Dublin Daffodils

This is the text of a my piece which was broadcast on RTE Radio One’s Sunday Miscellany on 15th March last. You can also listen back here

March is the month of the Dublin daffodils.  All over the suburbs of our capital city, in gardens, on grass verges, on roundabouts and central medians of our dual carriageways, there are great swathes of brave daffodils who seem to smile at us, regardless of the battering they may be getting from the wind and the rain.  They do their level best to remain standing, nodding their heads and bringing a splash of sunny yellow to our increasingly grey urban environment.

My father and my brother both died in March – different Marchs and many years ago.  My brother died very suddenly and in the immediate aftermath of his death, my world went very dark.  I found myself marooned behind a black wall of grief and shock.  Everything had seemingly changed and I felt as if nothing would ever be the same again.  Then one morning, about a week after he died on St Patrick’s Day 1996, I looked out my window and for the first time I noticed a large clump of daffodils, standing together in their bright yellow clothes that seemed almost irreverent to me, in my deep mourning.  What right had they to be so cheerful?  

But as I stared at them, willing them to show me some respect, something inside me changed.  Because it was those daffodils, on a piece of parkland outside my house, that made me realise how important it was for me to hold onto hope; the hope that although all may ultimately be changed, all will be well, in time. 

March is often the month when winter feels at its longest.  We are regularly becalmed in the cold, the rain, the storms and sometimes even the snow when we are longing to move forward into the sunnier, warmer, gentler longer days of spring and summer.  Sometimes we can almost smell those days which we know should waiting somewhere in the wings but which tantalisingly remain beyond our grasp.  But the daffodils know better.  They are fearless about breaking through the hard, frosty ground in order to deliver their message, year after year after year.

Last Thursday as I drove along the N11, listening to the radio and trying to come to terms with the new reality in which we all find ourselves right now, the bouncing daffodils once again caught my eye and made me think.   

They made me think that this too will pass.  These days of uncertainty, when many of us are fearful of what the immediate future might hold, will pass.  The Dublin daffodils, stand together in groups to give each other mutual support.  They dare to wear their bright finery while we are still in the grip of cold winds.  Their whisper remains as it ever was.  They say that even when everything goes dark, when nothing looks as it was, when we are unsure as to how to carry on, we must hold onto hope. We must stand together and encourage each other.  And we must never lose the belief that better days are ahead.

So, when it seems like we are all paralysed by the current crisis, when it seems that our world has stopped and our lives have been forced into some kind of weird holding pattern, we need to see and to listen to the daffodils. They tell us that all is not as we might think.  Beyond our awareness, this planet we call home is still turning, so that day still follows night and in time it will also deliver our summer.  And so, while we support each other through these uncharted waters and do what we need to do to stay safe and well, we need to remember that this time will pass.  And all will be well.  The daffodils tell us so.   

An Unexpected Gift

(Broadcast on Sunday Miscellany RTE RADIO 1  January 2011)

The recent December snowfall, which caused such travel chaos, also brought with it some unexpected and beautiful gifts, which was very appropriate in the run up to Christmas.

The uncommon arrival of such deep snow inserted a large comma into the normally manic days preceding Christmas.  The kid’s school was closed, I wouldn’t drive and so life took on a whole new way of being.  Lighting an afternoon fire and making bedtime hot water bottles became essential and were reminders of a previous, simpler way of life.  As Christmas neared, I made two shopping excursions facilitated by my husband and his jeep.  Knowing I wouldn’t be venturing forth again forced me to focus on essentials as opposed to striving to create festive perfection.  It was the most relaxed Christmas week ever.  Trudging through snow to Mass on Christmas Eve was an added magical bonus of the arctic weather.

But more than all that, I just loved the special quiet that a thick blanket of snow brings.  That uniquely snowy hush as the earth is wrapped up in frozen whiteness.  I was tucking my children into bed one night when my youngest said “mom, listen.  What’s that sound?”

I stopped and listened.  As I whispered “that’s the fog horn on the end of Dun Laoghaire pier” I was whisked back over forty years to my own childhood bedroom in Blackrock, about a mile from the sea.

How many nights did I lie in my bed listening to that very same, regular sound as it floated out over Dublin Bay? If I listened very closely, way off in the distance, the Dun Laoghaire fog horn was answered by the one on Howth Head.  I used to wonder about what ships might be in the bay, hearing the low drone of the fog horns.  Who were on these ships?  Where were they going?  Where they safe?  Was the sound of the fog horn reassuring to them or did it sound an ominous warning.

I used to imagine a young deck hand, a boy perhaps a little older than me, onboard one of these ghost ships of my imagination.  Was he wishing he could be home, tucked up safely in his bed as I was?

Back then I was in national school in Monkstown where I was very lucky to have a wonderful teacher who was steeped in local history and folklore.  She often told us the stories of 18th century shipwrecks that occurred just off the coast of Dun Laoghaire and Dalkey.  Her stories were vivid and totally captivated my childish imagination.  She told us that many of the victims of these tragedies were buried in the old graveyard on Carrickbrennan Road.  So as I lay there on those winter nights, my mind also wandered to their ancient headstones and I wondered if these lost souls could hear the mournful tune of the fog horn. Perhaps if they had been able to hear a fog horn, back on the night their ships sank, their lives could have been saved.  According to my teacher, many of them perished because in the foggy confusion they did not realise just how close to the shore they were.

“What are you thinking mom” brings me back to my daughter’s bedroom.  “I’m thinking about how much I love the sound of the fog horn and how we have never heard it here before.”

What a wonderful gift the snow delivered – a last chance to fall asleep to the comforting, regular, heartbeat of the fog horn on Dun Laoghaire Pier.

Next Tuesday, 11th of January, Ireland’s fog horns, having outlived their usefulness, will be switched off for good.  I doubt I will be alone in missing their lonely yet comforting call on winter nights.

Cats and how they can break your heart

Ernest Hemingway said that “a cat has absolute emotional honesty; human beings, for one reason or another may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.”  And as someone who has lived with cats all her life, I think our Ernest is right.  But I never really thought that cats were that fickle until I lost the love of two of my most beloved felines.  And yes, I live (or lived) with four of them.  Let me tell you my tragic tale.

We have a permanent population of four cats.  The older two are boys – Scooter and Diego and the younger two are girls – Mabel and Oprah.  Now Oprah was a feral young cat that we rescued from the back yard of a pub in Dalkey, one very cold December day about four years ago. We knew that she would never be a lap cat as she was always wary of people.  But we kept her indoors until she had all her vaccinations and was spayed and then she joined the others in using the cat flap to come and go.  Although not keen on people, Oprah got on well with our other cats and they with her.  And even though she spent most of her time outdoors, all was well.  All was calm.

About two years ago Oprah started to spend more and more time outside, only coming back to us maybe every two or three days.  These intervals increased, although every time she did return, she looked well and happy.  We figured that she had adopted another family who were also feeding her but it seemed to suit her so we were cool with that.  By last summer we figured that as Oprah was now only a part-time member of the family and so it appeared we had a vacancy.  And so as always happens our next kitten came into our lives a few weeks later.

We were visiting our local pet superstore where a local cat rescue group where ‘showcasing’ their wares so to speak. And yep, we all fell in love with a long-haired tortoiseshell kitten with, wait for it, only three feet!  The little mite had been born without the foot on the end of one of her back legs. As experienced cat owners who could afford to pay for the radical surgery she would need once old enough, we knew she was the cat for us.

And so, we were restored to four full time cats.  Now we have long experience of introducing a new kitten into the family. As usual we kept her in a room on her own till she relaxed and was comfortable and slowly introduced her to the rest of them and increased her access to the rest of the house.  As usual the others weren’t overly delighted at this new addition who we named Rio, but that was normal. It would just take time.  Except this time, it didn’t.

From the get go, the boys, Scooter and Diego hated her.  They were clearly very put out and so they went out, a lot.  But it was last summer with its glorious weather and I was sure they’d come around as soon as the days shortened and the temperature dropped. Except they didn’t.

Now let me be very clear, both Scooter and Diego were typical neutered male cats; affectionate, lazy and very laid back.  They were the cats who slept at the end of my bed, who joined me on the sofa to watch TV, who thought all my meals should be shared and who I know loved me.  Like, a lot.

