Ireland: The Best Little Country To Be Racist In

Black Lives Matter - Wikipedia


Ten days ago, I published a thread of twelve tweets, detailing a few encounters I’ve had with racism in Ireland.

The discussion on racism is now looking at history (never herstory, but that’s another blog post). As a result, monuments and place names are being reviewed in terms of their usefulness, and whether or not they should be allowed to remain when they are references to slavers. In Ireland, we have many places named after our own colonial ‘masters’. For the most part, we don’t really think about them, do we? In Dublin, we walk down Wellington Road, Holles Street, Rutland Row, Cavendish Row etc. etc. etc. – all named after our British overlords, and don’t challenge them. We have plenty of people – even women! – after whom we could (re)name our streets, but we don’t. Why is that ? Laziness? Lack of interest? Lack of awareness? A desire to remember our history of colonialism at (literally) every turn?

But more than street names, there is one institution whose name makes me react with physical revulsion every time I hear / read it: The Sims Clinic , which operates in Dublin, Cork, and Carlow. Named after J. Marion Sims, a man who performed barbaric gynaecological experiments on slave women in the US. It’s similar to starting a fertility clinic and calling it ‘The Mengele Clinic’. Yes, you really did read that, and, yes, I really did write that.

In the interests of full disclosure, I attended the Sims Clinic when I was in my 20s. I had no idea who it was named after, in fact I didn’t realise it was named after anyone. About two years after I’d had my surgery, however, that I found out who it was named after.

I’m horrified by the glorification of a man who ‘perfected his techniques’ on Black, enslaved women (without using pain relief) who could not refuse; before operating on white women (using anaesthetic). If you are, too, you might consider writing to the Sims Clinic and asking them to consider changing the name of the centre to one that isn’t racist.

We need to tackle these microaggressions everywhere we see them. We need to listen to what our BIPOC brothers and sisters are telling us. We need to listen more than we speak. We need to drop our defences. We need to stop saying ‘Yes, but…’ and just say ‘yes’. We need to acknowledge that we can’t know what it’s like to have generations of hate and ridicule and trauma heaped upon your shoulders. We need to acknowledge that we all have prejudices. We need to confront our inherent biases, challenge institutional violence. We need to be vocal and visible in our rejection of policies, practices, and procedures that discriminate against people purely because they are not white. We need to confront the myth we’ve been peddling ourselves for generations that we’re not racist. Because we are.

PSA: This Is What A Rapist Looks Like

CONTENT WARNING: CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE, RAPE, INCEST.

Cormac on Tinder Tweet

This is a tweet I sent nearly two years ago. I’d joined Tinder to see what all the fuss was about, to see if I could find someone to you date because I was fed up going to events on my own, or with a friend, or one of my own kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with my friends, or my kids; but sometimes, it’s nice to have a straight, male, companion. It can be fun to have a straight, interesting, intelligent man to share experiences with, to discuss cultural events with, to look forward to seeing – to flirt with.  Anyway, there I was swiping left more often than right, and up pops one of my brothers.

Now, of course anyone who wants to be on Tinder can be there – but I got a huge fright that night when my own brother was suggested as a potential match for me. Not least because he is one of the brothers who abused me for years when I was a child and a teenager.

Of course, we all have stories of coming across friends, friends’ spouses / partners, neighbours, colleagues etc. on Tinder. What additionally startled me about seeing my brother pop up, however, was the fact that he a) lives in France and b) claims to be happily married. Of course, he was clearly home to visit his mammy (if you look at the date, you can see it was just before Christmas), and of course, people can separate, divorce, or have open marriages. But knowing that this particular person is a rapist (he sexually abused, and raped me – orally, anally, digitally, and vaginally for years); abusive; manipulative, and has a number of personality disorders, I was concerned for the safety of any woman who might come across him and innocently agree to meet him.

Two years ago, I didn’t have the presence of mind to take screengrabs, but when he popped up on October 1st last, on another site, I did. They’re reproduced below:

Badoo #1 Badoo #2Badoo #4Badoo #3

The only good news here is that Cormac claims to live on his own – which means that his wife, Orna, has finally seen sense and left him. If that is the case, it really is a shame she didn’t do so ten years ago, when their children were still young, and she learnt of the abuse her husband had inflicted on me. It’s a shame she didn’t do that before she decided to stand with him during the days of his trial in the High Court. The only other possibility is that he’s lying and trying to cheat on her. Either way, their marital situations are of no interest to me – but protecting other women from a predator is.  Like all abusive men, he is attracted to ‘kind’ women; a phenomenon that Don Hennessy discusses in his book ‘How He Gets Into Her Head’.  It’s also interesting to see that he declares he’s ‘gentle by nature’ – I’m not entirely sure that any rapist can be ‘gentle’. I remember him using torn bits of black sacks as ‘contraceptives’ when I was a pre-teen and young teenager. There was nothing ‘gentle’ about that. I remember his fingernails tearing my vagina, and I can’t say it was ‘gentle’. I remember his penis tearing my anus, and there was certainly nothing ‘gentle’ about that, either.

Maybe we just have different definitions of the word.

In any event, consider this blog post nothing other than a public service announcement – women (and men) please avoid this abusive man at all costs. You’re worth more. You deserve better.

 

#Stand4Truth

Truth

Today, I will be in the Garden of Remembrance, at a rally organised by Colm O’Gorman (Executive Director of Amnesty International, survivor of clerical abuse and rape, and the boy who sued the pope). We’ll be standing with thousands of other people in solidarity with those who were abused – physically, sexually, and emotionally – by the Roman Catholic Church.

This week’s visit by the pope has been hugely painful for many thousands of people on this island. People are finding themselves hurt, upset, and triggered all over again. Even as someone who was never sexually abused by a member of the Roman Catholic Church – although members of the church concealed that they knew my two elder brothers (Nigel Talbot and Cormac Talbot) were sexually abusing me – I have found details of the continued abuse of people by the Roman Catholic Church upsetting. I have heard from many survivors of clerical abuse how difficult and traumatic these weeks have been for them. I want them to know that I bear witness to their pain, I acknowledge it, I believe them.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s important to honour the truth of those who have suffered. It is important to honour the pain of those who have suffered – and to recognise the origins of that pain; the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish society that stood by in silence and allowed the rape and abuse of young children to take place.

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today to honour the memories of those who can’t make it: Those who were murdered by the Roman Catholic Church; those who were sold by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their bones broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those who had their spirits broken by the Roman Catholic Church; those for whom being there would be too emotionally difficult; those who died by suicide,  who are in addiction, who are homeless, who are in psychiatric units on account of the trauma visited on them by the Roman Catholic Church.

 

I am going to the Garden of Remembrance today because it’s the least I can do.

Unsolicited Pictures – A Follow-Up

Last week, I wrote about unsolicited dick pics, and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of them. To be clear, I have absolutely no judgement around solicited penis pictures. If sending nudies is part of the sex-play between two consenting adults, I hope it works well for them.

 

The unsolicited pictures, and the sending of them, however, started a conversation on Twitter, and a number of women asked me why men sent these pictures. Well, as a woman, I have no idea. So I decided to ask the men who send them. Now, this is in no way a rigorous piece of scientific research. It’s a Twitter poll. There were 74 responses, and one of them was from a woman who clicked by accident and bumped up option two by one number. There may have been more people who clicked accidentally, but I have no way of knowing. All I can tell you is that, from the first few responses, the results were fairly consistent.

 

So, here’s what I got:

Twitter Dick Pic Poll

As you can see, 8% of respondents said they send these pictures because they think their penises are gorgeous, with 14% wanting the person on the receiving end to express admiration for the penis they are presented with. I must admit, that I thought the percentage of those in the first category would be higher. In my experience, men think their reproductive organs are beautiful (most women don’t – penises are only thought of aesthetically pleasing by women when they have an emotional attachment to the man on the end of it). Again, I’m surprised that so few men admitted to sending unsolicited penis pictures because they want their members to be admired.

 

The final two responses are the ones that worry me most. Sixteen percent of respondents admit to sending unsolicited pictures to shock the person who would receive it. There is something disturbing about a man wanting to shock a woman with a picture of his genitals. It’s an expression of a desire to exert power over the receiver, which is distasteful, to say the least.

 

Finally, the majority of men – 62% of them – who responded admitted sending unsolicited dick pics in the hope that the woman who receives them will send back a photograph of her genitals. I feel duty-bound to let these men know that that’s not how it works. Women are likely to be disturbed and upset if men send unsolicited pictures of their genitals, and really not inclined to reciprocate.

 

If you want to send pictures of your willies, guys, please afford the intended recipient the courtesy of ensuring that it will be a welcome photograph – and don’t expect one in return. Instead, wait until one is offered.

Ranty McRant Face

(Celeste Erlach, Facebook)

Yesterday, Celeste Erlach’s Facebook rant to (about?) her husband went viral. It was picked up by media outlets across the globe, including our own Irish Independent. She was clearly upset and at the end of her tether, and she called her husband out on his lack of help with the kids – they have two, a baby and a toddler.

 

I must admit that my initial reaction was ‘Lady, try doing it all on your own, all the time – that’s hard.’ Regular readers will know that I have two daughters with just 26 months between them, and that I have been parenting alone for nigh on 15 years. Then, I caught myself on a bit. I might be all on my own, but Celeste Erlach isn’t. She is married, and has every right to expect that her husband will step up and help. Sure, he’s in an office all day while she’s at home all day – but they are both working. Why does his work stop when he gets home, and hers continues? If she’s married, then she can expect a partner who shares the workload.

