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.

I’M WITH THE IRISH STAND AGAINST TRUMP

If the last couple of months have taught me anything, it is that I am an eternal optimist.  To the point of possible stupidity.

I wasn’t surprised when Trump won the Presidency and even though I wasn’t at all happy, I comforted myself by thinking that he will be surrounded by the machine that is the office of President of the United States of America, and this will prevent him from dragging that office into disrepute and the country into chaos.  How naive was I?

I watched the horror show that was his inauguration.  His complete lack of basic manners and any sign of affection for his wife, Melania was unnerving.  His speech was bombastic and lacked any of Presidential vision.  I wondered if he knew that he had won, that he was President.  But I still hoped, that now that he had proved he could win the highest job in the world, he would just put his head down and be, at worse, an ineffective president who ultimately achieves very little.  Such fairy stories helped me sleep at night.

Immediately after he was installed in Washington, the debate on whether the Taoiseach should go ahead with the annual visit to the White House to present a bowl of shamrock, began.  As someone who is allergic to sulking, I have always believed that communication is the way to resolve contentious issues.  I agreed with Leo Varadkar and Enda Kenny that we should keep this standing date on March 17th and not throw away this annual privilege of having the ear of the so called ‘leader of the free’ world (and never has a title been so inappropriate).   When has ‘not speaking’ ever solved anything?  Dialogue is key.

But I have changed my mind, for a number of reasons.  Talking to Donald Trump will not make any difference at all.  He doesn’t care that millions of his own people are protesting on the streets, he isn’t going to give a hot damn what the people of Ireland think.  Trump is not just some odious, semi-literate, bad mannered, orange man.  He is a hateful, dangerous, racist, misogynist who pedals fear and suspicion and mis-information.  If we turn up at the White House delivering a bowl of shamrock, even with a mild chiding from Enda, it is the photos that will be remembered.  Ireland celebrating our national day with Trump.

But the main reason that I now believe that we should not attend the White House this year is not about America, it is about us.  It is about who we are in Ireland.

We are a country whose actions often speak far louder than our words, which is ironic considering our literary reputation.  We have dispatched our Defence Forces to the Mediterranean to assist in the rescue of refugees and as a nation take great pride in their sterling work.  We still donate more than most countries to those less fortunate.  We have a great well of empathy and compassion in Ireland but too often we still speak out of both sides of our mouths.  We still cannot seem to overcome, our seemingly instinctive urge, to stay on the right side of the man in the big house.  This tendency, which makes us appear mealy mouthed and cowardly, is no doubt due, in large part, to our history but it is this very history that should propel us to be braver.  To be better than that.

Ireland is a first world country, that has experienced colonisation, that has never invaded anywhere but that has been a breeding ground for terrorism in the very recent past.  Anyone who travelled to the UK during ‘the troubles’ will know how unnerving it was to be viewed with some suspicion purely because of your nationality.  But this unique history gives us a moral authority that belies our small size and it is this which should compel us to make a principled stand against a racism and injustice.

New York, that confident, multi ethnic, exuberant city, knows more than any other in the US about terrorism.  Yet New Yorkers led the protests in the immediate aftermath of Trumps Executive Order restricting travel from certain countries.  Sometimes we can over think things.  Sometimes we just need to do what is right.

So, I am firmly with Aodhan O Riordain in taking a stand against all that Trump stands for.  I am mortified that all the signs are that our Taoiseach will fudge it by making gentle noises of disapproval while smiling and joking with the President of the USA over a bowl of shamrock.  Why can we not overcome our mortifying instinct to show that we are still pals with the biggest boy in the class?

The decision by our government to keep the annual St Patrick’s date in Washington with President Trump will have little effect on him or on America.  But their decision reflects very poorly on who we are as a people.  It should not be allowed to define us and our values.

 

values.

Exams, Kittens and Epic Ireland

harley 2016

I recently found myself getting broody.  Not for another baby – oh no – but for a little ball of madness that is most kittens. Around the same time the stress levels in the house were noticeably heightened due to Junior Cert and fifth year house exams.  There was a lot of moaning and sighing and such like. So I had a brain wave.  “A kitten, we will foster a kitten” I announced to himself who is never averse to such notions as long as we don’t involve him in litter tray maintenance.  “It will help ease the stress and it will make us all happy”.  I should mention that we are experienced fosterers and we also already have four cats.

