Taking on the Banks … and Winning

July 24th, 2012

What do you do when a group of Nigerian scam artists defrauds you of thousands of euros, and your bank subsequently accuses you of negligence and refuses to refund you the money? Why, you simply counter-accuse the bank of GROSS negligence, present them with irrefutable evidence and await the refund.

In September 2007, two days into a one-month trip from Tokyo to Moscow, I found myself in Siberia without any money after discovering my credit card had been copied by a group of Nigerians in Tokyo who had maxed it out and defrauded me of circa. €3,500.

My return to Ireland marked the beginning of a tiresome and infuriating battle with the bank in an attempt to get the money refunded to my account. After countless phone calls and numerous letters, I eventually got most of the money back. The following excerpts are from my final five-page letter that demonstrates why you should never mess with a Cavan man and his money …

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Further to my comments in the letter dated 6 November 2007, let me enlighten you on credit card fraud scams that have been prevalent in the Roppongi and Shinjuku areas of Tokyo for the past five+ years. It is widely acknowledged that Nigerians, who own and run a number of bars in these areas, have been linked with “padding” credit card bills and committing other credit card crimes. Indeed, credit card fraud is rising fast throughout Asia. No doubt this will be news to your Financial Crime Prevention Unit (FCPU).

[Numerous paragraphs on the particulars of the case followed]

Negligence has, as the FCPU stated, been evident in this case. However, rather than negligence on my part, all such accusations can be pointed directly at [name of bank].

At the end of this letter I have attached a detailed account of transactions and attempted transactions on my credit card account from 9-25 September. The list is quite simply staggering.

I would like to know what sort of a primeval system [name of bank] has in place when the following can occur:

  • 18 transactions/attempted transactions in a two day period (9-10 Sep.) totaling the princely sum of 3,069,600 yen (€18,875.90 at the current exchange rate).
  • One of the aforementioned attempted transactions was for 1,000,000 yen (€6,149.31)
  • Debit information that clearly shows me to be in Tokyo (Japan) on 9 September, Kyoto (Japan) on 10 September, Ulan Bator (Mongolia) on 16 &19 September and Irkutsk (Russia) on 20 September. It then seems that I returned to Japan (and strangely enough to a city, Chiba, that I’ve never even heard of). It appears that I went shopping there on 21 September and completed my sojourn in Toyko later that day. Four days later (25 September) I resurfaced in Novosibirsk (Russia) where I made several attempts to withdraw money but to no avail.

Even the infamous Willy Fog would have had trouble keeping up with the travel itinerary that your records show. But apparently [name of bank] doesn’t have a system in place to spot major irregularities in the levels of activity showing on a customer’s account.

At no stage did [name of bank] attempt to contact me to find out why, over a two day period, €18,875.90 worth of transactions were attempted on a card with a limit of €4,700. Alarm bells should have been ringing from the moment the first debit was made from my account in Club 101, but instead [name of bank] sat idly by as I was defrauded again and again and again – the most recent fraudulent transaction occurring some 12 days after the first.

I don’t believe any other bank in the country has such a shambolic approach to customer care and security. I find it extremely ironic that the “Financial Crime Prevention Unit” is so named. My experience is that [name of bank] has done nothing to protect me and was grossly negligent in failing to spot the severe discrepancies on my account during the period 9-25 September. My credit card statements for the past few years show that all activities on my account during the aforementioned timeframe were totally at odds with the norm.

As an 11 year customer with [name of bank], I have been appalled by the efforts, or lack thereof, of the FCPU to properly investigate my case. It’s certainly easier to tick the “negligent” box and say “case closed”. However, I will not stand for that.

I have been robbed once by ruthless scam artists. Now it seems that [name of bank] would have me robbed a second time and charge me appropriately (via monthly insurance charges) for the pleasure.

The purpose of this letter is to afford [name of bank] a final opportunity to resolve this matter to my satisfaction. Failure to so in a timely manner will leave me with no other choice but to seek retribution through the Financial Services Ombudsman Bureau, the Director of Consumer Affairs or, if need be, my solicitor and the courts thereafter.

I look forward to your response and cooperation in this matter. Please also acknowledge the receipt of this letter at your earliest convenience.

Ronan Smith is the author of Munterconnaught’s best selling comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams. Described as “a real treat to read that you will devour” (The Irish Post), “a diverting and entertaining read” (Evening Herald) and “genuinely funny” (Books Ireland), the book can be purchased for €10 (including worldwide P&P) directly from the author via http://www.lordoftherams.com/buythebooksigned.htm. Read FREE extracts of the book at www.lordoftherams.com.

Strange Things Doctors Say …

March 1st, 2012

‘Ya have to go to the doctor. Seriously.’

I had a lump on the side of my head that was pushing my ear out west like a signpost, and yet here I was in the office working away with not a care in the world. One person after another told me that such a sudden anomaly deserved the attention of a doctor, so at last I relented. Anything for a bit of peace and quiet.

Source: google.es via Emme on Pinterest

My regular doctor was on holidays when I arrived at the medical centre on a hot June afternoon in 2006. The replacement doctor welcomed me into her surgery, and I explained my symptoms. She then proceeded to march me up to a wall-length mirror and, standing behind me, she said:

‘Do ya see that now?’ Ya have a big lump there at the side of your head.’

‘Yes, I know,’ I thought. ‘That’s why I’m here. Where did they get her from?’