 

I am cautiously aware that this rant only provides one side of the story – and it’s a snapshot of that one side as well. Ms Erlach gives specific examples of what she wishes her husband did better, but there is concern (which was addressed on PJ Coogan’s show on CorkFM this morning) that Facebook is not the place to air marital grievances. Part of me is inclined to agree, though another part of me is aware that only posting ‘the good stuff’ on FB can create anxiety in those who read our status updates – they compare their insides to the outsides presented. I’m all for posting the good with the bad. What I’m not all for, however, is using Facebook as a tool to shame people. Shame is a powerful tool of social control – just ask the Roman Catholic Church who used it to great effect in Ireland – and it’s also an emotion that we don’t talk about very much.

 

It would appear that there is a lack of communication between Celeste Erlach and her husband and it would also appear – if you look at her Facebook page – that she has used her rant as a vehicle for attention, and to raise her own profile publicly. I’m struck by the banner on her page, though, which reads ‘Ask Yourself: What kind of Mom do you want to be?’ Clearly, Celeste Erlach wants to be the kind of mom who shames and humiliates the father of her children in a very public way. I’m not sure that’s fair on them. Turning to social media to berate the other parent of your child/ren is, I would suggest, potentially damaging to their relationship with that parent, because it smacks of a lack of respect.

 

I’m not suggesting that this wife and mother doesn’t have legitimate gripes. I’m not suggesting that there multiple ways her husband and the father of her children could help. What I am suggesting, however, is that it might have been kinder, and more useful – to her own family, and to the thousands of people who have viewed, liked, shared, and discussed her rant – if she had shared her concerns privately, found a workable solution with her husband, and shared that publicly. If she had written this letter and given it to him, expressing her frustration, her physical, emotional, and psychological needs and found a workable solution with her husband, that might have been a better post to share to share with her friends and followers.

 

I think that approach would have been more valuable; no one would have been publicly shamed, humiliated or reprimanded, and her children would have had good conflict resolution modelled for them. I think that’s worth a lot more than a shed-load of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’.

More On ‘Due Process’

Due Process

I really dislike repeating myself, but it’s time to revisit this topic. I wrote about this in November – you can read that post here –  but felt compelled to return and write more after listening to this podcast from the BBC’s Woman’s Hour.  The women in conversation  with host Lauren Laverne – Salli Hughes, Zoe Strimpel, and Afua Hirsch –  discussed the #metoo campaign and there was mention made of how naming men on social media was not affording them ‘due process’. Again, there was a presumption that due process is fair and easily accessible. It’s not.

 

In addition to the points I mentioned previously, there is the very real fact that men still hold more power than women in every facet of life, including the law. Laws are written by men. The language used in laws, therefore, is ‘male’ and patriarchal and serves men better than it does women. The majority of victims are female. The majority of court officers – solicitors, barristers, and judges – are male. Even where women are Officers of the Court, they are working within a patriarchal system that rewards non-feminine behaviour. So, while more women may be in the legal professions, they are still marching to the beat of a patriarchal drum, with little leeway for their own feminist interpretation.

 

The fact that so few cases of sexual assault actually get to court means that very few solicitors and barristers actually have experience in these cases. Bear in mind, too, that no judge in Ireland has availed themselves of the training offered by the Rape Crisis Centre to educate them on how sexual assault and sexual abuse impact on victims.

 

If a person does decide to go the civil route, and sue their abuser, the cost is prohibitive, and the course is a lengthy and emotionally tortuous one. This prevents many from even contemplating seeking redress from the courts.  So the notion of ‘due process’ is a bit of an equality fairy-tale. At the same time, though, one of the legacies of abuse is that those of us who have been abused feel a responsibility to save others from the same pain, humiliation, and trauma. Sometimes, all we can do is warn other women. Our feeling of protection towards other vulnerable women far outweighs our concern that the men who hurt us might be annoyed by our speaking out.

 

I’m also uncomfortable with the idea of discussing ‘grades’ of sexual intimidation, harassment, and assault. That kind of discussion generally goes down the route of ‘X only did this, so he’s not as bad as Y.’ I think it misses the point and results in many women minimizing their own experiences because they ‘weren’t as bad as’ someone else’s. While, as far as the judiciary is concerned, there are levels of seriousness, for those of us who have been hurt, there need be no ‘grading’ of our experiences: We have all been hurt, we have all been humiliated, we have all been targeted for assault based on our sex (regardless of our gender).  We deserve to have that recognised, even if it’s just by ourselves. The first, and most important disclosure of sexual abuse is, after all, the disclosure a victim makes to themselves.

Women And Media Requests

Mic on Air

This past week, I was a guest on the Echo Chamber Podcast.  For those unfamiliar, the podcast is in its infancy – it’s just ten episodes old – and uses stories from Twitter as a jumping-off point. Having heard most of the podcasts, I was honoured to have been asked, and delighted to accept the invitation immediately.

 

After we’d recorded, Tony (@trickstersworld), Martin (@williamhboney1), and I (@hazelklarkin) were having a chat, and Tony mentioned how they are making a conscious effort to ask as many women as men to take part.

‘Because there’s two of us, it’s (the podcast) already gender-skewed before we invite anyone else on,’ he said.

Martin and Tony informed me that as many women as men have been asked to appear as guests on the Echo Chamber Podcast, but fewer women respond positively. I was surprised. Tony elucidated.

‘Women will be interested, but also more hesitant. They ask questions about who we’re aligned with – politically – who our listenership is…things like that. They say they’ll have to think about it. They are often concerned about any possible back-lash with regards to their jobs. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to just say “Yes! I have something to say, I’ll come and say it!” ‘

 

This was a new narrative to me. I have been involved with initiatives such as Women On Air, and MAM, and I would normally only turn down a media appearance if I have a scheduling conflict. I have heard women say they are never asked – or they are only asked to comment on things that are specifically women- or children-centred. Or they are asked to contribute to more ‘fluffy’ items on radio, television, or in print. I have also heard producers and researchers talk about how difficult it is to find women who can talk on ‘meaty’ subjects, and who are willing to take part in programmes. In an effort to ameliorate this, Women On Air maintains a list of women experts in a number of subject areas. Still we don’t hear enough women’s voices on public platforms.

 

Why do women hesitate to take part in a podcast or other platform? Why are women more cautious with regard to committing to airing their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and reactions? I’ve been thinking about this ever since Martin, Tony, and I discussed it.  I’m of the opinion that the issue of the lack of women’s voices in public is not as simple as ‘there aren’t enough women’ and /  or ‘we’re never asked’. The evil twins Patriarchy andToxic Masculinity are, I fear, to blame here.

 

Women, I think, are more hesitant to go on air because they fear the backlash. We fear that our words will be scrutinised to a greater extent than men’s. We fear that our mistakes, our gaffes, will not be forgiven. We fear that if we fudge a response, we will be ridiculed for being inarticulate and lacking in knowledge. We fear that our employers, or clients (or whoever it is who pays us),  will take agin us if we express an opinion that is not aligned with theirs.

 

We fear that we do not have an equivalent of ‘boys will be boys’ to excuse our behaviour if we are deemed, on reflection, to have over-stepped a mark. We fear this because we are aware that we have not perfected how to have lines such as the following accepted women to the same extent, and with as much ease, as they are accepted from men. :

‘Can you not take a joke?’

‘I didn’t mean it like that.

‘Have you never heard of irony?’

‘Oh. I mis-spoke. What I meant was…’

‘I was speaking in my personal, not my professional, capacity’

‘If we all thought the same, life would be boring’

‘You’re taking me out of context’

 

This is one of the faces of toxic masculinity; that element of our attitude to men and women that allows men to be – and forgives them for being – irresponsible and immature; that doesn’t expect, or demand, that they stop acting like boys; that does not hold them to the high standards that women are held to; that doesn’t hold men accountable for their words and deeds; that allows men to get away with things that women wouldn’t be allowed to get away with; that portrays men as a bit bumbling, but generally well-meaning. I think the closest trope women have to this ‘Bumbling Ineffectual’ is the ‘Damsel in Distress’ – but the latter needs to be ‘rescued’ (and usually by a man). Mansplaining is an extension of this ‘rescuing’ of ‘distressed damsels’ and most women have been subjected to it, and are aware of how tedious and teeth-clenchingly insulting it is. Why, then, would any woman offer those whose wont it is, the opportunity to mansplain at them?

 

While the lack of women’s voices on air is a multi-faceted problem, there may be more facets to it than I had originally thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Don’t Use Words I Don’t Want You To’ – Irish Minister

pregnant-belly

As if running the Department of Poverty wasn’t a big enough job for Leo Varadkar, he’s decided to elect himself Minister for Mansplaining, and give himself cabinet responsibility for correct terminology as well.

Leo has decided that for every person, everywhere, who is ever pregnant, the correct word to use to describe the contents of their womb is ‘baby’.

‘Foetus’ Leo mansplains to all of us who have ever, will ever, or might ever, be pregnant, is not a word that we should use. Nor is it a word that should be used in reference to our pregnancies by mere mortals without a medical degree. ‘Foetus’, according to Dr V, is a medical word. The implication being that those of us who don’t hold medical degrees should not use medical words. We should not refer to our fingers as ‘digits’, either, he cautions. Presumably in case we lose the run of ourselves entirely, and start having a go at performing craniotomies during our lunch-breaks.