It is kitten season so the DSPCA had lots of kittens needing temporary minding until they were ready for rehoming so one afternoon I took delivery of a gorgeous bundle of madness we called Harley.  That evening I was very pleased with my own cleverality as I listened to my teenagers happily talking the special kitty language you need to coax a kitten down from the curtains.  Later that evening I found my 17year old lying on the sofa with Harley curled up and snuggled into her neck.  “Finished study” I enquired.  “Mmmmm” was the reply.

Then the campaign to keep Harley started.  I repeatedly explained that we were at ‘max cat’ with four and that impending holidays made keeping a baby cat impossible.  On day four of fostering, my 17 year-old announced that I wasn’t as clever as I thought, introducing a foster kitten as a de-stressor.  “Why’s that” I wondered.  “Because I am now twice as stressed. I love Harley and don’t want to give him back and I got way less done in the last few days because I am spending time with him.”

Leaving Cert is next year – I mightn’t bother with the fostering.

Anyway we are now all done.  Junior Cert Spanish last Tuesday completed the juggernaut of 11 actual exams and I have a relieved and tired 15-year-old.  So to mark the real beginning of summer myself and the two teenage daughters took off into town to meet himself for lunch and afterwards myself and the teens went to experience Epic Ireland at the CHQ Building in Dublin’s docklands.june 2016 me and girls car

Epic Ireland is located in the vaults of the CHQ building which was originally built as a bonded warehouse for tobacco and wine back in 1820 when it was known as Stack A.  It was redeveloped some years ago as a retail and food space but has really been revived with the recent opening of Epic Ireland which is a wonderfully imaginative and exciting addition to Dublin City’s attractions.

Us Irish love looking inward – wondering about ourselves, about what it is to be Irish and about what other nationalities think about us.  We have a very needy obsession for everyone to love us – something that is currently unfolding in France as our fans pursue some non-existent award for Best Football Fans in the Universe.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the joie de vivre that hordes of over exuberant and inebriated Irishmen are bringing to the Euros but I do wonder if the fact that our soccer team are a bit underwhelming and will be most likely playing their last match tomorrow isn’t something of a relief for the other nations who may be finding us Irish a bit like being in the company of a badly trained Labrador puppy who’s over enthusiasm can be very wearing after a while.

Anyway I digress.  What is wonderfully refreshing about Epic Ireland for me, as an Irishwoman, is that it is a look outward as opposed to inward.  It is a pragmatic gaze at how the world sees us through our diaspora, those who have left, not just hundreds of years ago but right up to today.

The experience is set over a number of different galleries and begins with a stunning silver piece of art depicting all the various modes of transport Irish people have used to leave, from coffin ships to huge modern long haul jet aircraft.  It is a stunning display and thepic ireland 1e linking of all emigrants from those fleeing famine to my own eldest daughter’s journey to Perth in Western Australia I found especially poignant.

The galleries tell stories of why people felt they had to leave and then it features some of those who went on to change our world, from Antarctic explorers to American Presidents to Irish Olympians and world famous musicians.

The dark side of Ireland which drove ‘unmarried mothers’ and gay men from this island and the babies who were illegally adopted is also told.  This is no sugar coated tourist centric exhibition. This is a grown up presentation which will appeal just as much to locals as to tourists.  Technology is used to best effect with some stunning displays and a huge amount of interactivity.

My girls bojune 2016 epic irelandth really enjoyed it thinking it “very cool” – even the one who hates history.

“Who was he?” I asked in front of a captioned photo of Ernest Shackleton.  “Oh he’s yer man who went to the Antarctic with Tom Crean” said the 15 year-old perfectly illustrating our penchant for navel gazing.  Although, I have to say, her answer made me proud.

A wall of Riverdance stopped them in their tracks and I realised they weren’t born when this phenomenon made Irish dancing sexy back in 1994.   “Riverdance” exclaimed the 17 year-old, “it always reminds me of Titanic”.  I am still working on the significance of that… although there probably isn’t one.

We were entertained, amused, informed and moved by Epic Ireland.  As we drove home crowds were heading to the Aviva Stadium to hear Rihanna – who is part of the diaspora too.  Her father is a descendent of the Irish slaves send to Barbados by that nice man, Mr Cromwell.

 

Epic Ireland is located in the CHQ Building in Dublin’s Docklands – just by the Financial Services Centre.  

Disclaimer : I was invited to visit Epic Ireland and so didn’t pay for our tickets.