As winter began to bite harder, Rio had her operation which involved the amputation of the footless leg and I hoped this might soften our lads’ hearts. Rio adapted well and hops around more like a rabbit than a cat. But the lads stayed away.  They came in to eat and if it was very cold, they would stay in and sleep – usually somewhere far away from the rest of us.  But they wouldn’t look at us and worst of all if we picked them up, they actually growled.

That was a year ago and nothing has changed, except we discovered Diego’s new family who live two doors away (he was always lazy). We have asked them not to feed him and they don’t but he still prefers their house to ours.  As for Scooter – we sadly haven’t seen him now for weeks. He seems to have found his new home a little further away.

This is not a funny story but a rather sad one which I hope doesn’t spoil your Sunday. But I share it because it underlines what being a cat companion is all about. They are the boss. Every day they make a choice to share their lives with you and when it’s over it is over. As Ernest said they are absolutely honest.

And yes, I guess we now have a vacancy, or maybe two.  But what we really want is our boys back at home where they belong.  So, if you have any suggestions (based on science or solid experience) please send them this way. And getting rid of Rio ain’t one.

Top left is Rio, right is me and Diego.  And bottom is me and Scooter who never really understood selfies.

HOW TO HANDLE THE LONG FLIGHT YOU WILL NEED TO TAKE TO FIND THE SUN THIS YEAR

So, I know I might be a bit premature on this, but the signs so far aren’t great for a good summer and I am beginning to panic.  I have checked my social media posts from last year and by May the weather was already settling into a nice warm pattern which as we all know continued all through June and July and into August.  We ran out of water, we drank lots of cider and made plans for outdoor events like we were Australians. By September last year, Met Eireann had declared 2018 to be one of the hottest and driest on record.  I know this isn’t good news with global warming and climate crisis and all that but boy, wasn’t it glorious?

However, in our hearts we all know that last year’s long hot summer was an aberration.  Ireland, beautiful and all as it is, is usually wearing a grey shroud of mist and rain.  So, have you thought about what you will do if we get to September and the sun hasn’t really shone? If we face into winter with no tan and no vitamin D stored in our bones.  What then?  By the time winter sets in you will have to travel for at least 4 to 5 hours south to find heat and even then, it can be ropey enough in the Canaries in mid-winter.  So maybe we should start saving now for that long-haul holiday we have always dreamed of.  I’m convincing myself here as much as anything else, you understand?

‘But’, I hear you say, ‘long-haul travel is awful.  All that jetlag.  It’s not worth it’.  Well this I know something about and let me tell you with the right attitude and some advance planning, long-haul travel can be easier than a short haul flight on a budget carrier where you will be squeezed into a seat that is designed for a munchkin, where you will have to stow your carry-on bag twenty rows further down the aircraft which also means you will have to be last off the flight, if someone doesn’t mistakenly kidnap it. Or maybe steal it.

So, what do you need to do in advance of your trip somewhere exotic?

Well the first thing is to sign up for airmiles.  Just in case you get the bug.  Booking flights online is the same regardless of distance but I often use a travel agent to make sure I am getting the best rate on the particular route.

Your long-haul look!

Once you are booked you can start planning for the journey. First up is to organise your long-haul outfit. You need to be as comfy as possible, so soft, stretchy, forgiving fabrics – your PJs maybe?  And wear layers so you can adapt to differing temperatures.  And dark colours – you are far more likely to spill your coffee all over yourself when you’re tired and in a confined space.  Mind your feet by allowing them to breath and expand (yep, feet and ankles are not great flyers as you get older – or maybe that’s just me).  Flip flops or a sandal like a Birkenstock are great, although make sure they are comfortable as you will have to walk quite a distance at the airports. And don’t bother with make-up. You skin will thank you and it will need plenty of moisturising during the journey.

What You Should Carry On

Remember you will most likely be able to check in your luggage in for the entire journey but it’s a good idea to take a carry-on suitcase too with a change of clothes and an outfit or two just in case your baggage gets delayed.

Also, in your hand luggage make sure you have a Ziplock plastic bag with a mini toothpaste, deodorant, a little light cologne, face moisturiser, lip balm and hand wipes.  And remember no liquid over 100mls.

Getting Your Head Together

Then you need to put your head in the right space for the journey.  You do that simply by seeing your journey as something to be enjoyed rather than endured. Because seriously how hard is it to sit on your ass for hours watching movies, listening to music or reading a book while you are fed and watered?

Keeping Body and Soul Together

Speaking of which bring an empty water bottle with you. You can usually fill it from a drinking fountain near your boarding gate and most large aircraft have water taps by the galley where you can refill as you like. And it’s easier to manage a bottle on a flight than the tiny plastic cup you’ll get onboard. Staying hydrated and keeping alcohol to a minimum is one of the keys to feeling good when you arrive at your destination.

Buy some of your favourite snacks at the airport, as airline food can be a bit, well underwhelming. I like to take nuts and some chocolate.

A Bigger Aircraft Is Better

Long-haul means a larger aircraft and so boarding is very civilised as it is done by zone. You sit and wait to be called – no unseemly queuing.  Once onboard you will find both your seat and legroom is better than you are used to and you will likely find a blanket, cushion and perhaps a bag of personal items (toothbrush, toothpaste and eye mask for example), depending on the airline.

Are We There Yet?

As you settle in the first thing you should do is to set your watch to the time at your destination and during the journey don’t allow yourself or your travelling buddies to indulge in thoughts of what time it is at home or what you would be doing if you were there. And do not check the progress of your flight until you really have to.  It’s the equivalent of the kids asking “are we there yet” as you reverse off the drive at home. Don’t do it.

Finally, if you’re a reader take a Kindle as opposed to a book, especially if your eyesight is a bit ropey.  In a dimmed cabin it’s much easier to read an e-reader than a book.

Jet Lag

A word about jet lag.  Try to board your flight tired and nap as much as you can.  I have long since lost my fear of snoring or my mouth dropping open.  During the flight keep focussed on the time at your destination and when you finally arrive, STAY UP. Do not be tempted to have a nap. Power through and go to bed at normal bedtime wherever you are.  I have found that by so doing I rarely suffer jetlag.

Sure just thinking and planning about taking a long trip abroad is nearly as good as a holiday itself.  No, that’s a lie. Start saving now. It’s going to be a crap summer.

We need to support our journalists by buying newspapers again.

Whatever else you can say about where we are as a country at the moment we are certainly living in interesting times. Nowhere is the tsunami of social change reflected more clearly in the result of the referendum to lower the waiting period for divorce from 4 years to 2 years. As I write exit polls suggest that in the region of 87% voted for yes for this change.  In 1986 we voted against divorce and in 1996 the vote was passed by the slimmest of margins.  Oh yes, times they are still a changin’.

But what is more interesting is the ‘Green Surge’ that has been delivered in both the European and Local elections.  I am no expert and no political scientist and I still am not fully sure of how PR works, but I tweeted a week before polling day that from people I was talking to there seemed to be a ‘greening’ happening.  And today listening to the radio as we wait for the first results to come there seems to be a fair amount of surprise among the commentators and journalists at this turn of events.

This is worrying.  And it should also be something we are concerned about.  We have great journalists, great commentators and I think we are still a nation capable of critical thinking. However our media, is an industry in big trouble.  We saw stark evidence of this this week with the news that the Times Ireland will no longer publish an actual paper here.  A lot of great journalists lost their jobs.  The problem of course is funding and it is affecting our news media – both print and broadcast as they rely more and more on advertising for revenue as we insist that we should get our news for free.

The bottom line I think is that we need to go back to buying newspapers.  I honestly believe that chasing subscriptions is problematic for all kinds of reasons. But mainly because our attention span when reading on devices is less than when we are engaged in reading the printed word. Studies have also shown that we read faster on screens and so not as carefully as we read the printed word.

Living in an urban area means that I can avail of the luxury of having a newspaper delivered to my door every day.  Therefore, I can have my breakfast while reading the news the old-fashioned way.  This means that I am presented with the full newspaper – all opinions and stories, not just those that have been curated for me based on my likes and interests by Big Brother – be he Facebook or some other medium.

