UNIFORMITY

Yours truly – JWT Reservations early 1980s! (great hair!)
Last week The Guardian Newspaper reported that following a two-year battle, female British Airways cabin crew had won the right to wear trousers.  Later in the week a young girl from a school in Dublin was interviewed on Newstalk Lunchtime about petitioning her school to allow girls wear their tracksuits every day should they wish to.  Both stories made me smile.
Uniforms are a great idea.  Especially if they are good quality and look smart and are appropriate to the job in hand.
I wore a uniform in my first job which was working for, what was then Ireland’s largest tour operator, JWT – ask your ma, this was back in the early ‘80s.  Our uniform was a grey A line skirt, sharp white shirt (although mine generally lacked sharpness prompting regular enquiries as to whether my iron was broken), a red, white and navy scarf and a navy blazer.  Footwear was a matter for ourselves but it was generally agreed that navy court shoes were the way to go.  Again it took me a while to get into wearing what I considered to be ‘mammy shoes’ and so for my first summer as a sales clerk I wore white clogs, yes the Dutch version – wooden and leather.  Again – ask your Ma – they were all the rage in the early ‘80s.  In fact, there was an actual clog shop on South King Street if my memory serves me correctly.  But I digress.
Every so often the company (JWT, whose tag line was ‘join the JWT set’) got a bit anxious about the fact that being a very young workforce we socialised a lot and on occasion (read ‘very often’) ended up in the basement nightclubs of Leeson Street with uniforms looking slightly the worse for wear.  Yes, I know, I am a little ashamed now (no I am actually not).
My being six feet tall seemed to be a much bigger deal way back then (you all seem to have gotten taller since) and meant that when we went to get measured every year for our skirts, my order had a note attached which said ‘add three inches to skirt’.  Knees were kept out of sight – which in my case was a very good thing, they’re a long way from being my best feature.
Most of the time I wore my uniform with pride and pretended I looked as good as the Aer Lingus girls who back in those days were only seen at the Airport and on board flights, as they were transported to and from work by minibus, ensuring they were never spotted in Leeson Street dens with uniforms akimbo.  They also got regulation shoes, ensuring no clogs could spoil their lovely designer outfits. 
Winter was very sartorially challenging, particularly when one had no company minibus to get to work.  The JWT set were reliant on shanks mare, bus or in my case the train.  Yes, the train – the DART was not yet a twinkle in CIE’s eye!  Standing on the platform by the sea in Seapoint on a bitter winter morning with bare legs would bring a tear to a glass eye.  I mentioned my height already and hence tights were not an option as I never got comfortable with the gusset swinging down around my knees.
But winters could be somewhat circumvented by availing of Joe Walsh’s (he of JWT – clever isn’t it?) crafty cost saving plan.  In those days people generally only went on Summer holidays which they booked in January which was mad busy.  But us sales people had very little to do in October, November and December, so Joe offered us ‘winter leave’.  We could take off for up to three months unpaid and most of us who availed of this headed south to the Canary Islands where we picked up some ad hoc rep work to keep body and soul together while we holidayed and partied the winter away. 
It was on one such winter leave that I fell in love with a pair of Spanish, thigh high, bright red, soft leather boots.  I thought they were made for me. No heels, but long enough to go over my knee and so with my extra inches added skirt, my legs would be sheltered from the worst excesses of an Irish winter and sure weren’t they red – one of the uniform colours.  I parted with my cash and brought them home.
Their inaugural outing was on my first day back to work in early January.  As the train chugged its way towards Pearse Station I admired my legs.  As I glided out of the train with hundreds of other morning commuters I noticed that the station had added a ramp where the stairs used to be. So off I set, head held high, convinced that every young fella must be admiring my red boots, my winter tan and my statuesque height.  I probably flicked my hair too. 
The ramp was wet and my boots were brand new.  Yep, you guessed it. Feet went from under me and down I went, landing very ungracefully on my arse in the middle of Pearse Street Station.  Various people came to my aid and I muttered “no I am fine, thank you, I am fine, no damage” and tried to reassemble myself and retrieve some of my shattered pride.  To make matters worse I then had to endure the walk to Baggot Street with most of the commuters who had witnessed my fall from grace.  I was also terrified that I would slip again.  The boots were lethal.  The journey took ages.
I had somewhat recovered my composure by the time I arrived at JWT HQ.  On the safer surface of carpet tiles, I once again flicked my hair as I entered the office, one red booted foot after the other. And sure enough I was greeted with comments like “Wow, some boots”,  “Great boots, Scully” although the remarks lacked envy or admiration and carried a hint of mirth.  Then my boss came out of his office.  In those days it was OK for a man (boss or not) to pass remarks on a female colleague’s appearance.  “They are not appropriate with the uniform.  Don’t let me see them again.”  All in all, it was a dark day.
So my tan faded and I went back to having legs purple with the cold by the time I arrived at my desk for the rest of that winter.  School days all over again.

Now we have a DART and a Luas into town.  JWT are no longer the giant of the Travel Business they once were.  Aer Lingus have long since abandoned their staff mini bus.  Bosses would be very reluctant to make remarks on a female colleague’s appearance – uniform or not.  But we still insist on some women wearing skirts.  I have never seen a female member of Aer Lingus or Ryanair cabin crew wear trousers; although I have seen some of the latter in bikinis.   I should be thankful for small mercies I suppose.