I only wish Dr V had been around 13 or 14 years ago, when I started telling my daughter that her vulva was her vulva, rather than her ‘fanny’ or her ‘front bum’ or her ‘butterfly’. I hope she doesn’t get notions above her station as a result. Idly, I wonder if Leo referred to his penis as his ‘passion pencil’ until he was a fully qualified medical doctor. Or if he’d be chagrined if he heard me talking about a migraine, and explaining to my GP that it had started occipitally? Would he chastise me, do you think, and tell me I should talk about the back of my head, instead? Except, referring to the back of my head is not as precise as referring to my occipital bone; and sometimes it is necessary and useful to be precise.

Does Leo not understand that women are allowed to refer to the contents of their wombs however they please? If a woman wants to refer to the product of conception inside her as ‘foetus’, ‘baby’, ‘peanut’, ‘sprog’, ‘alien’ or any other word she likes (the last time I was pregnant, my daughters referred to the contents of my womb as ‘The Minion’), it is not my place to tell her that she is using the wrong word. I would respectfully suggest that Dr V adopt the same attitude.

I find his diktat that all women should refer to their foetuses as babies – and that their friends and families should, too – to be more than vaguely unsettling.  If women aren’t even allowed, by Leo, to use the language which feels most appropriate for them, at a given time, what else does he think they really shouldn’t have a choice about? Or that they should only have limited choice about?

There is an element of nuance involved in this naming business. For a lot of women, when a pregnancy is wanted, they talk about their ‘baby’ even though they know it is not, actually, a baby. Every woman who wants to be a mother, wants to have a baby; but knows that first, she will have a blastocyst, then a zygote, then an embryo, then a foetus, then – if she’s lucky – a baby. We project our hopes onto our wanted pregnancies. We imagine what we’ll have at the end. We invest in them.

Every woman who doesn’t want to be a mother, doesn’t want to have a baby. She knows that she is well within her rights – even if not well within the law in Ireland – to decide what happens to her body. She will refer to it as an embryo or a foetus when discussing it because she is using the correct terminology, whether Leo likes it or not.

Leo also mentioned asking his pregnant friend if she knew what sex her baby was going to be (thank God he used correct terminology and didn’t ask her what gender) and I’m a bit horrified by this, to be honest. It’s none of his business. If his friend wanted to tell him, he should have left it up to her to disclose, and not gone prying. Is it just me, or does this interrogation assume a level of entitlement that he doesn’t deserve?

I also find it interesting that Leo decided to speak for his friend and his sisters by telling the world that if he had used the word ‘foetus’ when referring to their pregnancies, they would have been offended. Why? Because he thinks it’s a ‘medical’ word. I find this deeply disturbing; that a man would assume a woman would take offence because he thinks their thoughts and feelings should match his own? Is this more evidence of entitlement? Or am I over-thinking this?

When I speak to friends who are pregnant, I never say ‘How’s the foetus?’ (I reserve that for when I’m gently joshing friends who are in May-December relationships). Equally, though, I never say ‘How’s the baby?’ Instead, I ask ‘How are you?’ The person I’m addressing is free to choose whether or not to interpret that as second person singular or second person plural (do you think Leo will object to my using such technical language?), and answer accordingly. I don’t decide for her what word should be used in this context. It’s not my place.

 Maybe I’m over-sensitive. Or maybe I just don’t like being mansplained at by a privileged male with an over-developed sense of entitlement.

Charity Begins?

It’s been another rough week for charities in Ireland. That is to say, it’s been a rough week for mis-behaving charities in Ireland. The revelations about misappropriation of funds meant for suicidal people by the charity Console has left the country reeling. Then, news came of financial irregularities in the St John Of God organisation. These come while scandals at the CRC and allegations against Bumbleance are still fresh in the public’s collective memory.

The effect of these scandals is that people who have contributed are – understandably – hurt and upset by the fact that money they have donated, or worked hard to fundraise, didn’t reach the people for whom they intended it. People are also more wary of giving money to charities. It also means that people question how this was allowed to happen. There are supposed to be checks and balances, aren’t there? Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of oversight to ensure that this kind of oversight doesn’t happen? Well, yes, there is.

I sit on the board of directors of an Irish charity and I can assure you that we take our responsibilities very seriously. We are aware that the buck stops with us – that we are personally responsible should there be any irregularities in the finances – or elsewhere – that we don’t report. We have regular board meetings and, at each of these, our accountant comes along and goes through the finances with us. He invites questions, and answers them thoroughly. We are audited annually. Recommendations made by the auditor are acted upon and we were delighted that this year the auditor had no recommendations to make, except for us to keep doing as we’re doing.

Directors of Irish charities are not allowed to accept payment for their work on boards. They are allowed reasonable expenses. In the case of the charity on whose board I sit, this amounts to transport paid at the rate of public transport, a lunch when at the meeting – we sit through lunchtime – and an allowance of just over €10 for a meal if you are away from home for more than eight hours. We sit on the board because we believe in the work of the charity and we want to support it. We sit on the board because it is a way of ‘giving back’. We sit on the board because we feel what we’re doing is important. We do not sit on the board because we want to be given millions of euros for so doing.

I think part of the reason we have trouble with charities in Ireland is that there are so many of them. I’ve said this before, but I think the Irish charity sector has a bit of a ‘People’s Judean Front’ mentality (to borrow a phrase from Monty Python). What this means is that we have a glut of charities in the country all doing essentially the same thing. We have over 20 charities and NGOs working in the area of suicide and self-harm prevention. I’m not entirely sure we need so many – though, of course, each agency would argue for their own unique angle on the issue. I still think that there should be one charity responsible for tackling suicide and self harm, and that all other charities working in the area be amalgamated. I do think that it would be much easier to keep an eye on sector’s behaviour – financial and otherwise – if there was only one agency to deal with.

My Simon Cowell Moment

images

I’m not going to win any friends with this post, but sometimes, some things need to be said.

There was a piece in yesterday’s Irish Times. I’m deliberately not going to link to it because if you really want to read it, you’ll go and find it yourself.

The piece I’m talking about was written by a very young person. The headline did its job and drew me in – excited to read what followed. The headline was, at best, slightly mis-leading. It suggested that the young author of the piece had written a novel. She hasn’t. Which is fine. No one would think she was a slacker for not writing a novel at such a young age. The young girl in question likes to read and she likes to write. She has started to write a book, which she hopes to finish and is wishful of getting a publisher for. A section of her book is reproduced at the end of the article and (here’s my Simon Cowell moment) it’s not very good. In fact, it’s pretty awful. I’d expect more of any 13 year old and I’d expect a lot more of a 13 year old who was published in a national newspaper.

I am delighted this child likes to read. She should be encouraged to read every spare moment she has. She should be given a torch to facilitate reading under the covers when she’s supposed to  be asleep. She should be given lovely stationery and taken to the pen shop to buy herself a fabulous writing instrument. She should be encouraged to read books about writing. She should be encouraged to love language and love manipulating it. She should be told to keep at it, that writing is a craft and benefits from daily practice. She should be sent on writing courses and workshops for children her age. She should be encouraged in her endeavours. She absolutely should.

I don’t think, however, her parents or the editor of the newspaper should have allowed her to publish a few hundred words of a book she has started writing, hopes to finish and hopes to publish. Especially when it’s not very good. I think it’s an awful thing to do to a child. She’s 13 and she has started to write a book. Newsflash! That’s not unusual. I’d say in an average class of 30 average 13 year olds in Ireland today, you’ll have at least five who harbour a desire to write a book. Most of them are probably scribbling away in journals and copybooks and on laptops. And they are quite right. But most of those books will be abandoned long before they are finished. New projects will be started and (perhaps) not finished either. If they are finished, they will be re-read and the writer will realise that they have better in them. They may start to write another book. Or they may not. This is all perfectly normal.

The difference is that all these children have the safety and security of writing away in their own homes until they have finished something they can be proud of, and are ready to show to the world. If they don’t end up, at 13, with something they are proud of and want to share with the world, that’s perfectly fine. The world is not waiting for them to.

Unlike the girl in yesterday’s paper. What kind of pressure – internal or external – will she be under now to produce a novel worthy of publication in five months’ time? What if she can’t? What if she changes her mind? Every school has bullies. Has this girl been encouraged to give the bullies in her school a stick to beat with her with? I hope not. I hope she finishes her book and that, as she edits and re-writes, it improves. I hope she finds herself a publisher and gets her book published and has a fabulous book launch and some famous people say lovely things and she’s fit to burst with pride. But I worry about what will happen to her and her self-esteem and sense of self if things don’t work out for her.

I am reminded of something a tutor told us when I was studying Theatre 110 years ago.

‘Never tell anyone what you’re doing until you’ve done it’.

There’s wisdom in that, and I just wish this enthusiastic girl with her love of reading and writing had been protected a bit better by her parents and the editor of the paper who published her.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Review

I’m a bit late with this post, but better late than never, I suppose?

My girls and I were lucky enough to score front row tickets to the  opening night of The Abbey’s current production last Tuesday. In the middle of last year, Kashmira (the ten year old) declared A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AMSD) her favourite Shakespeare play. It was the first she’d read that wasn’t a tragedy and I think that may have swayed her somewhat, as well as the whimsical nature of the dream scene. Ishthara (the 12 year old) and I are still staunch Romeo & Juliet fans, but are open to good productions of any of the Bard’s plays.