When the e-reader came on the scene, we all were told that books were dead.  Libraries and bookstores would vanish.  They didn’t.  E-readers have their place and are very useful for travelling but people still like to read books. Because reading is a much more than just words on a screen or a page.  It is about time and space, the touch of paper and the smell of print.

Online reading becomes very cluttered very quickly. You either read when you find or you bookmark for later and the article or column becomes part of a huge online slush pile which will probably never get to.  There is only so much you can read online.  However a newspaper, particularly a chunky weekend one will lie around for a couple of days as you delve into its various parts every time you sit down with a cuppa.

Some great journalist lost their jobs this week because we think that our news should be freely available.  In order to keep their finger on the pulses of a nation, journalists need to be out in the world.  They need time and resources to do their jobs. And we need far more journalists than are currently employed in Ireland at the moment.

But journalists don’t just bring news.  They hold the government and the powerful to account. They investigate stories that need time and energy to uncover.  They are essential for a functioning democracy.

So, if you care, really care about politics, about our democracy and how we live; if you want to make this country a better place, we need a free, independent media funded by OUR money.  So please, buy a newspaper.  Not just today, but every day.

#PlasticFreeForLent

Last week I thought I was being very clever having come up with the hashtag #PlasticFreeForLent to accompany my rant about the amount of unnecessary plastic you encounter in the fruit and veg department of most supermarkets.  However, I now see that #PlasticFreeForLent had already taken flight on Twitter before I coined it.  Nevertheless, although my self esteem is a little dented, it’s still a great idea. And although I am about two days later than I had hoped blogging about it, Lent is 40 days long so there is plenty of time to get onboard.

I am sure I don’t need to explain just why we need to cut down on plastic; it’s killing our wildlife, our marine life, our planet and ultimately it will kill us.  It has become one of the most pernicious inventions ever, although of course it is a brilliantly versatile product.

At this point let me remind you of the original slogan for recycling – REDUCE, REUSE AND RECYCLE.  So many of us comfort ourselves by placing plastics, rinsed and clean into our green bin.  We think, that’s great.  I am recycling and all is well.  But recycling is the last resort.  We need to reduce the amount of plastic we are buying as a matter of urgency.  That is the first step and that is why the campaign – OK, maybe it’s not a campaign – the idea of going PlasticFreeForLent is so important.  For the next 40 days – well about 34 now – we can all make real progress on reducing the plastic we use and bring into our homes.  So, along with the help from some good people on Twitter, here are some of the suggestions we have come up with so far.

IN THE KITCHEN:

  • Ditch the clingfilm and foil. Beeswax wraps are great for wrapping food.  Also, what about the old-fashioned idea of putting something in a bowl with a plate on top.
  • Invest in glass jars instead of Tupperware.
  • Ditch the washing liquid for the washing machine. Go back to buying washing powder that comes in a box.
  • Also wash as much as possible at 30 degrees. This reduces the plastic fibres that come off our clothes and go straight into the ocean.  We also need to put pressure on manufacturers to design washing machines that can trap these fibres.
  • Dry clothes outdoors as often as is possible.

 

IN THE BATHROOM

The bathroom freaks me out because of the number of plastic bottles involved; shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and a myriad of other vital products in a home with three women.  It’s a great room to begin your drive to use less plastic.

  • Soap – we initially dispensed with liquid soap (dispensed… get it?) and replaced it with bars of soap in a soap dish.  However, that became problematic when the soap sat in a puddle and made a mess and kind of melted.  So, I sourced a wooden grid type of soap dish from willowcottage.ie (€5.50) which drains the water and keeps soap dry and so lasts longer.  Willow Cottage also do fabulous natural soaps that smell amazing.  Then I found another company making fabulous soaps – dalkeyhandmadesoaps.ie.  I bought a glass bottle of the most fab peppermint liquid soap from The Sustainable Shop Dublin which have a stall in Blackrock Market at the weekend.  I then bought a foamer dispenser in TKMaxx (by mistake) which means I only use 1/5 soap and 4/5 water and the dispenser dispenses foam.  Really cutting down.  And the soap is much nicer than anything I have bought before.  This is the big win of #PlasticFreeForLent for me.

 

  • I also bought a shampoo bar (also from Dalkey Handmade Soaps). The chap in the shop did say that it takes two weeks for your hair to get used to the natural product.  But I thought I would give it a go.  It is also a totally natural product using essential oils.  It didn’t lather much when I applied it to my hair and massaged it as best I could.  The good news is that I didn’t need to use conditioner.  But that was because, as I discovered when I dried my hair, it left my barnet very greasy.  Not a great look.  If I were off to live in a cave or up a mountain where greasy hair was acceptable, I might persevere but given that I am around other people I will abandon this project and donate the shampoo bar to himself.  Although I have had suggestions to try the ones from Lush.  So I will do that next week.

 

  • Loo roll – why are they always wrapped in plastic? No, I don’t know either.  However, you can go online to whogivesacrap.org and order loo roll wrapped in, wait for it, paper!  Imagine that.   A bit pricey.  But it is an option.

 

IN THE GARDEN

This was actually brought to my attention by a neighbour and enthusiastic gardener.  Garden Centres are FULL of single use plastic pots.  It’s apparently Springtime and so many of us will be visiting these centres to buy plants and shrubs for our gardens.  And we will end up with lots of pots which apparently Garden Centres won’t take back because of the possibility of contamination.  And I don’t think they can be recycled in the green bin either.

So please put pressure on our garden centres to in turn talk to their growers to put plants into compostable pots.  How much easier would that be too.  Just plant the whole yoke in the garden.  I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before.  And of all the cases of single use plastics this one should be one of the easiest to solve.

ON THE MOVE

  • Please, please buy a water bottle and refill it rather than buy a bottle of water from a shop. There are all sizes and shapes of water bottles available everywhere so please stop buying bottled water.  And talk to your kids about it too.
  • And while you are at it get a ‘keep cup’ for your takeaway coffee, or alternatively make time to go into the café, sit down and enjoy your flat white. We rush about pretending to be too busy anyway.
  • Cocktails? Insist on paper straws.  At home invest in some bamboo or steel ones.  Someone on twitter mentioned that they are hard to clean.  I bought a straw brush in The Sustainable Shop in Blackrock Market.
  • Going for a walk on the beach? Why not bring a bag with you and pick up some plastic as you go?

 

SHOPPING

Ok, so we are great in Ireland for bringing our bags for life with us shopping.  But we really need to stop putting stuff in plastic bags in the supermarket that don’t need to be bagged.  Specifically, fruit and veg, most of which can put loose into your trolley.  If you insist on bagging stuff then bring your own canvas bag.

 

TRAVELLING

Don’t waste your hard-earned cash on buying expensive mini toiletries.  Instead buy your own containers and refill each time.  Save the planet and save a fortune.

So that’s it for the moment.  I am really keen to hear the changes you might make and suggestions you might have to make lasting changes to how we run our homes and what we buy.  Don’t forget that it is women who still do most of the buying.  We have the power to put pressure on manufacturers, supermarkets, suppliers to make the changes we need to make and make urgently.  Leave a comment with your suggestions and ideas.

Menopause – what I have learned so far….

Following on from my last blogpost calling for older women to step into their power especially at Halloween, I thought it might be time to share some insights into menopause; something that is not talked about as much as it should be.  And perhaps if we ‘women of a certain age’ start talking menopause we would encourage women of all ages to keep talking about all related topics (fertility, periods, childbirth etc) which until recently have been solely the preserve of ‘female conversations’.

Ok, so first off, let me say I am no expert in anything but life.  And so, these top tips are all based solely on my personal experience, thus far!

Top Tip – all women experience menopause differently.  We won’t all suffer the same symptoms so sharing our experiences and our methods of coping are very important.  So please leave a helpful comment after this post if you have something that worked for you that you would like to share.

The heat is ON…. and it’s not the immersion!

I had heard horror stories from some friends who suffered terrible night sweats, sweating so profusely that they had to change nightwear and bed sheets.  Thankfully, thus far this hasn’t been my experience but having spent at least 52 of my 56 years feeling the cold, my body now thinks it’s in the tropics most of the time.  A kind of personal global warming that means I now have a horror of woolly jumpers, even on the coldest days.  And polo necks are for the moment definitely a no no.

