Kate Katharina on Search Engine Optimisation

“And I stiiiiill haven’t found what I’m looking for,” Bono confessed in 1987, the year I was born. Sometimes I get the impression that some people who land here can relate. Here are some of my favourite Search Engine referrals to date.

Image Source: pulkit.me

“Inside a Septic Tank:”

I’d rather not be, if I could at all help it.

“How to find a leprechaun:”

I used to find it helpful to hover around the Molly Malone statue but if you are outside of Ireland, I suggest waiting for the next rainbow. Bring a magnifying glass as leprechauns tend to be very small.

“Legion of Mary Logo”:

I wish I had designed it.

“Entertain my “savant girlfriend:”

Look here, I’ve got enough to deal with with LSB and his preternatural processing speed. Read up on absolutely anything she’s not interested in and impart your wisdom lazily. That way you’ll seem generally well-informed rather than narrow and specialist.

“Kate Ferguson Teacher of the Year:”

Katekatharina… Teacher of the Year?

Aw, you guys. You shouldn’t have. Is there a cash prize?

“Photocopier Graveyard:”

Not the first place I’d look for one but sounds like a promising premise for a science fiction novel.

“Nasal Paper Tissues:”

An underrated modern commodity.

“Is a pen a metaphorical penis?”

No, absolutely, definitely not.

“Messiah Dundrum Shopping Centre:”

He’s as likely to be there as anywhere else. Check Harvey Nicks.

“Something happened in Kurdistan:”

Chances are, yes.

“All piercings possible:”

Why limit yourself?

“Brain with muscles:”

More useful than one without but don’t get too macho about it.

“Rainbow Bedsheets:”

Sound amazing.

“Alone in Berlin:”

Don’t rub it in.

“Psychofelinonolgy:”

I invented this discipline title. Here’s the proof.

“Fade Street:”

I used to be an authority but around the time Vogue abandoned us for like, Brian McFadan and like, Australia I said “feck it” and moved to Berlin.

“Quarter Life Crisis:”

I’m an expert.

“Man walking three Saint Bernards:”

An excellent, specific search. You didn’t deserve to land here. I’m sorry.

“Perfect Fingernails:”

I wouldn’t have the faintest notion.

“Hairy German Women”:

A niche interest indeed.

“Daniel O’Donnell Museum:”

Planned for my next pilgrimage.

“xxx lsb:”

A cyber rival? Should I be worried?

“Clear toilet seat:”

I like the ones where it looks like fish are swimming around the rim.

“German punks whistling at passers-by:”

Something I have never experienced.

“King Abdullah Eye:”

Which one?

“Charmless:”

I’d like to think I’m not.

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Boston or Berlin?

It was the summer of 2000 and things were going swimmingly. Ireland was the fastest growing economy in the developed world and the unemployment rate had dropped from 10% to 5% in three years. Mary Harney, second in command, had been invited to address the annual meeting of the American Bar Association at Blackhall Place in Dublin.

Mary Harney’s message was a positive, American-friendly one. Image source: http://www.imt.ie

Her short speech sparked a debate which has since become known as “Boston or Berlin.” Harney drew attention to Ireland’s unique position wedged between Europe and America and summarised the characteristics commonly associated with each continent. Europe stood for social inclusion and governmental regulation while America championed the freedom of the individual and minimal government involvement. She acknowledged that they were simplified descriptions but concluded that “spiritually we are probably a lot closer to Boston than Berlin.”
Twelve years later, Ireland’s unemployment rate is 14.9%, emigration is at its highest rate since the 1980s and the continents on both sides of our shores are in crisis.

Without the background roar of the Celtic Tiger and the allure of shiny cars and kitchen extensions, now might be the time to revisit the debate from a more sober perspective.

What did Harney mean when she said we were “spiritually” closer to Boston than Berlin? Was she referring to our economic model, which had been defined by tax cuts and incentives for foreign investors? Or was she talking about our common language, our history and culture; our national psyche?

Boston
Image Source: irishcentral.com

Whether or not economic policy can be divorced from the ideology or “spirit” of a place is debatable but given that Ireland matched corporate incentives with a generous welfare system, our affiliation with either Boston or Berlin isn’t even clear in fiscal terms. Our identity crisis is totally understandable. We are a tiny, teddy-bear shaped island on the outskirts of Europe and on the passageway to America. We’ve only been independent since 1922. And we stayed out of the Second World War.

This second fact is absolutely central to any lack of affinity we have with Europe. The European Union we know today is the product of a collective abhorrence of the horrors suffered and inflicted during the war and a resolve – at all costs- to prevent evil from recurring. The focus has always been on unity. The foundation of the United States, on the other hand, arose from a very different impulse: a determination for independence and resistance to the coloniser.