Sitting me back down on a chair, the doctor’s next question did little to reassure me that I was in capable hands.

‘What do you think it is?’ she asked.

Wonderful. I’m paying 50 odd euro for the privilege of diagnosing myself. I could have done that back in the office. However, I decided to help her out.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, shrugging my shoulders. ‘Maybe something glandular.’

‘Yes,’ she exclaimed rather excitedly. ‘I think you’re right. It looks like something glandular.’

And with that, she wrote out a prescription (more money) for antibiotics and told me I’d be right as rain in a few days.

Turns out it wasn’t anything glandular, but an early symptom of mumps that, over the course of the next three days, left me bed-ridden with a high fever, chronic diarrhea and a nadge bag the size of a football.

A day or two after I returned to work, I got a call from the medical centre. My regular doctor was back and wanted to see me. My guess was that the replacement doctor had killed most of his patients in his absence, and he was now trying to save the last few who remained.

Fortunately, I was in somewhat better shape a few years later when a health practitioner visited my place of work to offer free health check-ups. After conducting a quick-check cholesterol test, she seemed very enthusiastic about my results.

‘Your cholesterol is perfect,’ she said. ‘God, I wish I had your cholesterol.’

Moving onto the urine sample I had brought into the examination with me, she held it aloft in the light and stared in awe at it.

‘That’s very clear,’ she said. ‘You must eat lots of fruit and vegetables.’

‘Not really,’ I stated truthfully. In fact, at that time at least, I seldom ate five a week, never mind five a day.

‘Ah ya do,’ she said, not believing me for a second and taking another look at the urine sample. For a moment, it looked as if she wasn’t short of guzzling it down like a thirsty gazelle.

Although the diagnosis was good on that particular day, it was even better back in 2006 when the doctor confirmed that I had likely been enduring mumps instead of the glandular problem diagnosed by his colleague.

Completing his examination, he confidently assured me that the future was very bright indeed.

‘You’re going to live forever,’ he said, face beaming.

‘Ah now,’ I thought to myself. ‘Bring back the other lunatic. At least, she’s a bit closer to the mark.’

Ronan Smith is the author of Munterconnaught’s best selling comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams. Described as “a real treat to read that you will devour” (The Irish Post), “a diverting and entertaining read” (Evening Herald) and “genuinely funny” (Books Ireland), the book can be purchased for €10 (including worldwide P&P) directly from the author via http://www.lordoftherams.com/buythebooksigned.htm. Read FREE extracts of the book at www.lordoftherams.com.

Shame on you, Ray Houghton (Extract from Lord of the Rams)

November 16th, 2011

So, after a 10-year wait, Ireland has at last qualified for a soccer tournament: Euro 2012. Our mere qualification should give the country a great boost next summer, and I’m looking forward to the draw and  the unfolding drama at the tournament itself.

I remember celebrating Ireland’s 2002 World Cup progress for almost a month, watching Packie Bonner save that infamous penalty at Italia ‘90, the great football songs from Euro ‘88 and the other tournaments,  and of course cheering on the team throughout USA ‘94.

This particular extract from Lord of the Rams captures my experiences during that historic ‘94 meeting between Ireland and Italy.

Ray Houghton has a lot to answer for. Sure, he is an Irish soccer legend who famously put the ball in the English net, but he’s also partly responsible for one of the biggest drinking sessions in Irish history.

It was June 1994 and, with just one final exam to sit in the Junior Certificate, the Rams and his mates were already in party mood. Rams and Mara had been attending discos at Springs for almost a year, and now Stano, Terry and Boo Boo were also on board, meaning they all potentially had a great summer of partying ahead of them.

The football World Cup had kicked off, and the Irish team faced a daunting challenge in their opening match against Italy at the Giant’s stadium in New York. The game was to take place on a Saturday evening Irish-time, and it was to be broadcast live on a big screen at Springs, with a disco to follow. The lads hopped on a mini-bus in town, and arrived at Springs early enough to secure a table with a decent view of the screen.

First they had to get past the bouncers. Normally this wasn’t a problem, only this time there were two gardai inspecting ID cards at the door. The Rams had a bit of a predicament on his hands because his precious fake ID had been confiscated by a bouncer on a recent visit to the club, and now he didn’t know how he was going to gain entry.

Fortunately, Lady Luck was in town that night and so was Paschal Baugh. Paschal was a fellow Munterconnaught man, in his mid-twenties, and a hell of a sound fella to boot. He had been playing with his popular band, Abinitzio, in the lounge bar of the Springs that evening, and was packing some of the band equipment into his car when the Rams spotted him. He quickly darted over to Paschal and, following a few minutes of small talk, asked if he could borrow some form of ID from him that would help him get past the gardai. Ever the obliging chap, Paschal rummaged through his wallet, but only managed to produce a blood donor card, which had nothing but his name on it.

‘That will do. Cheers Paschal,’ said the Rams, and he rejoined the queue for the nightclub.

When the Rams reached the top of the queue, the local Sergeant greeted him and pulled him aside for the obligatory interrogation.

‘Could I see some form of identification please?’

The Rams searched through his wallet for a few moments before calmly replying.

‘I seem to have left my ID at home, Sergeant. All I have is this blood donor card.’

‘There’s no date of birth on this card,’ growled the Sergeant in an attempt to rain on Rams’s parade.