So, some top tips for dealing with the heat of menopause are:

  • Wear light fabrics and layers that can easily be removed. Scarves (not woolly) ones are fabulous – the disguise a multitude and also can add warmth around your shoulders should you need it, especially in summer.
  • Make sure your car has functioning air conditioning… my aircon was kaput for a few weeks and I was lucky I didn’t expire in that time. I now travel in the comfort of an ice-cold car.  Not great for passengers but in my car the driver calls it on music and ambient temperature.
  • Bedside fan – although I don’t suffer bad night sweats, during sleep I do tend to go from too hot to too cold thought the night. So, a bedside fan is wonderful for blowing some cool air when you get uncomfortable.
  • Gel Pillow – I am still trying this out but it certainly cools down a hot head. Called Your Sandman Cooling Pillow, this gel insert can be placed inside your pillowcase (on top of your regular pillow) and it is cold, icy cold.  Will help cool you down and I then turn it over if I no longer need it.  It’s a bit heavy and bulky but I am still working out how to best use it and am hoping that it will be a great help when I get my next migraine.  But if you want to try it they are available on Amazon UK.

Gone in the head and not gone in the head.

I have suffered with migraines since my mid thirties when they were usually triggered by stress and often (although not always) by my menstrual cycle.  Since I hit menopause my migraines have come back with a bit of a vengeance and can be very debilitating.  Migraine is, like menopause, something that also affects everyone differently so it is vital to try to work out your personal triggers.

As we get older our bodies ability to deal with alcohol changes too and many of us find that we just can’t tolerate the kind of drinking we may have happily indulged in in earlier decades.  Many of us will find that after drinking even a reasonably modest amount (by Irish standards) we don’t sleep well, suffer heartburn and hangovers become worse.  So many of us naturally cut down on our intake.

Me, however, well… I discovered that alcohol (all alcohol) hates me.  And even after a tiny glass of wine I will get a headache that in most cases morphs into a full-blown migraine.  So, after a year of two of experimenting with low alcohol and organic wines I have given up.  No more booze for me.  It’s a bit sad, but hey ho.  And that there is top tip number whatever this is.  Listen to your body and make changes you need to in order to feel better.

On a related note I have also found that I need to drink lots of water…  Yeah, yeah, I know we are all told that.  But I have genuinely found that having a bottle of water with me all the time means that I do drink way more and it also helps me generally feel better, less headachy and less bloated.  Another top tip…. stay hydrated.

The ‘OUCH’ Factor

As we age we naturally become stiffer and less flexible.  And for a few years I kind of accepted that this was just the way it is now.  I thought exercise might help but I hate exercise for exercise sake only.  In other words, I love a nice walk in the countryside but pounding the pavements around suburban Dublin doesn’t really do it for me.  I keep vowing I will take up swimming as I do enjoy it but the palaver of defuzzing and wet hair keeps putting me off…  and yeah, I know that that is only an excuse.  I have also toyed with idea of buying a bike.  Having spent a few days in Sweden and Denmark earlier in the year I have a vision of myself making stately progress through the burbs on my high nelly.  But would I?   Bike lanes terrify me as a car driver…. I would be too terrified to use them on a bike.  Even if I could work out how not to get a sore arse!  Regular cyclists must have bums made of steel.  Mine is made of soft cotton wool!

However, thanks to my youngest daughter I have started doing stretches, yoga moves mainly and I have definitely noticed an improvement in my ability to move without going ‘ouch’.  So, I aim to keep that up and once I am more flexible I might actually take up yoga.  Which won’t make my hair greasy!  Another top tip right there – stretch and bend

Is it bedtime yet?

One of the first symptoms I noticed and put down to menopause was the fact that there are days when I am bone tired and weary.  You know the kind of days that just getting up, showered and dressed makes you feel exhausted.  The kind of exhausted that makes you want to close your eyes and sleep immediately.  Not always possible of course.  Life gets in the way.  But – top tip alert – when I can, I am kind to myself and if I feel that I need a nap and can avail of one, I do.  Although this symptom has lessoned in the last year or so and my energy is generally returning to normal levels now.

Right, so.  These are my thoughts for the moment.  I intend to revisit this topic every so often and would love feedback from you so that we can all share what we have found works and what doesn’t.  Leave a comment if you can!

 

 

Halloween Reminder To Claim Your Power as an Older Woman

Tomorrow is Halloween; the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.  Samhain marked the end of the harvest, the beginning of winter and (most importantly) the celebration of woman as Crone. In ancient mythology woman was represented by the Triple Goddess of The Maiden, The Mother and The Crone.  The triple spiral found in ancient Ireland is said to be a representation of this triumvirate view of woman.  The maiden was of course revered for her physical youth and beauty, the mother respected as the nurturer and carer.  And the Crone was esteemed for her wisdom.

Of course, we know that by the middle ages this idea of the wise older woman had been hijacked to become the evil witch and although we don’t burn witches at the stake any longer, the power of the older woman is now eroded by the constant message that we should be fighting ageing and that, for a woman, growing older is somehow a failure.  When in fact, once a woman passes through the fires of menopause she emerges into her most powerful phase of life.

By the age of 50 most women are on the verge of menopause if not fully engaged with all the joys of hot flushes, and periods that come straight out of nowhere and aching joints etc.  But hey, at least we are very unlikely to become pregnant.  And in this decade, most of us will have finally arrived in a place where our biology, for the first time since we were girls will have receded completely.

For at least four decades we have coped with school, exams, college, more exams, work, travel, relationships while also coping with the monthly mess that causes logistical problems that men never have to deal with.  We become just brilliant at not only powering through cramps, heavy flow, leaky tampons, headaches but all the while pretending that we are fine.  Because to admit you feel like shit would be to display a girly weakness that might come back to haunt you.  This is especially true in the workplace.  You become so brilliant at it that you don’t realise just how heroic you are.  Could you imagine if men had periods?  There would be red tents full of soft cushions, gentle music and hot water bottles in every workplace and tampons and towels would all be issued free and delivered to your doorstep once a month.

With apologies to Dr King but we ‘50 plus’ women have arrived at an age where we are “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.”  So, why the hell aren’t we throwing parties?  Freedom from bleeding and all that accompanying side effects means that we are also (more or less – be careful) also free of our fertility.  Fertility is a precious gift and one that most women experience with joy but being the ones who get pregnant means that forever we will be the ones who worry most about getting pregnant.  So, no more worries.  No more pills, diaphragms, coils, other medieval sounding devices to ensure those sneaky sperm don’t get to our baby eggs. Sure, that right there is enough of a reason to be delighted you are now in your fifties. But there’s more.  And you might take a bit more convincing on the next but bear with me.

The Heat is ON…..Kundalini rising

There is a theory is Eastern Esoteric thinking that the menopause signals the rising of a woman’s kundalini energy up through her body, which would explain hot flushes I guess.  But seriously, the menopause can be a huge hassle between hot sweats, aching joints, thinning hair and a variety of other inconveniences.  This ‘change’ can make life very difficult and I plan more blog posts on the subject.  But for now, hang on in there…  I am not ignoring or making light of it.  And remember that this kundalini energy is a very creative force and so menopause was considered to be a great time for personal growth.  What makes me mad as hell is that modern Western Culture tells us precisely the opposite.

Mothering

Ok so once you become a mother you will always be a mother….and your kids, big adults though they might be, will still be in occasional need of your wisdom, cups of tea, your fabulous lasagne or stew or soup and a hug that only a mammy can give.  I know that.  But by the time you hit the mid-fifties your kids are most likely fairly independent.  They may have moved out.  You may be a grandmother.  But your days of active parenting are over.

If you are a mother, then for decades you have had quite a large part of your brain dedicated to ‘kids’ stuff’.  You held all their individual preferences there, what food they liked and what they didn’t.  What books they had read, what their favourite movies were, what cartoons they liked, who their friends are, what those friend’s mom’s names are and where they lived.  You also remembered vaccinations, dentist check-up and doctors’ appointments.  You knew their teachers’ names, kept track of homework and supervised it when they were little.  You knew what extra-curricular activities whey had on what day and arranged complicated rotas with other parents to get them there and back.  You always kept spare birthday cards and possible presents for last minute birthday party invitations – in other words the invites you find when they are a week old and smeared with peanut butter at the end of their school bag.