From the moment we took our seats, it was obvious that this was going to be a production with a difference. The mobility aid just beyond the diaphanous curtain was a bit of a giveaway.

The play opened with a gang of elders dancing around their care home to the strains of Johnny Cash’s Ghost Riders which is every bit as amusing as it sounds. Instantly, we knew that we were in a telling of the tale that had been catapulted into the 21st century. There were several nods to modernity and technology that were as clever as they were funny (I won’t give details, for fear of spoiling the surprises).

I loved that there were so few cast members under the age of sixty, and I loved their fluidity at portraying a version of their younger selves during the dream scenes. It was a touching reminder that we are only as old as we allow our spirits to become. And that love is not the preserve of the under thirty-fives.

This was Gavin Quinn’s directorial debut at the Abbey but I sincerely doubt it is the last time we will see the work of  this talented director at the National Theatre. When I was training years and years (and years!) ago,  I learnt that a good director is one who casts well and then stands back and lets the actors do the job s/he was convinced they would do well in the first place; who has a grand overview of how they want things done, shares that with the actors and allows them to play with the script interpreting as they are moved to. A great director is one who is available, yet not intrusive; who is supportive, yet not  overbearing; who offers suggestions rather than dictates absolutes. Someone who holds the space and allows the magic to happen. A bit like a good midwife, really.

You can tell when actors have been well directed – they are more believable in their roles because they believe it themselves; so much so that they become the characters. I felt that very much with this production. The actors were so comfortable with the language that it was secondary. The language was a vehicle for the production rather than the production itself. In fact, the meaning of the language was conveyed so effortlessly that both my girls double-checked with me that they were listening to the original text and not a ‘modernised’ version. We were watching a play that had been written by Shakespeare, rather than actors ‘doing’ Shakespeare. There is a difference.

I appreciated the yellow and blue theme in costume and design that peppered the stage throughout the evening: Declan Conlon’s touch of midnight blue make-up served to accentuate his chiseled features and added a touch of menace to his Oberon.   Although I was distracted by Shadaan Felfeli’s (yellow) langota when his (yellow) lunghi fell prey to gravity in the middle of his yogic headstand. I’m still at a loss as to why the yoga was there to start with – unless it was some sort of physical metaphor for how upside-down everything was?

Anyway.

As ever, with recent Abbey productions, it’s difficult to single one actor out for praise. They work so well together supporting each other in order to allow everyone to shine that the whole is always more than the sum of its parts. That said, I loved Peadar Lamb in his final scenes. He had me crying with laughter. Daniel Reardon (who made me feel dirty just watching him in Sive) made a refreshing Puck. Gina Moxley was a delight as Helena, while Máire Hastings, Stella McCusker and Máire Ní Ghráinne were delightful in their roles as Cobweb, Peaseblosssom and Mustardseed respectively. I could not take my eyes off Áine Ní Mhuirí and John Kavnagh in their roles as Hermia and Lysander. They rendered a touching tenderness for each other that melted my heart. Fiona Bell played Titania with a lightness of touch and an elegant grace that chimed beautifully with the lyricism of her lines. (Oh! And her dress, her lovely, shiny, sparkly silver dress!)

If you put a gun to my head, however, and told me I had to single one actor out, it would be David Pearse as Peter Quince in the play within a play. For me, Mr Pearse confirmed his comic abilities in She Stoops to Conquer so I knew I’d laugh when I saw he was in AMND as well. What I hadn’t expected was to react to his efforts when he entered to deliver the prologue to the metaplay towards the end. Struck with a bit of stage-fright, he stumbled over his words, stopped, started and squirmed. I felt for him, exactly the same way I’d felt for a young Donegal stand-up comedian in a comedy club years ago who totally forgot what he was supposed to be saying and completely corpsed. I sat in the audience, all those years ago, rooting for that young lad and willing him to go on – even to repeat himself if that’s what he needed to do. For a few seconds on Tuesday night David Pearse wrangled the same emotion out of me. Until I reminded myself that it was the character not the actor who was busy dying in front of my eyes. Then, with everyone else, I chuckled, giggled and laughed. A lesser actor would have milked that bit, and played for the laughs. But David Pearse is like the gifted painter who knows that one more brush stroke will ruin his masterpiece.

Look, I’ll stop gushing now, but suffice to say that this production is a terrific evening’s entertainment for all the family. We hadn’t left the building before my girls were asking how soon we could return and which of their friends they could bring.

On Selfies

My daughter, who will be 13 in March, has been taking photographs of her own face and using them as her profile pictures on her Gmail account, her Viber account and her Skype account – changing them on a nearly daily basis. Some days, they might change several times a day. I am treated to many of these pictures via email and they always make me smile. Well, apart from the duck face ones. (Who told teenagers and young women that making their lips appear as much like a duck’s bill as possible is attractive?).

I often tell her that, were I as gorgeous as she is, I’d never stop taking pictures of myself. The selfie is much criticised at the moment. It is seen as the epitome of all that is wrong with ‘young people’; self-centred, self-absorbed, self-obsessed. But I disagree. For a start, we as parents and carers encourage our babies and toddlers to fasten their gaze upon every mirror they pass: We hand them books with mirrored pages in them, safety mirrors to play with and delight when they realise that the person in the mirror is them.

I think that looking at themselves in the mirror is a healthy thing for children to do – and have always had mirrors in the house at child-height. I think it fosters self-acceptance and bolsters self-confidence: Children get used to appreciating what they see, I think.

As parents and carers, we are constantly taking pictures of our babies and children. We love them so much and want to capture every mood, every expression, every change and many, many moments on camera. Why should we be aghast when they learn to do that for themselves? We clap with delight when they learn to put on their own shoes, dress themselves, wash their hands and a thousand other things (up to and including using the washing machine and cleaning the bathroom) that mean we have one less job to do.  So why are we not equally delighted when they learn to take photographs of themselves?

Selfie

After all, it’s not as if this generation has invented the ‘selfie’. There are pictures taken by their subjects from decades ago. In fact, if you think about it, artists have been creating self-portraits for centuries. Possibly even millennia. Who is to say that some of the cave drawings that incite such wonder and awe in us aren’t, in fact, selfies?

Shure the Famine Was Great Craic, Begob!

I woke up this morning to news that Channel 4 is planning a situation comedy about the Irish Potato Famine or An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger), as it is known in Irish.

 

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Briefly, potato blight got to the spuds which were the main source of food for the Irish peasants at the time. There were mass evictions, with people rendered homeless or in workhouses – many believe this is why the Irish have an attachment to owning their own homes –  and our population was halved through death and emigration. Please note that it was just the potato crop that failed. Plenty of other crops grew in abundance, but they were grown for export, not the dinner tables of grubby locals, so the Irish didn’t get to taste them.

 

I’m not sure where the humour in this is, to be honest. I’m also quick to say that I’m not in the camp that blames the famine and colonialism for every Irish ill going. I know plenty of people who firmly believe that our attitudes to many things – like food, and property ownership and emigration – stem from the famine. I tell these people to get over it. Enough decades and generations have passed for the Irish of today to have realised that we’re not being starved by the British any more (we’ve elected governments instead who are well capable of starving our children and making them homeless….but I digress).

 

Still, though, I can’t deny my discomfort with the notion of an Gorta Mór being turned into something to laugh at.

 

This evening, I had a brief conversation with my children about it. Ishthara is 12 and Kashmira is 10 and I think they – being the next generation – are even further removed again from the famine than I am.  They are well-travelled and certainly more aware of the world around them than I was when I was their age. All of which led me to think that they might be a bit more blasé about it.

 

I asked the girls what they thought about the idea of Channel 4 making a sitcom about the Famine. They were both shocked, although Ishthara was more moderate. She said that they should make a pilot first and have a focus group look at it and gauge their reactions. She didn’t reject the idea out of hand as a bad one.

‘It might be funny,’ she said. ‘If they do it properly.’

Kashmira was unequivocal:

‘A British channel can’t make a programme like that. If anyone is going to make a comedy about the famine then it has to be us.’

She was adamant that a sitcom about something so huge and horrendous in our history was not in good taste.

‘But if anyone was to make it, then it has to be an Irish company – an Irish station. Like, if you make a joke against yourself, then that’s fine. But if someone else makes a joke against you, then it’s wrong.’

Ishthara was sticking to her view that things could be funny if they were done properly and that she wouldn’t judge the idea until she’d seen a pilot. If the pilot was done well, then there would be no reason (in her view) not to make the rest of the series.

Kashmira had been thinking while Ishthara had been talking:

‘If a country makes a joke against another country, then it’s racism,’ she told us.

Really? Maybe a joke is just a joke and we should take a chill pill, I suggested. Kashmira wasn’t buying it.

‘Maybe,’ I continued. ‘An Gorta Mór was long ago enough that we have enough distance to poke fun at it?’

‘No,’ was her response. ‘There’s just nothing funny about it. And it’s even less funny that a British station is doing it.’

‘What if I told you that the writer is an Irishman? Because he is.’

‘No. That’s still not right. He’s doing it for a British station. They were responsible for all the people who died and they don’t have the right to decide it’s funny.’

I asked the girls if they thought that maybe it was time to make jokes about the famine to help us get over it once and for all. I reminded them that sometimes people laugh at horrible events because black humour helps us to process things.

