember they let me sing with them, possibly because they didn’t know how to react to such an off-the-wall situation.
I can’t remember what I did next, how I got home or how the night ended, all I remember is how upset the two girls were with me the next day. That night will haunt me forever.
Zell Am See
On another occasion I was away skiing with my friend Aine in Zell Am See, Austria. Aine and I went out on the piss most nights but there was one night in particular where she was feeling unwell and needed to go back to the guesthouse. I brought her home and went back out myself. I was already well-on so didn’t feel any shame going to clubs on my own, but suddenly I felt an urge to go to a gay bar.
I hailed a taxi which resembled a dilapidated camper van and asked him where the nearest gay bar was. I can’t remember how exactly I said it, but I probably assumed the word ‘gay’ was the same in German. The man explained that the nearest gay venue would be in a town a good 45-minutes drive away. I was happy to travel, although I think I fell asleep for the journey. My next memory is waking up in a different town and the driver pointing over at what appeared to be a corrugated iron barn whilst uttering some words in German. It was daylight now. I got (fell) out of the car and walked over to the barn, but there was no life in it whatsoever.
The man then asked me to pay him and I reached for my wallet but it wasn’t there. The man had driven me 45 minutes to a corrugated iron barn, and I had no money to pay him. As far as I can remember the man brought me back to Zell Am See, but I’m not 100% sure. I don’t know if he was ever paid.
The next morning (afternoon) I woke up in my room in the guesthouse, but it was a little different to the day before. There was no door in the room. The entire door and frame had come away from the wall and was lying on the floor in front of the bed. I had obviously fallen into my room the night before, taking the door with me. Another typical night in my drinking career.
Drink wasn’t always a negative force in my life. It sometimes highlighted my hidden talents. My uncle and auntie, who live in Spain, celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary when I was about 26. I happened to be in Spain at the time on holidays with my folks and decided to go to the event.
I am always a little uneasy at family events. Nothing a few (dozen) bottles of San Miguel can’t fix however. It was on this occasion that my extended family learnt a few new things about me. I thought I was Placido Domingo when it came to singing, I had a hidden talent for playing the bongos, and I was very fond of the drink.
A band was organised for the event. After the meal, they set up on stage. I was dancing away on the floor with my mum and whoever else would (reluctantly) oblige me, and I spotted a set of bongos on the stage. I joined the band and played the bongos for the entire evening. As it was a family event no one really stopped me. It was probably too awkward to do so. It’s a day I look back on and cringe all the time. What a fucking embarrassment I was.
Part Three of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow
I never thought I’d hear myself say these words and I guess I’ve always associated them with weirdos who sit around in a circle in some dirty, cold parish hall that smells of damp, holding each other’s hands and uttering some strange, almost cultish chant in unison, but it’s actually true. My name is Paul and I am an alcoholic.
The definition of alcoholism is not being able to stop when you start. That’s me. I have no ‘off switch’. I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. That’s how I’m hardwired. If you put a packet of crisps in front of me, I will finish them. If I have one alcoholic drink, I will want another. Then another. Then another. In the words of Depeche Mode, I just can’t get enough. I would often go out for a civilised dinner en famille, have a few beers with my meal and then end up roaming the streets of Dublin at 4am, asking complete strangers where the after party is.
From a young age, my impression of an alcoholic was someone you’d see begging on the Ha’ppeny Bridge with a naggin of Powers hidden in their left lapel pocket, or someone who’d go to bed with a bottle of vodka on their beside locker, ready for their first sip in the morning. That is not the case. The fact is there are alcoholics in all walks of life. The cash register attendant in Lidl, the taxi man, the Board Level Executive, the Barrister, the hairdresser. Alcoholism can affect all these people. You don’t have to drink morning noon and night to be an alcoholic. I could go several weeks without a drink. You just have to fulfil the criterion that you’re unable to stop when you start. If you can go to Coppers with your mates on a Saturday night and stop after 3 drinks, you’re very lucky. I could not.
Some weeks ago I took to Snapchat to explain to people why I didn’t drink. The reaction to the story was overwhelming. Followers were messaging me in their droves thanking me for sharing my story. I was receiving hundreds of messages of support from people in similar situations to mine. I decided to write this blog post in case I can help even one more person who is struggling with alcohol.
We have a very serious problem with drink in Ireland. We like to brush it off because ‘we’re Irish’. It’s what we do. The French drink wine. The Germans drink beer. The Italians drink coffee. The Irish just drink. We are sometimes even proud of how much we drink. It’s a mark of distinction for us Irish. The reality is that drink is ruining (some of) our lives.
I gave up alcohol on 31st July 2016. This is my story.
My Many Stages of Drunkenness
Pint 1: With every sip I’d get a buzz. My eyes would start to glisten. My smile would start to grow. Conversation was still slow, but it was warming up. I knew that the evening (day) ahead would bring joy.