HOMELESSNESS HAS TO BE THE ELECTION ISSUE

The fastest growing economy in Europe. New jobs being created every week. Cranes once again stalking the Dublin skyline.  Even Dun Laoghaire, poster town of the recession, has an air of recovery about it with new shops opening regularly.  Although many of us will be playing catch up for decades to come, as we try to replace savings and pensions that were decimated in the crash, until recently, I was relieved that the worst seemed to be over.
Micheal Noonan said the emergency is over.  I knew things weren’t perfect.  I was aware of a homeless crisis but thought the government had it in hand with their plans for modular housing as an emergency solution.  I thought we were doing alright, until I watched the recent RTE documentary “My Homeless Family”.  Rarely has a programme made me so angry.
Using their own voices and most poignantly the voices and the tears of their children, these brave women (and it was mainly women) clearly illustrated just who have paid the price for our recovery.  Living in self-described ‘posh prisons or cages’ the pressure being exerted on these families every day is incredible and the documentary made for surprisingly hard viewing. I wondered why and then I realised it was because we were watching ourselves.  These families are every family; just like us they battled to keep their kids amused, they supervised homework and celebrated birthdays in their collapsed tiny worlds.  It could so easily have been any of us.
Lone parent, Erica and her daughter Emily have a bond that is strong and familiar.  I recognised it just I recognised Erica’s fear for the future as she tries her best to provide for her child.  I was a lone parent for ten years and it was only a twist of fate that meant I had a supportive family with room for me and my daughter to live at home until I could afford to move out on my own.  But I know Erica’s dreams. I dreamed them too.  A house we could call our own; where she could have her own bedroom.  Where she could have more space to play.  Where she could invite her friends over after school.  Erica’s pain although sharper was familiar.  I was just lucky.  But I could have easily been in her situation.
The women who generously let us view their lives in an intimate way, instinctively understand that a secure, safe, place to call home is essential to children’s development and to family life.  A home is not just a roof over one’s head and a bed to sleep in, it’s much more.  The writer and essayist, Samuel Johnson said “to be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution”.  How can these families achieve any of their ambitions living in such tiny spaces and with no security of tenure?
Over the coming fortnight we will all be bombarded with how brilliant the Government were in rescuing this country and dragging us back from the brink of disaster.  Yes, they did take control of the finances and restore some order to them.  But the recovery belongs to the people, all of us who suffered cuts to our incomes and increases in our taxes.  Austerity has been very brutal and almost all of us have paid a heavy price. 
But the highest price has been paid by those who are vulnerable; families on very low incomes or social welfare and lone parents. These people, families just like ours have been sacrificed in the name of this recovery.  Families who now have nowhere to call home, through no fault of their own.
The blame for this does not merely lie with the current government.  For decades’ successive governments abandoned the policy of building social houses. Somewhere along the way our Governments went from running a country to merely running an economy. 
For many (not all) involved in politics it’s a game.  It is a game created by men and still dominated by men, with a very male energy running through it and like any game it is all about winning. Keeping your seat at all costs.

But politics is not a game.  It is the art of caring for the people of the country.  The women on My Homeless Family knew that.  Having been stripped of that most basic right in life – a place to call home from which to build proper lives for themselves and their children, they are now doubly disadvantaged.  If this republic means anything, it falls to the rest of us, to be their voice at the election.  Homelessness must be front and centre of the next programme for government.  Otherwise we are all complicit in their misery.

BELFAST TICKS ALL THE BOXES FOR A WEEKEND AWAY

We headed north in August for a wonderful weekend in Belfast.  Can’t believe I left it this long to visit…. I found a proud and friendly city with a great sense of humour.

My travel piece appeared in the Irish Examiner last weekend and you can read it here.
Here is a short photo essay of our time in the city which I thought you might enjoy too…..

The SS Nomad – tender to SS Titanic

Lovely spot for lunch just across from Titanic – Cast & Crew

A cool spot for dinner…. HADSKIS

BELFAST AT NIGHT….. 

The wonderful St Georges Market

Hours of gorgeous browsing

LIVE MUSIC

 AND LOTS OF COLOUR
THE VIEW OVER THE CITY FROM THE DOME AT VICTORIA SQUARE 

HOTEL CHOCOLAT…….  

CRUMLIN ROAD GAOL

NOT GEORGE BEST…. SOME FELLA CALLED CARSON

NOT ALL MURALS ARE POLITICAL

HIGHLY RECOMMEND A TAXI TOUR… WE TOOK ONE WITH VALUE CABS.  Excellent
SIGNING THE PEACE WALL… AND UNDERSTAND A LITTLE MORE OF OUR HISTORY 
All photos by Paul Sherwood.  www.sherwood,ie

SORRY RED, IT’S NOT YOU… IT’S ME

I remember well the first bottle of wine I ever bought.  Well I didn’t purchase all of it.. I had shares in it, so to speak.  I was about 16 and with a few girl pals walked over a mile (no – we had shoes and it wasn’t snowing) to a shop where we had heard they weren’t very fussed about proof of age when purchasing alcohol.  We could afford one bottle between us.
As we neared the shop it was decided that I alone should enter the premises since I was the tallest and so surely must have looked the oldest.  The girls waited around the corner while I completed the transaction without any bother.  Then, nursing our precious purchase, we trudged all the way back (well, it was uphill) to the friend’s house whose parents were away.  Once there, we sat around the kitchen table and after a long struggle with a corkscrew managed to get the wine open and carefully doled it out between about five of us. 
We were all staying the night and so went to bed convinced we were all drunk and relishing the thought of hangovers in the morning.  Oh the innocence of it all.
Since those heady schoolgirl days I have dalliances with various other tipples.  There were the Bacardi & Coke days, the (brace yourself) Malibu & Pineapple days (I feel nauseous just thinking about that) and indeed I still am partial to an odd Hot Port or Pear Cider depending on the weather. 
But wine… sigh…. wine and I have never fallen out of love.  Wine has been there.. every step of the way.  From that first bottle of what was most likely Black Tower or Blue Nun to the bottles of Merlot and Shiraz languishing in my wine rack as I type.
Languishing you say?  Yes languishing.  Because, dear reader, I never saw it coming.  I thought we still happily involved in a beautiful relationship; a relationship that I will admit it had its ups and downs.  There were some nights (or indeed afternoons) when we overdid our love for each other.  There were dawns when I should have been in bed rather than struggling home from a neighbour’s house.  There were times when the day after the night before was a bit of a struggle as a result of my overindulgence.  But in fairness after well over three decades together we know each other fairly well and like a good marriage, we generally got on pretty well. 
In fact it was better than that.  We had some great laughs down the years.  The early days of cheap plonk and dodgy corks which disintegrated into the bottle as I struggled to remove them and then had to strain the wine through tights….  What?  You never did that?  The days spent in Spain drinking rough local vino from earthenware jugs.   The cosy, winter nights, me and my wine, together by a roaring fire.  All the celebrations, the birthdays, the Christmases…  we did them all..happily together. Not (necessarily) getting drunk you understand but just enjoying each other’s company.
But over the last few months something changed.  At first I assumed we were going through a rocky patch.  Two glasses of wine of an evening was starting to result in a horrible headache which often woke me in the middle of the night and lasted for most of the following day.  As a sufferer of migraines I do tend to get a bit panicky at the onset of a headache.  These weren’t migraines but did leave me feeling pretty awful and very, very tired. 
I persevered, as one does when a relationship has a wobble.  I tried to drink water along with the wine. I thought that was helping for a while.  But I was only fooling myself. 
So I bought a bottle of white.  It’s not the same.  We just don’t have the same chemistry.  There were fewer headaches but there was no spark.  No deeply satisfying sigh at the first taste on my lips. 
The bottles of red sat sadly looking at me from the rack in the kitchen.  So I decided to risk a glass the other night.  Spaghetti bolognaise tastes better anyway wish a dash of red so I opened a bottle and poured a glass. I inhaled deeply its spicy aroma.  Glass to lips and that first taste… oh it was sublime.  How I had missed it.  But I was sensible – I limited myself to just a glass.. and a half. 
Next day, I woke at six am with the familiar feeling of my head thumping on the pillow and my day went south slowly.  I cried bitter tears at the realisation that our relationship must end. 
Later I went downstairs and addressed the wine rack.  “It’s not you” I sobbed, “it’s me. I am so sorry, but it’s over.”

