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. )

Girl of my girl

I had 32 days.  32 days in Perth, Western Australia; days of living Australian while fruitlessly searching for some good, sharp blackberry jam to go with my homemade scones (yep, I see what I did there.)  I did manage to source Kerrygold butter, which my daughter told me was extortionately priced but I didn’t care.  I needed to feel like Perth was a bit of home.

newbornI had 30 days with my precious brand new granddaughter.  30 days in which to gaze into her eyes, always hoping that she would remember me when I am no longer with her.  30 days in which I enjoyed the pure bliss of morning cuddles as I let her mum have a bit of lie in to catch up on lost night-time sleep.  30 precious days in during which I snuggled with her, listening to classical music or sometimes Fleetwood Mac or Carole King; music always seemed to calm her.  And I had 30 days in which to try to see if I could coax a smile, a deliberate smile, from her lips to take home with me to Ireland.

When I arrived there, last August, having travelled for 24 hours, I was unsure if my daughter would be greeting me with her bump or a baby.  I was delighted to see her waddle majestically towards me at arrivals, baby still tucked tightly within, a sight which until then I had only seen on my computer screen.  Just over 48 hours later, my granddaughter, Emilee Rose, arrived somewhat reluctantly into the Australian late winter evening, over 9,000 miles from where the rest of her family live.

And so began the 30 days of time out of life.  30 days which flew by in a haze of tiny nappies, bouquets of flowers, and some of the cutest babygros you could imagine; too many of which have cats on them – we many need to watch that!

I was there for her birth, well more or less.  I kind of hid around a corner at the very end, unable to watch my girl struggle through the last birth pangs.  But I was there for that moment when Emilee was placed on her mother’s chest and we all held our breath, waiting for her to let us know she was taking her first.  And she did, with a gutsy roar, she announced that all was well and she was here.  And through a haze of tears I tried to focus on my first sight of her and simultaneously hug my firstborn of whom I was totally in awe.

Before I left Australia, we registered her birth and began the process of applying for her Irish passport.  This seemed very important.  A tangible anchor to her homeland.  Or maybe it’s just me, fooling myself into thinking it might tie her to us, her family so far away.  She may grow up speaking with an Aussie accent and she will be an Australian citizen but she is also the girl of my girl; the next generation.

snuggles
Morning Snuggles

During the long flights to get there, I wondered how much help I would actually be with a tiny new-born.  I mean, I knew I could cook and wash and generally help about the house, but it’s been 17 years since my last child was born and tiny babies with their floppy heads can be terrifying.  But magically I found myself reverting to the mother I once was, talking the nonsense I used to talk to my babies, all those years ago.  I found myself saying the same things, things I had forgotten.  No vest went over her tiny delicate head without my saying, in that stupid high pitched baby voice “oh where’s Emi gone?”, followed by “oh there she is.”  Just like I did 17, 19 and 30 years ago when only the names were different.

I know I am lucky, very lucky to have been there.  To have shared this precious time in Emilee’s life.  There must be thousands of mothers like me in Ireland who have had grandchildren born abroad following the mass exodus of our young people in the aftermath of the economic meltdown.  But unlike me, many of them are unable to travel half way around the world to visit their new family members.

Like the ripples in a pond these tiny new citizens of Ireland are the latest wave of our diaspora.  A new generation not only for our families but for Ireland; part of a generation displaced by circumstances but lucky to be growing up countries with superb education and health services.  And, in the case of Perth, a wonderful outdoor lifestyle.

oct
Emilee October 22nd 2017

I hate the distance that separates us but this weekend we wave off daughter number two, who is making her first solo trip abroad.  All the way to springtime in Perth where she will have a week to catch her breath and some rays of sunshine before heading back northwards, bringing her big sister and her new niece with her.  And so in two weeks’ time I will be at standing, once again at the barrier at Dublin Airport, fizzing with excitement, surrounded by the rest of the family and clutching a tiny padded suit to welcome our Emilee home. Home to this damp, cold, funny island in the north Atlantic; this place that, some day, I hope, she may make her own.

 

 

A very expensive jaunt on the LUAS

I have a salutary tale to tell you and one which should be of interest to anyone who uses public transport, especially Dublin’s Luas.

