Daniel O’Donnell: Charms To Which I am Immune?

This morning, news reached Berlin that a Daniel O’Donnell museum had opened in Donegal, northern Ireland.

In an interview with the state broadcaster , Daniel said that the collection included “suits I would have worn through the years”, his “Donegal Person of the Year” trophy from 1989 and the school-bag he used 40 years ago.

At lunch I went to the bakery in the underground station beside my office and bought a latté from the woman that doesn’t know she’s in my life.

I sat down on a little red plastic seat and surrounded by the buzz of Berlin commuters, I began to think about Daniel O’Donnell.

I even took some notes.

If Daniel O’Donnell were to appear in fiction I decided, I would accuse his character of lacking credibility.

And that, perhaps is exactly what lies at the heart of his success.

Daniel is softly-spoken and meanders effortlessly about attempts to get a rise out of him. His eyes have the characteristic hazy, other-wordliness of an evangelical, but none of the accompanying conviction.

He is the ultimate wish-fulfilment of Irish women of a certain generation: he is the priest that croons, the priest that can marry, the priest that doesn’t tell you off.

Last year, when Ireland’s flagship late-night chat show dedicated an entire program to celebrating his 50th birthday, I thought that in spite of the comedic value of such an event, something extraordinary was happening in my country.

The Late Late Show had become Father Ted and nobody seemed to be batting an eye.

My father has a great phrase he uses to describe someone he knew long ago: “He was known for his humour;” dad says, pausing before he adds, “some of it conscious.”

The official Daniel O’Donnell fan page features what is described as “the perfect gift”: a digitally signed and personalized photograph of Daniel. Fans can choose a message and clever technology will re-master it to look like Daniel’s handwriting. The sample photograph reads: For Bev, the best mum in the world.x

Daniel’s website, which is run by his wife Majella, features a fact file similar to the ones you’d find in the “unofficial biographies” of 90’s pop groups like Steps or Five, which are directed at the pre-teen market. It looks like this:

Name: Daniel Francis Noel O Donnell
Date of Birth: 12th December 1961
Place of Birth: Dungloe, Co Donegal, Ireland
Mother: Julia O Donnell (nee McGonagle)
Father: Francis O Donnell
Siblings: John, Margaret (Margo), Kathleen and James
Colour of Eyes: Blueish Green
Colour of Hair: Brown
Height: 5ft 10in
Weight: 12st 13lbs (Too much!)
Marital Status: Married to Majella
Children: 2 Stepchildren – Siobhan 17yrs & Michael 15yrs
Currently Residing: Kincasslagh, Co Donegal, Ireland
Favourite Colour: Yellow
Favourite Foods: Mince and Potatoes and some Chinese dishes
Best-loved Artists: Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride and Sir Cliff Richard
All time favourite Song: There are so many but I love “Miss you nights” by Sir Cliff Richard
Worst Habit: Now, would I have any bad habits??!!!
Best Habit: Where do I begin!
Worst Asset: My growing love handles!
Best Asset: My teeth
Pet Hates: Smoking followed by gossip
Favourite Passtime: Playing Cards and Golf
Fondest Memory: The first time I met Loretta Lynn. Wow!
Worst Memory: The night I lost my voice in December 1991
Favourite Holiday Destination: Tenerife
Favourite Movie: Gandhi, The Sound of Music and Calamity Jane
Favourite Saying: Up ya boy ya!
Happiest Day of my Life: 4th November 2002 – The day I married Majella

I have written before about the blend of wily opportunism and endearing naivety that characterises many an Irish success story.

I believe that beyond the softness of the Donegal lilt and the string of attractive clichés that bounces so effortlessly from his tongue, lurks a very shrewd man, trying to conceal his bemusement at the fact that the pile of stuff that he would otherwise have dumped into bags destined for Oxfam, will instead be displayed behind glass cases in a lucrative personal shrine. Or “visitors’ centre,” as he would have us call it.

You’ve got to hand it to Daniel: he has a fine appreciation of the ridiculous.

And as thousands rush to caress the fine silk tie that Daniel wore on tour once or queue up to marvel at the honorary MBE he was awarded in 2001, it’s fair to say that the joke’s on us.

Oh, Danny Boy.

As if I didn’t have enough reasons to come home.

Banking Crisis in Berlin: A Special Report

I would like to set up a bank account in Berlin. So this morning I popped into the Sparda Bank on Georgenstrasse, where I’ll be working, and looked around for somebody to talk to. It was an odd kind of bank. There were several ATM machines and people milling about but there was an unusual formality in the air.

A man resembling a pencil caught my eye and glided over. He had a silver pen wedged into the pocket of his shirt and there wasn’t a crease to be seen in his pin-striped suit. He exuded pleasant authority.

“Hello” he said, “how can I help you?”
“Hello! 🙂 I’m new in Berlin and I’d like to open a bank account. Are you the right person to talk to about this?”
“Potentially”, he said, “though I’ll see if one of my colleagues can help you. Please take a seat”.
“Thank you!”

I sat down opposite a round-faced man with tufts of thick blonde hair. He was reading the Spiegel. My heart did a little skip.

Posters of grinning middle-aged men in flashy cars and attractive women getting massages in exotic surroundings were pinned to a display board advertising loans. A coloured graph showing the values of shares going up and down was captioned “Values always rise after a financial crisis”.