Let me tell you something, it’s a man’s world and the menopause is a bitch… with teeth.  But I am holding onto my bottles of red… because this can’t last forever, right?

DALKEY BOOK FESTIVAL

Seaside Marquee – DALKEY BOOK FESTIVAL
In the last few years I have become a right pain in the ass about The Dalkey Book Festival.  “It’s great,” I enthuse to all and sundry, “brilliant events and the town buzzes with energy and the sun always shines”.  Most of those I know who visit will book one or maybe two events.  But me… with my addictive personality… I book way too many and end up tearing about the village from tent to town hall and back again.  I try to build in gaps where I can venture home just so my kids don’t think I have actually gone away for the weekend.  Although every year I wonder should I book into the B&B in the village if there is such a thing – and that’s another mystery – why isn’t there a boutique hotel in Dalkey?  Staying onsite would enable me to not miss a thing… I could completely immerse myself in all the cleverality.  Like the old days back in Dunelles pub in Dun Laoghaire where even if you weren’t smoking a joint yourself, you could get high just breathing I could absorb more just by being there.
Dalkey is a perfect location for a festival.  It’s small and retains the feel of an Irish village, but it also has lots of great places to eat and drink.  And boy is it scenic.  Even for me, a Dun Laoghaire woman (2ndgeneration, I’ll have you know) who misspent much of her youth around Dalkey, the festival allows me to glimpse the location through fresh eyes, especially this year with the addition of the The Seafront Marquee in Dillons Park overlooking Dalkey Island.
But what makes the Dalkey Book Festival so compulsive is that it provides much of what is missing in Irish media today.  A chance to sit and listen to some great speakers discussing big questions, philosophical questions… the kind of stuff that makes you think.  There are great panel sessions too where various topics are debated.  But not debated in the polarised way we have become used to seeing on TV where the extremes are encouraged to contest the issue in sound bites with the facilitator constantly chiding them to hurry up.  Dalkey Book Festival is many ways is reminiscent of the heyday of the Late Late Show.  Long conversations liberally sprinkled with anecdotes and humour.
It is a perfect way to hear your favourite journalists (Fintan O Toole, Olivia O’Leary and Dearbhail McDonald featured this year) as well as writers and thinkers on a wide range of topics.  And that is the key to understanding the Dalkey Book Festival – it’s not just about books, it’s about much more.  And at its heart are the long philosophical conversations that Irish people love to have on topics that are important to us.  This year there were sessions titled ‘Economists, What Are They Good For?’, ‘New World 2020’ and ‘The Next Billion’.  My own favourite was ‘Who Owns 2016’.  And again, unlike the debates we are normally subjected to in Ireland on radio and TV, there are no winners.  No conclusion – but plenty of food for thought, plenty to mull over for days afterwards.
Oh – and it tends to remarkably free of politicians.  What’s not to like?
Well, there is one thing… I would love to see more women on the various stages.  From quick count I did on the adult events (there’s a great kids programme too) there are almost double the amount of men on stage than women.  And historians – although I like Diarmuid Ferriter, I sometimes wonder is he our only historian.  I would especially like to hear someone like Mary McAuliffe discussing Ireland’s revolutionary decade.  Mary has done lots of interesting work on women’s involvement… perhaps that might be something the organising committee would look at next year.
Either way I will be there.  I’m saving already… are you on their mailing list? 

FAILING OUR YOUNG PEOPLE…..

Dinner table discussions are one of the best things about family life.. and like good wine they get better as the kids get older.  I had the rare experience of gathering my three daughters and my husband around a big roast dinner last night in advance of my eldest’s journey back to Perth after a short visit home. 
The last day with her is always awful.  Emotions are raw and all just below the surface.  We  are all walking on eggshells like Basil Fawlty in that famous episode of Fawlty Towers afraid to ‘mention the war’ or in our case ‘the parting’.  We usually make lots of nonsense small talk to avoid opening the floodgates of tears.
But last night was different as the talk turned very quickly to the Marriage Equality referendum.  My emigrant daughter found it hard to believe that there was a concerted campaign for a No vote.  However it was my other two daughters, aged 16 and 14 who were most vocal on the issue.
They had both recently discovered a number of families known to them who are voting no. This stunned them.  
But what upset them most, was that in the majority of cases, the off spring in these families are very angry at their parent’s stance on this issue.  Living, in Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown in supposedly one of the most liberal constituencies in the country, I was also stunned at this revelation.  One of my daughters told us of her friend who is gay and his parents are also voting no. 
Conversation continued as I recounted my rather surreal experience of debating the issue on air on East Coast Radio earlier in the day.  I talked about the misinformation and fear being spread by the No side which is very difficult to counter.  Then my youngest who is 14 exploded. 
“In this referendum we should be allowed to vote.  This is an issue that will affect our lives and the lives of our friends.  It will have no affect whatsoever on these parents who are straight and already married. They also grew up in an era when homosexuality was illegal and under the radar.  It was OK to look down and judge gay people.  And now they might be the ones who may get to decide on this very issue.  It is not fair that we cannot have our say.  That our voices will not be heard.”
And she is right.  Once again we in this bloody country are doing a disservice to our young people.  Not only can they not vote on this issue but we are not even hearing their views.
We finished our meal almost more depressed than if we had visited the issue of saying goodbye to the eldest. 
However on a more positive note, the girls also told us that their school, which is a former convent school with a very Catholic ethos, is festooned with Yes stickers and they are not being removed by the staff.  This cheered me somewhat until I realised that only a small minority of the school population will have a vote!

The clarity with which our teenagers view this referendum, seeing it clearly as an issue of equality and not one of parenting is also making me rethink my stance on the other issue we vote on on May 22nd.  Maybe a young President is what this bloody country needs?

WEARING YOUR MID LIFE CRISIS….On Your Head

It was Coco Chanel who said that a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.  This may or may not be true.  But what is very true is that a woman’s relationship with her hair goes way beyond the obvious.  It is a deeply intense bond that proclaims something to the world about the woman’s inner life.
I remember well my first proper hairstyle.  The first time I ever went to a hair stylist.  I think I was about ten.  Before this my dear mother, who is gifted in many things but not hairdressing, used to give me the classic pudding bowl cut complete with wonky fringe that was de rigour for children in Ireland in the 1970s.  So it was a big deal to be given the two pence ha’penny or whatever it was to take myself off to the local hairdressers for a proper hairstyle.  A bob. A heavy fringe and curtain of beautifully styled hair with a turn under for added bounce.  I was gorgeous.  I didn’t just think I was gorgeous I FELT gorgeous.

