Saturday, November 29, 2014

LOVE CHRISTMAS? ME?... Maybe this year



Every Tuesday a lovely, chatty man who loves to laugh calls to my door with a delivery of eggs.  We shoot the breeze for a couple of minutes and we always end up with a laugh.  Last week the poor man had the misfortune to ask me if I was looking forward to Christmas.  “Looking forward to Christmas” I roared at him... “looking forward to Christmas.  No I bloody well am not.  Christmas is just a whole heap of hard work.”  By now his expression of slight bemusement had morphed into something approaching terror, as if he has awoken some sleeping beast or had suddenly realised he was on a rapidly accelerating runaway train.  He started to edge back out the door.  But I was only getting going.  “Along with the stress of weeks of present buying in stuffy over crowded shops I then have the prospect of peeling a mountain of spuds on Christmas Eve, followed by carrots and sprouts... that no one likes but we have to have them because they are traditional.. and God forbid we move away from tradition.  Not to mention trifle, puddings and Christmas cake.  Now who the hell in the right mind would look forward to Christmas?  It’s too much bloody hard work” I roar.  The poor man was at the front gate by now, muttering “right so, see you next week.” 

As I closed the door I realised that I seemed to actually resent Christmas even more than I had thought.  I felt sorry for the egg man who would clearly arrive home to his wife saying “jaysus Barbara went off on a right one today”.  Although maybe he wouldn’t say anything to his wife for fear he might awaken the sleeping beast with her too.

But seriously, Christmas is a huge amount of hard work and yeah I do have offers of help but maybe I like playing the martyr or maybe I am a bit of a control freak but I generally do the lion’s share of the donkey work myself. 

Now back when the kids were smaller and I was relishing the surprising joy of being a ‘housewife’ (hate that term) I was a wee bit terrified at the thought of providing Christmas Dinner for extended family.  It’s not that making roast turkey with all the trimmings is that complicated but the trick was and still is getting everything to be ready at the same time.  My Achilles heel is usually getting the roast potatoes sufficiently crispy without the vegetables going soft. 

Actually I have two Achilles heels.  The other is that every year I make two puddings – because I LOVE Christmas pudding but also, because, until last year, I always burn the arse off the first one.  Then someone gave me the secret of placing a saucer under the pudding bowl – who knew?  No more horrible smell of melted plastic in the kitchen followed by hours trying to scrape said stuff off my best heavy bottomed saucepan.

Anyway,  by the time I actually get to eat my pudding I am red faced, in a sweat and completely exhausted and only slightly inebriated.  Everyone else is merrily pulling crackers, well pissed and completely oblivious to my pain. 

But I hate that I am beginning to be known as a Christmas Grinch.  “Oh Barbara, she hates Christmas” people say about me.  But it’s really only the Christmas dinner shenanigans I hate.  I love Christmas carols, I love cold crispy weather, I love the smell of a Christmas tree and the twinkle of the lights. 

So this year I am going to attempt to make life a bit easier for myself.  I am going to buy as much pre prepared stuff as I can.  There is a voice in my head that says “ah but that’s cheating and not very traditional” but feck that.  I want to sit down without a red face and with enough energy to pull crackers with everyone else.

And the good news is that all the supermarkets are full of great ready prepared vegetables and prepared meats to make our lives easier.  The good people at Centra let me have a look at what they have in store to help a tired housewife like me enjoy Christmas more.  It looks like heaven.

From boned and rolled turkey (who needs turkey wings anyway), and ham joints to potato gratin and spouts with bacon.  They also have desserts and party food and cheese boards.   All the hard work done.  Oh joy of joys.

I no longer need to prove I can cook a Christmas dinner for ten.  Been there and done that too many times.  No this year I am taking it easier and letting Centra do the heavy lifting. 


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

Monday, November 3, 2014

YOU'RE GRAND....



I love starting a post with “as regular readers will know”.  When I read this phrase elsewhere I always feel kind of slighted that perhaps I am not a regular a reader as I should be.  So ...... as my esteemed and highly valued regular readers will know (are you feeling a little slighted yet?)  I don’t usually review books on my blog.  But very occasionally a book will cross my desk that is a bit special.  And this one is not only special but is the kind of book I wish I could write. because it’s very fecking clever as well as very funny.

Shortly after the launch of You’re Grand by Tara Flynn, a fellow journalist, tweeted that it was a grand read ‘for the jacks’ and he stressed that he meant that as a compliment.  I would like to take serious issue with that.   This is a book for the bath!  Not the jacks.  I read it over four long leisurely soaks in fragrant bubbles and it was the perfect place to delve into the wit and wisdom contained within its pages. 

Why the bath I hear you say.   Well this book may well be ‘a secret guide to life’ but it’s much more than that.  It may well be very funny (and it is, believe me).  But along with the hilarity and the seemingly gentle tone there is a sharp edge of satire which any woman who has lived on this little damp rock in the North Atlantic will recognise. 

However – and here is the clever bit – instead of leaving us, the women of Ireland, feeling very cross at having been ‘shushed’ and sidelined for decades, Tara constantly reminds us of where we came from.  Throughout the book she mentions old pagan Ireland when we were Goddesses.  And she hints time and again that (like cats) we haven’t forgotten that fact.

So this book will remind you of all the crap we have put up with over centuries.  But ultimately this book will raise your spirits and possibly even reconnect you with your inner Goddess.  She hasn’t gone away... she is still there.  And where better to begin to uncover her than while pampering your body and relaxing your mind in a bath of warm bubbles.


Get your paws on a copy of ‘You’re Grand’ and then buy one for your mammy and your best friend.  The sooner we all remember who we really, the sooner this country will be on the way to be properly fixed.  

Oh and by the way... even if you're not Irish and even if you don't even live here, you will find lots to enjoy in this book.. and you also could discover your inner Goddess... Let me know how you get on..  And don't forget to soak in the bath while you are at it!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE HEN HOUSE CELEBRATES ONE YEAR ON AIR



In the last year 58 amazing women have made the trip out to Dundrum Town Centre to be my guest on The Hen House.  This week marks the programmes first birthday!

When I came up with the idea for the Hen House I worried that I would quickly run out of women who were willing to come and talk to me for an hour.  I never doubted that there were lots of interesting and funny women out there.. but asking them for a large chunk of their afternoon to come into studio and be interviewed by yours truly was and is a big ask.  I am very grateful to each and every one of you who have given me your time, your pearls of wisdom and some great laughs.  But more than anything I want to thank you for using your voice to tell your story.

Some stories were intensely personal, some were related to your work and some were related to a cause you feel passionately about.  But each of you gave your talent and your time very graciously and generously.  And for that I am very grateful.

But more than all of that you women have made your voices heard.  Amid the male dominated noise and chatter on our airwaves, The Hen House is providing women with a platform and a space to talk, to tell our stories.