Is there, I asked, anything that happened that was horrible, but that it would be okay to make a comedy about.

‘Actually, I don’t think so,’ Ishthara said. ‘You wouldn’t make a joke of the Holocaust, or 9/11 or the famine in Ethiopia…’

‘But people do write comedies about things that aren’t funny – like drug addiction or dysfunctional families.’

‘Ah!’ Kashmira piped up. ‘But they are just about one person, or one family – not a whole country. And they’re not being made fun of by the people who harmed them in the first place.’

 

With that, they took their hot chocolates and their hot water bottles and headed up the wooden hill – leaving me to type the conversation before I forgot it.

 

I have to admit, I was struck by their opinions on the matter. I honestly didn’t think they would care – and I really didn’t think that someone who was born in 2004 would be so firm in her opinion about how things that happened in the 1840s should be represented in popular culture.

 

 

 

On Publishing

A few weeks ago, Alison Wells posted something on Facebook that made me think. When I mentioned it to Alison, she told me that I’d actually mis-read what she’d written. Never mind! What I thought she’d written made me think…. Confused yet? 🙂

 

Increasingly, I’ve been wondering what one has to do to catch the attention of a half-decent publisher. I was published for  the first time when I was 12. Since then, my work has been published in anthologies (the first when I was 17), magazines, newsletters, newspapers and (in another month or so) an academic journal. I have written for television – magazine programmes, dramas and a soap for teenagers – and I have been commissioned to write plays and musicals.

 

For the past four years or so, I have been trying to find a publisher for my book because I don’t want to self-publish. While I know there are many good reasons to go that route, there are many reasons why I don’t feel it’s the right way to go with this particular book. It’s a memoir, called Gullible Travels and (ostensibly) it deals with the 10 years I spent in Asia. I do a lot of stupid things in the book and I realised that, in order to explain why, I needed to explain where the seeds of stupidity were sown. I was adamant I was not going to write a tome of misery lit. And I didn’t. I came up with a literary device that tells the back story in a dramatic way, but without being dreary, or disturbing the narrative. The book has been edited, read by beta-readers, read by a proper editor and edited again. And then again. And then once more, to be sure, to be sure. I am very pleased with the manuscript I now have.

 

I do not have an agent and, if I’m honest, my attempts to attract one were a bit on the half-hearted side. I don’t meant that when I contacted agents I was half-hearted – far from it! Any agent I contacted I did so because they had been personally recommended to me or because I was familiar with their work and how they treat their writers. I only contacted agents with whom I felt my work and I would be a good fit. There are many agents that I’d love to work with, but they don’t represent the memoir genre (I just mis-typed ‘gene’ there – was it really a typo?!), so I’ve left them alone (save for following them on Twitter 🙂 ).  In a way, I’m lucky, because many publishers will accept unsolicited and un-agented submissions in this genre, where they won’t in others. So, really, it’s not the end of the world that I don’t have an agent.

 

I’ve approached publishers directly. Some have passed without reading a word of the book – which is fair enough. Some have asked me to send them the full manuscript – which I do with cautious excitement. In the interests of full disclosure, I was very excited the first time but after that disappointment (‘Your story is fascinating, but it doesn’t fit our current list. Good luck placing it elsewhere’), I’ve tempered my emotional reaction to a request for a ‘full’. I draw hope from the fact that no one has written back to say ‘You are delusional. You cannot write.’  or any variation on that theme. I draw hope from the fact that many, many good writers were rejected countless times before their books found homes. I am aware that this is the one project I have not shelved (I have written two other books that I couldn’t even find now on the desktop if I went looking for them!) so I feel in my gut that it has merit and I really should stick my shoulder to the wheel and work a bit harder to get it published.

 

I think part of the difficulty for me – and people like me who have not published a full book of their own work before – is that publishing is a gamble. We are asking publishers to take a gamble on our work. We are asking them to predict the future. We are asking them to know what will sell in the future based on what has sold in the past. That’s a hard thing to do. Last night, I was listening to The Green Room on Newstalk with Orla Barry. She was interviewing writer Joe Lansdale and he nailed it:

‘They get scared because it isn’t familiar,’ he said, when talking about bringing something new and fresh and different to the party.

And, for that, I can’t blame them. But I wonder what one has to do to convince a publisher that you have readers for your book? That you have people who want to read what you have written. For example, at an international conference on trauma about a month ago, I read from my memoir for the first time. I topped and tailed what I was reading with ‘academic stuff’ and then I read various extracts from the book, bridging them to reveal where I was in my history, so as not to confuse my audience.

 

The reaction was better than I could possibly have hoped for.  I spoke the final word of my 20 minute presentation. And there was silence. Now, 150 years ago, I trained as an actor, so I knew that this was a good thing. After about 3 seconds someone just went ‘Wow’. And then the applause kicked in. I was thrilled. I had given birth and my baby was not ugly.

 

Later, several people approached me and asked where they could buy copies of the book. Those were squirmy moments for me when I had to admit that, actually, they couldn’t because it wasn’t published. This was met with disbelief.

‘Why ever  not?’ one therapist asked.

‘Are they afraid?’ asked another, bluntly.

I had no answer. I still don’t.

These delegates – therapists, counsellors, doctors, mental health professionals and academics – wanted to read my book for themselves, but some also wanted to offer it as ‘bibliotherapy’ to their clients. They really believed that my book would help their clients and passionately wanted to get their hands on it. I had to disappoint them.

More than one person has said to me that I am just ahead of my time, and because of that, I make people uncomfortable. Now, I don’t think I’m a maverick or a trail-blazer or a thought-leader. I do think, however, that I have written a book that could be very useful to a certain cohort of people, and very entertaining to another.

 

A few weeks ago, I happened to be talking about the book with a young woman who works in the theatre and is in her late twenties. I was musing about the possibility of turning (part of) Gullible Travels into a play. Her enthusiastic response was:

‘Please do! I’d go and see it!  And I’d love to read the book, as well. Will you keep me up-dated?!’ I was surprised that she’d be interested in the content. I was wrong. It clearly struck a chord with her. Similarly, it has struck a chord with a man who survived Belsen (he was in tears listening to me read and he thought it was fiction). 

 

So I have people who want to read my book, it has been trialled on real live people who thought it was worth reading/listening to and I am happy to do whatever I can to promote it. I just don’t know what to do to get the attention of a publisher. Maybe I should make a video of me reading from my book and stick it up on You Tube?  Maybe I should say that, if you’re a publisher and you’re reading this, I’m a safe bet. There are more than just my three best friends who want to read Gullible Travels. I already have an international audience waiting to read the book (or listen to it on audiobook!).  Or maybe I should just upload the thing as a PDF here (with a paypal button beside it!) and let whoever wants to read it go right ahead? 🙂

 

If you have thoughts, comments or advice, please pop them in a note below. Thanks!

Being Gay and Breastfeeding

In recent weeks, I’ve had a few messages from people who follow this blog wondering – variously – if I’m dead, if I’m stuck for something to say, or if I’ve stopped writing.

I’m happy to report that I’m no deader than usual, I’m definitely not stuck for something to say and I certainly haven’t stopped writing. I have been writing – I’ve done (another) final edit of the book; started volume two; jotted down a few thousand words for a work of fiction as well as a few ideas for a radio play that’s been knocking around inside my skull for a few months. I’ve been writing for the Gifted Ireland website and I’ve been doing a bit of academic writing as well (oooh! Get me! 🙂 ). There are even several drafts of posts that I’ve started, but haven’t finished for various reasons….but enough of this ‘dog ate my homework’ stuff, let’s crack on.

For the past four weeks, Ireland has been having a national conversation about homophobia. For those of you who don’t live on this island, let me give you a brief outline:

Rory O’Neill has this wonderful, funny, alter-ego; the amazing Panti Bliss. On a (fairly awful) programme on Saturday night four weeks ago, Rory alluded to homophobes in the public eye. He was pushed to name names, and he did. Within days, RTE (the broadcaster responsible for the programme) had received solicitors’ letters and decided to pay eighty-five thousand euros to those named individuals. An apology was also issued (though, so far, Rory hasn’t received one).

Later, Panti Bliss was invited to The Abbey Theatre (the world’s first national theatre) to answer the Noble Call*. What she said was stunning:

Yesterday (February 9th), Rory spoke to Miriam O’Callaghan on the radio. He spoke about what it’s like to be a gay man in 21st Century Ireland.

‘The time that I’m most jealous of straight people,’ Rory told us. ‘Is when I am with a boyfriend and I am walking down the street and the most natural, ordinary thing in the world is to hold his hand, or put your arm around him. The way couples do….the way we see straight couples on the street every single day, so often that you don’t notice…’

Rory went on to explain how, even if you’re a very out, very proud, very confident gay man in the most comfortable arena possible for being gay – the Men’s Department in Brown Thomas’s – being affectionate can be difficult:

‘Even then, it is different for a gay couple.’ he says, because even then, it still feels like it is not a normal sign of affection.

‘It feels like you’re making a political statement,’ Rory continues. ‘You’re forced into it being this big gesture. It’s not just about you. It’s not a small private thing between you and your boyfriend. It becomes this political statement. And even nice people in BT’s, who want to say “oh isn’t that nice – look at the gay couple holding hands”, they’ve turned your private moment into this public moment because they’re being supportive and nice but it just means that your private moment isn’t a little private moment, it’s on display…’

Now, I am probably the furthest thing you could get from a gay man but suddenly I understood. I knew what Rory was talking about. I was no longer sympathising – I was empathising. Suddenly, I got it.