The early 80’s ushered in the era of the perm.  I achieved my own unique version of the poodle, with a straight hair on the top of my head (because I was – and still am – very tall) and full curly sides.  This look involved spending hours with foul smelling stuff on my head (it did actually make my eyes water) in a trendy salon on Baggot St.  I knew it was trendy because Gillian Bowler, who was then selling sexy holidays to Greece was also a regular client – although she never went for a perm as far as I know!  Her long, luscious locks cascaded around her face from the permanent sunglasses perched on her head, winter and summer.

By the end of that decade I was a single parent and decided I required a kind of ‘don’t fuck with me’ hairstyle which was a short back and sides.  I hoped it would make me look like a strong woman.  In reality I looked like a lanky boy.  
In the 90’s I met a man I liked and got married.  My look softened along with my heart and I splashed out on blonde highlights. This marked the first time I tinkered with the colour of my hair  – well unless you include the dabbling with Henna in the late 70s.
The wedding highlights were just beginning to fade when the grey hair started to be an issue. Marriage, huh?  Anyway I added a box of Clairol that looked vaguely similar to my own colour, to my supermarket shopping and did a home job.  But the toll on the bathroom was immense; splashes of brown on tiles, on the loo, on the sink and not to mention to ruined towels. 
In spite of my efforts the grey continued its relentless march.  Tougher action was called for.
So began the visit to the local salon every two months to ‘have my colour done’.  Two hours to read trashy magazines and wonder about celebrity life styles after which I bounced back out to my life with a shiny ageless head of beautifully blow dried hair. 
Then two months become six weeks and now we are down to one month.  And I am beginning to fear that I am losing this battle. 
Now let me state clearly the obvious.  And that is that while my hair has been succumbing to my great age – so has the rest of me.  I have lines on my forehead and wrinkles around my eyes and mouth.  My chin has trebled and my jaw line is slack.  And that’s just my face.  But somehow I can live with all of that.  In fact I come close to believing that my face now has character.  My lines and wrinkles speak of tears shed through both sorrow and sheer joy.  And in the right light – fairly dark light, let it be said – I look, well, kind of reasonable.  No siree – no botox or fillers or any of that rubbish for me. 
But my hair lets me down every time those grey roots start to appear.  Immediately I look (with all due respects to her) like my 80 year old mother. 
The recession hasn’t helped.  There have been months when I have taken pity on the dog whose nails are scraping on the floor and who trips over his own long hair and taken him to the groomers with my hair money.  Sure what will another couple of weeks matter, I ask myself. Oh but it does matter.  Once those grey roots appear all around my face, I notice people talking to my hair rather than to me.  I keep catching sight of myself in shop windows or mirrors and wondering why my aforementioned mother has joined me.
Last summer my hairdresser gently suggested that I might like to start to lighten my hair colour a little.  This would make the appearance of grey roots a little less obvious.  But I wasn’t happy.  My hair had never been light brown.  It didn’t match my eyebrows.  I didn’t feel like me. 
So I decided that I should do something radical with my hair.  Purple, I thought to myself.  I’ll dye my hair purple.  Deep Purple – not that Kelly Osborne washed out purple… but proper purple.   That would be very rock ‘n’ roll. 
So next visit to my beleaguered hairdressers I informed them of my wish to go purple, proper purple.  They tried to politely dissuade me.  But I insisted.  They said they didn’t really have the purple I wanted in stock.  Sure maybe I should think about it. 
I did.  I asked them just to give me a trim and blow dry and on the way home I picked up a colour from the supermarket.  My first attempt turned out a bit red rather than purple.  But I preserved – for the last six months I have been various shades of red and pink – usually at the same time.  I never achieved the purple I envisaged.  My hair was a bit of a mess.
But here’s the thing about one’s hair.  Unless you really, truly care, you only really pay attention to what’s framing your face.  So I was pretty unaware of how weird my colour was until I travelled half way around the world recently to holiday with my emigrant daughter whose first job was in a hairdressers.
“Jesus Ma, you’re hair’s great craic – it’s brown, grey, pink and red.”  To make matters worse, the climate in Bali is very humid and so my multicoloured barnet also frizzed out in all directions.  I finally realised I did indeed look a holy show. 
In desperation I sent a message to my long suffering local hairdressers begging them for an appointment on the way back from the airport. 
“I think I might lighten my hair… “ I muttered sheepishly.  “For the summer, like.”    
The colourist looked at my poor sun bleached, dry, multicoloured hair. 
“We didn’t do this, did we?” she asked.
“No.  I did”
“Right.  Well there is no quick fix.  Killing that red tone is going to take a bit of time.  We will have to go a bit darker before we can lighten it.  Otherwise you will just have pink highlights.”
Pink highlights?  For a minute, I wondered.   
But I think I am over my hair proclaiming my personal mid life crisis.  I am ready to move on!   I think…..

#askhermore

Feminism is a funny old game.  It is a classic case of two steps forward and one backwards.  As women move forward in our quest for full equality there seems to be an equal counterweight which balances this progress by reminding us that we still aren’t really that equal.  Just in case we get ahead of ourselves like.
Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the media and entertainment.  Take the movies, for example.  While there seems to be a feeling abroad that things are improving for female lead roles, research recently published by the Centre for the Study of Women in Film and Television showed that, in fact less than 12% of the lead protagonists in the top grossing 100 movies in 2014 were women.  Less than 12%.  And women only represented 30% of all speaking characters in these movies.
But along with these dismal statistics are the facts that most of the women in film are younger and usually identified by their social roles rather than their careers.  In other words they are portrayed as far less powerful than their male counterparts. 
At this juncture can I just give TV3 a shout out for their superb new soap drama series ‘Red Rock’ which is liberally sprinkled with strong female characters, who operate in their own right.  It’s very refreshing and they are every bit as compulsive as any of the male leads.    
Anyway, back to Hollywood and the fact that we might think that Disney putting a princess into a blue dress means that things are changing.  The reality is that they are not. 
Of course one of the main ways to reduce a woman’s power is by subtly reminding her that no matter what her accomplishments are, she will still be judged first and foremost on her appearance.  And no where will you find this illustrated more elegantly than on these ‘Red Carpet Shows’ that precede all the big awards ceremonies.  In one fell swoop these shows have managed to reduce some of the most wonderful actresses and female performers in the world to beauty pageant contestants. 
E! Fashion Police (yes, an actual programme which used star the late Joan Rivers) leads the charge in this regard with their vacuous presenters, Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic who line up female stars to ask “so…. who are you wearing?”  E! has also championed two new technologies to help them in their task of reducing the actresses to clothes horses.  The Glam Cam rotates an image of the actress round and round and up and down so we can judge her from all angles and then we have the mani-cam.  Yes, you guessed it.  A mini red carpet so the actress to walk her fingers towards the camera so we can view her manicure and her jewellery.  
However the good news is that the fight back is on, it seems to be working and it began on the much maligned medium of social media. 
The Representation Project grew from the success of a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom called ‘Miss Representation’ which examined how women were portrayed in across all media, from film to news and current affairs.  The mission of the project is to highlight and challenge the limiting depictions of women in media. 
In response to the inane questions that female actors are subjected to on the red carpet they began a hashtag called #askhermore.  This allows users of social media, particularly Twitter to urge broadcasters to ‘ask her more’ than just what dress she is wearing.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like a nice frock and wearing too much make up to a ‘posh do’ occasionally.  And yes, I watch these Red Carpet shows and love to see the style.  But I would also love to hear about how the actress felt about the role, or what she was doing next. 
The website Buzzfeed sent a reporter to cover the red carpet at the recent BAFTA’s in London who only spoke to male actors and gave them the ‘who are you wearing treatment’, along with requesting Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton to ‘do a twirl’.  You can guess who did and who didn’t.  But it was the look on the mens’ faces as they were faced with such trivial, banal questioning that was the best.
At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January actors Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore all refused to parade their fingers for the mani cam. 
But to borrow from Mr Dylan, “the times they are a-changing”.  Last night, as I watched the first hour of E!’s Red Carpet Show the change in emphasis was obvious.  Men and women were both asked who they were wearing – but that was it.  They were then asked more.  And for the time I watched anyway there wasn’t a mani-cam or glam cam in sight. 