These are the women who made the last year such a great experience for me personally and who have helped to redress the gender imbalance on air in Ireland:

Jillian Godsill, (on surviving bankruptcy)
June Shannon (medical journalist and mental health campaigner)
Joanna Fortune (child psychotherapist)
Sarina Bellissimo (broadcaster – Spin 1038)
Jill O Herlihy (PR supremo)
Eleanor Fitzsimons (writer)
Vanessa O Loughlin (all things writing)
Dil Wickremasinghe (broadcaster and social justice campaigner)
Caroline Grace Cassidy and Sorcha Furlong (actresses and writers)
Abby Wynne (healer)
Sinead Buckley Quinn (Design Loft in Powerscourt)
Andrea Hayes (broadcaster, TV Presenter and animal campaigner)
Mary Mitchell O Connor, TD
Michelle Jackson (author and travel writer)
Sharon Lawless (documentary maker)
Andrea Smith (journalist)
Janet O Sullivan (pagan, witch and feminist)
Orla O Connor (CEO NWCI)
Noirin Scully, Mairin Cullen and Stephanie Batt – wise older women
Maeve O Sullivan (poet)
Caroline Erskine (Women on Air former Chairperson)
Susan Lohan (Adoption Rights Alliance)
Carmen Browne (singer)
Elaine Lavery and Hannah O Reilly – Improper Butter
Aisling O Toole (Editor – Irish Country Magazine)
Ann Colgan, Jeanette Kavanagh, Ellen O Connor – local election candidates
Ailson Canavan (model, business women and mental health campaigner)
Denise Deegan (author)
Louise Bayliss (Spark) and Grainne Sherlock on lone parenting
Hazel Gaynor (author)
Margaret Scully (radio documentary maker and broadcaster)
Sinead Burke (fashionista, blogger and small person)
Jen McGuirk (actress and intrepid traveller)
Ellen Gunning (PR)
Muriel Bolger (author, journalist and travel writer)
Maria Duffy (author)
Grace Kelly, Aimee Corcoran and Megan Brady – the Class of 2014
Deirdre O Connor (care of the elderly)
Andrea Mara (office mum)
Dr Ger Scanlon and Laura Haugh – Education special
Jillian Van Turnhout – Senator
Hazel Larkin, (blogger and writer)
Irene Lowry, (CEO, Nurture)
Mary White, Senator
Vicki Mooney (Plus size models)
Helen Walsh (holistic fitness instructor)
Cindy O Connor and Trish Errity from Pieta House
Ciara Meehan (history lecturer and curator of Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition)
Claire McGing (lecturer in political geography).

Thank you all so much......  And thanks to all of you have listened – either live or by listening back to the podcasts.

I am hoping that all of these past programmes will be available on the Hen House page on the Dublin South FM website in the not too distant future.




Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dear Enda.... about IRISH WATER

Yesterday on the Twitter machine, Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor with the Irish Independent posed the following question.  “If @irishwater were to somehow start all over again, what advice would you give to the government?”  140 characters were not enough. 


Dear Enda

There is little doubt that Irish Water a complete mess and a PR disaster.  This is the result of rushing at it like a horny bull at a gate into a field of attractive cows, whose eyes are only on the prize, in your Government’s case – the tax revenue.  Remember what your mammy taught you – “fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.”

But the Government has a bigger problem.  The imposition of yet another tax on the beleaguered people of this country has finally pushed us to boiling anger.  And this anger is not just, as some commentators would have us believe, because we live in a soggy country where it rains all the time resulting in our having some kind of psychological reluctance to pay for the very stuff that often makes us feel damp and miserable.

We are angry because we have had enough.  We are angry because this is a tax too far.  We are angry because we now know that in two years time most of us; especially those of us who live in urban centres are going to be fleeced with the unfair property tax that is calculated on value of our homes as opposed to square footage.  

We are angry because this is how we are repaid for our compliance with all the austerity that has been forced upon us for debts that we didn’t incur.  It is the people who have allowed your Government and the previous one, to enforce the cuts and taxes that have given you great kudos abroad.  Ireland’s so called recovery is not your triumph – it belongs to the people of this country. 

But we are now saying enough is enough.  We have no more to give.

But let’s park the anger for a moment.  There is obviously a case to be made for the payment of water and the treatment of waste.  In principle I would imagine most of us would accept this.  So here is what I suggest you do.  If, that is, you really are planning for an infrastructure project that will serve this country and our people for the next number of decades and not (as most of us suspect) you are just seeing Irish Water as another way to raise more tax Euros in the short term.

Streamlined, small efficient company
Irish Water should be in the first instance a small and very efficient company.  It should not be a retirement home for workers who previously have been employed by the local councils. There should be no talk of bonuses or whatever other terms have been used to describe same.  Ditto with car allowances and other nonsense.

Fix the leaks
In the first instance Irish Water should be charged with fixing the leaky system.  And don’t give us the line about how will they pay for it?  If Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council can spend €33 million on a monster library, if the GAA can secure €30 million for the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh, money will be found.  How much have you spent on the other ill fated project currently on the table, the Children’s Hospital?  This year we will pay in the region of €4 billion in that other awful austerity tax the Universal Social Charge.  As usual in politics – there is always the money - it’s a question of priorities. 

Grants for rainwater harvesting and other water conservation measures
If water is as precious a resource as Irish Water have tried to tell us it is and if we are serious about changing our attitudes to water then it is vital that the Government introduce incentives to allow people to invest a little now in measures that would conserve water in the future.  To me this is a glaring omission to the current plan for introducing water charges.  Bringing in such incentives would also have a positive PR bounce as it would give the impression that instead of being ripped off we are all in this together.  See how we took to recycling?  We can easily do similar with water conservation.

Install meters
Once the company is seen to be fit for purpose and the leaky system has been brought into the 21st century, then Irish Water can begin the process of fitting meters.  But could I suggest that most people would like a meter that they could read easily – similar to the ESB or Gas Meter and not something that exists solely under the ground at the end of the driveway.  We have never paid for water as a separate utility before and most of us have little or no idea about how much we actually use.  It is vital to build trust so a meter that is visible to householders I think is essential.

When all of the above has been completed then it is appropriate to announce a date for billing to start.  I would suggest no earlier than 2020.

Finally – once we are paying for water – there should be no talk of call out charges.  If there is a gas leak – do we have to pay the Gas Company to attend? 

I know that as Taoiseach you are surrounded by advisors that cost me and the rest of us plenty money.  You might like to review their input Enda.  Because Irish Water is rapidly going to go down in history as the biggest government mess ever – eclipsing the E Voting machines and Children’s Hospital and Incinerator messes that have preceded it.

Once you start bullying your electorate Enda you lose them.  This project needs to be completely reimagined.  Irish Water needs to be completely overhauled before you can do anything.  Then slowly, bringing your people with you, there might be some chance of success.  And your legacy may just survive... and I know that’s very important.  Not to us... but to you and your fellow Ministers.


Sincerely


Barbara Scully

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SEPTEMBER... THE MOST DELICIOUS MONTH

It happens usually in mid August.  There will be an evening when the air carries a little extra chill and suddenly you become aware that autumn is waiting in the wings of the day, just beyond your perception.  It is the gentlest of whispers, carried on the breeze that signals summer is in decline and we are actually slipping slowly and quietly into autumn.  My cats usually pick up on this subtle change in the air too and they have already staked out their favourite places to sleep in various parts of the house, their summer wanderlust exhausted.

