There’s something a bit off about this year, a bit odd. Haha, very good, I heard it too. No, I don’t mean the dreaded ‘rona, the coronavirus, COVID-19, the plague that’s a bit like the ‘flu only much worse that can kill you if you’re over a certain age and have an underlying health condition.

Thanks to COVID, 2020 might just have been the worst year in the history of mankind, and it’s still got two-and-a-half months left to go. God alone knows what torments are still in store for us.

But no, I was actually referring to something else, the lack of which this year only adds to the ever-growing misery. Normally, by this stage of the year, by mid-October, myself and my kids would be a good six or even seven weeks into watching a little televisual feast known to its millions of fans as The X Factor.

Our Saturday nights since the show’s inception in the early 2000s had all been blissful and without a shadow of a doubt the best night of every week, bar none. None, I tells ya. What wasn’t to love?

A takeaway in front of probably the most popular reality television show of all time, and all the good, bad and downright terrible singing you could ever ask for. Dermot O’Leary, for a long time the show’s polished presenter, even said it himself every time he came out on stage: ‘Your Saturday night starts here…!’ Dermot, it did indeed.

How would I describe the show to a space alien who’d never seen it? Well, thousands upon thousands of contestants queued up to audition for a place in Britain’s most high profile singing competition and reality television show, ‘reality’ meaning that it featured regular folks off the street, and not celebrities.

They’d come in their droves, the good, the bad, the bizarre, the weird, the wonderful, the sexy, the glamorous and the downright insane. Some of them could even sing. Some would come from halfway across the world, just for a chance at their five minutes (or more, but usually much less) of fame.

They’d gradually be whittled down to a few hundred who would then appear on the show as they went through auditions in front of the celebrity judges, then boot camp, which separated the men from the boys (we’re not allowed to say that any more as it’s politically incorrect, and quite rightly so. I mean, where are the women referenced?), and then Judges’ Houses and the live shows themselves, in front of a huge theatre audience.

I had such a huge crush on Simon Cowell, the show’s billionaire creator and head judge, back in the day. I loved everything about him, from his unnaturally white teeth, visibly hairy chest and perma-tanned skin to his high-waisted trousers and black, blocky, squared-off-at-the-top hairstyle.

What I probably loved most about him was the confidence and the sexy aura of power he exuded. I mean, he could decide to give a pretty girl a second chance even if she wasn’t a great singer and kept forgetting her words, or he could just put up his hand in the middle of someone’s audition and shake his head and say that the song was all wrong and could the person kindly sing something else?

In time, we grew to recognise the show’s ‘tropes,’ just like we’ve grown familiar with them in horror movies. When Simon did this, the contestant’s second song would be a big sad slow ballad and the audience would go wild for it. Then Simon would sit, looking smug, while the accolades poured in from all sides. It was magical.

A good sob story as your back-story served you just as well on the show, if not better than, your singing voice. If anyone belonging to you had recently passed away (grampy, your goldfish, bezzie mate), your chances of success sky-rocketed.

Sad music would accompany your relating of the back story, and the female judges might even be seen to carefully wipe away a smidgeon of a tear, which an unseen make-up artist would have placed there artistically with a plant spray a second earlier. It was top-notch fun, watching the show deliberately yanking on the viewers’ heartstrings like that.

Irish music mogul Louis Walsh was Simon’s sidekick for a long time. He became legendary for saying inane, generic things to the contestants like: ‘You look like a pop star, you sound like a pop star, you danced like a pop star, that was just great!’ and never giving any decent criticism that the acts could actually use.

Louis normally got to mentor ‘the groups,’ and if you got Louis as your mentor, you knew you were only going to ‘Oireland’ for your Judges’ Houses experience, and not to Simon’s beach house in the Bahamas or wherever. Getting Louis was a bit like drawing the short straw.

Simon often got ‘the girls,’ and didn’t he revel in it, lol. I loved when Cheryl Cole and Sharon Osbourne were judges. Sharon famously would have a little tipple before going on- or sometimes during!- the show, and she was gas craic.

Cheryl, who rose to fame with Girls Aloud on a reality television show called Popstars: The Rivals, was just so beautiful to look at. Her dresses and hairstyles gave us plenty to talk about week after week.

Of course, we always preferred watching the bad singers over the talented ones, especially the cocky ones who thought they were the new Elvis or David Bowie but in reality their croaking made the judges’ ears bleed.

We especially loved the ones who gave cheek or backtalk to the judges’ and queried the judges’ decisions. Sometimes their effrontery paid off, but more often than not, they’d be packed offstage with their tails between their legs.