The fight goes on but at least the battle to #askhermore seems to have been won.  
You might like this story on the Oscars From My Table Archives  

FEARLESS NO MORE…..

I have a fear of clutter.  I throw stuff out at an alarming rate.  I especially hate the idea of the space above our heads being full of rubbish, so things have to pass my inspection before they are allowed to be stored in the attic.  However there are two large bags up there which I insist on keeping.  I rarely investigate these bags but I like to know they are there. 
These bags contain a part of my soul.  They contain my old diaries.  No, not the kind of private journals into which you pour your heart and innermost darkest secrets.  No, these are work diaries.  And they go right back to the early 1980s.
My first career was in the travel business and my oldest diaries date from my days working for JWT.  Although holding no deep secrets, they do provide plenty of clues to what was going on in my life then.  Because along with work related appointments and reminders, my social life is also recorded therein.  Pages that end with a scribble that says ‘Toners’ (pub in Baggot Street in which I spent quite a proportion of my meagre salary in those heady days), or Fridays that often say “the Pink” referring to theplace to hang out back then. 
Music gigs were also an important feature with weekends littered with band names like ‘Stepaside’ and ‘The Lookalikes’.  Just looking at these notes, which give away no secrets, I can remember many things that will remain forever secret, well as long as I don’t ever fall out with my oldest friends.
But it’s not just the pages of the diary that hold clues to my previous lives.  My diaries have always been used as storage folders for important bits and pieces of information – everything from other people’s business cards to notes and letters.  My JWT diaries hold copies of memos requesting holidays.  There are long rolls of telex communications that were vital for some reason or other.  Ask your ma or da what a telex is.  These diaries are a window into the world of work in the largely pre computer era. 
At the back of the diaries are lists of vital phone numbers – although in those days I could recite most of them off by heart.  I don’t even know my children’s phone numbers now – something that does worry me.
And there are postcards from various far flung destinations.  In the days before Facebook when we went on holidays we sent postcards back to let friends and family know that we were having a wonderful time.  They’ve lasted way longer than last month’s Facebook posts.
Currently in my work desk I have a drawer that is full of my most recent diaries… the writing and broadcasting ones.  One of the great joys of self employment is getting to pick one’s own diary.
About five years ago, when I first decided to leave the cosy and safe confines of my kitchen table in deepest suburbia in order to market my opinions in the media I came across a diary called ‘A Fearless Woman’.  Knowing that this was what I was going to have to become, I bought it.  It was pretty and colourful and each month began with a page emblazoned with an affirmation. 
I have bought a Fearless Woman Date Book even since.  Let me share what January 2014 said; “From the deep well of her spirit, her brave voice awakens to rise and to roar.  Empowered to say what she knows to be true, she speaks up and doesn’t hold back”.  Great motivational stuff that I cling to on days when I wonder what kind of an eejit I am to think anyone is going to commission me to write anything at all. 
So for the last five years my desk has been graced by my gorgeous Fearless Woman Diary.  Then in the haze Christmas shopping madness, I made a rash decision.  My head was turned by a pretty little pocket diary covered in glitter.  “Sure wouldn’t that be grand” I thought to myself; a nice sparkly diary that I could have in my bag.  Big mistake. Huge.
Two weeks into January I was lost and I’m still completely bereft.  My glittery diary is too small.  I can never find it.  It won’t fit precious photos or slips of paper I may need.  I hate it.
But worst of all, it’s now too late to find a Fearless Woman diary in the shops. 

The moral of this tale is that all that glitters (yes, I know he wrote ‘glisters’) is indeed not gold.  Also – you are not what you eat – you are your diary. And how am I to continue to be a Fearless Woman in 2015 when I only have a stupid glittery yoke to work with?

A FAMINE SIT COM? WHY NOT?

When I first heard that Channel Four had commissioned a ‘sit-com’ about the Famine I winced.  My reaction was one of revulsion.  The famine remains a special kind of horror that we may still be coming to terms with as a nation.  The National Famine Monument in Co Mayo was only unveiled in 1997 and it was not until 2008 that we, as a country inaugurated a National Famine Commemoration Day.   Why did we take so long to begin to deal with this catastrophe?  Do we carry the horror of starving to death in our DNA as a kind of race memory?  Do we Irish people of today carry some residue of guilt that our families survived and remained in Ireland?  I think all of these questions may have an affirmative answer.
I know I was not alone is experiencing revulsion at the idea of a comedy being set around those awful years between 1845 and 1850.  There is currently an online petition with over 20,000 signatures against this proposed project.
But once I got over my initial reaction I was almost equally disturbed by the notion that I might consider certain topics to be off limits to comedy or satire.  All my life I have found humour even in the darkest moments.  And I believe that it is this ability to see the absurd even in the tragic that has regularly saved my sanity.  I am a huge believer in the power of humour to make life bearable and at times joyful beyond explanation.  There is nothing as exhilarating as to be taken to that place where you are literally crying with laughter.
We lost American comedian Joan Rivers last year.  At times Ms River’s comedy made me wince too.  Particularly when she attacked someone for being fat or ugly – or God forbid, both.  I still think that personal attacks are the lowest form of wit.  Ricky Gervais is another purveyor of this brand of humour.  I like my comedy to be a bit clever.
When Ms Rivers died, I tweeted that I sometimes found her humour to be cruel rather than funny.  That tweet didn’t earn me any new followers and I was taken to task by a number of her fans online. 
Over Christmas, ITV screened ‘An Audience with Joan Rivers’ which was originally aired in 2005.  Towards the end of the programme she was asked if there was anything she wouldn’t joke about.  Her answer completely won me over. 
It’s a well known fact that her husband committed suicide (as she says, ‘in the 80s when it was still chic’).  She explained that when she went back on stage the first time after his death,  she could feel the audience wondering how she would be.  She tackled their curiosity head on.  Her first joke was about suicide. 
However, she then went on to talk about how her beloved daughter, Melissa reacted after the sudden death of her father.  Melissa has spoken him on the phone the night before he died.  Melissa was also the only person home when the phone call came to say he passed away.  Joan got somewhat emotional when she explained how, for over a week after the funeral, she couldn’t reach her poor 15 year old daughter.  Finally she took her out to dinner to a very expensive restaurant in Hollywood.  As they looked at the menus Joan said “you know Melissa, if you father were here looking at these prices, he’d kill himself all over again”.  And Melissa laughed.  Connection was re-established.
I think there is a reason that we are the only species on earth that have a sense of humour.  I am sure that our ability to laugh is designed as a release valve – a way of making life more bearable, especially at times of disaster – personal, national or indeed global.
Joan Rivers can joke about suicide because she has experienced it at close quarters (and she did a lot of charity work around the issue).  There was a truth in her comedy. 
The young man commissioned by Channel Four to write this sit com about the Famine is Hugh Travers.  He is Irish.  So too is the production company, Deadpan Pictures.  That also makes a difference.  So although the project may air on a British TV station, it will be an Irish creation.
We Irish should be the first to make comedy around the Famine, because we know the truth of it.  It won’t lessen the horror of what happened.  It won’t insult the memory of those that died.  It won’t change anything.  No more than the movie ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ lessened the horror of the Vietnam War. 