I am not a regular user of public transport, as I work mainly from home and my forays into the city are usually at off peak hours and so I often take the car, mainly because it’s usually quicker.

But occasionally I have cause to be in the city for a longer period which makes car parking charges prohibitive and so I opt to hop on the bus.

On the Friday 15th of September last, I was attending a conference in the Dean Hotel on Harcourt Street and was meeting some friends for lunch afterwards so I opted to take the Luas from my local stop at Carrickmines which has a park & ride facility.  I arrived at the carpark at about ten past eight in the morning and taking note of my bay number in order to pay for my parking made my way to the platform.  However, the system had changed and one now pays for parking and Luas ticket at the same time via the one ticket machine.

Anyway, I completed the transaction which cost me in total €7.70 – €5.70 for the return Luas ticket and €2 for all day parking.  I paid in cash and got change and my ticket which I put in my purse and off I went about my day.

On the return journey later that afternoon, an inspector arrived on the Luas and I duly produced my ticket from my purse.  He looked at it and declared it to be out of date. It couldn’t be” I said “I got it this morning”.  But sure enough, when I looked at the ticket it was for the 12th of September and was only a car parking one.

The inspector then delivered a speech which I am sure entertained the full carriage about the penalty of not being able to produce a correct ticket and how this was going to cost me €45 if I paid my fine immediately but how it would go up to €100 and then go to court where I could “tell the judge the story about the machine giving you a wrong ticket.”

I was mortified and furious.  I took the penalty notice and continued my journey.  The fine notice advised me that I could go online and appeal which I did the following Monday.  I explained I don’t use the Luas regularly and that I paid my fare and parking and I have no idea how I was issued a ticket for just parking and from three days earlier.  I was sure if they checked their machine they would see that I did indeed pay.

A few days later I received a letter completely rejecting my appeal and stating that if I didn’t pay my fine I may be summonsed to Dublin District Court where I could be fined up to €1,000.  The nice Mr Paddy Devereux (Security and Compliance Manager) then adds this stinger “our success rate for prosecutions similar to your case in the district courts for 2015 was 72%”.  Cases such as mine.  In other words, I was guilty.  There was no point in appealing.

I was gobsmacked.  I got back in touch and asked to see the CCTV footage from the platform which should show clearly me at the ticket machine.  Some days later I was invited in to view the footage which clearly shows me paying into the machine and taking a ticket.

But you see, dear reader, that’s not the point.  Luas aren’t as interested in stopping fare evasion as they are catching you out if by some weird reason you managed to pick up a three day old ticket from one of their machines.  Because the bye law is that you must be in possession of a correct ticket and if you are not, well the nice people at Luas couldn’t care less.  They have you.

I paid my fine – €45 because I couldn’t take the risk of losing €1,000 by taking the case the court.  But I feel angry that I have been bullied by a company that seems to have no regard for customer relations at all.

So, I am writing this as a warning to others.  Check your ticket.  Because the fact that you paid your fare and have video that seems to back that up makes no difference.  No wonder we prefer using our cars than public transport.

Budget Day and Da

Budget Day always makes me a bit scratchy.  A bit uneasy.  I feel like the world is shifting slightly on its axis and I worry that something important may get dislodged in the process.  Something that may cause a domino effect of tumblings, scattering vital bits of my life around and leaving me a puzzle that I cannot easily put back together again.

And then there is the theatre of the Dail Budget proceedings, as a succession of men in suits stand up to bluster and bay at each other from each side of the house.  I avoid watching it live but as an adult with a domestic budget to manage I will try to make sense of the main bits later in the day when clever journalists have worked out the impact of the moving of bands and reductions and increases that will follow.

But there is rarely a Budget Day that goes by, that I don’t think of my dear old dad, Michael Scully.  Budget Days were among his favourite days of the year.  I think he may have enjoyed them way more than his birthday.

I can picture him still ensconced in his chair in the living room, the back of an envelope in his hand, along with a pen, making rapid calculations as the Minister announced the various changes that would affect not only his pension but each one his adult children’s pay packets too.

He would mutter away as he digested all the tasty financial manipulations and machinatiomichael scullyns of the Minister for Finance,  scribbling long columns of calculations.  My dad would have been a huge asset to modern online newsrooms such was the speed and accuracy of his mathematical acrobatics.