Perhaps it’s our Celtic DNA but I have no doubt that the old Irish calendar is right and we are now in Mean Fomhair – the middle of autumn.  The leaves have yet to turn and the weather is still mild but summer is over.  We have arrived at the evening of the year.

September is a particularly delicious month.  After the slack routines and exertions of summer, order is restored as the children return to their studies.  The new academic year offers us all a chance for a new beginning.  Another chance to make the changes to our lives or lifestyles we may have pondered as we lay soaking up the rays of summer sunshine.  September is a hopeful month and yet a month that makes no demands of us with no festivals or bank holidays.  It is not surprising that in a recent survey in the UK less than one percent of those surveyed nominated September as the most stressful month of the year.  The most stressful honour went, unsurprisingly to January, followed closely by December.

But what makes September particularly worth savouring is that it is a month which signals a slowing down.  Autumn is when Mother Nature draws her energy inward, as the leaves fall and the earth prepares for the long winter sleep.  Me, I make preparations for the long winter nights.  September makes me look again at my living space to see how I might make it cosy and warm.  All it might take is a new throw for the sofa and a load of wood logs in the basket ready for the first fire.  By the end of the month I will have made the excursion under my bed to retrieve the storage boxes that hold my winter hoodies and fleeces, clothes that only require any old body as opposed to a supposedly ‘beach ready body’ we need for summer wear. Which is just as well as September is all about my kind of food.

In preparation for the frugal winter, nature is giving up her harvest.  Orchards are full of fallen apples and anyone can savour the rich bounty of the hedgerows which are now bursting with berries.  It is the month for apple and blackberry crumble and time to replace cream with warm custard.  It is the month when menus change – domestic ones anyway, with the welcome reintroduction of warming food like shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and big pots of spicy vegetable soup.  Slowing down and comfort food, what more could you want?

But there is more.  September is also the most sensual of months.  The air smells different carrying perhaps a hint of wood smoke or bonfire.  The light softens, lending a warm glow to the landscape as the sun moves away from us.  The countryside and parks are a riot of autumnal colour in hues of russet and gold and red and orange.  It is a month to get out and walk, savouring the smells, the colours and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.  And a chance to visit your inner child by reliving the thrill of finding and collecting pocketfuls of wine-red shiny chestnuts. 

September is like climbing into your own freshly made bed after a wonderful, busy, fun holiday.  It is like coming home after a hard day’s work to a warm welcoming house, closing your front door and knowing you won’t have to venture out into the world again till tomorrow.  It’s like putting on your comfiest slippers after a day in fabulous but rather painful shoes.  It’s the feeling that all is well with the world that sometimes comes with the first sip of red wine.  September is all about just being rather than doing. 


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

Friday, September 5, 2014

LET'S JUDGE A PAUSE THERE SISTERS.....



Sometimes being a feminist is kind of confusing.  It is very easy to become hyper aware of anything that could be viewed as being degrading to us women.  And if you look hard enough you will find such things everywhere.

But it is vital that before we decry the culprit that we take a wee moment to think.  I know that I don’t want to live in a world where we are ultra politically correct all the time at the expense of our ability to laugh at ourselves – individually or collectively.  Therefore when your senses are assaulted by an image which shouts ‘foul’ or ‘this is sexist’ as a friend of mine says ‘judge a pause’. 

Three such images appeared in the media this week.  As first glance all three looked sexist but in actual fact only one was.... in my humble anyway.

First up was the full page ad that Today FM took out to announce two new male presenters of their lunchtime show.  The ad featured a bra with the male presenters featuring in each cup and there was a tag line of Double D a play on the image and the fact that the presenters are called Dermot and Dave. 

Next one that crossed my consciousness was the image used in a campaign that has just been launched by Concern and Women’s Aid called ‘Are You Man Enough To Walk In Her Shoes’  There was a cartoon image of a male figure in a pair of high stilettos.  I guess is asking men to try to imagine what it feels like to be a woman – and a vulnerable one at that.

The last image of the week appeared in the Irish Times yesterday.  It was a PR shot to announce the Cancer Society’s Paint It Pink campaign.  It featured RTE presenter Keelin Shanley (a breast cancer survivor) dressed in pink holding a tin of paint and a very attractive bare chested young man up a ladder supposedly painting the door.  As someone who worked in PR and the partner of a professional photographer it was most definitely a cracking photo which drew the eye in immediately.  The image was also used in The Journal and can be seen here.

So your honour, which of these images is guilty of being sexist?  Only the first one.  Why?  Like most other things in life, because of the context.  This ad featuring male presenters’ faces on a bra is sexist because it was put out by a radio station that has not one female presenter presenting a daytime show during the week.  It is boys radio and so therefore cannot use women’s breasts to advertise a programme not matter how clever the play on words.  If the station doesn’t think that women should present primetime radio shows, then they can leave our underwear out of their campaigns.  So Foul and Sexist can be correctly labelled to this ill conceived campaign. 

The second campaign ‘Are You Man Enough To Walk In Her Shoes’ I don’t have a problem with even though I don’t own and never had owned a pair of high shoes.  But I know that makes me the exception rather than the rule where women are concerned.  Most women I know own and wear high heels – not every day maybe but regularly.  Therefore it’s fair enough to use this fact to come up with a fun campaign to raise money for vulnerable women.  And high heels do make women vulnerable... but that’s a different column.

Lastly, the PR photo for cancer that featured Keelin Shanley and male model Darragh Hayes was simply a great photo.  Mr Hayes is a model doing what he does best – looking delicious.  Irish (female) models regularly post in bikinis to promote all range of weird and wonderful products.  Yes I agree it’s a lazy photocall but I believe if we even up the score a bit – more handsome chaps looking.. handsome I can live with it.  I am not sure I want to live in a world where being able to admire a beautiful body is outlawed in case it offends someone.  As long as it is models that are used and the score is even – as many men as women – so what?

As we become more aware of women being undermined and belittled we are in danger of over reacting.  We need to bear that in mind, sisters!



Friday, August 15, 2014

WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF?

I am afraid to watch the television news at the moment.  I am afraid of what I might see.  I am afraid of the nightmares that might result.  I am afraid of images that will burn into my brain and resurface at some time in the future.  I am afraid to confront the reality of what is happening in the Middle East.  I can’t seem to process what I am hearing and reading.  I don’t know how to react or what to do about the horror that seems to be spreading through the region.

I don’t understand the politics of the area beyond the most simplistic outline of recent history.  I don’t pretend to have any particular insight into the cultures of the Middle East.  But what is going on right now in Syria, Gaza and Iraq in particular is beyond politics.  It is beyond reason.  There can be no excuses, no justification for the cruelty and the barbarism that has become rampant. 