‘Ah, but you have to be at least 18 to carry one of these cards,’ grinned the Rams, pleased that he had surely put the Sergeant back in his box.

‘Is that right? Tell me Paschal; where are you from?’

‘Munterconnaught.’

‘Easy question,’ thought the Rams. ‘Keep them coming.’

‘Have you any brothers or sisters?’

Now this was a strange one. The Rams didn’t know the Baugh family well. Paschal was the youngest in the family. He had an older brother, Damien, but that was about as much as Rams knew about the Baugh family tree. Nevertheless, surely any answer would suffice in order to appease the Sergeant.

‘Just the one brother, Damien.’

‘And what’s your mother’s name?’

‘Fucked if I know. But sure I’m on a roll here. I might as well fill this lad full of shite.’

‘Bridie, Sir.’

‘Now you listen here, Son,’ roared the Sergeant. ‘I know the Baugh family very well. I know Paschal and all of his many brothers and sisters. I even know his mother. Hell, I could probably tell you what the Baughs had for breakfast this morning. I’m warning you now. If you ever darken this door again, you’ll be in a whole heap of trouble.’

Having confiscated the donor card, the Sergeant proved that he wasn’t a complete ogre by allowing Rams into the club, despite his deceitfulness.

‘Jaysis, it’s a small old world,’ said the Rams, stating the obvious as he rejoined his friends at a table close to the dance floor. Shortly thereafter, the DJ began fuelling the soccer frenzy with classic Irish football songs such as Put ’em under pressure and Give it a lash Jack. Rams was the only one amongst his group not drinking beer. Most of the lads had recently begun experimenting with drink, but Rams was holding tight—at least for the time being.

Mara began guzzling back the pints with the thirst of a well-parched camel and, by the time the pre-match coverage started, he was as pissed as a fart. Spirits were high throughout the nightclub as the match got underway. Italy may have been the hot favourites, but you can never count out the Irish. With only 11 minutes gone in the match, Houghton intercepted an attempted clearance from Baresi and then, from 40 yards out, he quickly turned and fired an incredible shot over the head of the out-of-position Pagliuca. Everyone in the Springs, along with every other man, woman and child in the country, began screaming in an unparalleled and unified moment of euphoria. As the time ticked by, Ireland’s other hero of the day, Paul McGrath, played out of his skin to help his country secure a historic win. Once again and, not for the last time that night, Put ’em under pressure and Give it a lash Jack reverberated throughout the club. People were dancing all over the place, sworn enemies became best friends for the night, and there wasn’t a single soul failing to contribute to the electric atmosphere.

A large puddle of vomit consumed an area close to where the lads had been sitting. It wasn’t the watery type of puke one might associate with over-consumption of alcohol. Instead, it looked like someone had been mixing cement and poured it onto the floor. It was obviously the creation of some gobshite or other who had opted for chips and a few burgers before taking more drink on board than they could handle.

Undetected by Mara, the cement mix seemed to be drawing him closer to it as he danced a drunken dance that no man had ever seen before or would like to see again. In no time, Sean George was gyrating atop the puddle and, as people ran for cover in case they’d be splashed amid the horrific jig, he slipped in the mess, covering himself from head to toe in the vomit. Puking over oneself is never good, but dressing in someone else’s regurgitated dinner is just inexcusable. Nonetheless, Mara seemed unaffected and, getting to his feet, he continued the dance that was—because of the fall—now more gross than it was entertaining.

As the madness ensued throughout the club, the Rams decided that he’d bite the bullet and sample some alcohol. With money constraints at the back of his mind, he decided to take a swig or two from Boo Boo’s bottle of Heineken and, once that went down okay, he made for the bar to buy his first beer.

That infamous night in Springs in June 1994 marked the beginning of a long era of drinking sessions that would take the lads to many strange towns, resulting in numerous eventful and often hilarious adventures. Shame on you, Ray Houghton; you set the wheels in motion for all that followed.

Ronan Smith is the author of Munterconnaught’s best selling comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams. Described as “a real treat to read that you will devour” (The Irish Post), “a diverting and entertaining read” (Evening Herald) and “genuinely funny” (Books Ireland), the book can be purchased for €10 (including worldwide P&P) directly from the author via http://www.lordoftherams.com/buythebooksigned.htm. Read more FREE extracts of the book at www.lordoftherams.com.

Celebrating Lord of the Rams Day

July 21st, 2011

This Sunday 24 July 2011 will mark the three-year anniversary of the launch of Lord of the Rams.

To celebrate the most auspicious occasion that is Lord of the Rams Day, I have released a new Lord of the Rams story, which is available exclusively to followers of my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/lordoftherams.

Those of you who read Lord of the Rams may recall a story about a dog eating something vile that he shouldn’t have. A number of readers have mentioned this part of the book to me over the past few years, and some said I went too far – that I perhaps shared too much information.

So, if you are of a weak disposition, I must warn you. This new story is utterly disgusting. I like to call it “A Genuinely Shit Lord of the Rams Story”.

Until next time!

Ronan Smith is the author of Munterconnaught’s best selling comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams. Described as “a real treat to read that you will devour” (The Irish Post), “a diverting and entertaining read” (Evening Herald) and “genuinely funny” (Books Ireland), the book can be purchased for €10 (including worldwide P&P) directly from the author via http://www.lordoftherams.com/buythebooksigned.htm. Read FREE extracts of the book at www.lordoftherams.com.