We can relate more to the latter than to the former. We too rose up against what we conceived as an oppressor. And though we can read and learn about it, we cannot really fathom the horrors of World War II. Here in Berlin, they are etched into bronze plaques on buildings, in concrete slabs on train platforms and in the minds of thousands whose lives were brutally dismantled.

Ireland is in a lucky place: we are liked by our neighbours on both sides. Americans find us charming and endearing and mainland Europeans find us wholesome, mysterious and other-worldly.
And while we happily consume and model American culture, we are less familiar with that of our closer neighbours in Europe.

German, with over 90 million native speakers, is the most spoken language in Europe but only 18% of Irish school pupils learn the language. That compares with the 94% of German and 99% of French pupils learning English. Of course, English has become the biggest international language of trade and technology and we can easily “get away” with not knowing another foreign language, but we also lose out on the opportunities to work and travel elsewhere in the European Union, safe in the knowledge that our basic living needs will be met by our membership.

To live and work in Boston you must prove that no American would be fit to take your job whereas to live and work in Berlin, you just need to turn up and register yourself with the authorities.
America is a place where a large portion of people do not believe that it is the government’s responsibility to protect its most vulnerable citizens and where a channel with as big a following as Fox News can claim without irony that the Muppets movie promotes a Communist agenda. It might be united by a common language and culture but its artificial two-party system results in less understanding and consensus than the 23 languages of the European Union do.

Berlin Image Source: a-t-s.net

Back in Blackhall Place in the summer of 2000, Mary Harney, referring to Ireland’s economic model said, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Now that it’s very much broken, we might do well to look at Berlin as well as Boston.

Why Grocery Shopping Is Better Than Therapy

While I was still living at home, grocery shopping was a pleasant diversion but it was always coloured by a faint association with futility. My parents stocked the fridge regardless and I just bought extra kidney beans to supplement my vegetarian diet.

Now that I am hungry and alone, grocery shopping has become a noble necessity. I could go so far as to say I couldn’t live without it.

Every second day on my way home from work, I wander into my local branch of Netto and greet the three punks, who have inhabited the dirty pavement outside and spend their days drinking beer and enjoying banter with the store’s security guard. For the next twenty minutes, I forget my worldly problems as I navigate my way through bundles of asparagus, the weekly deal of a desktop printer and boxes of instant dumplings.

Image source: yestheyareallours.com

On the occasions that I have felt directionless, grocery shopping has restored a sense of purpose. There is no therapy like it.

While I am not one to write shopping lists, I do like to dash to my post box to snatch the latest promotional leaflet featuring upcoming deals at my local discounters.

It is an exercise in self-control not to rush at every offer of 19 cent bundle of radishes and toilet seats at just €19.99. With time, this kind of restraint may develop into a widely-applicable life skill.

And even if you do succumb to temptation, as I am apt to do when a 100 gram bar of Milka chocolate is offered at just 59 cent for one week only, buying superfluous groceries does not compare to the guilt associated with conventional retail therapy.

Grocery shopping melds our most primal needs with the more sophisticated cognitive processes of reasoning and restraint. We must learn to differentiate between the times when succumbing to temptation is a good thing (for example when Milka chcocolate is on special offer) and the instances when a purchase would be unhelpful (as in the case of the extra toilet seat). Such high-level strategy is rarely taught, let alone mastered at university level.

A tempting offer.
Image source: jonco48.com

For those under the impression that grocery shopping represents mere escapism: it has its challenges too. Sometimes you end up with an excessive quantity of toilet paper; and at other times you come too late for the marzipan-flavoured Milka bar.

Sometimes when I am in a queue, the customer before me places a little barrier in between their shopping and mine. Though such an action is ultimately self-serving, I always thank them profusely. Then they look at me in the bemused way to which I have become accustomed when behaving with excessive politeness. It is the same look I get when I thank a bus driver or wish the man selling me falafels a good day. I can’t help feeling a little peeved when I place a barrier between my shopping and another person’s and I do not even get the slightest hint of acknowledgement.

Such gritty reality must sadly be faced in the world outside and grocery shopping has equipped me with the necessary skills to cope.

None of the self books I used to borrow from Rathmines library taught me as much about the human condition as shopping for food has.

Despite the transformative power of shopping for groceries, I have met individuals that profess not to be advocates. I have even heard food shopping described as “boring” and “stressful”.

I hesitate to entertain the notion, but could I be alone in my enjoyment?

How I missed out on visiting the Biggest Chocolate House in the World

This afternoon, a red-faced Berliner with a moustache reprimanded me for committing a traffic offense on Unter den Linden. My crime: staying put when I saw the red man.

I know that there are a lot of things I don’t understand. Many of them I have written about here before.