It might sound odd, to draw parallels between a gay couple kissing in public and breastfeeding in public – but I’ve had the same experience with a hungry (or tired or generally discombobulated) baby. I’ve had what should have been a private experience politicised and commented upon. I’ve had people sit not two metres away from me and discuss that I was feeding my child as though I was deaf, as though I didn’t understand English, and as though they had every right to discuss, and have an opinion on, what I was doing.

I’ve had people gawp in disbelief – not so much when the baby was only a few months old, but definitely when she was one or two or three (by the time she was four, we no longer breastfed in public). I’ve had people (young women, usually) make known their disgust that I was using my breasts for the precise job they were created for.

Like a kiss between lovers, breastfeeding your baby or child is more than a physical act – it is an expression of love. There’s an intimacy to it – even when it’s automatic.  I’ve had people smile warmly and even give me a thumbs up when I’ve been feeding my baby. I’ve had perfect strangers go out of their way to let me know that they ‘approve’. It feels a lot better than the disgust – and it’s lovely to have people’s support and to have them being nice – but it still feels like they need to make a point about how ‘accepting’ they are of your ‘oddness’.

I now have a much better understanding of how it feels to be a gay man in twenty-first century Ireland. It feels like being a breastfeeding mother in twenty-first century Ireland. Thanks, Rory, for sharing your gift of communication and helping me understand how you feel every time you feel you need to check yourself.

 

* In Ireland, at a party a noble call is when it’s your turn – to sing, recite or otherwise entertain. You can’t refuse. You can plead neither illness nor insanity. You must perform. The recent play at the Abbey ‘The Risen People’ (which dealt with the 1913 Lockout) had a Nobel Call performed by a different person whose own story bore relevance to the broad themes of the play.

Lock up Your Daughters (And Your Sons)

The Irish and international media has been reporting, in the past few days, on two cases this week where children were removed from their families and put into the ‘care’ of the Health Services Executive. Thousands of children are taken from their families in Ireland every year and put into care – and there is very little outcry from either the media or the general public.

These two cases, however, were different because the families were Roma and they children were blonde. Because of their colouring, it was assumed that their dark-haired parents could not possibly be their ‘biological’ parents. The Gardai became involved after a member of the public posted the following message on the Facebook page of a TV3 journalist:

According to reports, up to 20 Gardai arrived at the house to take the child into the ‘care’ of the HSE.

In an attempt to prove their child was, in fact, theirs, the parents of the  little girl in Tallaght offered her passport and her birth certificate. The Gardai weren’t satisfied with these documents: It is unclear why they doubted the veracity of the birth certificate, but the passport was on old one and the photograph was of a baby. We are told a member of An Garda  Siochana rang the Coombe Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where the couple claimed the baby had been born, but the hospital was unable to confirm holding any record of the birth. So the child was removed from the family home until DNA tests could prove whether she was, indeed, where she belonged (i.e. with her parents and siblings).

Every time I hear a story of a parent losing a child – whether through death, abduction or any other way – my imagination inserts me and my kids into the narrative. This story was no different. I wondered what would do if the Gardai arrived to take one, or both, of my kids from me.  It could happen.

Imagine if one of my neighbours or someone who knows me and knows where I live, decided to get the hump with me and reported me to the Gardai on similar grounds as the Roma family was reported: That I have children who are not of the same colouring as I.  This is a fact. My girls have Indian dads. In the event that the Gardai ‘acting on a tip-off’ arrived at my house (a house I haven’t been living in for as long as this Roma family has been living in theirs), I  could produce passports for my children:  But the passport I have for my eldest is 10 years old (she got one of the last ten-year passports issued to a child in 2003), and she’s not quite two years old in the photograph. My other daughter has a more recent passport, but you could debate whether or not it is she in the picture.

As for birth certificates – I have both of them in the house, but they are laminated (one was handed to me that way in Singapore when I registered the birth, the other, I was advised to have laminated ‘for safety’).  Now, it’s a little-known fact, but a laminated document is not, legally speaking, an original document in Ireland. So, on a technicality, a Garda could refuse to accept the veracity of the birth certificates I have for my children.

I suppose they could call the hospitals where the girls were born – except my girls weren’t born in hospitals. There is no dad for the authorities to call and check my version of events with, either. I don’t have contact details to provide and India is very big place if you’re looking for someone. Also, checking with the authorities where my girls were born (India and Singapore, respectively) could be time-consuming. There is a five-and-a-half-hour time difference between here and India, and an eight-hour time difference between here and Singapore. This means that in this nightmare scenario, if my children were taken after 9am, we’d be apart for at least 24 hours. By which stage, I’d be driven mad with grief and fear and worry. And I’m sure my kids wouldn’t be far behind me in the traumatised stakes.

If the word of a member of the public and the fact that your child has different colouring to you is enough to have your child taken from you by several members of the police force, then maybe I have every reason to be worried. Unless, of course, the lessons that Alan Shatter says ‘might’  be learnt from this frightful episode, are actually learnt.

Mind Yourself

Today is World Mental Health (awareness) Day and I was honoured to appear on TV3’s Midday programme (you can see it here – from 13 minutes in), talking to Sybil Mulcahy about my own experiences. It was a short interview (about 3 minutes) so I didn’t say a lot!! I was also interviewed for The Five-Thirty – news round up on the same station.

 

Tonight, I’m taking my girls to see ‘Box of Frogs’ in the hope that it helps normalise the discussion of mental health. And also, to be completely honest, because I know and love the actors in the play.

 

Earlier this week, I was privileged to meet with the Chair of the Expert Group to discuss new capacity and mental health legislation. This was the final element in the body of work I worked on with Amnesty International. So, it’s been a good, and busy week from the mental health point of view.

 

Today is a good day. I feel useful – and for me, that’s key to my own sense of well-being. My girls are well and happy and nothing nasty has arrived in the post, by phone or by email. I have lovely plans for tonight. I’m on an even keel. I know that it would take very little to tip the scales in the wrong direction. I know that it wouldn’t take much to knock the wind out of me completely – but I’m not dwelling on that possibility. I am, instead, dwelling on the fact that today, all is well. Today has brought me nothing I can’t handle. Today is filled with love and friends and brightness and coziness and good food and laughter and happy children.

 

Those of us who have mental health issues aren’t defined by them – any more than a person with asthma is defined by their asthma. Like asthma, mental health issues can be controlled and they don’t affect you every day. Our mental health difficulties don’t manifest every day – there are good days as well as bad days. There are fantastic days as well as terrible days. There are days filled with love and joy and peace, as well as days filled with fear and pain and despair.

 

People with asthma are advised to be aware of their triggers; to avoid them whenever possible; to take action as soon as a trigger becomes apparent and to give themselves enough time to recover after an episode. In the same way, those of us with mental health issues (and I believe that’s everyone) would do well to be aware of our triggers, to avoid them whenever possible, to take action as soon as a trigger becomes apparent and to give ourselves enough time to recover after an episode.

 

Mind yourself!

 

 

No Clout

This morning, The Irish Examiner broke the story that The Children’s Rights Alliance is renewing its call on the Irish government to ban the smacking of children.Here’s the thing; such pressure should not be necessary. There should be no reason for the Children’s Rights Alliance – or anyone else – to write to the Minister for Children asking her to ban violence against our youngest citizens.

 

Ireland signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. I wrote about what that means – or should mean to us – here.

 

Remember the Children Referendum last November? Remember how I took the unpopular position of opposing it because it didn’t go far enough? Remember the points I made about Article 19?

Here’s a reminder:

Article 19 of the UNCRC says:

“States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social  and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”

 

Maybe I’m just a bleeding-heart liberal (I don’t think so), but isn’t smacking a form of physical abuse? I think so. I very much think so. If you smacked another adult – you would deemed to have committed assault. So, why is it acceptable in Ireland today to hit a child? It was outlawed in schools before I even started primary school – so if it’s not okay for teachers to hit children, why is it okay for parents to?

th_wooden-spoon

 

 

 

 

The bottom-beater of choice of many Irish parents

If we signed up to the UNCRC 21 years ago, why have we done so little to change our laws to bring them in line with the Articles of the Convention? Why, in 2013, are we still debating whether or not it’s okay for big people to hit little people?

Photo Credit: Photobucket  http://i773.photobucket.com/albums/yy17/holidaypupexpress/12-wooden-spoon.jpg

More Kite Flying?

It’s that time of the year when the Irish government indulges in the sport of kite-flying. Unlike Makar Sankranti, however, there’s little pleasant about the sport as played in Ireland.

Charged with the unenviable task of shearing millions from their budgets, the ministers of various departments ‘leak’ money-saving ideas to the media.  Then – based on the reactions of citizens – they gauge whether or not the cuts they are proposing in these leaks will be easy to implement. If the public outcry is deafening, the minister will quietly shelve the ‘kite’.

Kite flying isn’t just for Ministers, though. Any TD can get in on the act by suggesting cost-cutting measures.

Today’s kite was even less well-thought out than they usually are. Independent TD Denis Naughten has suggested that the government could save millions by scrapping the Child Benefit Payment and, instead, introducing a ‘School Attendance Payment’.

On the face of it, it might seem like a good idea – put paid to truancy and stop the flow of money out of the country in the form of child benefit at the same time. The article in today’s Journal  suggested that the European Commission might have a problem with any tampering with CB in order to deprive migrant workers of the payment.