As we all arrived home from work, we would be summoned into him individually so that he could earnestly try to explain to us the personal impact of the budget on our individual fiscal space.

None of us had inherited his gift for numbers which I suspect was one of the disappointments of his life.  Each year I tried though.  I would plaster a smile on my face as I sat next to him and he would begin.  His mouth would be moving but all I could hear was white noise.  My mind would shut down as I watched him through his meticulous rows and columns of numbers.  He might as well have been trying to explain the basics of ancient Greek to me.  When he got to the end, which he usually did with a flourish announcing my new monthly net (or was it gross) salary he would look at me and say “do you follow?”  I would nod and mutter an unconvincing “eh, yeah” while still smiling.  He’d look at me and say “you don’t, do you?” and then he would begin again.

By the time he had gone through it two or three more times I would be developing a migraine and he would be getting increasingly frustrated, wondering why his otherwise reasonably intelligent daughter couldn’t follow what, to him were simple calculations.  He thought it very important that we understood the calculations because my father, a retired civil servant, never trusted that the private sector would interpret the changes correctly.  And he was a stickler for accuracy.  He wanted me to understand so that I could make sure my wages would be correctly calculated by my employer.

Tonight, myself and my husband will have a cursory conversation about Budget 17, mainly repeating nuggets we will each have picked up from radio or online reports in the afternoon.  We will infect each other with a vague fear if we think we will be worse off but there is some comfort in knowing that we are never too sure.  We will finally settle on a vague notion as to whether this is a good budget or a bad one for our family.  As we do I will hear my father’s voice in my ear, saying “you don’t follow, do you?  Let me go through it again” with a slight edge to his voice.

I am sorry Da.  Really, I am. And I wish you were still here to work it all out for us.

Oh, what a night(ie).

carla barbara baby

My father stood at the top of the stairs and viewed all the kerfuffle in the hall below.  My mother was in a bit of a spin but not as much as one of my brothers who had clearly decided he was the ‘man in charge’ of this unfolding new situation.   My younger brother was just in from the pub and a bit pissed, so he was enjoying all the activity immensely.  Me? Well I was just standing there.  Shell-shocked I guess, at the realisation that I was probably about to become a mother in the coming hours.  I was 25 years old and giddy with a heady mix of blind fear and excitement.

It was after 1am, on the morning of the 28th of July.  I had had a shower, washed my hair, shaved my legs and had gotten my mother to paint my toenails.  As I picked up my hospital bag which was by the front door, my ‘man in charge’ brother yelled orders at us, “Barbara you go in the front.  Ma and Jim ye are in the back”.  My father rather nervously asked “em, should I come too?”  “No room for you Da, go back to bed” said he in charge ushering us all out into the night and towards the yellow Renault 4 on the drive.  As we all piled in, I suddenly remembered something my friend, already a mother, had said to me just a few days beforehand.  “You will have lovely new nighties for your confinement”, she said, “but make sure to bring an old one for the birth.”  Now this pronouncement had prompted immediate visions of an abattoir and so I buried it in the back of mind.  But up it surfaced, like a cork in the ocean, as I faced into the prospect of actually giving birth.

“Wait” I cried.  “I need an old nightie.  I haven’t got one in my bag”.

“No worries” said mother.  “I’ll run in and grab one.  I have one I haven’t even worn yet but you can have it.”

A few minutes we took off, my brother driving as fast as the old banger of a Renault would go (at this point if you are not familiar with a Renault 4 – go Google it).  We rattled and shook our way towards Churchtown and Mount Carmel Hospital – God bless my old Dad for keeping me on the VHI cover.  We raced amber traffic lights squeaking through junctions and I hung on to the passenger door which had been known to fly open when the speedometer reached over 30mph

Then I realised that my ‘contractions’ had stopped.  “Right” I announced.  “I feel fine now.  Let’s go home.  I am not in labour.  False alarm.  Home please, I want to go back to bed.”

“Oh no” said brother in charge. “I am not going to have you delivering this baby at home or on the side of the road.  No, no, no.  We will take you to the hospital and see what they say.”

“But, but… I want to go home.”