As they got older you helped with subject choices, and keeping them as calm as possible before exams.  You picked up the pieces when their hearts got broken for the first time.  You saw then through the nonsense of the rites of modern passage such as 6th Year holidays and the Debs.  Whether you worked outside the home or not, you can now retrieve the bit of yourself that belonged to your kids.  Because its now OVER.  Well it’s more or less over!  Your home might still be full but at least most of your head is finally your own.  Well except for the bit they still inhabit and causes you worry.  But in general, you have not got extra brain space; space for you to do what you want with.

Other people’s opinions, so what?

Most of us begin to notice a subtle change in our attitude to what people think of us at around 40.  But by 50 there is a very definite sense of way less fucks to give as to what others really think of you or how you choose to live your life.  And if you haven’t found this particular freedom yet – listen up and then make an effort.  It’s the greatest gift.

Now I am not suggesting for one minute that we get to the point where we become completely selfish, pursuing our own agenda regardless of how it may affect others, especially those we love.  But most women have been brought up to be people pleasers, to be nice, to be polite, to be gentle and these lessons learned very early get further cemented into place very often as we get older.

At home we learn to put our own needs last.  We care for our children, our ageing parents, our partners and we run our homes.  Every so often we may have a blow out when the pressure mounts but in general women grin and bear the fact that we are still doing the lion’s share of the housework and caring.

In the workplace if we become assertive we are often labelled ‘shrill’ or ‘cranky’ or ‘bossy’ or ‘irrational’ – oh there is no shortage to terms that are reserved purely to describe women who are a bit ‘strident’ (yep, another one).  Some of us relish being troublesome and couldn’t care less what names we are called.  But for most women, trying to juggle it all, being perceived as ‘nice’ makes life easier.

But then you reach 50ish and suddenly you realise you aren’t as bothered anymore about what people think about you.  You realise that what other people think about you is their business, not yours.  I am not sure why this change in our attitudes happens.  Perhaps it’s just that we get too tired to bother.  Perhaps we realise just how precious our mental health is and worrying about what others think about you is a sure way to wreck your head.  Whatever the reason it’s something I began to realise when I turned 40 and with every decade since that I have less and less fucks to give.  And it’s liberating, I tell you.

So this on the eve of Samhain it’s time to reclaim our true power as older women and the freedom to now, finally become our true selves.  To fully step into our power as women.  It is any wonder that society wants to dent that power be reducing us to wrinkles and lines.  Because the truth is that a woman who can look back and see how far she has come and who now realises that she doesn’t give a flying fig what the world thinks of her is the most powerful of all.

We are all witches.  This is our time.

A presidential election will provide winter entertainment, but that’s all.

The media loves an election, for obvious reasons.  It provides cheap entertainment, throws up some great rows, and occasionally provides the great unseating of a candidate who looked like a shoe-in.  Normally I too would enjoy the prospect of an election for all those reasons.  I also like to exercise my democratic franchise whenever I can.  Elections make me feel like I have a bit of a say in what goes on, in this weird little island country of ours.

This time, however, I am very conflicted.  Initially I wasn’t one big keen on this Presidential Election.  It will be a large distraction and a waste of money, time and energy when we have lots of serious problems which still are not being addressed by government with any real vigour.  But most of all it will be a pointless exercise to try to depose one of the most popular presidents I can remember.

But then as each week brings a new and more colourfully daft hat fluttering down into the ring, I find myself salivating at the prospect of their mad ideas and of the debates about stuff that has nothing to do with the presidency.  I have run out of stuff to watch on Netflix and so I would welcome the bonus entertainment as autumn takes the light away and winter beckons.  And sure they are all on a hiding to nothing anyway.

Michael D Higgin’s popularity and the affection in which he is held, is gauged easily by the fact that we have given him a nickname, something us Irish only do when we really love someone or something.  Ok, so it’s not quite as reverent as The Big Fella perhaps but Miggeldy is a name loaded with love.  His popularity is cross generational with young people not only knowing who he is, but also liking him.  In the era of Trump, they take pride in the fact that we have a thinker, a philosopher and an activist as our head of state.  If you were designing a president to be the exact opposite of Trump with all his brash, ill mannered, illiterate, incoherent utterings, you would create our Michael D.

Irish people are canny when it comes to politics.  We are usually ahead of the politicians and we know a good thing when we see it.  Our current president is a man who reflects the very best of who we are.  He is a supporter of the arts, a feminist and an activist with a passion for social justice.

But the best thing about Miggeldy or maybe the second-best thing about him, is the fact that he is a poet.  He is a man who can lyrically weave words together to capture our dreams, our aspirations, our sorrows, our regrets.  And he can deliver his words of wisdom with clarity, fluency and eloquence.  His speeches have moved us, touched us deeply and made us think; he reaches our hearts, our souls and our minds.

Michael D understands the Irish condition, the Irish spirit.  His seamless transition from Gaeilge to Bearla and back again is emblematic of the very best kind of teachers.  In fact, he has spoken out about the misguided utilitarian approach to education.  He would never be so crass to refer to this country as ‘Ireland Inc.’  He knows we are a people, a society and not a business.

Like the country he represents, Michael D is small.  But like Ireland, he punches above his weight on the international stage with his gift of powerful oration.

We should bear in mind that the next presidential term will be very important both nationally and internationally.  Against the uncertainty of Brexit and what that will mean for Ireland, we will also be commemorating the centenary of the War of Independence and the Civil War.  We need a president who can reflect the nuances and the tragedy along with the freedom.  We need someone who will instinctively know how to articulate that, gently and with grace.

Despite this, we have an increasing number of, well it seems a bit disingenuous to refer to them as ‘no hopers’ (although, in my view, they haven’t a hope) seeking nominations for a go at the Aras.  The fact that most of them don’t seem to have any understanding of what the office of Uachtarán na hÉireann is about is shocking.  It’s akin to a crew of weekend walkers deciding to compete in the 100 metres with Usain Bolt.  Maybe it’s the air time they crave?  The cult of reality TV luring them out to compete.

I mentioned earlier that being a poet is the second-best thing about Miggeldy.  So, what is the first thing?  And this is a personal call, obviously.  But, for me, the best thing about our president is that he is an animal lover.  That makes me feel safe.  His large Bernese dogs, Bród and Shadow are clearly devoted to their master.  And the man himself is at ease with them as only someone who truly loves and understands animals can be.  I think being an animal and wildlife lover should be an essential prerequisite for the job.

So, in the so-called interests of our democracy we will have this pointless election but sure it’ll provide some diversion over the autumn.  However, I am confident that it will be only that.

Urgent action by government needed after Pope’s visit.

The summer of 1979 will forever live in my memory as that special gap summer that occurs after you leave school and before you embark on the next phase – be it college or work.  It was a summer of delicious discovery, of excitement and of freedom.  I was 17 and by that September I was settling into a new routine, as I began a commercial course (ask your Ma) while waiting for my dream job in the travel business to come along.

Summer was just about over, when in the early hours of Saturday morning, the 29th of September I was walking home with friends through Glenageary and Sallynoggin after watching the Late Night Movie at the Forum Cinema in Glasthule, where I think the only late movie ever showing was ‘Pink Floyd, Live In Pompeii’.  As we trudged through the normally sleepy suburbs in the darkness, we were stunned to see front doors opening and families pouring out, into their cars, armed with fold up chairs, blankets and picnics.  We had no interest in the visit of the new Pope John Paul II but we were most certainly in the minority.

39 summers later and I had even less interest in the visit of Pope Francis but I was interested to see how our country reacted this time and if Francis was going to take the opportunity to do or say something of real consequence, given the current place the Catholic Church finds itself in, especially in Ireland.  So, I watched the speeches in Dublin Castle as they happened. The symbolism was fascinating.  The head of one of the largest religions on the planet, that believes gay people are “intrinsically disordered” being addressed by our Taoiseach, a gay man.  And in the front row sat a former President and canon lawyer, Dr Mary McAleese who has referred to the Catholic Church as ‘an empire of misogyny’ and has labelled their teaching on homosexuality as ‘evil’.  Leo Varadkar delivered a well-crafted, pointed speech and as we know Pope Francis reply was… well nothing new.