Travelling the World—A Lot Done, More to Do

May 19th, 2011

How many countries have you been to? And how many cities? What is your favourite place in the world?

It’s very seldom these days that you meet somebody who doesn’t like travelling. We are remarkably blessed to live in an era where we can travel to the other side of the world in less than 24 hours. Once you have money and time at your disposal, the world really is your oyster.

Anybody who read my comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams, will know that I was already 22 before I went on my first foreign trip. However, I’ve made up for a bit of lost time in the 11 years since then. Although I’ve never taken a year out to go travelling (as seems almost obligatory these days) I do try to get away as much as possible.

I’m also a sucker for statistics and, in researching my travel habits for the work-in-progress Lord of the Rams travel memoir, I’ve realised that I’ve:

  • Been on 44 foreign trips (an average of 4 per year) since 2000
  • Visited 23 countries
  • Visited 57 cities (plus many towns, villages, etc.)
  • Spent more time in London than any other city (43 nights over 17 visits)
  • Spent more time in England than any other country (50 nights over 19 visits)
  • Spent 219 nights outside Ireland, of which I have spent:
    • 127 nights in Europe
    • 36 nights in Asia
    • 33 nights in North America
    • 19 nights in South America
    • 4 nights in the air between continents

But of course travelling isn’t about statistics. It’s about new experiences, people and places.

Over the years, I’ve walked the Great Wall of China, peered into the Grand Canyon, trekked to Macchu Picchu, and rambled around the excavated city of Pompeii.

I’ve bob-sleighed in Sigulda (Latvia), hang-glided over Rio De Janeiro, segwayed around the streets of Copenhagen, gone horse and camel riding in Terelj (Mongolia), sea-fished in Mar Del Plata (Argentina) and Helsingborg (Sweden), rode the Bullet Train in Japan, travelled across great swathes of Siberia by train and retraced the steps of Vlad the Impaler in Transylvania.

I’ve stood atop the Empire State Building and the Sears Tower, walked under the city of Edinburgh, explored caves in Postojna (Slovenia), gambled in Las Vegas, stormed around Graceland in Nashville and treaded silently around Anne Frank’s house (Amsterdam). Museums, palaces, an unhealthy amount of European castles, and an almost endless list of tourist attractions have all been conquered in London, Saarlouis, Saarbrücken, Metz, New York, Manchester, Boston, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Ljubljana, Postojna, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, Memphis, Chicago, Riga, Cesis, Sigulda, Kaunas, Vilnius, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Eindhoven, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Ulan Bator, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Basle, Budapest, Brasov, Sighisoara, Rome, Assisi, Hamburg, Sorrento, Positano, Rio De Janeiro, Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes, Buenos Aires, Mar Del Plata, Swansea, Cardiff, Bath, Liverpool, Copenhagen, Helsingor, Helsingborg and Malmo.

But travelling isn’t always plain sailing. I’ve been defrauded of thousands of euros by Nigerians in Tokyo, witnessed sickening bouncer violence and police corruption in Cologne, slept outside in sub-zero temperatures in Basle, cracked several of my ribs in Copenhagen and—worst of all—been accused of being American or English on more than a few occasions J But you have to accept the rough with the smooth, or you might as well stay at home.

Right now I’m planning a trip to the east side of Canada this summer. And there’s still a tonne of other places I want to experience: Chile, Bolivia, Columbia, Poland, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam all come to mind; not to mention the unvisited continents of Africa and Australia! And there’s many places I would love to go back to: Rio, Cusco, New York, Texas, Mongolia, Beijing … the list goes on and on.

London, New York and Boston all featured in colourful detail in Lord of the Rams, and I’ve also posted stories from my time in Las Vegas and Latvia ( i.e. extracts from the work-in-progress follow-up) on this blog. I look forward to sharing more misadventures in the future.

In the meantime, it’s time to get back to planning Trip 45!

Ronan Smith is the author of Munterconnaught’s best selling comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams. Described as “a real treat to read that you will devour” (The Irish Post), “a diverting and entertaining read” (Evening Herald) and “genuinely funny” (Books Ireland), the book can be purchased for €10 (including worldwide P&P) directly from the author via http://www.lordoftherams.com/buythebooksigned.htm. Read FREE extracts of the book at www.lordoftherams.com.

Feel free to share your travel stories in the comments section below.

FREE Lord of the Rams Story – Part 2

March 15th, 2011

It’s fitting—given that Saint Patrick’s Day falls this week—that Part 2 of this exclusive Lord of the Rams story takes place on a 5-day Saint Paddy’s Day holiday to Latvia in 2006.

After celebrating the public holiday in Riga, partaking in some hair-raising bobsleighing in Sigulda, and ordering dinner from an unusual menu in a Cesis restaurant, our intrepid adventurers set off to find a good pub in what is a very small and quiet town.

Note: Please read Part 1 of this story prior to reading Part 2 below (which continues directly from the end of Part 1).


…………………Draft excerpt from Lord of the Rams 2: A Tale of Four Continents…………………

‘Do you know any good bars around here?’ Rams asked the fresh-faced brunette waitress.

‘There is a bar about 100 metres from here,’ she replied. ‘It is called “Boomerangs”.’ She wrote some basic directions on a piece of paper and, as she handed it to Rams, he produced a crumpled parchment of his own.