 

I see a bigger problem with it, though. If you only pay child benefit to parents of children who attend school, you’re ignoring the fact that children don’t have to be sent to school in order to be compliant with the law in Ireland. Parents have a constitutional right, under Article 42, to educate their children where they see fit.

 

Of course, that could be circumvented by ‘allowing’ parents who register to homeschool to keep their Child Benefit payment. But – it can take a while to register and be approved. What are parents who rely on the payment to assist with household bills to do in the intervening months?

 

Then, of course, there’s the fact that Child Benefit is payable from when the month after a baby’s born. If the payment is to be linked to school attendance, and children don’t legally have to be in formal education until they are 6 – what happens to payments for the first six years? Are they to be abandoned? Or is Mr Naughten proposing that the payment be made for the first six years and then parents must re-apply? Can you imagine the chaos? The disruption? The upset to families who rely on the payments? Not to mention the extra administraion required?

 

Linking the payment to school attendance also means that home-schooling parents would lose out on child benefit – the same way they currently lose out on dental, optical and other health check-ups that are administered through schools.

 

Paying Child Benefit only to parents whose children attend school is one kite that simply won’t fly – no matter how much money it might potentially save.

Through The Lens of Motherhood

In Ireland, we’re still talking about the Prime Time Special Investigative Report into child care and that’s a good thing. Childcare is an issue that needs examining. The sad thing is that it’s taken a crisis like this for the Irish public to take a look at where and how our children are treated when we’re away from them.

 

Dialogue is always good: People expressing their opinions and sharing their experiences, making suggestions and offering support is helpful. I am delighted that the conversation here has not resulted in women who work outside the home being pitted against women who don’t.

 

It’s disheartening, though, to note that this debate is happening now – when the damage has already been done to a number of children. As I have mentioned before, Ireland is a nation of reactionaries. We, as a nation, don’t sit down and plan things. We lurch from crisis to crisis and try to cobble remedies together instead of methodically looking at solutions to possible problems in the planning stages. Look, for example, at the current baby boom. Where are the babies born now  going to go to school in 4 or 5 years’ time?

 

One of the reactions to abuse in childcare is people asking for cameras to be installed to keep staff under surveillance. I have a few problems with this. Cameras don’t always work. They can be switched on and off with ease. Then there are issues around child protection – all parents would have to consent to all other parents having access to images of all the children. I might not want your husband watching my daughters. I might not want your wife commenting on our child’s speech to your wife.

 

My biggest concern with cameras is the message they sent to care-givers. If I put you under surveillance it means I don’t trust you. It means that I will allow you to do something but I won’t really trust you to do it or to do it properly. People who are constantly being watched are not necessarily going to do their jobs better. Certainly, care-givers aren’t going to express a more loving attitude because they know they are being filmed.

 

When I needed childcare, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful live-in nanny. Part of the reason that things worked so well for us was that Nishanthi knew she was a respected member of our household. When she’d only been with us a few days, she came to me to hand up her passport. Initially,  I thought she needed me to take it for safe keeping, but it transpired that Nishanthi assumed that (like her previous employers) I’d want to hang on to it so she couldn’t run away.   I told her I’d happily put it in the safe in my room for her, but that I certainly wasn’t demanding she surrender it.

“Nishanthi,” I told her. “I trust you with my baby. If I thought you were going to run away, then I have no business leaving my child with you.”

 

I think that basic premise applies no matter who you leave your children with. If you have an inkling that all is not as it should be, then act on that instinct. In Ireland, we defer too much to perceived authority figures. “Why” is largely academic at this moment. Whether it’s part of our colonial hangover or not is irrelevant.  What matters is that we fix it and think for ourselves.  I’m a great proponent of personal responsibility and recognise that, as a parent, my child’s welfare ultimately rests with me.

 

Baby zoos are impractical and not the best solution at all. Industrial solutions are fine for bags of cement or packets of biscuits, but for our babies? Definitely not the way to go. People say they like the idea of their children socialising with their peers. But how many other children do they think they need to ‘socialise’ with? If the were at home with Mammy, they’d only have one or two other kids to play with. So 30 or more children is not ideal. At a time when we are beginning to realise that large class sizes in schools are not conducive to either the social or academic excellence, why can’t we make the same realisation with regard to our babies.

 

There are many different solutions to the childcare issue. Each family needs to make the choice that is best for them, based on solid information and their own preferences. It is right that we are reeling. But when we’ve finished reeling, we need to do something real.

Mental Health Awareness Post (The Controversial One)

As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close (as I type, there’s just an hour left), I wanted to share something with you that has been bothering me for the past few weeks.

 

In April of this year, Donal Walsh – a sixteen year-old from Kerry was a guest on the Saturday Night Show on RTE.  Donal was dying of cancer and knew his days were numbered. In fact, he died on the 12th of May – just over a month after his TV appearance.

 

I never met Donal. I don’t know anyone who knew him personally, but he came across as a lovely bloke. He loved sport, he loved his family. He was connected to his community. And he wanted to live! More than anything, he wanted more time with his family. He was desperate to stay alive. And he was furious with people who die by suicide leaving “a mess” behind them.

 

Now, I have no doubt that Donal Walsh wanted to live. I have no doubt that he was perplexed by people who don’t want to live – but I worry about the effect his words may have had on people who are feeling suicidal.

 

I was a suicidal teen. There were times when all I wanted was to die. Death would have been a merciful relief. I used to go to sleep praying to a God I fervently believed in to let me die in the night – to please let the overdose work, to please let the poison seep through me, to let me annihilate myself.  Unlike Donal I had no loving family. Unlike Donal, I didn’t have a future worth living for. I didn’t have a team of medics who were rooting for me, I didn’t have a community that cared about me, I didn’t have teachers who were keen to do anything they could to help.

 

In short, Donal had people and a future to live for. Many, many suicidal people don’t and telling them he’s “very angry” with them isn’t exactly helpful. More guilt to add to the pain and guilt they are already suffering.  I understand that Donal wanted to live but what he didn’t seem to understand was that people who die by suicide don’t want to die – they just want their pain to end. They just want to wake up in the morning and not suffer. They want the misery to stop gnawing on their innards. When nothing else they try does that, they do the only thing they can and end their pain permanently.

 

Being angry with people who are in pain doesn’t lessen their pain.

 

It reminds me of the horrendous years I spent trying to have children. It was the biggest sorrow of my life that I was childless. I would have done anything to have a child to call my own (how I managed it is a whole other blog post!). I knew I was in trouble the day I caught myself talking myself into taking a baby who had been left outside a Prague  supermarket in his pram.  But that didn’t mean I was angry with other women who had abortions. Just because I wouldn’t have made their choices didn’t mean I had any right to condemn them. Or even be angry with them. I was jealous – but I wasn’t angry. I was furious that Fate, or God or pure dumb luck had given them a pregnancy they didn’t want when all I wanted was a pregnancy, but I couldn’t take that out on the women.

 

I have no doubt that Donal Walsh meant well, I have no doubt that he wanted to inspire suicidal teens to stay alive. Sadly,  he was not informed enough to do so in a more constructive way.

Time For a Culture Change With Regard to Abuse

Last night, RTE’s Prime Time broadcast an investigative piece on the state of childcare in a number of crèches in the greater Dublin area. I can’t link to the programme because (rightly, in my opinion) RTE has chosen not to make the piece available on iPlayer.

 

We were exposed to children who were yelled at, sworn at, pulled around, held down on mattresses with blankets over their heads to “make them sleep”, left in high-chairs for up to two hours with nothing to do (i.e. after mealtimes and when there were no table-top activities happening), left sitting in soiled clothes because the care worker in her own words “didn’t care” and was punishing the child. Crying babies were left on their own away from adults and other children. There was a basic lack of care or concern for the individual children, as well as a basic lack of any understanding of child development.

 

I completely accept that there are excellent childcare facilities in Ireland. I completely accept, also – that even in the crèches exposed – the fact that these incidences took place does not mean that every child was so treated all of the time. Or that all the women working in these crèches are careless.

 

Those of us who saw the programme, and those who heard about it, were outraged, upset, distressed and angry. I, for one, was not surprised. This, after all, is the culture in Ireland. Time and again we have seen that there is a terrible abuse of power in institutions in Ireland: The Industrial “Schools”; The Magdalene Laundries; Old People’s Homes;  Psychiatric Institutions;  Maternity Hospitals; Schools. Wherever there are vulnerable people, there are people ‘in charge’ to abuse their power.

 

We might not like to face or admit it, but Irish culture seems to be a culture of bullying and abuse. Those in a position of power abuse it. Of course, I don’t mean that every person in a position of power abuses it, but I do mean that it is not a surprising situation any more.

 

We can express all the outrage we like, we can make all the speeches we like, we can write all the laws we like, we can commission all the reports we like – but unless and until there is a cultural shift, nothing will change.

 

 

Would Not A Rose By Any Other Name Smell As Sweet?

The decision, by the government in New Zealand, to ban certain names has led to titters on Twitter and prompted much water-cooler chatter on the subject of names and naming.  Irish people have written about how hard people in other countries find it to pronounce Irish names.  The Daily Edge beautifully illustrated this difficulty.