We loved cringing at Jedward, cheering on Little Mix and One Direction and laughing at the hysterical antics of one Rylan Clark, when he was told by Nicole Sherzinger that he was going to be a ‘Sherzy Boy.’ Nicole was great to look at but a total fruit loop. Naturally, we put it down to her being American and larger-than-life, no offence to our transatlantic cousins, lol.

But then, of course, plummeting viewing figures caused Simon and the show’s bosses to mess with the X Factor’s golden format, with disastrous results. It was a terrible mistake to encourage contestants to sing their own material, for one thing.

We, the viewers, didn’t want to hear contestants’ own material, that we weren’t familiar with. We wanted to hear them murdering old favourites like Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and anything from ABBA. The quality of the content kept dipping and dipping. The quality of the content kept dipping and dipping. It bears repeating because it’s so true.

2019’s X Factor was a travesty, with so-called ‘celebrities’ who had already, for the most part, carved out showbiz niches for themselves competing against each other. X Factor had always, up to then, been about the common man. Or woman. (Boy, did they have some common women on the show!) It bombed, big-time. Sunk like the Titanic, without a trace.

And now the show’s been scrapped and all we have are our memories. Unless the show makes a comeback, never again will we see Simon Cowell’s hairy hand go up majestically in the middle of a contestant’s bad first song choice, only for the nervous auditionee to hit the spot with a deliberately chosen better second song choice. Oh well. At least there’s still Strictly Come Dancing. Anton du Beke, prepare to be fantasised about…!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.




What’s with the birds lately? It’s getting so that you can’t even go into the park for a bite to eat on your lunch break these days without being targeted, surrounded and intimidated by about a million of the little blighters, all with their hard beady eyes on your grub. It happened to me earlier today.

I had a rare hour to spend by myself, with no boring, repetitive jobs to do, for once. I worked it out recently that life is just a meaningless round of boring, repetitive jobs (pay rent, pay bills, top up your phone, take out the bins, go to the dentist/doctor, call a plumber/electrician/pest exterminator/undertaker, etc.) that you do every single day until you die.

And you do have to do them, because that’s just the way life is, but the ironic thing is that, whatever form the afterlife takes, it probably won’t matter a jot there whether or not you have a good credit record or kept your car filled with petrol and your teeth free of cavities. Ah well. There’s not a whole lot we can do about any of it, strictly speaking. That would probably be an ecumenical matter.

Anyway, there I was in my lovely local park, sitting on a bench, thoroughly enjoying the late autumn sunshine and the nice breeze and the fact that I had a precious hour to spend on myself. I took my chicken-and-egg sandwich, lovingly made by human hands but, thankfully, not by mine, out of my bag and took a bite. Mmmm. Yummers.

I looked up and saw that I had company. A sole pigeon, looking at me in that lopsided way they have, as if to say: ‘Whatcha eating?’ Bugger off, I muttered, changing my fearsome scowl to a smile as an old lady passed by, a smile meant to convey that I would never do anything so vile as kick a poor defenceless bird, and I wouldn’t, of course. But to defend myself, or preserve the integrity of my sandwich, I’d knee Old Nick himself in the nuts. Some things are worth protecting.

Anyway, I took another bite or two and looked up again, this time to find that my audience of interested observers had increased to about seven pigeons, two magpies (two for joy, thank Christ! You don’t want to see just one of those guys.), one tiny robin and a small child. Worse still, bustling down the park towards me at top speed, with all the determined efficiency of a park warden who’s just caught someone entering the park after he’s rung the bell for ‘feck off!,’ was a seagull…

Now, these lads have the wingspan of a pterydactyl and they can even break a human arm in a fight over bread. Wait, now, actually, that might be swans I was thinking of there, or geese, but seagulls are still pretty terrifying, especially inner city ones who have grown used to the proliferation of food waste we humans leave around the beautiful city of Dublin nowadays. Those buggers are spoilt, that’s their problem.

The seagull barreled self-importantly up through the crowd of birds (the mother of the small child had by now yanked little Noah or little Saoirse away by the arm, with the enticing words, you’ve got your carrot cubes if you’re hungry, pet!) and stood in front of me, looking straight at me as if to say: ‘Now then, now then, what’s all this commotion?’ and, also: ‘Giz a bite of yer sambo!’

‘Go away!’ I pleaded. ‘I don’t have any food here.’

Desperately, I shoved the sandwich back in my bag, then, still hungry, I stuck my head in the bag and took a clandestine bite. The seagull narrowed his eyes suspiciously, not fooled for a single second by my silly subterfuge, then made a funny sort of seagull noise.

Every seagull covering the lunch shift in the park began to make its way to my bench on hearing his call. I sat, terrified, clutching my bag, praying for deliverance, but not the gap-toothed, banjo-duelling hillbilly kind.