We roared into Mount Carmel and rumbled to a halt at the front door where the car was abandoned and we all tumbled into the reception area which was manned by a night porter. I was still protesting loudly.

“Are you in a hurry, Mrs?  ‘Cos if so, you go on and your husband here can give me the details” he said looking at the brother in charge.

“He’s not my husband, he’s my brother and NO, I am not in a hurry.  Take as long as you want.”  The night porter made no more assumptions after that, poor man.

Form filling completed, we took the lift to the third floor where we were met by a very bemused night nurse, who chided us to keep the noise down.  I explained that I was here against my will.  That my contractions had stopped and that I wanted to go home.

But the nurse was from the same school as my bossy brother.

“Well let’s see about that.  In you go, put on your nightie and I will give you an examination.  We will probably keep you in overnight anyway.  The posse you brought with you can go home.”

I was very glad to bid them all farewell, as I pulled the curtain around the cubicle and furkled into my bag for the nightdress my mother had loaned me.

My heart sank.  I pulled out what I knew was one of her infamous ‘remnant’ creations.  My mother loved rummaging in remnant baskets in Hickey’s fabric shop.  Once she found a piece she liked for half nothing, (and she liked lots of clashing colours and big designs) she bore it proudly home, like a cat who had unexpectedly caught a fabulous exotic bird in the garden.  Then she dug out the old singer and without a pattern and, I’m convinced, often without even cutting, she would fashion (and I use the term lightly) a garment for herself.  This nightie was one of her creations.

It was a simple design – two arm holes and an empire line which was outlined in that Ziggy Zaggy stuff which was de rigour in the 1970’s.  Bear in mind however,  that this was in 1987.  I put my head in neck and tried to get my arms through the armholes and got completely stuck.  Afraid that the nurse, or worse still the doctor, (this is before women doctors were really invented) would barge in at any moment I forced my arms through, causing a rip down both sides.  Then I went to pull it down over my bump.  I pulled and I pulled.  It covered the bump but it didn’t really cover my bum.  To this day – 30 years later – I don’t know why I didn’t just get one of my fabulous new nighties from the bag and abandon mother’s creation.

But I guess it did make it easy for the nurse to give me ‘an internal’ and establish that I wasn’t in labour yet.  Apparently, I had experienced some ‘Braxton Hicks’ – a term I hadn’t heard of, because I decided not to any prenatal classes as I thought that all would be easier, if I didn’t really know what to expect.  But, true to her word, the nurse put me to bed where I lay awake most of the night listening to the snoring of the woman in the next bed who had given birth that night.  Another nugget I had gleaned from my friend, was that you will never get a sleep as good as the one you will have after giving birth.  This woman was certainly proof positive of that.

At the first sign of activity on the ward the next morning, I requested permission to leave.  I needed to get out before mother had phoned all and sundry, telling them I had ‘gone in’.  This would mean facing the very public humiliation of a false alarm.  However, I was under Doctors orders and he hadn’t surfaced yet to make the call on whether I qualified for early release.

In the end I got so agitated, they phoned him and the decision was made, that since I was there, he might as well induce me; save me the bother of going home and having to come back in a week or so – which was when my baby was actually due.

I had no idea what induction involved.  But it began with an enema and having my waters broken, neither of which I would relish experiencing again.  Then I was attached to a drip and told get walking.

It didn’t take long before I realised what contractions really felt like… and I was moved into the delivery room.  Being partner-less and husband-less, I was on my own and as I was dealing with the epidural and bracing myself for what was ahead, the midwife announced that my mother had arrived. “Will I bring her in?” she asked.

“No.  Do not.  Ask her to go home.  We will call her when there’s news.”

Now this might seem a bit heartless but I knew that if my lovely, slightly mad, mammy arrived into the delivery room I would give up all involvement in this birth and start to cry.  Just like one of those young ones on ‘One Born Every Minute’.

In the end, my baby arrived at 3:30pm.  This baby girl I had known forever.  And the one that changed my life utterly.  As she was placed back in my arms, after being checked and measured, and before the nurse had a chance to phone home for me, she said “oh and your mother left a huge bouquet of pink flowers.”

I don’t know how she knew, but she did.

As I finish writing this, it is coming up to midnight on the 27th of July.  Tomorrow my baby girl turns 30. And she is two weeks (or so) away from giving birth herself in Perth in Western Australia.