It began with the killing of children in Gaza.  How can there ever be a reason to bomb a school?   And it happened not once but at least twice.  Day after day, week after week, we saw photos of these broken little innocent bodies as they lay dead or dying.  This destruction not caused by some madman on a solo rampage but by a sovereign nation’s army.  Big, well armed men, killing tiny children.  How can that ever, ever be justified?  It was evil when it was done by the provisional IRA bombing campaigns and it is wrong now.  No matter what history has done to a people, no matter what injustices have been perpetrated against them, killing and maiming children is a war crime.

There is little worse in my mind than killing babies but the depravity of the violence in Iraq in recent days is just beyond comprehension.  It’s like hearing the story line of some very violent and sick movie.  I have skimmed reports that have mentioned crucifixion, beheading, and dogs feeding on bodies. I have seen reference to a photo of a young boy, the son of a fighter holding the head (just the head) of a man – the enemy.  He is another young child who is lost to war.  I have read about women being taken in large numbers to be sold or raped.  I can’t do more than skim the reports because the detail is too shocking, too sickening, too upsetting.

And if that sounds like a very wimpish and, dare I say it, girly response that’s because it is.  
The countries of Syria, Gaza and Iraq are populated by ordinary families and by women who are far more like me than they are different.  Women who are mothers too and whose lives revolve around caring for their families and particularly their children, feeding them, loving them, educating them and protecting them.

And it is these women and their children who are increasingly haunting my dreams.  I see the fear and the horror in the eyes that stare at me from the appalling images that are carried on news bulletins and in the press. 

Somehow I feel that these women, who have suffered appallingly, who have lost children and loved ones, who live with the threat of rape, know that I know what is going on.

And I am struck dumb by not being able to process these stories.  I have taken weeks to try to even write this blog post.  I can’t articulate a response to this horror.  Anything I say or write seems wholly inadequate.  But yet to do and say nothing is to ignore those eyes I know are looking at me. Looking at us.  Wondering when we are at least going to say something, to condemn what is patently immoral.


Our government didn’t represent me when they chose to abstain from the UN vote on Gaza recently.  If any country on this planet should be able to identify with injustice, violence and the need to broker peace it should be Ireland.  So it is doubly shameful that we chose not to stand up, to speak out.  Our President has spoken only informally on this matter, stymied as he is by the constraints of his office.  Perhaps he is also afraid to watch the news, afraid of what he might see.  What the hell is wrong with us?

Friday, August 1, 2014

HE WAS SOME CAT....





16 years is a long time to live with someone regardless of how many legs they have.  In our house we live with as many four leggeds as with two leggeds and the bonds of love are strong. 

This week our oldest four legged – Simba died.  He had been in decline for months but my philosophy for elderly animals is that as long as they are enjoying life I would prefer them to fade slowly away.  I am not inclined to interfere with nature’s natural leisurely journey towards the end unless there is pain or discomfort involved.  Simba had lost weight and also his hearing but he was happy and still enjoying life right until the last day or so.

It was Carla, our eldest who brought Simba home to our first house in Shankill when she was about 11 years old.  She found him in some old woman’s shed where a cat had just had kittens and the old woman said she could keep him.  He was probably a bit too young to have been taken from his mother but I had a baby myself and probably wasn’t fully paying attention and so Simba stayed. 

He was cute like all kittens are and very playful.  But as he got older we discovered a dark quirk to his large rambunctious personality.  He wasn’t that keen on children or older people.  It began when he took a swipe at some of the cousins, all of whom were very young.  He missed but we realised that if young visitors came to the house we would have to lock Simba into a room for their safety. 

This was also a problem when we hosted parties for the girls, with lots of kids running about the house Simba was invariably released from his captivity.  So with the next party on the horizon I decided to visit the vet and investigate how best to deal with his behavioural quirk.  The vet advised some behavioural realignment using cat valium.  Yes, I kid you not.  I came away with a month’s supply of cat valium which would hopefully teach Simba to chill and not attack children.

The problem with the cat valium was that they were tiny tablets and the vet told me administer one quarter of a tablet per day.  So for three days I attempted to quarter a tiny tablet which resulted in bits of cat valium bits about my kitchen.  Not ideal when I now had two small children who spent a lot of time crawling about on the floor.  So I gave up.  Instead I decided that I would administer a tablet on the day of the party to keep him calm and the visiting children safe. 

Simba was a pig when it came to food so it was no problem to get him to take the tablet.  I will never forget the faces of the parents who dropped their little darlings off, when they spied a huge fat cat comatose on the back of an armchair with his mouth open and tongue hanging out.  He was happily out of his head for hours... and no one got hurt at the party.  The supply of cat valium lasted through the parties at home stage and Simba had no recollection of any of them.

Simba grew up into a huge, lazy, vocal, affectionate cat who loved being around us and in the house.  In winter no one got as excited as he did on a cold evening when we lit the fire.  He would be in, staking his place in front of the hearth at the first sound of coal being rattled. 

He grew and grew so much that I got tired of visitors asking when ‘she’ was due to give birth.  Then someone arrived one day who looked at me as if I were really thick.  “That cat has a tumour or something” he said.  “I’ve never seen a cat that size.  Have you taken him to the vet?”  “No”, I said sheepishly. 

Next day, full of guilt I took Simba to the vet.   “What’s the problem” he said.  I recounted the story of the man who said he must have a tumour.  The vet examined Simba and then asked me two questions.

“Does he eat a lot?”
“Oh yeah,” I said “he loves his food”
“Does he take much exercise?”
“Em, no not really,” I answered “he likes to be indoors, with us. He’s kind of lazy”
“Exactly,” said the vet.  “He’s just fat.  Fine but fat.”
We were kindred spirits in many ways – me and Simba.

He was a constant in our house for the last 16 years.  He loved dinner time – watching me as I prepared food in the hope that I would drop a tasty morsel for him.  He would then join us at the table – sitting on a free chair preferably at the head of the table from where he would listen to our conversations and wonder what our food tasted like.

He thumped down off beds and down the stairs in the manner of a large child.  He talked a lot and was the only cat who always answered us when we greeted him.

Although he had issues with some two leggeds he loved other cats.  We have fostered many kittens and older cats for the DSPCA and Simba never objected to a new arrival.  In fact without Simba we would have struggled to win around some of our very nervous fosters.  It was Simba who would give them the confidence to come out of hiding and feel safe in the world.  His greatest achievement in this regard was the rehabilitation of Oprah, the feral kitten who came to us at Christmas.

Simba was the last of our first generation of cats.  In hindsight we should have staggered our cat adoptions a bit better.  Like the way most of our white goods blew up in year seven of our marriage, over the last 18 months or so I have held the paws of four beloved cats as they left this world. 

Simba knew the end was near and took himself off to die at the end of the garden. Unfortunately he (we assume) took a tumble into a little inaccessible stream at the end of our garden and it took us some hours to locate him.  In the end it was Mia (13) who found him and she had to come back to get help to reach him.  While she did that, another of our cats, Diego took up position beside the dying Simba until Paul arrived with a ladder and took poor Simba home. 