It came in the form of one of those council worker-operated vacuum cleaner things. As it trundled past, making its usual unholy racket (no-one passing within a mile of these machines can hear themselves think), it scattered the massing birds to left and right. They squawked indignantly at being thus routed.

I took my opportunity to grab my food and scarpered, only stopping to turn around when I was well clear of the park. The birds had wandered off in search of other pickings, except for my scary seagull friend. See you next time, frail human, his eyes and menacing stance seemed to say. Not if I see you first, I mouthed back.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.




Naturally, I never reveal my age (a lady’s prerogative, as I hope you’ll agree), but I can let slip this one telling fact; I’m old enough to have experienced the disturbing phenomenon known to some as the Bad School Dentist of Yore (male, by the way; they were always male).

I have distinct memories of coming home from appointments with this Bad Dentist, the accompanying parent hitting me over the head with the words ‘Whist up! There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re grand!’ and me all the while trying to alert same to the blood pumping from the hideous gap in my mouth and down my school jumper. We call them the Bad Old Days for reasons like this.

A book I read this year about the Magdalene Laundries of old (Ireland’s now-not-so-secret shame, and one that we still haven’t atoned for as a nation) was an eye-opener. If I had suffered at the hands of the Bad School Dentist of Yore, I imagine it was nothing compared to the experiences some women endured when the Man who Pulled the Teeth came a-calling at the behest of the nuns.

From what I gathered, this man needn’t even have been a qualified dentist. It seemed to me like he was just a local man with a pair of pliers in his toolbox, who pocketed a few extra quid from the nuns by yanking out the offending teeth of the so-called ‘penitents’ (they were not the ones who had anything to be sorry for!) without anaesthetic or after-care. Jesus wept.

Luckily for me, anyway, I grew up with good solid gnashers that haven’t needed much work over the years beyond the six-monthly cleaning and check-up. Recently, however, a check-up revealed that I had a filling which needed replacing.

Was I happy to hear this? About as happy as I would be to be told that my ‘f-f-f-fun-buddy’ would be classed as a close contact, and we can’t see each other during the pandemic for fear that we might give each other coronavirus. Oh, wait a minute. That’s already happened, lol. The sex-ban, that is, not the virus-passing! Still not happy about it, though. At this stage, a good ride might even be worth the risk…

Anyhoo. This had better not hurt me, I said darkly to my dentist this morning, re the filling replacement. In this namby-pamby snowflakey society we inhabit now, we’re totally allowed to say things like this to our service providers, and they totally have to pander to us like we’re spoilt, fussy children in case we take our bucks elsewhere. It’s a far cry from the Bad School Dentist of Yore and his ilk, and no harm either.

It’s just a little prick, my nice lady dentist assured me sweetly, or words to that effect. You won’t feel a thing. And you know what? She was right. My gum was numbed so that I wouldn’t feel the needle going in, then the nasty stuff- the scraping, poking and drilling- happened while I was all numbed up.

As a tired mammy-of-two, if you lie me down anywhere for a minute, I tend to nod off straightaway. Believe me when I said that I was very nearly relaxed enough during the procedure to doze off for a bit in the dentist’s chair. At the very least, I was able to come up with a few ideas for my next Work In Progress, THIRTEEN STOPS 4, which is quite hard to do at home because of all the distractions and calls on my time.

The best part was that I was petted and praised every step of the way, by the lovely lady dentist and her gentle female assistant, for being such a big brave girl. They just stopped short of gifting me with a lollipop on the way out. (I was mildly peeved about this. Where’s my lollipop?)

I thoroughly enjoyed the placating and encouraging. I felt like I was getting real value for money. In fact, the most painful thing about the whole experience was the bill for the filling I was presented with afterwards.

I decided to post this piece for the benefit of anyone who might be putting off going to the dentist after bad experiences in their childhood with the Bad School Dentist of Yore. Trust me, I’ve been there.

I solemnly promise you, though, that dentists aren’t like that any more. They’d be struck off, shure. You’ll be mollycoddled, pampered and jollied along, and, before you have time to fully finish your Chris Hemsworth-in-the-shower fantasy, the naughty canine/molar will be gone/filled/repaired/polished/shining like the roof of the Chrysler building. And that’s the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth. Guide’s honour.

(As coincidence would have it, the day after my dental appointment, I got talking to a lady in her sixties who was kind enough to share her own experience of the Bad School Dentist of Yore with me. This surpassed anything I had myself gone through. Her dentist reeked of booze and was actually smoking a cigarette while he treated her.

When ash from his cigarette fell on her person, she naturally started to cry. He called her ‘a little bitch’ and actually threatened to ‘strangle her’ if she didn’t pipe down. Do I believe this lady’s account of her childhood dental memories? To be honest, yes, absolutely. As the country with the Magdalene laundries on its conscience, we’ve actually done much worse.)


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.