‘And do you know where this nightclub is?’ he asked, pointing at his almost illegible scrawl.

‘Ah, Vidzemnieks,’ said the waitress excitedly. ‘I am going there later with my friends. It’s a very good place.’

Rams, delighted that his little bit of research on C?sis was beginning to pay off, decided to turn the Irish charm up a notch.

‘That’s fantastic. Sure we’ll have to have a drink and a dance later so. A bit of Riverdance.’

The waitress blushed, smiled and told the lads she would see them later. With Winston and Tom still waiting for their food, the four refreshed farmers decided to head to Boomerangs for a few drinks.

‘Sure we’ll see yas there within the hour,’ said Rams to the Tipperary pair before departing Cafe Popular. Following some good-humoured banter with the friendly blonde receptionist, the lads finally made their way up the town in search of Boomerangs.

‘That’s funny,’ said the Rams, looking at the waitress’s directions. ‘She pronounced the bar as “Boomerangs” but she spelled it as “Bumerangs”.’

‘So long as it’s not The George we’re going to,’ said Eugene, referring to Dublin’s infamous gay club.

‘I’d say we’re alright, Eugene,’ reassured the Rams. ‘She wouldn’t do that to us.’

Only half a dozen customers were enjoying a frosty March pint when the four Irish lads walked into Bumerangs like they owned the place. Four of the six existing customers were propping up the bar, all of them eyeing the strangers with suspicion.

Eugene ordered four beers from the barwoman as Rams jested once again with a still hungry Terry and Bowers about their sumptuous evening meal. Although Rams had his back turned to the four locals, he noticed they were beginning to raise their voices somewhat aggressively.

‘I hope these lads aren’t going to start anything,’ Rams whispered to Terry.

Suddenly the barwoman asked the lads where they were from, and she translated Bowers’s reply to the locals.

‘I’m just going to the jacks,’ said Rams to his friends. ‘We might want to drink up and blow this joint when I get back.’

Moments later Rams returned from the toilet just in time to see the ‘leader’ of the group purchasing a large bottle of vodka and presenting it to Eugene. By now Terry and Bowers were looking a bit nervous, perhaps wondering what motives lay behind their new friend’s most generous gesture. Eugene, for his part, tried in vain to give the vodka back to the Latvian man who was now sitting on the stool next to him.

‘You’re not going to drink that, are ya?’ Rams asked as Eugene grabbed a few shot glasses from the bar counter.

‘Sure what choice do I have? He won’t take “no” for an answer.’

So Eugene opened the bottle of vodka and poured generous shots for himself, Terry and Bowers. Rams, along with all four of the locals, declined the offer of a drink. Instead he supped on the remnants of his warm beer, waiting to see what would happen next.

It turned out that Eugene’s benefactor had a basic understanding of English, and his gift to the lads now presented him with the perfect opening to start a conversation with them—particularly Eugene.

‘Where are you from?’ he asked, as if the barwoman’s earlier translation had fallen on deaf ears.

‘Ireland,’ replied Eugene, smiling and somewhat bemused by the friendliness of the man.

‘And what is your sexual orientation?’

Terry nearly choked on his vodka, and Bowers looked like he was about to shit himself as he observed all four large Latvian men staring at Eugene in anticipation of a favourable reply.

Like most Munterconnaught men, Eugene needed but a fraction of a second to reply.

‘Women, women. I’m married,’ he stuttered before following up with, ‘Anything split down the front,’ and a nervous laugh.

One could probably have heard a mouse fart at that moment in Bumerangs—Eugene sitting sheepishly on his stool, four angry but horny Latvians salivating beside him, Terry and Bowers gulping down their vodkas, and Rams making sure he had his arse against a wall in case things turned nasty in a Deliverance sort of way.

‘What time did ya say the flight is going at, Rams?’ said Eugene, his shifting eyes indicating to his friend that a convincing tarradiddle was urgently required.

‘I think it’s leaving at three o’clock tonight. We’d want to be making tracks soon if we’re going to make that flight.’

‘Do you know how long it takes to get from here to Riga?’ Eugene asked his Latvian friend in an attempt to change the conversation and justify his imminent departure. ‘We are flying back to Ireland tonight, so we need to get a taxi to Riga.’

‘It’s about two hours from here,’ came the frosty reply.

Eugene necked the remainder of his vodka and turned to his friends.

‘Right, we’d better head for the airport.’

But the lads were already half-way out of the pub. Eugene once again attempted in vain to return the bottle of vodka to the Latvian, and then he too made haste for the exit.

‘You need to be truthful about your sexuality,’ called the Latvian after Eugene.

‘What sort of a place was that?’ asked Eugene as the lads walked briskly away from Bumerangs.

‘I don’t know but we won’t be making it the local,’ replied Rams.

—END—

Ronan Smith is the author of Munterconnaught’s best selling comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams. Described as “a real treat to read that you will devour” (The Irish Post), “a diverting and entertaining read” (Evening Herald) and “genuinely funny” (Books Ireland), the book can be purchased for €10 (including worldwide P&P) directly from the author via http://www.lordoftherams.com/buythebooksigned.htm. Read FREE extracts of the book at www.lordoftherams.com.