He was weak and his body was shutting down so bundling him into a soft blanket we took him to the emergency veterinary hospital in UCD where they agreed that we should help him on his journey.  So he died as he lived – mainly peacefully with a bit of drama. 

We took him home with us and on Wednesday evening in a soft rain, as the light drained from the sky, Paul dug a grave for our beloved boy and we lay him to sleep by the lilac tree in the garden.  Diego watched from the wall.

We now have four young cats – the oldest is about 2 and so I guess in another 15 years or so I will once again be shedding salty tears as they take their leave.  It’s always sad and you never get used to it.  But it is a tribute to the animals any of us chose to live with, that they connect with us in a deep and meaningful way, that they colour every day of the life we live together and that they become true members of the family.


Simba will live on in our hearts and the stories of his life will be told for years to come.  He was some cat!


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

THE BEST OF TIMES

Oh, how my summers have changed...

Clich├ęd and all as it sounds, it really does just seem like only yesterday, that summer holidays from school started with a trip to the Zoo.  The first sunny day after the kids finished in early July I would pack up the car with all necessary supplies and we would head over to the Phoenix Park. There we would pass happy hours marvelling at the exotic creatures until they started to flag – the children that is, not the exotic creatures.  The final few enclosures could be a bit tortuous but it was always a great day, well except for the traffic on the quays on the way home.
                   
Summer also meant a visit to Glenroe Farm in Wicklow, usually with the cousins.  A good summer meant we may get there more than once.  With the sun on our backs we would wander around talking to donkeys, cows and pigs before finally choosing a picnic table or two on which we would spread our food and treats.  Afterwards the kids would do another round of the animals or just spend an hour in ‘pets corner’ while the mammies and the grannies stayed and chatted or gossiped.  It was bliss.

But days out weren’t always so organised.  Most summers we had countless picnics in the local park which has a great playground which would keep them amused for at least an hour while I read my book.  Or we could go to the river bank – well stream bank really – with our fishing nets to catch pinkeens – on the strict understanding we threw them back.  Or we could just sit on the grass making daisy chains or eating ice cream. 

Other days we could head to the beach at Killiney for a walk and for skimming stones or to Sandycove for a paddle. 

The last summer treat, which began as they got a little older, was to take a trip down the N11 to Bray.  Old fashioned fun which carried echoes of my own childhood as we sampled rides on the bumper cars, the ghost train and the Waltzers.  We also had a budget amount of small change to lose on the slot machines.  The best part of the day though was ending with a bag of chips and a coke consumed in the car as we watched the sea through rapidly steaming up windows.

I miss eating chips from a bag in the car.  I miss paddling.  I miss daisy chains.  Hell I even miss catching pinkeens.

But we weren’t always out.  Every summer began in the hope of lots of warm weather and so we bought a paddling pool which over the years got bigger and very slightly more sophisticated.  But we had one rule for our paddling pool – it had to be able to accommodate the end of the garden slide.  On those sunny days, before water charges were even a glint in a Minister’s eye, I would rig up the garden hose to the top of the slide and off they would go; an aqua park in the back garden.  It made a muddy mess of the lawn and many bushes got permanently damaged from small bodies careering into them at high speed but it was the best of craic, even just for the observer.

As the summer slipped towards autumn, we bought new schoolbags and school socks in Dunnes Stores and assembled the books for the coming year without needing a mortgage. 
We also paid a visit to the toy store and the art shop to treat ourselves to some indoor activities for the winter; games and crafts and colouring books and crayons.  God I miss the excuse to lie on the floor for an hour colouring in.  Talk about being in the moment – ‘colouring in’ is the most amazing de-stresser.

I miss spending hours in the kids section of the bookshop among so many beautifully illustrated and magical books. 

But that’s what happens with kids – suddenly your sunny, exuberant, up for anything darlings leave junior school and head into secondary.  They get very tall and all of a sudden you are not great craic anymore (well you are, but never in public).

And while as a parent you relish the new freedom their independence affords you, there are things you will miss and will probably continue to miss until some day you will be called ‘granny’ and get to do them again.

But until that day comes, I vow that this summer I will return to the Zoo - on my own if necessary.  I might even paddle in Sandycove.  And come late August if you spot me in the local toy shop buying a colouring book and a box of crayons.... say nothing.  Oh and it is true that we view the past through rose tinted specs.... but they were the best of times.... honestly.


Monday, July 7, 2014

It's that time again... SUMMER READ RECOMMENDATIONS


As usual here are my top picks for Summer Reading for you.... You are very welcome!!

My very top recommendation goes to THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

This is an Australian story in the true tradition of Australian stories in that it’s quirky and witty and warm.  It’s the story of a nerdy, highly intelligent Genetics Professor called Don Tillman and his attempt to find a life partner.  But it’s not really that.  It’s a love story... but it’s not really that either.  It’s about relationships, control, love, food, travel and everything else that is important in life!

It will make you laugh and it will engage you totally.  I read it in just over 24 hours and I didn’t want it to end.  The film rights have been purchased... doubt the movie could match the book though.  It’s a cracker. 

Next up is WOMAN UPSTAIRS by Claire Messud. 
This is an unusual choice for me because although it’s a beautifully crafted book, the main character is not totally likeable. Nora Eldridge has been a good girl all her life.  She is a great teacher to third grade.   She lives alone, is childless and looking after her elderly dad.  But she is also an artist who doesn’t ‘art’!  Those closest to her have no idea that she is unhappy, unfulfilled and craving a life that she glimpses through a new boy in her class. 

It’s not the easiest read but the main theme is one that I feel will particularly resonate with women who generally fulfil multiple roles in their lives while often subjugating what it is they really want to do.  It was an interesting read for that reason. 

STILL ALICE is by Lisa Genova is a beautiful book that tells the story of Alice and her journey into Alzheimer’s Disease.  It’s gracefully told and is set in one of my favourite places – Boston and Cape Cod. 

The main character Alice is not an elderly lady in the final decade of her life – she is a 50 year old Professor of Linguistics at Harvard University.  She is very much a career woman with three grown up children. 

What strikes me most about this book is its central message.  It is a message that I know something about from years working for The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and of watching my mother in law lose her memories to dementia.  That message is that behind the disease – our main character is Still Alice!

A moving but not depressing read.  I highly recommend it.


SUMMER OF 76 by Isabel Ashdown was recommended to me by a Twitter friend after I had written a piece about The Last Summer – you know that delicious summer you leave school and stand of the cusp of life.  For the record - my last summer was in 1979!  You can read my piece here.

The actual summer of ‘76 was remarkable for the heatwave that hit Ireland and Britain.  Temperatures soared and people sizzled.  Our story is set around the main character Luke who is enjoying his last months at home on the Isle of Wight before he heads off to college.  It’s a momentous summer of coming of age, of male friendships and at the centre is a salacious scandal that shocks the local community.

Again this book is well written and will have huge resonances with anyone who was a teenager in the 70s with the references to music and styles of the time.

This book for me is everything a summer read should be.

Now can I mention some Irish books that I haven’t read yet as they have all just or are about to hit the bookshops.