But it had better be funny.  To be unfunny would be unforgiveable. I wish Mr Travers the best of luck.

LOVE CHRISTMAS? ME?… Maybe this year

Every Tuesday a lovely, chatty man who loves to laugh calls to my door with a delivery of eggs.  We shoot the breeze for a couple of minutes and we always end up with a laugh.  Last week the poor man had the misfortune to ask me if I was looking forward to Christmas.  “Looking forward to Christmas” I roared at him… “looking forward to Christmas.  No I bloody well am not.  Christmas is just a whole heap of hard work.”  By now his expression of slight bemusement had morphed into something approaching terror, as if he has awoken some sleeping beast or had suddenly realised he was on a rapidly accelerating runaway train.  He started to edge back out the door.  But I was only getting going.  “Along with the stress of weeks of present buying in stuffy over crowded shops I then have the prospect of peeling a mountain of spuds on Christmas Eve, followed by carrots and sprouts… that no one likes but we have to have them because they are traditional.. and God forbid we move away from tradition.  Not to mention trifle, puddings and Christmas cake.  Now who the hell in the right mind would look forward to Christmas?  It’s too much bloody hard work” I roar.  The poor man was at the front gate by now, muttering “right so, see you next week.” 
As I closed the door I realised that I seemed to actually resent Christmas even more than I had thought.  I felt sorry for the egg man who would clearly arrive home to his wife saying “jaysus Barbara went off on a right one today”.  Although maybe he wouldn’t say anything to his wife for fear he might awaken the sleeping beast with her too.
But seriously, Christmas is a huge amount of hard work and yeah I do have offers of help but maybe I like playing the martyr or maybe I am a bit of a control freak but I generally do the lion’s share of the donkey work myself. 
Now back when the kids were smaller and I was relishing the surprising joy of being a ‘housewife’ (hate that term) I was a wee bit terrified at the thought of providing Christmas Dinner for extended family.  It’s not that making roast turkey with all the trimmings is that complicated but the trick was and still is getting everything to be ready at the same time.  My Achilles heel is usually getting the roast potatoes sufficiently crispy without the vegetables going soft. 
Actually I have two Achilles heels.  The other is that every year I make two puddings – because I LOVE Christmas pudding but also, because, until last year, I always burn the arse off the first one.  Then someone gave me the secret of placing a saucer under the pudding bowl – who knew?  No more horrible smell of melted plastic in the kitchen followed by hours trying to scrape said stuff off my best heavy bottomed saucepan.
Anyway,  by the time I actually get to eat my pudding I am red faced, in a sweat and completely exhausted and only slightly inebriated.  Everyone else is merrily pulling crackers, well pissed and completely oblivious to my pain. 
But I hate that I am beginning to be known as a Christmas Grinch.  “Oh Barbara, she hates Christmas” people say about me.  But it’s really only the Christmas dinner shenanigans I hate.  I love Christmas carols, I love cold crispy weather, I love the smell of a Christmas tree and the twinkle of the lights. 
So this year I am going to attempt to make life a bit easier for myself.  I am going to buy as much pre prepared stuff as I can.  There is a voice in my head that says “ah but that’s cheating and not very traditional” but feck that.  I want to sit down without a red face and with enough energy to pull crackers with everyone else.
And the good news is that all the supermarkets are full of great ready prepared vegetables and prepared meats to make our lives easier.  The good people at Centra let me have a look at what they have in store to help a tired housewife like me enjoy Christmas more.  It looks like heaven.
From boned and rolled turkey (who needs turkey wings anyway), and ham joints to potato gratin and spouts with bacon.  They also have desserts and party food and cheese boards.   All the hard work done.  Oh joy of joys.
I no longer need to prove I can cook a Christmas dinner for ten.  Been there and done that too many times.  No this year I am taking it easier and letting Centra do the heavy lifting. 

I can’t wait to tell the egg man!!!  Now, where’s that recipe for Mistletoe Mojitos?