In his speech Varadkar referred to the Irish people remaining a spiritual people, a people with faith, something I absolutely agree with.  But by their non-attendance on the streets and in the Phoenix Park, the people gave a clear indication that they make a huge distinction between their personal faith and the architecture of the church – the hierarchy.   The Catholic Church, for its own best interests, should heed this message but more importantly, the Irish Government should take great cognisance of what happened last weekend.  If Varadkar’s words are not to be lost on the wind to become meaningless noise then a series of government actions should flow from what we learned.

Firstly, ownership and control of our national schools should be put into the hands of the Dept of Education.  Currently somewhere in the region of 90% of our primary schools are under ownership and control of the Catholic Church.  This is not appropriate in a modern republic.  Our publicly funded hospitals should also come under the control of the Dept of Health and religious orders be removed from their running completely.

The second action that should be taken is for the women and babies who suffered in Magdalene Laundries and other institutions should be honoured and commemorated.  And the most appropriate way to do this is by the setting up of a museum in their memory.  The obvious location for this is in the last remaining laundry in state ownership, in Sean McDermott Street which is at the moment earmarked by Dublin City Council to be sold to a Japanese Hotel chain.  You can sign a petition to stop this sale here.

Lastly the government should immediately pass legislation if necessary to force religious orders to open their books and files to allow people find their families.  To finally obtain their identity.  To continue to allow the orders to thwart people is particularly cruel.

These actions are important because the horrors in our past can’t just be left at the door of the Catholic Church as we turn our backs from the hierarchy.  The state and the people of this country were complicit, particularly in the treatment of women who became pregnant outside of marriage and their children.  This new republic that Varadkar refereed to cannot exist if we don’t’ take ownership of our role in these dark episodes and make sure that these stories are not forgotten.  I think the people know this. The question is, do our politicians?

 

This feminists view of The Rose of Tralee

If you’re a feminist it’s very, very easy to hate the Rose of Tralee.  A parade of young women (who up until recently had to be unmarried and not mothers) marched out one by one to have inane conversations with the male host, cheered on by their male ‘escorts’ and families.  It’s sexist, it’s patronising to women and something which in my view has no place in Ireland of 2018.  I hate it.  I don’t watch it.

But it appears that I am in the minority.  In another example of how Ireland is a country of startling contradictions, The Rose of Tralee attracts a massive TV audience for RTE.  Last year it had a 66% audience share with an average audience of 637,000.  This makes RTE very happy indeed.  And makes me wonder what is it that makes this country, a country that in recent years voted for marriage equality and to repeal the 8th amendment, actually tick.

Because the real conundrum is not why women would choose to put themselves through this ‘Mart and Market’ kind of spectacle but why so many of us (well, not me) choose to watch it and consider it to be entertaining.  I mean I get why ageing Irish Americans who have a rather warped view of this country might find it charming and reassuringly Irish in a ‘top of the morning’ kind of way.  But why do we, here in modern Ireland, where we boast proudly of our respect for equality and diversity, love to watch this celebration of De Valera’s ‘comely maidens’ who are dancing not at a cross roads but across the stage in a big tent in Tralee?

I have a theory and it’s simply this.  We (well, not me) love to watch the Rose of Tralee because we are sentimental fools.  The competition began in 1959 and it was first televised in 1967 so that most of us have grown up with it.  And in the days before live streaming and Netflix, families would gather around the one TV in the house and watch the show.  My own father was a big fan and prided himself in regularly being able to identify the winner early on.   Is it the sense of continuity that drives so many to watch?  And in a world where the big TV thing of the summer was Love Island, is the Rose of Tralee so bad?

Reader I am conflicted.  I hate the Rose of Tralee and I hated Love Island.  But at least most of the Roses are smart and accomplished young women, despite the daft ‘turns’ they are expected to preform on stage.  I am not sure the same can be said of the contestants on Love Island, although at least that show is not sexist in its crass stupidity.

As I wrestled with all this over the last two nights – well that’s an exaggeration I was in fact wrestling with finding something decent to watch on Netflix.  Anyway, as I wrestled another thing that occurred to me was this.  Why do we still tell women how to behave and what to do and not to do?  If a woman wants to get all glammed up and parade around the show ring in the big tent in Tralee, should she not be allowed to do so, without condemnation?  If she wants to enter a competition to be crowned ‘lovely and fair’ Rose of Tralee, who am I to criticise?

The #ROT (was there every a more appropriate hashtag though?) is like Ladies Day at the races, which is another anathema to me.  I don’t understand why anyone (male or female) would think it’s great craic to get dressed up like they were going to a very fancy wedding to schlep around a race track in the hope of being chosen to be the ‘best dressed’, likes its another horse category.  Although, in fairness, have you ever seen the prizes on offer?  I don’t get it.  I wouldn’t do it.  But surely it’s any woman or man’s right to do just that.

For centuries women have been told how to behave, how and when to speak and how to dress.  If feminism and our search for equality stands for anything, means anything, then surely it means choice.  Surely feminism means that women can choose to be who they want to be.  And sister, if that means you want to take part in the Rose of Tralee, you go right ahead.  And sister if you want to watch and enjoy the resulting spectacle, well fine day to you, as they might say in the old country.

I won’t be joining you.  And I will be happier when I no longer have to try to explain #ROT, (along it must be said, with the Late Late Toy Show), to foreign friends and relatives.  But sister if it floats your boat, on you go.  Not perhaps with my blessing but my tolerance.

Somewhere near St George’s Chapel, Diana was laughing.

ethereal feministWhen Charles and Diana married in July 1981, I was working, in a travel shop on Grafton Street.  However, my wonderful boss, saved the day by managing to charm the loan of TV from a local TV Rental shop (as your Ma – people used to rent TVs) so that we could tune into what was happening in St Paul’s Cathedral in London.  I was completely captivated as I watched this girl, who was my age, marry into the most famous family on the planet.  She had just turned 20.

I am no royal expert and I am certainly not a royalist.  I am very glad that my taxes aren’t used to keep a big family living in the lap of luxury for purely, well I don’t know, entertainment and national PR purposes?  But I am endlessly amused and fascinated by the goings on of the House of Windsor.

This family, who had to change their surname in the midst of the First World War from the decidedly Germanic and therefore problematic Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor (named presumably after their favourite castle) are a wonderful reflection of centuries of history and a microcosm of a Britain that largely no longer exists.

I always found Diana compulsive and mesmerising.  She was beautiful, likeable and as the years went by it became increasingly clear that she was unhappy. She and later Fergie kicked their heels, albeit rather gently, against much of the stuffy nonsense of being ‘royal’.  But, as we all now know, the royal family weren’t ready to change.  This reluctance to reflect the nation they are supposedly head of, was thrown into stark relief in the aftermath of Diana’s tragic and untimely death.  The Windsors did the stiff upper lip thing and seemed to carry on, while the rest of Britain and indeed the world, were mourning the loss of the woman who became known as ‘the People’s Princess.’

Since then, it seems that the Windsors have made some attempt to modernise, albeit it slowly and on their terms.  The most obvious example of this was the change in the rules around accession, so that Princess Charlotte will not be overtaken by her new baby brother and remains fourth in line.  Royals can also now marry Roman Catholics although a Catholic still cannot become monarch.

But Diana was a true trail blazer in many ways.  Her work with AIDS and later with landmines unsettled the establishment. The impression was often given that she shouldn’t bother her pretty little head with things she didn’t really understand, particularly regarding the landmine issue.  But she persisted.

Diana was also a devoted and very natural mother to her two beloved boys, the younger of whom, Harry, was only 12 years old when she died.

Last Saturday the world watched, as Diana’s brave boy, whose heart-breaking march behind her coffin twenty years ago remains scorched in our memories, stood nervously at the altar awaiting the arrival of his bride.  Whereas William seems to have his father’s seriousness (and he has to have, seeing as he will one day be King), Harry embodies Diana’s sense of fun and desire to reach people and make a difference in their lives.  In his work with the Invictus Games he displays the same passion his mother had for her chosen causes.