First up is Maria Duffy’s latest offering ONE WISH which tells the tale of Londoner Becky Greene who moves to Ireland for a fresh start only to find herself pregnant after a one night stand.  Four years later and her daughter is asking questions about her father. So Becky decides to track him down.  Maria is a prolific writer and this book is sure to be another goodie.  It launches this week but is in bookshops now.

Muriel Bolger is one of Ireland’s best known and most experienced travel writers who has taken to writing fiction in the last few years with some great success.  I have just started her latest book called THE PINK PEPPER TREE.  Muriel’s books always feature travel which is why they are such great summer reads and this latest one is no different with a trip to Monte Carlo featuring prominently.  Sure what’s not to like?

Caroline Grace Cassidy is another talented Irish writer whose story telling style often reminds me of Maeve Binchey.  Her last book The Other Side of Wonderful was an engaging tale but with a dark edge which was deftly handled.  Caroline is putting the finishing touches to her
latest story “I ALWAYS KNEW” which is out in August.  I am confident it will be another great story.

Finally anyone who was moved The Diving Bell and The Butterfly will be interested in IT’S NOT YET DARK by Simon Fitzmaurice.  In 2008 Simon was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.  He was given four years to live.  Against medical opinion he chose to ventilate in order to stay alive.  This book tells us starkly and clearly about his inner life, the power of love and living every moment.

So there you have it.. and like old Uncle Gaybo used to say every year on The Toy Show about giving the gift of reading to a child... let me say what I say twice every year... don’t buy online if you can support your local bookshop.


If money is tight – remember we are lucky in Ireland to still have a great network of libraries.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Not Such A Great Little Country After All

I have tried and failed about three times to write this post.  It has been really difficult to work out my feelings about the revelations concerning the treatment of mothers and babies in Ireland in the very recent past.  As a woman and a mother and indeed as a former single parent myself  there is something deeply unnerving and disquieting to learn that your country, the place you live, the place that is rooted deeply in your bones, the place that defines so much of you has been hiding such dark and cruel stories for decades.

I took my youngest daughters to see the movie ‘Philomena’ when it was in cinemas some months back.  They are 13 and 15 and their usual choice of movies is a mix of fantasy and American pop culture... Philomena was something very different.  But they were both moved and disturbed by the story.  What bothered them most was that this was an Irish story and a recent one too. 

It is often remarked on how we still love to be told we are great.  Only on an Irish chat show will the first question asked of a visiting superstar be “and how are you finding Ireland, do you like it?”  Which has to be the stupidest question ever because what do we honestly expect a visiting movie star on a PR trip for their latest movie to say?  “Well actually I am very disappointed.  I find your country dirty and the standard of service is appalling.”  No of course not.  They all say “oh I love it.  I hope to come back soon and spend more time here.”  Our sense of our own wonderfulness established, the interview can continue.

It would be easy at this point to heap all the blame for the cruelty of how single pregnant women and girls were treated at the feet of religious orders.  The orders certainly carry a huge burden of responsibility and their callousness should be recorded for posterity.  They must be held to account and their track record of intransigence and tight fistedness should not be tolerated for one day longer. 

But we must also accept that we all bear responsibility for this dark chapter in our history.  It was the families and communities in which these women and girls lived that sent them into the arms of the nuns who were clearly overwhelmed.  And it is this complicity, our complicity that will haunt our sense of ourselves for decades to come.

There is little we can do from this remove to heal the hurt caused to the thousands of women whose babies either died or were taken from them for adoption.  We cannot rewrite history.  But if we don’t learn from it we are likely to repeat the mistakes, the injustices and the cruelty over and over again.

Right now in Ireland adopted people are still having great difficulty in accessing their birth information.  We must pressure the government to amend this situation immediately.  Today in Ireland Traveller babies have a higher mortality rate than the general population and many Traveller children are living in appalling conditions.  Funding to Traveller services was cut by 80% during this period of so called austerity.  Next month lone parents are facing another cut in their payments when their youngest child turns seven years of age.  Today there are thousands of immigrant families caught in ‘direct provision’ which is having a detrimental effect especially on their children.  What are we doing about all these children?

I love this country.  We have produced great writing and great music.  We have a unique sense of fun and invented ‘the craic’ which is beyond explanation.  We are masters of irreverence and have an interesting relationship with authority.  We have some of the most stunning scenery on the planet.  We have much to be proud of. 

But we also have much to be deeply ashamed of.  For decades I think our history of colonisation, of being a victim of British dominance has defined us.  We were this little nation whose influence has spread all over the world; this little nation who after centuries of failed attempts finally shook off our oppressor and gained our freedom.  Weren’t we just wonderful altogether? 

We are now coming to terms that we are not quite as wonderful as we thought.  Our treatment of Mothers and Babies for most of the twentieth century is surely one of the most shameful episodes in any countries history.  And we have no one else to blame.  We, as a nation facilitated the church in its abuse of these young women and their babies.  Right now we are again turning a blind eye to many injustices which are impacting Irish children.  Are we content to continue to allow our Government to unfairly target groups that are vulnerable in the pursuit of financial stability?  Are some children once again worth more than others?

The last three weeks have changed fundamentally how I feel about my Irishness.  I am still proud to call myself Irish.  But I think that feeling of smug self confidence in my nationality, that one that Irish chat show hosts love to reinforce is gone.  I can only assume that this is a good thing.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ni Neart Go Cur Le Cheile

“Be yourself, because if you can get away with it, it is the ultimate feminist act.”
Liz Phair – American Singer/Songwriter



According to the Oxford English Dictionary Feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”   The two words that jump out of that sentence are rights and equality.  Surely every woman has the right to make her own choices and live her own life as she sees fit.  You see, for me feminism is as much about choice and freedom as it is about equality. 

And that right there is why I often find myself getting very depressed when feminist women (rarely men) get angry when a woman puts forward a vision of fulfilment that doesn’t rate climbing the career ladder her major priority in life. 

Over the last few days we have had another stunning example of how we women seem to find it next to impossible to accommodate views that do not fit neatly with ours.  Kirsty Allsop is the latest feminist to find herself in very hot water with the mainstream feminists who have been ranting and raving about her in our newspapers and on social media.  You see Kirsty has opinions and has never been afraid to express them.  Surely this is what feminists are all about?  Having women’s voices heard?  Not apparently if your opinions run contrary to the mainstream feminist view which seems to be all about achieving in education and career.

Ms Allsopp had the audacity to say in a wide ranging interview with The Telegraph that she thought that “women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward.” 

She went on to say that if she had a daughter (she has two sons) she would advise her to postpone university and to concentrate on having a family while she was young and doing the career and university thing later on.  She further said in an interview with Newsnight that she would have the same conversation with her boys.

Whether she is right or wrong is irrelevant.  The point is that she has every right to express her opinion.  She wasn’t saying that this is what every woman should do but that it is what she would advise her offspring to do.  But the immediate rubbishing of her view along with plenty of derogatory commentary concerning her background (which is reasonably wealthy by all accounts) and her work with interiors, design and crafting surely runs contrary to what feminism should be all about?