Writing a Best Man Speech: 7 Tricks of the Trade + Video

February 9th, 2011

I was very honoured and proud when Stephen, one of my closest friends, asked me to be his Best Man a number of years ago. For me, the role of Best Man is perhaps the greatest honour one male friend can bestow upon another, so I was genuinely humbled and excited by the task ahead.

Obviously the Best Man has a number of roles, but the most important one is undoubtedly the speech. I had already attended a number of weddings but could remember very little of the Best Man speeches – i.e. many of them were instantly forgettable. For Stephen’s wedding, I wanted to deliver something that:

  • Would make the newly married couple and their families proud, without embarrassing or offending anybody
  • Would be original, entertaining and fondly recalled by the guests.

In the months leading up to the wedding, Stephen gave me a Best Man speech-writing book he owned. He and I both presumed it might be of use. Upon reading the book, however, my first thought was that it was rife with bland and clichéd examples, boring advice, and negligible humour. I knew there was virtually nothing in the book that I would use in my speech. Part of this probably stemmed from the fact that, for better or worse, I often tend to do things my way – by ignoring or tearing up the rulebook.

So that’s what I did. Right from the off, I envisaged doing something visual – perhaps telling a story via a PowerPoint presentation. This might seem like a brave move – one to be tackled only by somebody who is very at ease with public-speaking. But in fact the opposite was true. I had never spoken in front of 130 people before, and I dreaded the thought of standing in front of them – everybody staring at me as I draw a blank and forget my lines. If at all possible, I didn’t want to be relying on notes either – fumbling through them to find the next part of my speech (as I’d often seen at weddings).

A PowerPoint speech would help deflect the guests’ attention from me to a large screen. It would also act as a visual aid, helping me to remember my lines easier. Possible technical issues aside (with the laptop, projector and remote), the PowerPoint option seemed like the way to go.

So I began thinking of ideas for the speech – running them through in my head and then looking for images to bring the “story” to life. Despite my insistence of doing things my way, there were a number of “rules” that I tried to follow, and that I would advise others to follow when writing a Best Man’s speech.

1        Know your audience
There will be a broad range of people at any wedding: young children, elderly people, maybe a priest or two. With that in mind, make sure the speech is profanity-free and that you don’t talk about ex-girlfriends or how your friend was a big slut in a past life – this is neither clever nor funny.

2        Reach out to your audience
Your speech should appeal to a large demographic. Not everybody at the wedding will know the groom well, or the bride for that matter. Your job is to ensure that you talk about the groom in an entertaining way so that your stories paint him in a strong light and reveal something of his personal life. Even though the speech I wrote for Stephen’s wedding was a tongue-in-cheek sketch of sorts, I did manage to incorporate plenty of real-life facts such as Stephen’s school nickname, his achievements at school and college, his science background, the first date with his wife, etc.

3        Don’t forget about the bride and bridesmaids
Most Best Man speeches should begin with compliments, firstly to the bridesmaids and then to the bride (I edited this section out of my speech on YouTube in order to cut to the chase). Towards the end of the speech, you should try to introduce the bride into the proceedings – perhaps with a funny tale about how she and the groom met.

4        Rehearse – but wait until the day before the wedding so that the speech is fresh in your mind
I was fine-tuning the speech for Stephen’s wedding right up until the evening before the big day. Only then did I begin rehearsing it. First I rehearsed it using sheets of cardboard  (containing the entire text for the speech) and then I began rehearsing it without the notes – only referring to them when I got stuck or drew a blank. After I had delivered the speech about three times without forgetting any bits or leaving anything out, I was reasonably confident that the work was done and I was (almost) ready for the real thing. To rehearse any speech, I would recommend that you are in a room on your own, free from distractions. I also used the TV remote as a practice microphone to help with the rehearsal process – you’d be surprised how awkward a microphone-shy speaker can appear if he hasn’t held a mic before.

5        Accept that not everything will go right on the day
No matter how much you rehearse a speech, it’s unlikely that you will remember everything you intended to say. I’ve been fortunate enough to be Best Man at three weddings (Stephen’s was the first) and, for all three speeches, I can recall inadvertently omitting small-medium chunks. Fortunately, all my speeches were in the 10-15 minute range so when I forgot something, I just moved on – and my audience was usually none the wiser. And sometimes I didn’t even realise I had left out bits until afterwards. If you’ve practiced your speech enough, then you won’t forget anything critical on the day. There will always be natural wastage, but chances are you will add a few ad-lib pieces on the day, so it will all balance out.

6        Nerves are Normal
I was very nervous on the day of Stephen’s wedding – sweating like a pig in fact. And because my speech was dependant on the seamless integration of a laptop and projector, I had to worry about potential technical difficulties as well as fluffing my lines. Apart from a nervous start and almost tourettes-like use of “Em” throughout the speech (which I also put down to nerves), I think I delivered the speech as well as I could. But practice makes perfect, and by the time I delivered my third Best Man speech in June 2010, I can honestly say that I wasn’t nervous at all. Nerves are normal though. Try to ensure you open your speech with a witty one-liner/introduction – this will help put both the audience and you at ease. Then you can relax and charge on with the rest of your speech.

7        Enjoy the Experience!
Speaking in front of a large audience at a wedding can be a very rewarding experience. You will never have a more receptive audience – and the free-flowing wine at most Irish weddings certainly helps in this regards. Have a few drinks yourself to relax, but don’t overdo it. Once the speech is behind you, you can enjoy the rest of the night and hopefully bask in the glory – plus handshakes and multiple congratulations – of a job well done. Remember, your friend could have asked anybody in the world to be his Best Man, but he chose you. So you owe it to him to do your best. As my mother used to say when I was a young lad, ‘As long as you do your best, then I’ll be happy.’ Touché.