But on Saturday we saw something else that Harry has inherited from his mother.  His desire to shake up the House of Windsor and make is more reflective of modern Britain and more relevant to the British people.

He has married an American, of mixed race, and a divorcee, hitting at least two previous Royal ‘no-nos’.  Remember also that his mother, not only had to be single and never married but also a virgin in order to marry Charles.  And that wasn’t that long ago.  But Harry and Meghan drove their message home with their wedding ceremony which was a huge leap forward for the Windsors, although some of the family looked, well, decidedly uncomfortable with some of it.

Meghan’s decision to enter the church alone, attended only by two young page boys was a clear indication that this is an independent minded woman.  But the decision to ask the Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church from the USA to deliver the sermon was inspired and I think Diana would have approved with bells on.

The Bishop’s address was delivered in typical preacher fashion and included quotes from Martin Luther King and references to slaves in America. It was a stand-out moment.  It was also joyous and energetic and not like anything ever delivered at a British royal wedding before. Reverend Curry was followed by a gospel choir who delivered a beautiful rendition of ‘Stand By Me’.  The contrast between the vibrant, earthy gospel music and the boy choristers was as stark as it was beautiful.

As the last notes of the gospel choir reached the rafters of St George’s chapel, I thought of Diana.  At that moment I wondered if she was somewhere nearby, roaring with laughter and crying with pride in her youngest boy.  She left him at just 12 years of age, when there is still so much mothering to do.  But today he proved that she had done enough.

There is talk of Meghan Markle, now the Countess of Sussex being the new People’s Princess and maybe she will be.  She has the grace, intelligence and charisma needed, but Harry is his mother’s son.  It is he who can rightfully claim the title of the People’s Prince.

I am angry, I hate abortion but I am voting YES

It’s been a funny few months.  An unsettling few months.  A time when I have been acutely aware of something shifting.  This unease began as my eldest daughter and my precious granddaughter returned to their home in Australia in January, after a two month stay here. Once they left and I tried to get back to normal, I was aware of a pressing need to press pause on my life and in some way to take stock of, well, I didn’t really know what.

A week in the Canary Islands in April brought me the clarity I needed.  While there I had the realisation that finally, after almost thirty-one years, I was ready to confront the guilt that I had been carrying and to release it for good.  The relief was simply huge.

I was single and 24 years old, back in 1987 when I became pregnant.  I wasn’t in a relationship with the father and he didn’t live in Ireland.  It was difficult being a lone parent in the ’80s, even though I had the support of my family.  Along with the obvious challenge of trying to provide for my daughter while also caring for her, was the fact that back then, us ‘unmarried mothers’ were a source of constant debate in the media.  Generally, these discussions focused on the fact that state support (the ‘unmarried mothers allowance’) was encouraging young women to get pregnant in order to claim this benefit.  We were in danger of bankrupting the state if you like.  There was also lots of noise around the theory that children raised without a father would most likely have all kinds of emotional challenges and could well turn out to be delinquent.  The legal status of ‘illegitimacy’ was only abolished the year my daughter was born.

So, it’s no wonder I felt guilty.  I was guilty that I had deprived my daughter of a relationship with her biological father.  I was guilty that I wasn’t a good enough mother and father to her.  I was guilty that I had risked damaging her emotionally or psychologically by my ‘irresponsibility’ in becoming pregnant in the first place.  I should say at this point that I married when she was ten years old and my husband is her father in every way other than biologically.  But still, for all of her life, I have felt guilty.

Seeing her as a very competent mother herself I think was the trigger that released all this pent up and potentially damaging guilt.   But once I let it all go I became angry.  I am angry that I should have felt that way.  I am angry because I knew it was society that made me feel like a lesser parent when in fact I was a double parent, as are all lone parents, then and now.  I am angry that although lots has improved since I became a single parent, Ireland is still not a great place to parent alone.  Lone parents are still much more likely to live in poverty than two parent families.  The majority of families in so called emergency accommodation are headed by one parent.

Against all this, is the fact that we are in the final run up to the long overdue referendum to repeal the 8th amendment.  And that makes me angry too.  I am angry that we are having this bloody referendum when all the issues that cripple lone parents, particularly in their ability to provide for their children, still exist.

I listened to elder feminist Nell McCafferty speak recently and she wondered why we still can’t celebrate motherhood?  What a simple and profound question.  Motherhood is still the best way to hobble your career and ensure the gender pay gap continues for decades to come.  Yet without motherhood and a new generation, we are all fecked as we enter our later years.

All of this melts my brain.  But not enough to vote no.

I will be voting ‘Yes’ to repeal the 8th amendment because it should never have been inserted into the constitution in the first place.  I voted against it’s insertion in 1983, along with the majority of my constituency of Dun Laoghaire because I believed those who warned that adding such a clause to our constitution would ultimately endanger women’s lives.  As we know that turned out to be the case.

But I hate abortion.  Sometimes it’s clearly a traumatic and sad necessity.  But mostly it is sought because a woman just cannot make the sacrifices, emotional, psychological and practical that she will need to if she is to consider continuing her pregnancy alone. And those sacrifices are huge and cannot be underestimated.  So I  totally understand that.  I make no judgements whatsoever on women who have made that choice.

But what I hate is that as a country, we haven’t made it easier to be a lone parent.  This supposedly new, modern, liberal Ireland still discriminates against those parenting on their own.  How can women really make a balanced decision on their pregnancy when the dice is loaded against them.  I hate the fact that women who find themselves in a ‘crisis pregnancy’ today have really only one solution – abortion.  It’s a clear improvement from Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby homes but it’s a crude solution, particularly for women who might consider going it alone if they could just work out how they could without damaging their earning ability and their mental health.

Perhaps I am an idiot but in my head my feminist nirvana is one where all babies are celebrated and all mothers are feted and facilitated once they become pregnant so that there is no such thing as a crisis pregnancy, as we understand it today.  A nirvana where abortion exists but is generally only required in those tragic circumstances such as fatal foetal abnormality and in cases of rape and child pregnancy.

Am I mad?  Perhaps, but in voting ‘Yes’ on May 25th I feel that I am doing my bit to undo the injustice, the hurt and the suffering caused to so many women by it’s insertion in the first place. But it is only a first step.  I live in the hope that with more women in politics we will eventually make Ireland a great place to be a single parent.  And in doing that, we might finally put the ghosts of Magdalene Laundries and forced adoptions to rest.  And I could stop being angry.  And Nell McCafferty could rejoice in how wonderfully and practically we celebrate motherhood.

THE WRONG BUS

Having just returned from a wonderful few days back in one of my favourite places, I thought I would share this which was written back in 2012 and featured on RTE Radio One’s Sunday Miscellany.  

puerto de la cruz

We soon realised we were on the wrong bus.  Instead of heading out of Las Americas and onto the motorway towards Santa Cruz, our rather rickety bus took what looked like a Canarian boreen and headed uphill, snaking it’s way north.  We looked at each other realising that we had just made the mistake we had been warned not to make.  “Make sure the bus is marked Directo” the rep had said, “otherwise you won’t get to Puerto de la Cruz till well after dark.”

We settled down for what was clearly going to be a long journey.  But only a mile or two later, the bus pulled into a tiny, dusty village and came to a halt.  The male passengers disembarked along with the bus driver.  The women stayed put, including the one with the hen in a box.  About fifteen minutes later the men all arrived back onboard and the bus spluttered its way on.  A couple of miles further on and we pulled into another village, bus stopped, and the men disappeared while we sat, completely confused and a little amused.  We were the only non locals on the bus.

At the third village, curiosity got the better of us and so we made the decision to disembark with the men and see where they were going.  There was a murmur from the senoras in black as the two Irish hussies followed the boys ……  into the local bodega. The men smoked a cigarette, had a shot of some local brew, spat on the floor and gurgled away in guttural Spanish.  We had a quick cortado coffee, our curiosity sated.

The bus continued to make its leisurely progress and as we climbed higher, we reached into our bags for our sweaters.  The sky was blue and the air was crisp as Mount Teide wore her year around collar of snow.  We gazed out the grimy windows at the volcanic lunar landscape just below the crater of this mountain, Spain’s highest.