For generations women have passed down wisdom and stories along with recipes from mother to daughter; precious nuggets of knowledge borne from experience of our grandmothers.  In our enthusiasm for full equality we have narrowed our vision about what it is to be a woman – what it is to be a feminist.

Some of the greatest feminist women I know are working quietly in the home, caring for children, their aged parents and their household.  They have little if any interest in board rooms or glass ceilings.  Are there views on life less worthy?  Are these women some lesser species of feminist?

We need to be very careful of becoming too macho in our pursuit of full equality and freedom.  Actress Natalie Portman said “I want every version of a woman and a man to be possible. I want women and men to be able to be full-time parents or full-time working people or any combination of the two. I want both to be able to do whatever they want sexually without being called names. I want them to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad – human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a “feminist” story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.”

Before we can change the world we must change ourselves.  As a women’s movement we must recognise that we women are as different as we are the same.  We don’t all necessarily want the same things.  Equality is essentially about choice.  The choice to be yourself.  It is vital that we recognise the right of each woman to make the choices that are right for her. And we need to support each other regardless of how we personally view those choices.

So if Kirsty Allsopp wants to tell her children that they might consider fertility and plan a family early and put off career advancement till later, that is fine.  It is another way of doing things.  No more and no less valid that waiting until you are established in your career for the babies.

But women can we please stop being so critical of other women whose views don’t chime with ours.  We are often our own worst enemies... Ni neart go cur le cheile (no strength without unity)


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER

For the day that's in it.... and this comes with best wishes to all who are sitting Junior and Leaving Cert Exams tomorrow...


A LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER…..



Dear Eldest Daughter:

It is 8 o’clock on a cold, autumn evening and the house is quiet.  I am sitting here at the kitchen table, with my cup of coffee, in the company of Doc, the old cat.  The clock keeps steady time, marking out the seconds with a deep ticking.  All is well.  All is settled. 

But my sense of peace is rattled slightly by something in the air.  A vague tension stirs my sense of tranquillity.  My own inner peace and the conspiring quiet of the house, allows my senses to pick up an energy which is seeping through the ceiling…… from your room.

Without visiting your room, I can picture you clearly.  Sitting, bent over your desk.  Your face lit by the desk lamp which also drops a pool of yellow light onto the dog eared pages of your notes.  Your face is tense and your forehead holds furrows of stress as you attempt to force the information from the page into your brain.  In front of you, your notice board is full of post-its and timetables.  Reminders of what has still to be done and highlighting deadlines which loom menacingly in the middle distance.  I am so proud of the way you are tackling your study, albeit it in a room which looks as if it has just been raided. 

I was 18 once and I was where you are now.  I can remember so well, the constant feeling of drowning slowly in a sea of home-work and study.   Like you, I was sure that my whole life path would be determined by my Leaving Cert.  The grand finale of my school days loomed like a huge mountain which had to be scaled alone.  And I too thought that my ability to climb this mountain would determine how the world would view me as a person for the rest of my life.

Oh my child….. if only you could have the gift of seeing into your future.  If only you could know what it has taken me 30 years to know.  Your life path is already determined.  You, the person you are, is already set.  This exam, once done, will fade so quickly in its importance that it will leave you wondering if you dreamt it all up. 

But I cannot tell you all this.  Not now.  You have to do what you have to do.  And just now, life is presenting you with this challenge which will consume you and your spirit for the coming months.  And this too is part of your life path. 

So I sit here at my kitchen table, decades further down the road from you and I write you this letter.  I will not send it.  No, I will date it and keep it safe and on the last day of your exams I will give it to you.  As you embrace your new found freedom and walk proudly out of school and into the world, know that I have always known what a wonderful human being you are.  Know that the world will not look for your exam results in order to understand what a kind, caring, good person you are. 

So as you read this, some day in June, I say congratulations to you, my daughter – you have arrived on the other side of the mountain.  And as you stride from school for the last time, stop and look back at the building where you have been guided and encouraged and taught for the last six years.  And behind the school, can you see the mountain.  And look, already it is shrinking.



With love always


Your mother

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

WOMEN ON AIR... MAKING PROGRESS

I was really pleased to attend the inaugural ‘Women On Air’ conference this week in the magnificent surroundings of Dublin Castle.  Walking across the upper yard of one of Dublin’s most iconic locations on a sunny morning was just stunning.  As I carefully picked my way on the cobblestones I was vaguely aware of the centuries of history that was all around me;  ghosts of the British administration and laterally the whisperings that signified subterfuge and intrigue as Ireland pushed for independence.

There was no subterfuge however at the ‘Women on Air’ event which was officially opened by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, who didn’t annoy me at all with his speech.  He was followed by Margaret E Ward who outlined how ‘Women on Air’ came into being after a ‘debate’ on Twitter.  I was a silent witness to that debate back in 2010 and felt a frisson of excitement when Margaret along with former radio producer Helen McCormack decided to organise a seminar which was aimed at providing tips and support for women who wished to go on air. 

Back in 2010 I was a .... here we go again... housewife (I HATE THAT TERM – but all others are equally grating) buried deep in suburban Cabinteely.  However my children were 23, 11 and 9 and I was itching to get involved back in the world of work and had decided to attempt to pursue my passion of writing and talking!  I had done a few radio interviews before in my previous career as PRO for a national charity and it was a medium I found very comfortable.  I also passionately wanted to hear more women’s voices and more importantly women’s stories on air.

So taking my courage in both hands I sent a very timid tweet to Margaret E Ward asking if it might be possible to attend this planned seminar.  It was. 

The seminar took place on Tuesday 12th of October and was held in the National Library at 6:30pm.  I got there way too early and heading to the coffee shop for a coffee while I waited.  As I sat on my own in the empty cafe the voice in my head grew louder and louder saying “what the hell are you doing?”, “go home, you eejit, why on earth would you consider yourself part of this?”

As I walked towards the lecture theatre, I tried to counter the feeling of seasickness and terror.  There were lots of women milling about and they all seemed to know each other.  The voice in my head was now in a right panic.  “No-one knows you – turn around and leave before you make a show of yourself”.  I tried to keep my face looking calm and confident as I negotiated a place to sit when I suddenly saw one face that was familiar.  I had met writer Eleanor Fitzsimons just a week or so earlier at a book launch and we had chatted.  Thankfully she remembered me and I clung on to her like she was a life-raft in treacherous seas.

Later that evening I met Helen McCormack, who asked me if I would be willing to come into studio on a news review panel on the Tom McGuirk programme, which she produced on 4FM.

So on that night four years ago, I arrived into the city a bag of nerves, wondering what the hell I was doing.  But thanks to the support, encouragement and faith of just three women I went home wondering if it might actually be possible to pursue a new career in the media... or what Fiona Looney (bless her) calls my midlife crisis media career.
Women on Air has come a long way since October 2010 and I guess I have made some progress on the journey too.  Change is definitely in the air.  RTE Radio One seems to be leading the charge at the moment with rising numbers of women presenting programmes during the peak hours of 8am to 8pm. 