So, here’s my speech from 2006. I hope you enjoy watching it as much I enjoyed doing it.

Best Man Speech by the Lord of the Rams

Ronan Smith is the author of Munterconnaught’s best selling comedy memoir, Lord of the Rams. Described as “a real treat to read that you will devour” (The Irish Post), “a diverting and entertaining read” (Evening Herald) and “genuinely funny” (Books Ireland), the book can be purchased for €10 (including worldwide P&P) directly from the author via http://www.lordoftherams.com/buythebooksigned.htm. Read FREE extracts of the book at www.lordoftherams.com.

FREE Lord of the Rams Story – Part 1

January 18th, 2011

Happy New Year. Although I’m working away on my first fiction novel, Dirtbirds, I haven’t totally forgotten about Lord of the Rams 2: A Tale of Four Continents, the sequel to Munterconnaught’s biggest selling book of 2008. Whilst the book is on hold for the time being, I hope to share the odd (rough) extract here from time to time.

The story below takes place in Latvia in 2006—I was actually recounting it to a group of people over the weekend, and I thought it would be no harm to post the written version online. Like the Vegas story I posted last year, Part 1 of this tale involves ordering food in a restaurant. Part 2 will be published to this blog in March. Feel free to comment below or share this link with your friends.

…………………Draft excerpt from Lord of the Rams 2: A Tale of Four Continents…………………
A taxi from Sigulda took the lads to Cesis in an hour. Regarded by many Latvians as an enduring example of pre-war, small-town Latvia, Cesis was characterised by some seductive narrow streets, castle ruins and—on this occasion—ankle-deep snow. It was a far cry from the busy city of Riga, and Rams was delighted with the opportunity to visit the ‘real Latvia’.

After checking into Hotel Cesis—a charming, recently modernised inter-war hotel overlooking the main square—the lads decided to freshen up before meeting for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Rams and Eugene were the first to show their faces in Cafe Popular. Both men were ravenous and decided to order dinner and let the others play catch-up when they arrived. The menu was a little strange in that it contained a number of weirdly-named dishes with no accompanying text to describe what the ingredients might be. Fortunately, Rams managed to find a fillet steak amongst the unconventional list, and he and Eugene ordered one each.

Terry arrived at the table just as the waitress finished taking the lads’ orders.

‘Jaysis, I’m starving,’ he announced. Quickly flicking through the menu, he turned impatiently to the Rams.

‘What did you order?’ he asked.

Winking surreptitiously at Eugene, Rams replied, ‘the “Farmer’s Refreshment”.’

‘And what’s that, now?’ asked Terry.

‘It’s a sort of a mixed grill,’ interjected Eugene. ‘Everything fucked in on it.’

‘Perfect,’ said Terry, calling over the waitress and ordering the mysterious dish.

Ten minutes later Bowers walked into the restaurant only to find Rams and Eugene tucking into prime slabs of fillet.

‘That looks the job,’ he said, eyeing the steaks hungrily. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s a Farmer’s Refreshment,’ said Rams mischievously. ‘It’s a savage feed. Ya may order one.’

Bowers, like everyone else at the table, had never eaten a Farmer’s Refreshment before, and his suspicious nature directed him towards Terry for reassurance.

‘What are you going for?’ he asked.

‘The same as the boys,’ said Terry, an unwitting accomplice to Rams’s prank.

Bowers, still not convinced, decided to order the only fish item on the menu.

‘I’m sorry, we have no fish today,’ said the waitress.

‘Alright, I’ll have the Farmer’s Refreshment,’ said Bowers.

Moments later Terry’s dinner was served and, much to the delight of Rams and Eugene, it was nothing but an omelette with a small side salad.

‘A fine refreshing feed for a farmer,’ laughed Rams while polishing off the remainder of his slab of beef.

‘You’re a fuckin’ bollocks, Rams. And you too, Tighe,’ howled Terry, but he couldn’t help but crack a smile at the childish antics of the Munterconnaught pair. More laughter ensued when Bowers’s fine steak-free dinner arrived.

‘Don’t go for the Farmer’s Refreshment whatever you do,’ Bowers warned Winston and Tom when they showed up moments later and began examining the menu. As the two Tipperary men scanned the menu for something that didn’t equate to rabbit food, Rams ordered more drinks for the table. But he was already thinking about where the lads might go after dinner.

To be continued …

—END—

Want to read more? Perhaps you might enjoy my original comedy memoir set in Ireland during the 1980s and 1990s. Purchase Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told (Now only €10 with free worldwide postage and packaging).

Favourite Reads of 2010

December 15th, 2010

The Book Thief, Shantaram, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, The Anniversary Man—I read a variety of books across a range of genres in 2010. But which of them made it into my second annual Top 3 Books of the year?

Note: Any book I read during the year, regardless of the date of publication, can (and does) feature on the list.