Another baby to change the lives of all who already love her or him.  Just like my girl did.  Just like each of my girls did.

Happy Birthday Carla Sofia Scully.  This night 30 years ago is etched forever on my memory in glorious detail and it still makes me laugh at the comedy of it all.  And listen love, you have a decent nightie, don’t you?

 

Smart Alecks and Ninjas

So, we were having issues with our broadband recently so we put in a call to our supplier, Virgin Media with a request for help.  We were logged for a call out and waited for the text with date and time.  The text that arrived went as follows:

“Hi, your Red House Ninja today will be Fred (not his real name).  He’ll contact you before his arrival time.”

Fred turned out to be a very efficient and pleasant engineer who fixed our issue.  But I have to tell you I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t cartwheel up my drive and execute some kind of high jump as I opened the door.

I was regaling this story to my mother and much to my surprise she also recently had a Virgin Media Ninja experience.  She had been in contact with the company over a problem which necessitated a new modem which was quickly dispatched to her. When it arrived, she phoned them to enquire what exactly she was meant to do with it.  They tried to instruct her to connect the cables to it, but she informed them that at 82 years old she was well beyond crawling about attaching cables to pieces of mysterious equipment.  So the nice people in Virgin said they would send someone out the following day.  A few hours later she got this text:

“Woohoo! Your Virgin Media Red House Experience is booked for Friday 30 June.  Your Red House Ninja will arrive between 12:00 and 16:00 hours.  If you wish to cancel this please reply Yes.”

My mother, who is no eejit let me tell you, stared at this mumbo jumbo and decided she must have inadvertently signed up for some kind of kids programme and so, erring on the side of caution she replied Yes.  She then wondered why her engineer never arrived.

I am sharing this tale because, sometimes in an effort to be cool and different and trendy, companies get it more than a little bit wrong.  I am not sure what kind of a meeting came up with the idea of calling their engineers ninja’s but it didn’t make me laugh and confused and annoyed me mammy.

More seriously though, I think our new Taoiseach may be being led down a similar path by his advisors.  Only a wet day in the job and with a fairly modest track record of achievement in the ministries he held, he or someone close to him, has completely misunderstood the power of PR.

You see the electorate (you and me, in other words) will tolerate a bit of messing if they have confidence in the person but it’s too early for the level of nonsense currently being indulged in by the Taoiseach.  Leo is untested in his role and his efforts to stamp his ‘quirky character’ on our consciousness are premature, contrived and may very well end in disaster.

We get it – he’s young and trendy and fit; we know that he’s the polar opposite to Enda’s country bumpkin, fist bumping act but so what?  He is paid to led the country.  And dancing about in comedy socks, and grinning madly at the wonder of his own physical prowess and cleverality is a bit nauseating.

No one likes a smart aleck.  And Leo is definitely the smartest aleck around at the moment. He is Irish – the nation that invented the craic. That we appreciate a bit of messing is beyond dispute.  But only it only works in the right context and it definitely doesn’t work when he is representing Ireland on a world stage.  So whether he is welcoming a foreign leader to Dublin or on the steps of 10 Downing Street we would appreciate him parking his self-proclaimed ‘quirky personality’ stuff, certainly until he has proved that he is indeed ‘deserving’ (his word, not mine) of the high office he holds.

As for Virgin Media – great service guys but please give your engineers the respect they are entitled to.  They might be ninjas in your heads but to your customers they are technicians.

Actually, I wasn’t entirely sure what a ninja was until I looked it up.  It’s a person skilled in the Japanese art of ninjutsu.  Wikipedia actually describes a ninja as “a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan” whose functions included “espionage, sabotage, assassination and guerrilla warfare.”  Jeez, let’s hope no one tells Leo.  Smart Aleck is bad enough.  But a ninja smart aleck – God forbid.

Imagine if it was like this all summer!

As I write it is ten am and the temperature in Dublin is 23 degrees.  Now we all know that in Ireland temperatures of 23 degrees are unusual at the best of times, but this is about the fourth day in a row that we have reached such scorching heat.  And in Ireland when the sun shines it changes everything.