THE HEN HOUSE CELEBRATES ONE YEAR ON AIR

In the last year 58 amazing women have made the trip out to Dundrum Town Centre to be my guest on The Hen House.  This week marks the programmes first birthday!
When I came up with the idea for the Hen House I worried that I would quickly run out of women who were willing to come and talk to me for an hour.  I never doubted that there were lots of interesting and funny women out there.. but asking them for a large chunk of their afternoon to come into studio and be interviewed by yours truly was and is a big ask.  I am very grateful to each and every one of you who have given me your time, your pearls of wisdom and some great laughs.  But more than anything I want to thank you for using your voice to tell your story.
Some stories were intensely personal, some were related to your work and some were related to a cause you feel passionately about.  But each of you gave your talent and your time very graciously and generously.  And for that I am very grateful.
But more than all of that you women have made your voices heard.  Amid the male dominated noise and chatter on our airwaves, The Hen House is providing women with a platform and a space to talk, to tell our stories.
These are the women who made the last year such a great experience for me personally and who have helped to redress the gender imbalance on air in Ireland:
Jillian Godsill, (on surviving bankruptcy)
June Shannon (medical journalist and mental health campaigner)
Joanna Fortune (child psychotherapist)
Sarina Bellissimo (broadcaster – Spin 1038)
Jill O Herlihy (PR supremo)
Eleanor Fitzsimons (writer)
Vanessa O Loughlin (all things writing)
Dil Wickremasinghe (broadcaster and social justice campaigner)
Caroline Grace Cassidy and Sorcha Furlong (actresses and writers)
Abby Wynne (healer)
Sinead Buckley Quinn (Design Loft in Powerscourt)
Andrea Hayes (broadcaster, TV Presenter and animal campaigner)
Mary Mitchell O Connor, TD
Michelle Jackson (author and travel writer)
Sharon Lawless (documentary maker)
Andrea Smith (journalist)
Janet O Sullivan (pagan, witch and feminist)
Orla O Connor (CEO NWCI)
Noirin Scully, Mairin Cullen and Stephanie Batt – wise older women
Maeve O Sullivan (poet)
Caroline Erskine (Women on Air former Chairperson)
Susan Lohan (Adoption Rights Alliance)
Carmen Browne (singer)
Elaine Lavery and Hannah O Reilly – Improper Butter
Aisling O Toole (Editor – Irish Country Magazine)
Ann Colgan, Jeanette Kavanagh, Ellen O Connor – local election candidates
Ailson Canavan (model, business women and mental health campaigner)
Denise Deegan (author)
Louise Bayliss (Spark) and Grainne Sherlock on lone parenting
Hazel Gaynor (author)
Margaret Scully (radio documentary maker and broadcaster)
Sinead Burke (fashionista, blogger and small person)
Jen McGuirk (actress and intrepid traveller)
Ellen Gunning (PR)
Muriel Bolger (author, journalist and travel writer)
Maria Duffy (author)
Grace Kelly, Aimee Corcoran and Megan Brady – the Class of 2014
Deirdre O Connor (care of the elderly)
Andrea Mara (office mum)
Dr Ger Scanlon and Laura Haugh – Education special
Jillian Van Turnhout – Senator
Hazel Larkin, (blogger and writer)
Irene Lowry, (CEO, Nurture)
Mary White, Senator
Vicki Mooney (Plus size models)
Helen Walsh (holistic fitness instructor)
Cindy O Connor and Trish Errity from Pieta House
Ciara Meehan (history lecturer and curator of Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition)
Claire McGing (lecturer in political geography).
Thank you all so much……  And thanks to all of you have listened – either live or by listening back to the podcasts.
I am hoping that all of these past programmes will be available on the Hen House page on the Dublin South FM website in the not too distant future.

Dear Enda…. about IRISH WATER

Yesterday on the Twitter machine, Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor with the Irish Independent posed the following question.  “If @irishwater were to somehow start all over again, what advice would you give to the government?”  140 characters were not enough. 
Dear Enda
There is little doubt that Irish Water a complete mess and a PR disaster.  This is the result of rushing at it like a horny bull at a gate into a field of attractive cows, whose eyes are only on the prize, in your Government’s case – the tax revenue.  Remember what your mammy taught you – “fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.”
But the Government has a bigger problem.  The imposition of yet another tax on the beleaguered people of this country has finally pushed us to boiling anger.  And this anger is not just, as some commentators would have us believe, because we live in a soggy country where it rains all the time resulting in our having some kind of psychological reluctance to pay for the very stuff that often makes us feel damp and miserable.
We are angry because we have had enough.  We are angry because this is a tax too far.  We are angry because we now know that in two years time most of us; especially those of us who live in urban centres are going to be fleeced with the unfair property tax that is calculated on value of our homes as opposed to square footage.  
We are angry because this is how we are repaid for our compliance with all the austerity that has been forced upon us for debts that we didn’t incur.  It is the people who have allowed your Government and the previous one, to enforce the cuts and taxes that have given you great kudos abroad.  Ireland’s so called recovery is not your triumph – it belongs to the people of this country. 
But we are now saying enough is enough.  We have no more to give.
But let’s park the anger for a moment.  There is obviously a case to be made for the payment of water and the treatment of waste.  In principle I would imagine most of us would accept this.  So here is what I suggest you do.  If, that is, you really are planning for an infrastructure project that will serve this country and our people for the next number of decades and not (as most of us suspect) you are just seeing Irish Water as another way to raise more tax Euros in the short term.
Streamlined, small efficient company
Irish Water should be in the first instance a small and very efficient company.  It should not be a retirement home for workers who previously have been employed by the local councils. There should be no talk of bonuses or whatever other terms have been used to describe same.  Ditto with car allowances and other nonsense.
Fix the leaks
In the first instance Irish Water should be charged with fixing the leaky system.  And don’t give us the line about how will they pay for it?  If Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council can spend €33 million on a monster library, if the GAA can secure €30 million for the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh, money will be found.  How much have you spent on the other ill fated project currently on the table, the Children’s Hospital?  This year we will pay in the region of €4 billion in that other awful austerity tax the Universal Social Charge.  As usual in politics – there is always the money – it’s a question of priorities. 
Grants for rainwater harvesting and other water conservation measures
If water is as precious a resource as Irish Water have tried to tell us it is and if we are serious about changing our attitudes to water then it is vital that the Government introduce incentives to allow people to invest a little now in measures that would conserve water in the future.  To me this is a glaring omission to the current plan for introducing water charges.  Bringing in such incentives would also have a positive PR bounce as it would give the impression that instead of being ripped off we are all in this together.  See how we took to recycling?  We can easily do similar with water conservation.
Install meters
Once the company is seen to be fit for purpose and the leaky system has been brought into the 21st century, then Irish Water can begin the process of fitting meters.  But could I suggest that most people would like a meter that they could read easily – similar to the ESB or Gas Meter and not something that exists solely under the ground at the end of the driveway.  We have never paid for water as a separate utility before and most of us have little or no idea about how much we actually use.  It is vital to build trust so a meter that is visible to householders I think is essential.
When all of the above has been completed then it is appropriate to announce a date for billing to start.  I would suggest no earlier than 2020.
Finally – once we are paying for water – there should be no talk of call out charges.  If there is a gas leak – do we have to pay the Gas Company to attend? 
I know that as Taoiseach you are surrounded by advisors that cost me and the rest of us plenty money.  You might like to review their input Enda.  Because Irish Water is rapidly going to go down in history as the biggest government mess ever – eclipsing the E Voting machines and Children’s Hospital and Incinerator messes that have preceded it.
Once you start bullying your electorate Enda you lose them.  This project needs to be completely reimagined.  Irish Water needs to be completely overhauled before you can do anything.  Then slowly, bringing your people with you, there might be some chance of success.  And your legacy may just survive… and I know that’s very important.  Not to us… but to you and your fellow Ministers.
Sincerely

Barbara Scully

P.S oh and by the way Enda, tinkering about with allowances etc is not going to quell the anger… in fact it may do exactly the opposite.  We know you are on the ropes on this one… it’s time for time out and a total rethink and redesign.  