Pint 2: The buzz would get more ecstatic. I’d find myself so much more relaxed. More able to converse. I’d now have less fear of judgement.
Pint 3: I’m happy now. Chatting away like mad. In actual fact what I am saying would appear (to me) to be very intelligent. I am great craic.
Pint 4: I’m nearly at the point where I’d have a cigarette, but not quite there yet. You can’t stop me talking. I’m feeling great. I matter to the world. I have an opinion. I have a strong opinion. I need people to hear it. I’m making people laugh. I’m cracking jokes. I am the business.
Pint 5: My feelings of increased intelligence would now manifest as feelings of increased superiority. I was right. No matter what words I said, I was right. I now enjoyed engaging in conversations of the intellectual kind. Conversations that would push boundaries. I needed to talk to people, as many people as possible, and show them how amazing I was. I am so proud.
Pint 6: I need a cigarette. I also need to get out to the smoking area to smoke it, but more importantly, to talk to others. I would appear to be the most confident, extroverted gob shite in the world. I need to be seen. I would be speaking to many people, but listening to hardly any. My mother always told me that when she saw me smoking “I was anybody’s”. This is probably the stage where most people would stop.
Pint 7: I am completely at ease. Maybe too much. Dancing like a twat is now on the agenda. I am on such a buzz that I don’t want to stop. I am coming across as an arrogant prick to many people, but I don’t see this. How could I? Shots anyone?
Drink 8: I am probably not drinking pints anymore, but it really depends on the circumstances. I want this buzz to intensify. The venue is getting busier. I am going to be surrounded by more and more people. I need more courage. I need more confidence. In college I was known to order double vodkas in a pint glass with Smirnoff Ice or some other form of alco-pops as a mixer. The mad man was emerging.
After drink 8, I’d want the buzz to intensify so much (I’d want to get so out of it) that I’d look outside of the boundaries of drink to assist me. I’d be looking for weed, cocaine or pills. If I had a good meal that evening, the food might have soaked up too much of the alcohol for my liking. As my inhibitions would be gone, I’d have no problem asking strangers for additional help. In fact, I’d probably come across as a bit of a lunatic asking every Tom, Dick and Harry in my vicinity to help me get a better buzz. I was relentless in my quest to find oblivion. Even though I was already well on, I can still remember nights when I’d keep asking (pestering) people for drugs. That memory would make it through my alcoholic amnesia. That’s how desperate I used to be.
I can’t really write too much about the ensuing stages of a night out, but I do have memories of standing outside nightclubs asking strangers where the after parties were. I wouldn’t want my high to end. I would want my escape to continue for as long as possible. My friends would have gone home long ago. I’d be on my own. I’d come across as a complete weirdo. Unable to stand. Sometimes unable to speak. On the many occasions where I’d end up going home with total strangers, it was probably because they felt sorry for me, they wanted to take the piss out of me, they wanted to take advantage of me, or all of the above. I have memories of waking up in houses all over Dublin, most of the time not recognising the people in the house as I’d have no memory of the night before, how I got there or what I had done.
I remember one morning waking up in a house in Dublin 8, naked on the bed, with an older man helping himself to me. This is one incident I remember, countless other similar events could have happened, I just don’t remember them.
The Paul who drank between 1- 5 pints was such a great guy. Such a laugh. So sociable. If only Paul could have stopped after 5.
The Morning After the Night Before
After a heavy session, I would not be able to leave my bed, never mind my room and certainly not my house. There would be no point. Indeed, there’d be no point to life anymore. I would hide in my bed for up to 3 days. I wouldn’t be able to answer my phone. I’d ignore my nearest and dearest. I’d be very ill. I’d hoover up takeaways but would not be able to hold them down. My work would suffer. My family would suffer. My life would suffer.
If drugs were involved, the hangover would be so much worse. My head would be in a complete mess. I can vividly remember two separate occasions where I didn’t see the need to carry on. On one occasion, when I was sitting at the table of my parent’s penthouse apartment in Terenure, waiting for my French grinds student to arrive, I questioned how exactly I would die if I were to throw myself off the balcony. Would it be quick? Was there a chance I would survive and live on in a wheelchair? Who is to say that if it weren’t for my propensity to vacillate, that the deed would not have been done. On another occasion, after a Gala ball on a Saturday night, at which I took herbal ecstasy, I was driving on the Rathgar road and didn’t think I could go on. I was feeling worthless. I called a close friend of mine and explained the situation. She calmed me down and I was okay. This event took place the Wednesday after the Saturday night session. Four days later. Such was the insidiousness of herbal drugs from hemp shops.
This is the shit drugs did for me, ladies and gentlemen. Drink was bad enough. Combining them was extremely dangerous. I am 37 now and I have no doubt that if I continued along the treacherous road of drink and drugs, I might have followed through on my instincts by now.
Part Two of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow.