The Shape I’m In: Paul Howard - 'Once we reach middle age, our bodies are like vintage cars'

EVERY morning, Paul Howard and his dog set off from Dublin at 7am to drive to Avoca, where he spends the day writing.

The Shape I’m In: Paul Howard - 'Once we reach middle age, our bodies are like vintage cars'

It all seems idyllic. But Humphrey, a seven-year-old basset hound, has a mind of his own and has little interest in doing what he’s told.

“He’s incredibly stubborn,” says Paul. “He never does what he’s told. I could call him for an hour and he’ll never come, but the second I stop calling him, he’ll come over to me. I don’t have a huge amount of patience, but he has taught me patience.”

A full-time writer, his work includes scripts for film and TV, along with journalism. Last year he published a biography — “a 10-year project” — on Tara Browne, the Guinness heir who died before his time.

He is also the creator of Ross O’Carroll Kelly, the Dublin 4 rugby snob. What would Ross have to say about Ireland crashing out of the World Cup last week?

“He is blissfully unaware of soccer. He was sent to Blackrock College, because his dad wanted to make sure that he and soccer led parallel lives. His dad kept him indoors during Italia ’90, just in case anyone ever told him what was going on.”

  • Paul Howard is shortlisted for a Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award for his book Operation Trumpsformation, by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, in the Specsavers Popular Fiction Book of the Year. The awards take place next Tuesday and will air on RTÉ One the following evening at 9:30pm.

What shape are you in?

I ’m always about half a stone heavier than I should be. I usually walk for about two hours per day, but achieving ‘full fitness’ is something I no longer kid myself about. A doctor told me a couple of years ago that once we reach middle age, our bodies are like vintage cars. They’re never going to be factory- perfect again.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I eat a lot of fish, for lunch and dinner. I eat six or seven portions of it a week. And I love vegetables. I don’t eat much red meat or too many carbs during the week.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

Southern fried grits, I’m just obsessed with them, with fistfuls of cheddar cheese and bacon lardons for breakfast every Saturday morning. I can almost feel my arteries thickening with every mouthful.

What would keep you awake at night?

The nagging sense that something I wrote that day isn’t right. My strong inner critic possibly comes from having Vincent Browne as my first boss in journalism. I’m constantly interrogating every single sentence, every single word that I write.

How do you relax?

A hot bath. Sometimes, I’ll put oil in if it’s there. I have incredibly bad posture and, when I’m sitting at the desk for eight or 10 hours a day, I tend to tense up muscles in my left shoulder. We have a television in the bathroom, so I don’t find it difficult to kill an hour or an hour-and-a-half in the bath. I just feel really new when I get out.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Diego Maradona, Mike Tyson and Germaine Greer. Wouldn’t know what to serve, though.

What’s your favourite smell?

Freshly-cut grass. It reminds me of spring and the sense that everything is growing again. It also reminds me of carefree days during childhood — my brothers and I were out all the time, playing football, getting into trouble and all kinds of things.

What would you like to change about your appearance?

Nothing. I’m not vain about my appearance. If you saw photographs of me as a teenager, you’d understand why.

When is the last time you cried?

The last time I listened to Ronnie Drew sing ‘Nora’, which was about a week ago. The line “our dreams they never came true, Nora” is one of the saddest I’ve ever heard because whose dreams do come true? It’s a beautiful sentiment in a love song — life didn’t turn out like you thought it was going to but that doesn’t matter, you still love each other.

What traits do you least like in others?

People who don’t respect queue etiquette.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

Impatience. Crankiness.

Do you pray?


What would cheer up your day?

A day without music is a day without joy. There are very few things that I wouldn’t listen to, once it was recorded before the year 2000. When it fails, brandy is a good back-up plan.

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