Soon we were descending, and the stops on this leg of the journey were the normal bus kind – picking up and dropping off passengers.  We drove through pine forests above the clouds, finally sinking down into the Orotava Valley as darkness fell.  We rounded yet another bend and I caught my first glimpse of Puerto de la Cruz, her flickering lights reflected in the water of the Atlantic Ocean.

As we reached the banana plantations on the outskirts of the town I had the oddest feeling that I was home.  We had come from the south of Tenerife which is barren, dusty and desert like.  It gets the best of the weather with lots of sunshine and little rain.  But the north is a different world.   It’s lush and tropical and much older than the purpose built resorts of the south.  I was 18 years old that day when I stepped off that old bus in Puerto de la Cruz.  I remember breathing in the cool air and something deep inside me recognised this place as somewhere very special.

Over the following years Puerto de la Cruz became my second home, my refuge, my holiday haven.  Working in the travel business I was able to fly south, to this island town in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of West Africa at least once and often twice a year.  Each time my arrival was no less of a homecoming than the first.

I always stayed in the Bellavista Apartments built into the cliff face in an area known as La Paz, overlooking the old town.  I would sleep with the balcony doors open so that I could listen to the sound of the waves crashing far below.  In the morning I had a view over The Lago – a complex of sea water swimming pools located on the seafront.  Every second morning the pools would be filled by the giant fountain in the centre of the largest lake.  I would drink my coffee and watch the tumbling water sparkle and create mini rainbows in the morning sun.

Later I would walk down to the town.  Through alleyways of steps I would pass under windows with shutters thrown open letting fall a cascade of rapid fire Spanish from various competing TVs.  I passed doorways where women in aprons perched on kitchen chairs chatting as I smiled and muttered buenos dias.  I wanted them to know that I wasn’t just a tourist.   I was a part of this place that I carried in my soul.

Days spent in Puerto de la Cruz were long and lazy; swimming in the lago, drinking coffee in the Plaza del Charco, sunset walks along the sea wall by San Telmo enjoying the Spanish ritual of the evening paseo. The nights were full of romance and sweet nothings.  I danced in trendy nightclubs, drank rough red wine from earthenware jugs, listened to live Flamenco in a dark and gloomy cellar bar and made some interesting local friends.  I did a lot of growing up.

Some years later when life threw some very curved balls my way, it was to Tenerife and to Puerto de la Cruz that I retreated.  Happily alone I let the island work its special magic on my bruised and battered soul.  It didn’t let me down as it delivered precious gifts and treasured memories which keep me warm and sane to this day.  It must be nearly time to return.

SNOW LESSONS

In the suburbs, leafy and otherwise, the only remaining evidence of The Beast from the East, Storm Emma and the little brother of the Beast are mounds of dirty, icy snow languishing in dark corners of footpaths and gardens.  Looking back, I can now reflect on the things I learned during this ‘time out’.  Little personal lessons perhaps, but ones that may come in handy if we continue to thrash our planet and so leave ourselves open to these extreme weather events in the future.

The first thing I learned is that heavy snowfall makes your garden glow at night.  I could see right to the hedge at the end of my garden in the darkness.  This light bounce coupled with the silence that a blanket of snow brings, made me feel safe.

The second thing I learned is that teenagers can watch ‘Friends’ literally all day, every day.  The theme tune to the series along with the canned laughter is a unique form of aural torture.  Joey, Rachel and the rest of them are now banned when I am at home.

Our inner child is only a heavy snowfall away.  My daughters, ages 19 and 17 were making snow angels and having snowball fights with neighbours (the oldest of whom is my age) at midnight one night.  Well, until another neighbour got a bit sassy about it.  So I guess we don’t all regress… but most of us do.

There is a wonderfully smug feeling remarking on which of your neighbours have bad insulation judging by how quickly the snow melts from their roof.  Of course, I was viewing from inside my own house and therefore had no idea how my roof was faring.  Although on Day Three of the ‘big snow’ our central heating sat down.  The fan gave up the ghost.  And so, to the uninformed, it must have looked like we had the best insulation on the road, when in reality the house was descending into the freezer.  So, there’s another lesson right there – get your boiler serviced every summer people.

If you are of a certain age, having no heating when it’s very cold outside is very nostalgic.  I regaled my teenagers (when they weren’t watching ‘Friends’) with tales growing up in a house where there was ice on the INSIDE of windows and where you see your breath when you woke up in the morning when it was cold.  The reality for us however, was that with open fires and the kindness of neighbours who supplied electric heaters, we didn’t suffer too much. One major positive of no heating when you live in a house of women (himself was away skiing during the Big Snow – oh yes, the jokes write themselves in my house) was that times spent in the shower were cut to a minimum.  A cold bathroom is a special kind of agony.  But than there were no rows about the almost always vacant bathroom either.

When I wasn’t staring out the front windows at the neighbours rooves, I was at the back windows, staring into the garden which suddenly was alive with wildlife.  Hungry wildlife.  Usually nocturnal, foxes visited during the day.  And the birds were desperate for a bite. First thing in the morning I donned my snow patrol (boom boom) outfit and crunched through the virgin snow to feed stray cats (there were two), foxes and birds.  We ran out of bird seed so the birds had a rather sophisticated diet of apple and diced cheddar cheese with some stale buns or cake. (A minor lesson is that I bake like a crazy woman when it’s snows).

I also attempted to keep some water unfrozen for my feathered friends by pouring hot water into the bird bath and then standing guard till it cooled, in case a little birdie accidently boiled itself to death. It was a serious job, looking after them all.  I felt like a proper farmer.

Domestic animals were a bigger problem though.  Well, in fairness it was just the cats that were an issue.  ‘Nice but dim’ as my mother calls our dog (whose real name is Dylan) loved the snow and bounded out every morning to do his business even though it must have resulted in a frozen ass.  And that’s the other great thing about a snow-covered garden.  Poo freezes very quickly and is easy to both spot and remove.

But I digress… the cats.  Refused to go out.  Point blank. They were unanimously horrified by the weather and so went on strike.  Being an old hand at this cat slave malarkey, I knew I had to get them over their reluctance before they decided to use some corner of the house as their new loo.  So once every few hours they got unceremoniously dumped outside, yep in the snow.  And they got the message.  Once they realised they weren’t going to die in the white stuff in the garden, they did their business in jig time and raced back indoors.

Between the domestic and wild animals, I was a busy woman.  Which is just as well, because the next truth is that I did no work.  Being confined to barracks I thought would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of words being written.  But no.  I drank lots of tea, stared out windows, read my book and ate chocolate.  And therein lies another truth.  Snow makes me crave chocolate; something I am normally not bothered about. Then disaster, we ran out of chocolate.  While others worried about bread (and readers, I bought a couple of those packet mixes for soda bread; and that’s my top ‘Big Snow’ tip right there – you’re welcome), we missed chocolate. Until, ahem, we broke into the Easter Eggs.  No, we’re not ashamed.

And that brings me onto the next and important lesson; which is that I LOVE my newspaper.  And not just because one (this one) prints my words regularly, but because my breakfast wasn’t right when I had no actual paper to study over my cereal.  Reading online isn’t the same.  It’s like books.  Kindles are just for holidays because you can’t bate holding a real book.  Now I know you can’t bate a newspaper either.

Talking of news, that was the other special torture we endured; the non-stop coverage on broadcast media.  I love talk radio but my God, the endless reports from all around the country got very tiresome.  TV it was even more tortuous by the appearance of well-known correspondents, frozen to the bone and NOT WEARING HATS as they, well, a lot of the time they kind of waffled, about snow here and snow there. I know RTE is under financial pressure but Dee, if you are reading this, maybe kit out the lads and lassies for next winter.  Big parkas and furry hats a la Will Goodbody who was the only reporter I saw who looked reasonably cosy in the snow.

So ten days post Big Snow I can say that I am a wiser woman.  I am a fatter woman.  I read some great books.  I did no work.  I realised just how much I love animals and how much fabulous wildlife is on our doorstep in suburban Dublin.  And I know that at the first mention of red alert next winter, I will stock up on a mountain of chocolate.

 

(Check out my twitter feed (go to media) to see some video of our visiting foxes. )

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