So, in reverse chronological order:

3. No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay
Cynthia Bigge wakes up one morning to find her whole family—mother, father and brother—have disappeared. So begins Canadian Linwood Barclay’s thriller—an engrossing, easy read that moves along at a great pace. 25 years have passed by and Cynthia is still none the wiser as to what became of her family. Then the jigsaw pieces begin falling into place, leading Cynthia and her husband, Terry, on a thrilling quest to solve the mystery. If you like Harlen Coben, give Linwood Barclay a try. An enjoyable page-turner and the best crime fiction I read in 2010.                                                    

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief will be familiar to many readers—it was the best selling debut literary novel of the year in 2007 (according to Amazon.co.uk).

It’s an unusual book (narrated by “Death”) that tells the story of a young girl, Liesel, who is fostered by a couple in Nazi Germany after her parents are sent to a concentration camp and her bother tragically dies. The newly discovered world of literature soon offers Liesel a way to forget her problems, and she begins stealing books whenever the opportunities arise.

Meanwhile she makes new friendships, most notably with her new foster parents, a boy called Rudy and a Jew hiding in the basement of her house. Life continues around Liesel despite the feeling—for the reader at least—that tragedy is but a moment away at any given time.

The Book Thief’s biggest strengths—and there are many—is undoubtedly the characters. Zusak makes you care about the believable and likeable characters he has created, and the book manages to tug at your heart strings on a number of occasions.

Thoroughly recommended and—in my view—a superior read to the similarly-themed The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

1. The Average American Male by Chad Kultgen
I reviewed this book back in July and raved about it on a number of levels—from its observational humour and raw honesty to its veiled intelligence and laugh-out-loud moments.

But this book is my top read of 2010 due to its downright addictiveness and entertainment value. True, The Average American Male isn’t the longest of novels (256 pages), but I simply could not put it down when I began reading. A lot of highbrow literature—the merits of which are plentiful—simply cannot entertain in the same way that Kultgen does with this contemporary piece of fiction. And while The Average American Male won’t be for everyone (for a start, it’s sexually explicit and very crude) it’s a book that many will relish and reread in the future. I recommended it to a work colleague recently, he subsequently bought it, and he hasn’t stopped raving about it since.

Read my full review and then make up your own mind. The Average American Male—best read of 2010!

Overall, 2010 was somewhat disappointing in terms of my book choices. Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts) nearly lost itself in philosophical babble (keeping it out of my top 3), and The Anniversary Man (RJ Ellory) was a solid read that paled in comparison to my favourite book of 2008 by the same author (A Quiet Belief in Angels). I read several biographies and memoirs—most of which were good, but none heralded classic status (like 2009’s Hitman).

2011 will hopefully yield some enjoyable reads.

I’m particularly looking forward to The Angel’s Game (by Carlos Ruiz Zafón) as well as new books from old favourites such as Jeffrey Deaver, and books I didn’t get to in 2010, including Lord of the Flies.

Until next year, over and out. Have a great Christmas.

Purchase my comedy memoir Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told (with free worldwide post and packaging). Now only €10!

Author Diary – Part 4

November 18th, 2010

How does writing fiction differ to writing an autobiography? The differences can be enormous depending on the project at hand—a crime thriller can’t, for example, follow the exact same planning process as an autobiography.

In my case, my new book Dirtbirds will share many themes and a similar writing style to my comedy memoir Lord of the Rams. However, one of the key differences in the writing process this time round revolves around the planning and structuring.

Because a memoir is—or at least should be—primarily based on fact, the author already knows his characters. Their hair colour, their personalities, their phrases—the author generally doesn’t have to think twice about these things.

With fiction, things are slightly different. The characters are derived from the author’s imagination, so unless he outlines their traits from the outset, it can be easy to lose track of things and make mistakes. For example, a book’s characters should have phrases associated with them only, as would be the case in real life.

If you’re writing a book with authentic Irish accents/phrases, it makes sense that one of your characters might say, for example, “No bother” on occasion. Common sense dictates that only one of your characters would speak like this, but it’s easy to unwittingly create characters who mirror each other’s language—the everyday language of the author even. Imagine watching an episode of Home & Away where everybody called each other “flamin’ galahs” a la Alf Stewart! Dialogue is something that needs to be checked and checked again to ensure that your characters are speaking in a realistic fashion. Autobiographies need to follow the same rule but fiction, which generally features more dialogue, is especially susceptible to this problem.

Timelines also need extra attention when you’re writing fiction. Whilst timelines are important in an autobiography, they can be verified and checked via research, photographs, etc. (although a surprising amount of autobiographies contain timeline errors that should have been picked up at the editorial stage). With fiction, the author creates the timeline and then must take steps to ensure that it is consistent throughout the novel. For example, if your novel is set in the present and your main character is 30, the timeline you create needs to be consistent with everything this character would have experienced during his 30 years—music listened to, world events experienced, etc. Again, it sounds like common sense, but it can be easy to include errors/inconsistencies in your writing if you don’t do some planning from the outset.

Dirtbirds is—I think—is beginning to take shape. I’ve just reviewed and edited the first five chapters and have another chapter waiting to be typed up. The chapters, thus far, are very short. But that’s the way I like them. I should surpass 10,000 words before Christmas and then I’ll take a nice break! 2011 will be a pivotal year in the writing of the book.

Progess Report

Word Count: 7,029 (typed)

Chapters Complete (1st Draft): 5 (typed)

Are you writing a book? Share some of your experiences via the comments box below.

Purchase my comedy memoir Lord of the Rams: The Greatest Story Never Told (with free worldwide post and packaging). Now only €10!


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