SEPTEMBER… THE MOST DELICIOUS MONTH

It happens usually in mid August.  There will be an evening when the air carries a little extra chill and suddenly you become aware that autumn is waiting in the wings of the day, just beyond your perception.  It is the gentlest of whispers, carried on the breeze that signals summer is in decline and we are actually slipping slowly and quietly into autumn.  My cats usually pick up on this subtle change in the air too and they have already staked out their favourite places to sleep in various parts of the house, their summer wanderlust exhausted.
Perhaps it’s our Celtic DNA but I have no doubt that the old Irish calendar is right and we are now in Mean Fomhair – the middle of autumn.  The leaves have yet to turn and the weather is still mild but summer is over.  We have arrived at the evening of the year.
September is a particularly delicious month.  After the slack routines and exertions of summer, order is restored as the children return to their studies.  The new academic year offers us all a chance for a new beginning.  Another chance to make the changes to our lives or lifestyles we may have pondered as we lay soaking up the rays of summer sunshine.  September is a hopeful month and yet a month that makes no demands of us with no festivals or bank holidays.  It is not surprising that in a recent survey in the UK less than one percent of those surveyed nominated September as the most stressful month of the year.  The most stressful honour went, unsurprisingly to January, followed closely by December.
But what makes September particularly worth savouring is that it is a month which signals a slowing down.  Autumn is when Mother Nature draws her energy inward, as the leaves fall and the earth prepares for the long winter sleep.  Me, I make preparations for the long winter nights.  September makes me look again at my living space to see how I might make it cosy and warm.  All it might take is a new throw for the sofa and a load of wood logs in the basket ready for the first fire.  By the end of the month I will have made the excursion under my bed to retrieve the storage boxes that hold my winter hoodies and fleeces, clothes that only require any old body as opposed to a supposedly ‘beach ready body’ we need for summer wear. Which is just as well as September is all about my kind of food.
In preparation for the frugal winter, nature is giving up her harvest.  Orchards are full of fallen apples and anyone can savour the rich bounty of the hedgerows which are now bursting with berries.  It is the month for apple and blackberry crumble and time to replace cream with warm custard.  It is the month when menus change – domestic ones anyway, with the welcome reintroduction of warming food like shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and big pots of spicy vegetable soup.  Slowing down and comfort food, what more could you want?
But there is more.  September is also the most sensual of months.  The air smells different carrying perhaps a hint of wood smoke or bonfire.  The light softens, lending a warm glow to the landscape as the sun moves away from us.  The countryside and parks are a riot of autumnal colour in hues of russet and gold and red and orange.  It is a month to get out and walk, savouring the smells, the colours and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.  And a chance to visit your inner child by reliving the thrill of finding and collecting pocketfuls of wine-red shiny chestnuts. 
September is like climbing into your own freshly made bed after a wonderful, busy, fun holiday.  It is like coming home after a hard day’s work to a warm welcoming house, closing your front door and knowing you won’t have to venture out into the world again till tomorrow.  It’s like putting on your comfiest slippers after a day in fabulous but rather painful shoes.  It’s the feeling that all is well with the world that sometimes comes with the first sip of red wine.  September is all about just being rather than doing. 

Maybe in a former life I was a bear.  Perhaps that is why I love this month so much.  But I am ready to waddle, book in one hand, hot chocolate in the other, into my fireside where I will park myself on a comfy chair, put a soft blanket over my legs and a cat on my lap and I will while away many happy evenings.  And best of all about September?  It precedes October.  Oh how I love October.  

LET’S JUDGE A PAUSE THERE SISTERS…..

Sometimes being a feminist is kind of confusing.  It is very easy to become hyper aware of anything that could be viewed as being degrading to us women.  And if you look hard enough you will find such things everywhere.
But it is vital that before we decry the culprit that we take a wee moment to think.  I know that I don’t want to live in a world where we are ultra politically correct all the time at the expense of our ability to laugh at ourselves – individually or collectively.  Therefore when your senses are assaulted by an image which shouts ‘foul’ or ‘this is sexist’ as a friend of mine says ‘judge a pause’. 
Three such images appeared in the media this week.  As first glance all three looked sexist but in actual fact only one was…. in my humble anyway.
First up was the full page ad that Today FM took out to announce two new male presenters of their lunchtime show.  The ad featured a bra with the male presenters featuring in each cup and there was a tag line of Double D a play on the image and the fact that the presenters are called Dermot and Dave. 
Next one that crossed my consciousness was the image used in a campaign that has just been launched by Concern and Women’s Aid called ‘Are You Man Enough To Walk In Her Shoes’  There was a cartoon image of a male figure in a pair of high stilettos.  I guess is asking men to try to imagine what it feels like to be a woman – and a vulnerable one at that.
The last image of the week appeared in the Irish Times yesterday.  It was a PR shot to announce the Cancer Society’s Paint It Pink campaign.  It featured RTE presenter Keelin Shanley (a breast cancer survivor) dressed in pink holding a tin of paint and a very attractive bare chested young man up a ladder supposedly painting the door.  As someone who worked in PR and the partner of a professional photographer it was most definitely a cracking photo which drew the eye in immediately.  The image was also used in The Journal and can be seen here.
So your honour, which of these images is guilty of being sexist?  Only the first one.  Why?  Like most other things in life, because of the context.  This ad featuring male presenters’ faces on a bra is sexist because it was put out by a radio station that has not one female presenter presenting a daytime show during the week.  It is boys radio and so therefore cannot use women’s breasts to advertise a programme not matter how clever the play on words.  If the station doesn’t think that women should present primetime radio shows, then they can leave our underwear out of their campaigns.  So Foul and Sexist can be correctly labelled to this ill conceived campaign. 
The second campaign ‘Are You Man Enough To Walk In Her Shoes’ I don’t have a problem with even though I don’t own and never had owned a pair of high shoes.  But I know that makes me the exception rather than the rule where women are concerned.  Most women I know own and wear high heels – not every day maybe but regularly.  Therefore it’s fair enough to use this fact to come up with a fun campaign to raise money for vulnerable women.  And high heels do make women vulnerable… but that’s a different column.
Lastly, the PR photo for cancer that featured Keelin Shanley and male model Darragh Hayes was simply a great photo.  Mr Hayes is a model doing what he does best – looking delicious.  Irish (female) models regularly post in bikinis to promote all range of weird and wonderful products.  Yes I agree it’s a lazy photocall but I believe if we even up the score a bit – more handsome chaps looking.. handsome I can live with it.  I am not sure I want to live in a world where being able to admire a beautiful body is outlawed in case it offends someone.  As long as it is models that are used and the score is even – as many men as women – so what?
As we become more aware of women being undermined and belittled we are in danger of over reacting.  We need to bear that in mind, sisters!