But of all the enigmas with which I have battled, nothing remains as clandestine as the reason for pedestrian traffic lights occurring at the same spot as a zebra crossing.

Granted I had been walking along the narrow central stretch of the beautiful tree-lined promenade, instead of the wide pavements designed for walkers, but I had good reason for it. From the middle, I had a wonderful view of both the Victory Column ahead, and the Brandenburg Gate behind.

I had stopped with the intention of crossing over to have a look at the Russian war memorial. I almost pulled a muscle in my neck with all the looking left, then right, then left again I was doing. Ligaments have the right to rebel when called into use after periods of benign neglect.
It may have been a zebra crossing, but the light was red.

To be honest, I was charmed by the iconic red traffic man, with his wide hat and purposeful stance. Even if he had been green, I probably would have stopped to stare. Anyway, something about my immobility irked the balding motorist with whiskers sprouting from his nose. He beeped and growled at me as he drove past.

On I wandered down Unter den Linden anyway and turned off at the corner to have a look at the Schloss Belvue, the residence of the new Federal President, Joachim Gauck. On Monday, when I took a bus tour of the city, the lady guide quipped that it was Germany’s “White House”.
I found it pleasant to look at and unusually unguarded. You’d know it was a ceremonial role.

When I got to the end of Unter den Linden, I reached the Siegessäule or “Victory Column”. This monstrous tower was erected to celebrate defeats first against Denmark, then the Prussians and then Austria. I remembered that the guide had mentioned the number of steps to the top but I had promptly forgotten the number, which is in line with my tendency to not see the trees for the wood.

It didn’t matter. As I was climbing higher and higher up the spiral staircase, I considered the number to be infinite. With each loop, I looked upwards with expectation and to my horror found the distance yet to be conquered to be increasing.

At one point, I stopped and considered the possibility of failure. After all, if the column celebrated success over adversaries, I may as well be monument to its victory over foreign invaders.

As I was gazing upward into the infinite abyss, I embarrassingly caught the eye of a German champion who had made it and was gazing patronisingly downwards. Her laugh echoed down at me and I boomed a nervous one back.

As I climbed higher and higher I was struck powerfully by my absolute solitude. If I were to fall, nobody would know. The only people to accompany me during my last breaths would be a group of exuberant southern Germans too busy in the big smoke to care, and a Spanish couple, so visibly in love, with their linked arms and communal tickling, that my death might even pass them by.

I huffed and I puffed and I made it. I had a breath-taking view of the city covered in mist. The TV tower to the east fought with the clouds and together they looked like a clumsy mass of candy floss.

Church steeples and colourful concrete blocks, and in between a glass dome, or a power station: the city’s skyline is a muddled testament to its troubled history.

I took a few photos and implored an Italian man to take my picture.

Sieger!

That’s the funny thing about travelling without companions; you’re much more forward about approaching people, even if you risk inferring that you wish to become a shareholder of Sparda bank.

After I had made it down safely, I sat at the base of the Victory Column and considered my next move. I could go to the Zoo, but I probably wouldn’t have time to see all of the 15,000 species of animals. Or I could go to the Pergamon museum, but I wouldn’t have time to look at every specimen of Athenian artefact on display.

So I thought I might as well head west back down Unter den Linden and check out the beautiful Gendarmen Square, which I had read about in my trusty guide.

Alas, that plan was destined to fail.

I had just reached Humboldt university when I spotted a bookstall set up outside. Given that I’ve a penchant for independent booksellers, I wandered over to browse the titles.

I picked up a hardback copy of Hermann Hesse’s Der Steppenwolf and a translation of Gabriel Garcua Marquez’ A Hundred Years of Lonelienss.

The vendor, a bearded man with glasses and wearing a black hat, took them from me and said: “Ich bin beeindruckt”.

I smiled. He had told me he was impressed with my selection.

This man reminded me of the type of person I thought I would miss from Ireland.

He was an unconventional and incessant talker, belligerent one moment and benign the next.

He talked to me about socialism and National Socialism, about Gunther Grass and Johann Goethe, about the student movement of the 1960’s, and about anti-Americanism; about a Japanese girl he had sworn at because she had dared haggle over a Hermann Hesse book and about a journalist at the Berliner Morgen Zeitung, who gives him hundreds of newly-released titles for free because he is inundated with copies to review.

The man was an intriguing blend of madness and intellect. His depth of knowledge on all matters of political, historical and cultural importance impressed me, his unflappable loquaciousness did not.

I was making polite one or two word responses to his tirade against anti-intellectualism, when a lady with a tight bun and pursed lips interrupted.

The direct translation of what she said was:

“Would you ever give me some attention and quit your incessant blabber about nothing?”