TV3 also have managed to attain a relatively good gender balance in their news and current affairs output – most noticeably on Vincent Browne’s programme.  Something I think they don’t get enough credit for.

During the first session of the Conference TV3’s Political Editor, Ursula Halligan, made the point about women on TV being constantly made feel that they have to fit a specific body type... young, pretty and very slim.  An image, she said, that was largely constructed by men but which was bought into by women.  Aine Lawlor referenced the excellent documentary by Kirsty Wark, ‘Blurred Lines’ and the amount of violent sexual threats that can be made against some women in media, something that another panellist, journalist Una Mulally knows all about.

It struck me that both issues have a connection to each other.  Because TV companies seem to be so reluctant to put older women or women who don’t fit the specific ‘TV type’ on air, broadcasters are actually feeding this view that all women must be attractive and specifically sexually attractive regardless of their qualifications or ability.  The most obvious example of this is that of Mary Beard, the respected academic in the UK, who received horrendous online abuse regarding appearance after a series she made, was aired on the BBC.

Perhaps when we have more balance in the physicality of the women we see on our screens – across body types, age etc we will see a decrease in the amount of abuse someone like Mary Beard receives.  It is much easier to bully the minority.

In broader terms we need to ensure as more and more women make it to air that we don’t follow the men and have airwaves that are almost entirely populated by middle class voices. 

Just as the women at that very first ‘Women On Air’ seminar were accepting of the interloper housewife from the suburbs, as more and more of us make it to air we must ensure that we are bringing diversity with us. 


Congratulations to Caroline Erskine – chairperson of Women On Air, Margaret E Ward and Helen McCormack the originators of the movement and all the current committee for a wonderful conference.  Onwards and upwards sisters.

Friday, May 9, 2014

PARENTS - WAKEY WAKEY

Last night I managed to catch the last quarter of an excellent documentary on BBC2 presented by Kirsty Wark called – ‘Blurred Lines – A New Battle of the Sexes?’  In the programme Ms Wark asked whether the internet was now a place of hostility towards women as demonstrated by the level of abuse, much of it of a sexual nature, Professor Mary Beard received online after her appearance on Question Time.

What really resonated with me however was when Ms Wark spoke to three very young women about whether a level of sexual aggression from boys was a reality.  One of the young women described being at a recent party where many of the boys were groping and grabbing the girls as they wished.  Kirsty asked how the girls reacted, wondering did they not have the confidence to tell the boys to stop.  The young women replied that no, she didn’t think that many of the girls even realised that they were entitled to say stop or no.  She seemed to think that may of her peers just thought that was part of being a girl.  Kristy then asked the young women what their greatest fear was in this regard.  They all agreed that being sexually assaulted and it being filmed and photographed for social media was their greatest fear. 

I found this chilling and depressing but also it made me very angry. 

Earlier yesterday I had been trying to find out, for a friend (yes seriously) about an Australian ‘act’ called The Janoskians who are coming to Dublin and Belfast at the end of the summer.

The Janoskians are, according to Ticketmaster “... a group of five best friends who brew ‘social disturbance’ and capture it on camera and churn out infectious and incisive punked-out pop anthems”. 

I asked my own two teenage daughters about them and was told that yeah they are ‘hilarious’, that they do ‘prank videos’ on YouTube and that they can’t sing but that’s not a problem as they are auto tuned anyway!  Is Simon Cowell responsible for the death of music and talent?  But I digress... as usual.

It is very difficult to find any independent reviews of their shows online.  Google searches seem to churn up lots of PR related guff.  But there was one review which was posted on an Australian parenting and lifestyle website called Mamamia.com.au.  The reviewer Tara Lee, described as a mother from Sydney, begins by saying that she was expecting “gross pranks, silly skits, stunts where they harm each other or themselves.”  She was also expecting a level of cursing and swearing.  But says she “found it a little shocking when they came out and said to their audience “girls, shut the f*ck up!” — and warned parents there would be quite a lot of swearing and said that if we didn’t like it we could get our kid and “f*ck off”.

So far so very teenage I guess.  And we all know that teenagers love rebellion and shocking the rest of us.  But what didn’t shock as much as repulse me, was how they treated their fans – mostly young girls (they are a good looking group). 

Tara goes on to say.. “at Q&A time, when asked about what their favourite body part was, one boy said that while he liked a good tit, he preferred arse and commented on how many great arses there were at the meet and greet.  Then it progressed to how the Sydney girls were sexy bitches, corrected by another on-stage star to “sexy SLUTS”. This prompted cheers from the audience, who seemed to think this was a good thing”.

You can read the full review here and if you have a few hours to spare you can go on to read the comments where the fans respond to Ms Lee.  Suffice to say that their loyalty is unwavering just like One Directioners and Beliebers before that.   The clever use of social media by The Janoskians is a huge part of keeping their fans ‘loyal’.  “They love us and care for us... they tweet us all the time saying that” the fans say.   Oh dear.

But seriously when did it become OK for a bunch of guys call young girls ‘sluts’ and reduce them to lumps of meat commenting on the tits and ass quality of the audience.  But for me the far more worrying element of all this is that the girls think this is quite OK and even love it.

One hundred years after the women’s movement began to make serious strides we have produced a generation of well educated girls who think that this is OK?  Or do they?  Or are they like the trio that Kirsty Wark spoke to who are in fear of someday being abused sexually and the event being posted online?  Either way it’s an appalling vista.

Parents have to step up to the plate and we have to up our game.  I have written before about the power of online porn and the fact that saying “I have parental block on my computers at home” will protect your children.  It won’t.  We just can no longer protect our children from sexually explicit content online.  In order to combat its messages we must change our conversations around sex.  No longer is the conversation merely about the birds and bees and joy of sex and committed relationships but also must now include talk about oral sex, threesomes and the like.  I am not for one second saying this is an easy conversation to have with a 13 or 14 year old.  It’s not but we have to ‘woman’ up and do it.

In ten days or so that other paragon of all that’s wrong with pop culture, Miley Cyrus rides into town for her concert in the O2.  According to a review of her London shows by another mother, Annabel Cole (Irish Daily Mail 9th May) who took her 14 year old daughter, along with Miley’s crotch, ass and tongue being a huge part of her show, she also encourages our children to “make out with each other and use lots of tongue”.  She apparently also extolled the virtue of smoking saying “I smoked for three years and I loved it but weed is much better than smoking.... this show is nearly over and I will be stoned very shortly.”  There were children as young as nine in the audience. 

So parents it’s time we wised up.  Its take our heads out of the sand.  Miley Cyrus has long ago left her Hannah Montana days behind her and The Janoskians may not be quite as hilarious as the PR says. 

But more importantly it is time for us to ensure our daughters have the courage to understand that they do not have to be sexually available all the time.  We must help them find their voices to shout NO.  And we must make absolutely sure that our boys understand exactly what consent is.


And we must do this against the barrage of pop culture with icons way cooler than we ever were spreading messages that are exactly the opposite.