Dublin sparkles and dazzles and looks like shiny, happy place.  In the countryside, our beautiful scenery which is so often clouded in, well cloud, reveals itself in all its stunning glory.  We have a blue roof to our world and it is much higher than the more usual grey one that smothers our spirit and strips away the colour from our lives.

But the good weather doesn’t only change the landscape it also changes the Irish psyche.  We may be northern Europeans but our souls are all Mediterranean.  I actually think at some stage Ireland floated north and got anchored beside Britain as opposed to once being joined to our (very definitely Northern European) neighbours.  This explains why we go a bit mad in the good weather.  In fact, could this be the reason why our Taoiseach got a bit too giddy on the steps of 10 Downing Street yesterday?  It was all that sunshine!  But I digress.

Anyway, it’s not surprising that many things are just so much better when the mercury rises and the sun shines.  I have made a list:

Ice Creams.  And I am referring specifically the old fashioned whipped stuff, dripping over a cone and topped with a 99.  We are experts at eating these particularly fabulous treats in the rain and the wind, but when the sun shines and the ice cream runs in rivulets over your fingers.  Oh man.  Nothing like it.

Bird song.  With doors and windows thrown open and clear blue skies our native birdies sing their very best songs.  And suddenly we become aware of how beautiful it is, especially in the evening as the light fades.

White wine.  Sunshine is so rare that its appearance along with some heat gives us all a huge urge to celebrate.  And that usually means alcohol, often before midday.  So that’s a given.  But white wine, served chilled to the max, really comes into its own in the heat.

Bare feet.  When I visited Australia, I was somewhat amazed at how acceptable it is to rock along to your local supermarket in your bare feet.  But now I know why.  The freedom of not wearing shoes in the heat is so delicious.  I can almost hear my feet sigh in deep contentment.

Long evenings.  Being able to sit in the garden as the sun slowly sinks but when there is still light in the sky at midnight is one of the few advantages of Ireland’s mistaken northerly location.  In this we score higher than our Southern neighbours when the sun shines.

Reading.  You can’t watch telly in the sun, but you can read and read and read.

Dining al fresco.  And I am not talking necessarily about BBQs but just being able to take your dinner outdoors really does make it taste better.

Getting out of dodge.  Much as I love Dublin, when we get a spell of good weather (dare I say heatwave?) I am consumed by an urge to throw a few things in a bag, the dog in the boot and hit the road for Connemara or West Cork.

Watching aircraft.  Ok, so bear with me here.  This is a bit niche.  But clear blue skies reveal just how busy the skies over Ireland are.  As I lie in the garden I am mesmerised by the streaks of vapour, ripping the blue, as aircraft sail 33,000 above me.  I may or may not have an app on my phone which allows me to identify each aircraft, the airline, its origin and destination to further enhance my wonder.  I know, I know.  I am a bit mortified.  But just a bit.

Anyway, imagine if the weather was like this all the time in summer?  Would we get used to it?   Would we lose the run of ourselves altogether?  A chance to find out would be indeed a fine thing.

Religious Orders are selling out on our children; why we should all be concerned.

We are currently riding another wave of self-congratulation on how modern and inclusive we are in Ireland, in the wake of the election of Leo Varadkar as Leader of Fine Gael and presumptive Taoiseach.  We now have a leader to match Canada and France in terms of boyish handsomeness, although not quite so much in terms of policy and ideology methinks.  However, there is little doubt that we in Ireland, have been through a period of transition and change as the country moves from a highly conservative country dominated by the Catholic Church to a more secular, inclusive and open society.

But there are still issues that we still grapple with; the 8th amendment being one and the hold the Catholic church still has on our educational and health systems and infrastructure being another.  We saw these two particular issues coalesce recently over the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital until the Sisters of Charity relinquished their involvement in same.

But while we were exercised on that issue another equally troubling problem with the religious orders was surfacing and that is, the current trend of selling off land belonging to schools; playing pitches and outdoor space particularly in areas where land values are sky rocketing once again.

Historian Diarmuid Ferriter published an interesting column in the Irish Times on June 3rd under the headline ‘How Did Irish Religious Orders Get So Rich?’.  He outlined the familiar fact that, the new Irish state, with limited resources and very high levels of poverty, passed much of the responsibility for welfare to the Catholic Church, which already had an extensive network of charitable and health endeavours.  Ferriter says ”this generated enormous power for the church and great dependence on it.”   The source of the huge wealth generated by these orders, according to Ferriter came from “donations, State aid and the fund-raising of many communities”.