He didn’t so much as glance in her direction when he beamed at me and said “This lady thinks I talk too much. She’s right!”

I tried to make a dash as he was completing her transaction but he continued to speak,now about Theo Adorno, looking me directly in the eye.

It was getting dark.

“I would like to introduce you to my friend in the Berliner Morgen Zeitung”, he said. “I am absolutely certain he would fall instantly in love with you. He’s a very brilliant man; a philosopher”.

“That’s impressive”, I mumbled politely.

“He is in his sixties”, he added, by way of explanation.

After one hour and five minutes, he leaned over and shook my hand.
“You’ll come back, won’t you?”, he asked.

“Yes”, I said.

Because I feel his gift of the gab might be newsworthy.

When I returned home late this evening I told my flatmate what had delayed me.

“Why didn’t you just say you had to go?”, he asked.

“Because it was utterly impossible!”, I cried.

“Then you should have just thrown a book at him”.

To add to my woes, I saw someone on the U Bahn today with my totally unique Rittersport chocolate bag. And as if it couldn’t get any worse, I just googled Gendarmenmarkt and found that it is home to the biggest chocolate house in the world.

Armpit hair or the Eurozone crisis? The writer’s dilemma

I met a girl once who let her armpit hair grow nice and bushy so that she could weed out the guys that were more interested in her grooming habits than her intellect. I thought of her yesterday as I was killing time flicking through the bestsellers in Easons. I’d picked up Caitlin Moran’s How to be a woman and happened upon a passage outlining the importance of maintaining a fine balance between the cultivation and removal of excess pubic hair. Apparently, girls as young as 12 are now seeking full body waxes. Furthermore, young boys’ exposure to porn means that they’re unfamiliar with the follicle reality of the female anatomy, which shocks them upon their first real encounter with it.

The things you learn.

I was conscious that it had been nearly a week since my last post and even though popular science dictates that the third week in January presents the greatest statistical probability of lapsing on your New Year’s Resolutions, I was determined to buck the trend and continue blogging.

So I thought about writing about bodily hair; about how I’ll be damned if I shave my legs in the winter, or about how I got my eyebrows threaded last June and that though it was very painful and my eyes were watering like a hose, when the beautician asked me if I was alright I answered that I was doing just fine and that the streaks of mascara decorating my cheeks were intentional.

But I thought the better of it. After all, there are more important things to be worrying about than the state of the nation’s armpits. I resolved to educate myself on a more sober theme.

As a result, I spent much of today in solitary confinement; having decided that I wanted to be someone who writes about the things that matter, rather than the colonies that fester in secret under our nation’s arms.

It didn’t take me long to find a suitable treatise.

With the stealth of a long-repressed id, the Eurozone crisis reared its ugly head from the back of my mind, where I had shoved it to avoid returning to the shameful and possibly unalterable fact that I don’t understand economics.

I began by googling promising terms like “Eurozone crisis”, “structure of European banking system” and “austerity”.

I decided it would be only right to set myself a plausible-sounding essay title to focus my enquiries.

I came up with “Outline the causes of the Eurozone crisis and discuss potential outcomes of Government measures to tackle the crisis”, which I thought sounded promising.

Like most academic titles, it was embedded with the code “Write anything you know about this theme and don’t forget to reference several bizarrely named academics to make the whole process a bit more bearable”.

I skimmed through a few generalities and familiarised myself with key Eurozone celebs like Hosé Manuel Barosso, Christine Lagarde and Evangelos Venizelos. I even recorded the duller-sounding names in a notebook for future perusal.

image source: guardian.co.uk


I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I happened upon the BBC’s Crisis Jargon Buster. I rushed downstairs to make myself a cup of mint tea, took a deep breath, then spent the entire day reading the list of terms and taking notes, which I intend to copy into the desktop folder I have called “My general betterment”.

As it turns out, the crisis is not without its gratifying terms. So much so, that when LSB picked me up this evening, we whiled away a pleasant half hour making economy-related puns over our cappuccinos.

I asked him if he could guess what my new favourite cereal was. Though he’s a savant, he was stumped. He knew that it used to be Aldi’s own-brand strawberry crisp but I told him that was old news.

My morning victual of choice was now … “Credit crunch”.

His groan was nothing on the one I had let out when I reached the letter “H” in the jargon buster glossary. Wedged defiantly between “Glass-Steagall” and “Hedge fund” was the word “haircut”.

And it didn’t refer to armpits.

Such are the dilemmas I’m facing as I embark on another year of blogging. Do I write about my savant boyfriend, who generates hundreds of hits, or about the war in Iraq or the meaning of “art” , which fewer people want to read about?

Should journalists give the public what it should want, or what it does want? Is it more important to inform or to entertain?

What do you think?