After some time, a lady came to me. “If you’re ready, Madam, I’ll take you this way”.
My Goodness, I thought. What service. You don’t get this in the Trinity Branch of Bank of Ireland.
She led me into a little chamber, pulled out a chair for me and said, “Please take a seat”.
I shuffled in and got my feet tangled in my bag.
“Could I get you something to drink?”
Something to drink? I thought. Sweet Mother.. How long does she think I’m staying?
“No thank you”, I replied brightly, compensating for my bewilderment with excessive friendliness.
“Now”, she said, “tell me about yourself”.
“Well” I started, “I’ve just moved here from Ireland and am going to do an internship with Spiegel for three months. I’m not sure how long I’ll stay after that but I would like to have access to money from a German account if it’s possible”.

Her face changed. Suddenly she looked both panicked and apologetic.
“I’ll have to check with my colleague. Please wait”.
“Sure”, I said.

I twiddled my thumbs.

She came back.

“I’ve discussed the matter with my colleague. We feel that this might not be the right bank for you”.
“Oh really?”
“Your plans are a little vague. We require our customers to hold onto an account for a minimum of one year”.
“Ah, I understand”, I replied.
“Furthermore, when you open a bank account with us, it is mandatory to become a shareholder of the company”.

I gulped and tried to smother laughter.

Had I just attended an important business meeting with an investment banker?

Yes, I had.

There was nothing for it but to head to the Brandenburger Tor.

Next stop: Brandenburger Tor


PS – My day was very eventful so I might blog again later if I’m not being a superhero in the hostel kitchen.

On being a creepface

I have the unfortunate habit of staring for long periods of time at strangers I find interesting. Conditions in early childhood encouraged the practice. My bedroom was at the very top of the house facing a busy park and a bus stop. From there I could observe ladies in leggings and ear muffs making their way to the shops and groups of children trying in vain to retrieve shuttlecocks they had misfired into trees.

Sometimes I would sit for so long by the window that I could see the ladies return with their Dunnes Stores shopping bags. It always gave me satisfaction to note the details, like that they’d removed their ear muffs and bought a stick of French bread or two packets of toilet paper.

Some people are interested in living life but I am surprisingly content just to look at it. When I was young, I used to find it fascinating to watch my sister play with her playmobil. She’d set up her toy ambulance, or farmhouse or schoolroom and assign names to each of the playmobil figurines, which she recorded in a special little book which I have preserved for posterity.

She became a scientist; I studied Psychology.

I don’t watch much television because my parents are always watching the Bavarian news or German documentaries about the Pope. When I get the chance though I love to watch people watching television.

My favourite person to watch is my mother.

When she has time, my mother watches sentimental German films, which feature families that seem to making a wholesome livelihood milking cows and running hotels in the Alps, but inwardly battling with deep-seated problems like long-lost loves and corruption in the bovine trade.

In the last thirty minutes of such dramas, my mother’s face changes. As conflicts reach their climax, and true thoughts are expressed, her lips begin to move a little, her eyes grow bigger and she can’t stop the tears that begin to roll one-by-one down her cheeks.

When I turn to look at her, she gets embarrassed and flashes me a sheepish smile. I pretend I haven’t noticed even though she should really know by now that her indiscriminate display of empathy is among the billions of things I admire about her and that her compassion for villagers in complicated love triangles is endearing.

My father’s expression becomes exceptionally benign when he watches trains bounding through glorious British countryside and stuffy antique shows where soft-spoken elderly males evaluate the worth of a 1786 gold-plated pocket watch.

In a domestic context, my bad habit doesn’t get me into too much trouble. Apart from the odd bus passenger sitting on the top deck, whose eye I catch as he’s looking out the window into my bedroom, I seem to keep my creeping quite covert.

It’s different when you’re on the luas though, or taking the bus. That’s a riskier business altogether. There you have to be careful. You see, I find observing people on public transport an indescribabe, insatiable delight. I frequently select my seat on the basis of maximum viewing potential.

The other day a south Dublin boy with a voice several decibels louder than the roar of the engine was making arrangements with his friend on the phone.

“Get us a mixer for tonishe will you”, he yelled. “I’ve got lieke three bottles of vodka but I toshally forgot the OJ in Londis. Ish’s going to be SUCH a laugh tonishe…. Definitely. You’re a star…Definitely. Such a laugh.”

He was speaking with such affectation and lack of self-consciousness that a man at the front of the bus turned around in disgust and stared at him for the duration of his entire conversation, and then again when his friend Lola rang back.

Unfortunately the man who turned had spotted me giggling into my scarf and tried to catch my eye. I didn’t want to catch his eye in case he thought I was only laughing because I wanted to share a special moment with him alone.

Once I was coming home on the last Luas and a group of drunk youngsters were amusing me with their unfathomable babble.

I was the tiniest bit tipsy so my subtlety was at an all-time low. I was caught.

“How are you tonight?” the one sporting a pink shirt with an upturned collar asked me.
“Very well”, I beamed.
“ Where are you from”, he asked.
“Is that in Australia?”
“Yes! How did you know?”
“I’ve been there. It’s a beautiful place”
“It is! I love it there”
“People from there are so sound”
“I know, they so are! – Sorry, this is my stop”
“BYE darling! See you in Bavaria!”
“Bye now!”

When I got home, I turned off the bedroom light. As I was closing the curtains, I took a steely glance out at the quiet street below. I saw a couple kissing by the park railings. And I watched a man cycling by, singing to himself.