We now have a Catholic church in decline in Ireland, along with ageing religious orders and yet most of our schools are still on land owned by various congregations.  And these congregations, possibly seeing the writing on the wall in terms of public support, along with the prospect of big bucks from rising land values are selling up.  Selling up land which is a vital part of OUR school’s infrastructure.

The Sisters of Jesus and Mary have recently sold 5 acres of land formerly used by Our Lady’s Grove school in Goatstown for a reported €13million.  In recent weeks, we have learned that the Christian Brothers have done a deal with a developer to sell off most of the playing pitches belonging to Clonkeen School in Deansgrange for a reported €18 million.

In both cases, these non fee paying schools will be left without a vital amenity. Outdoor space and playing fields should not be a luxury item for any school, (although of course not every school has access to same) particularly today with rising obesity and mental health issues in our young people.

In 2009 in the wake of the Ryan Report, an offer was

made by the Christian Brothers to put the playing fields associated with their schools into a joint trust to be set up comprising of the Dept. of Education and the Edmund Rice Trust (a body the brothers set up in 2008).  The then Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn countered with an offer that all playing fields be signed over to the state with guaranteed access by the schools for as long as required.  This was rejected by the brothers.

The following is from a report by Colm Keena in the Irish Times on March 10th this year.

In 2013 the Government agreed to a revised proposal under which the congregation would transfer the land to the ERST for the continued use of the schools “subject to a legal requirement that prior approval of the minister be obtained for a disposal of any part of them” and that in the event of a disposal, half the proceeds would go to the State.

The revised proposal was put to the congregation in 2013. Two years later, after a comprehensive review by the congregation of its capacity to meet all its obligations, including its redress contributions, the Government’s proposal was rejected.

The congregation stated that as the initial proposal of joint ownership was not accepted by the minister, and as his counterproposal was not acceptable to either it or to ERST, it was proceeding with the formal transfer of the sports fields to the ERST.

Keena goes on to quote Ruairi Quinn who said that these bodies can decide to change their focus and this could result in decisions to liquidate school assets.  “This is not just an issue for the department, it is an issue for the whole of society.” The present ownership structure could see the “unpredictable and random closure of schools.”

The collateral damage in these actions by the religious orders is our children, once again, whose general wellbeing, mental and physical health are being sacrificed at the altar of greed by congregations of the Catholic Church.

The sale of the playing fields at Clonkeen College as far as we understand, has been agreed but contracts are not expected to be signed until later this year.  As far we can establish Minister Bruton was aware of the secret deal that was hammered out between the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the developer.  Bruton has already stated in the Dail (in answer to a question by Richard Boyd Barrett) that this is a matter for the Christian Brothers.

But is it?  I don’t think so.  This issue affects us all and not just the community in the immediate Dun Laoghaire area from where the school draws its pupils. The sale of the playing pitches at Clonkeen has to be stopped and legislation has to be passed to prevent the wholesale destruction of vital part of our schools infrastructure by these religious orders.

Diarmuid Ferriter finished his column with this.  Almost a century later, the wealth and power of the Catholic Church are still apparent, as is the abject failure of the State to confront the resultant inequality and the irony of the religious orders profiting spectacularly at the expense of community welfare.

It is time that we, the people, demand that our Minister for Education puts a stop to this fire sale of our schools valuable, precious assets.  Ruairi Quinn was right, back in 2009 when he said that this is not just an issue for the Department of Education but one for all of society.

This is an issue that demands a national conversation.  We owe it not only to our children but to our grandchildren and great grandchildren to protect this vital part of our schools’ infrastructure.  As long as schools exist, their playing fields should be protected, from developers, from greedy religious orders and from spineless ministers.  A good start would be to stop the sale of Clonkeen’s grounds before passing legislation that would protect all schools from this asset stripping.

For more information on the campaign to ‘Save Clonkeen Pitches’ see the Facebook page set up by the students here.  They also have a twitter account @clonkeenpitches.  And there is a petition which you could sign here.

 

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