When you think about it, their name is the first social token a person receives.  Levitt and Dubner, who wrote Freakonomics devoted much ink and paper to musing about the social capital of certain names, predicting which would be popular with the next generation and why certain parents give certain names to their children. (Much of it is to connected to the desire to sound as though they belong to a more affluent sector of society than they do).

When I was 16, I changed my surname by deed poll.  My old man is an arse, and there was no way I was going through life with his name. It was only then I realised what a difficult thing it is to give yourself a surname. Naming my children was a doddle comparatively. I called them Ishthara Saoirse and Kashmira Meadhbh (Kashmira means The Abode of the Goddess and also the name of a flower that grows on the Malay Peninsula, where we lived when I was pregnant. Meadhbh means intoxicated with joy) .

The conversation about names yesterday and today,  made me think of interesting names I have encountered.  In one class I taught in Singapore, I had a Tan Wee Ping and a Hu Lee Ping. Their personal names were Wee Ping and Lee Ping, respectively.  I have also taught three brothers named Nixon, Regan and Clinton as well as sisters called One, Two and Three.  Their dad wasn’t going to bother using a ‘real’ name until he had a son.

When I lived in Indonesia, I knew quite a few  men called ‘Shah’  (one of them intimately). Under the new naming laws of New Zealand, they would not be allowed to use the Anglicised version of their name because it means ‘King’.  Likewise, the Indian women I have known called ‘Rani’ – meaning ‘Queen’.

In India, my daughter and I had a neighbour named ‘Dimple’ and one of the nurses at the hospital we attended was called ‘Pinky’.  In Malaysia, Azlan is quite a common name, and it took years before I stopped thinking of lions every time I heard it.

The prize for most unusual/discomfiting name still goes, however, to a seven year-old who was in the first class I taught in Singapore. His personal name was Kun Ting.  I called him ‘Darling’.

Words of Advice to (Potential) Contributors

It’s fifteen years since I first worked as a researcher for a television programme. Since then, I have researched for hundreds of shows on radio, television and print articles.

 

Working as a researcher basically means that you do this: Find people who would be willing to talk, meet with them, discover what they had to say for themselves, write up the notes of those meetings, discuss those meetings with colleagues and then book the contributors for filming.

 

It’s not rocket science, but it’s something I really enjoy doing. In my first researcher’s job, I learnt that not everyone makes the final cut. The original brief is a guide – it’s not set in stone.  It’s a map – a document detailing where you are and where you (think) you’d like to get to. There are a selection of routes, and the one you think you’re going to take is not necessarily the one you eventually traverse.

 

What that means is that people who give of their time – sometimes three or four hours of their time – and expertise may not necessarily end up in the programme they’ve been interviewed for. It’s annoying. It can rankle. But it’s not personal.

 

Here’s the thing, we work hard to put together the best programme we can, but that doesn’t just mean we only use the best people. It means we use the bits that best inform the audience of the message we’re trying to send. Often, in the course of filming, we’ll find that the programme is going in a direction we hadn’t anticipated. We find that what we thought was important isn’t important to our contributors or our audience – or isn’t as important as we thought.  Sometimes, a contributor will say something that triggers a worthwhile diversion from the original route.

Sometimes, a production company will be informed by the commissioning station that they have changed their mind about the focus or the thrust of the piece.

Sometimes, an editor and a director will find themselves grappling with the task of whittling 40 hours of great footage down to a commercial hour (which is only 52 minutes). That’s a job I would hate. How do you make the decision? How do you decide what goes, what stays, and where the bits that are staying should go in relation to each other? The final decision is not a reflection on the quality of an individual’s contribution.

 

In my experience – on both sides of the camera – you don’t find out that you’re not in the show until you sit down to watch it.  It’s only the most thoughtful and courteous of  producers that will let you know you haven’t made the cut.

 

So, if you agree to contribute to a show on radio or television and don’t see or hear yourself when it goes to air, don’t take it personally. It really, really, isn’t meant that way. Please, however, be gracious. Understand that your contribution was valued but for some reason or another – or a combination of reasons – what you had to say didn’t ‘fit’ in the final 52 minutes.

 

Spitting the dummy and working yourself into a state of high dudgeon won’t do you any favours.  Saying you’ll never have anything to do with anyone making a programme ever again is an empty, useless threat – which pretty much guarantees there won’t ever be an ‘again’. Demanding to know why you weren’t part of the programme – even after you’ve received a polite, respectful, email telling you why – won’t endear you to anyone, either.

 

Like anyone, researchers and producers and directors and presenters are human; and we prefer to surround ourselves with people who are easy to work with. Given a choice, we will select the contributor who understands that we can’t use every word recorded; the contributor who realises they are part of a programme – not the programme in its entirety.  Often, it pains the production team more than the contributor him or herself if their piece ends up on the cutting room floor.

 

It is the nature of the beast that someone will end up being cut. Sometimes, that someone will be you.

The Smattering – Part Two

Yesterday, I threw down some thoughts on The Gathering.

 

In a very thoughtful response, one of my readers made the point that the elephant in the room is money. Or, rather, the lack of it. He’s right, of course.  Most of the things I suggested would require money. I’m no economist, though, but even I know that in order to make money, one must first spend money. You reap what you sow, so in order to reap anything, one must first sow something, no?

 

I take Padraic’s point that The Gathering was meant to be a community-based initiative, but I think a bit of orchestrated direction from the Government might not have hurt. In the same way that certain charities have events that take place at a very local level (often a few friends in someone’s kitchen around a pot of tea) but are orchestrated from the head office.  Packs are sent out to interested parties to help them organise their events and they are invited to get on the Facebook page and share stories and photos etc.

 

Wouldn’t something like that have been possible?

 

Nearly every town in Ireland is twinned with a town abroad. Would it not have been a good idea to encourage locals in each town to write to people in their twinned town and invite them to come and stay for a while? How much money would that have cost? Very little, I’d imagine.

 

Think, too, about other communities we have links with. The Spanish that we share DNA with – invite them over. Have an Irish dance school invite over a Flamenco dance school and offer to ‘swap’ Flamenco dance lessons for Irish dance lessons.

 

Invite the Nordics back to see the legacy they left – show them the difference the Vikings made.

 

Have an academic/quasi-academic conference with speakers of Manx, Welsh, Scottish and Breton examine the commonalities of the languages. Forge links that people will want to examine and explore and re-visit for years to come.

 

Suggest that scout groups invite other scout groups over for a massive jamboree – the likes of which haven’t been seen since the one in Galway in 1985 or so.

 

I think a pointed, specific reason to come to Ireland rather than a generic ‘Come and Visit’ might have more luck. I can see where Gabriel Byne’s feelings about The Gathering come from.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I think  anything that brings more tourists to Ireland is a great idea. I just can’t help feeling that The Gathering is a bit half-assed and that not much – or not enough – thought has gone into it.

 

In the interests of showing myself to be more than an armchair critic, I am happy to reveal that my contribution to The Gathering will be to take my kids to parts of they country they haven’t visited yet.

The Smattering

It was probably a good idea. No, scratch that. It was definitely a good idea; get as many people, from as many different places as possible, to come to Ireland in 2013. Launch a huge initiative and get everyone in Ireland – and the Irish overseas – on board. Showcase our lovely country, make it attractive to people who wouldn’t normally think of visiting Ireland and make it even more attractive to people who have visited before, or who have been thinking about it for a while.

 

The Gathering could have been a rip-roaring success, and something we’d all remember with pride for years to come. That won’t happen, though. No one – and by that, I mean no one in Bord Failte or in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport – put any thought or effort into the initiative. If The Gathering doesn’t exactly fall flat on its face it will definitely not be as successful as it could have been if anyone in Officialdom had taken it seriously.

 

It would have been so easy to make a huge success of The Gathering, but it seems like it was an idea dreamt up in the bar by a PR person in Leo Varadkar’s department who then did nothing more with it.

 

Had it been organised properly, The Gathering could have been a fantastic event. Specifically, every month could have been given a theme with one big event centred on that theme in one of Ireland’s larger towns and people nationwide invited to devise their own events to tie in with the theme.

 

For example, January could have been devoted to new beginnings and starting new things – lots of world record attempts organised (as serious or as silly as you like). Instead, there was an event in the capital city to which one had to buy a ticket, and at which children were not welcome. Well, at least there was an element of honesty there – an expression of how little children are liked in this country.

 

February could – predictably – have been devoted to love. Given that we have St. Valentine’s relic in repose in Dublin, that wouldn’t have been too hard. A few match-making festivals and a bit of a campaign abroad inviting people to come to Ireland to fall in love…….either with the country or with a person.

 

March, with St. Patrick’s Day in the middle of it, kind of takes care of itself. April is the month of April showers, so make something of the rain in Ireland – have a ‘design your own umbrella’ competition. May sees us celebrate the festival of Bealtaine, so invite people home for that.

 

June is the start of the holidays – so pack June and July with family-friendly events and days out. August is Lunasa – a chance to have ‘Dancing with Lunasa’ put on by nearly every AmDram Society in Ireland. Punters could be invited to watch one a week (or one a day!) and vote on their favourite.

 

September – lovely, Autumnal September – when the kids go back to school. Make it the month to learn new and unusual facts about Ireland. October, like March, pretty much does itself. The whole Samhain thing offers itself up for fun and games galore.

 

November is a bit trickier….what on earth happens in November, in Ireland, that is worth celebrating? Hmmmm, might be time for another match-making festival so people have someone to cuddle up to during the cold winter nights. December is the month that I’d like most to avoid, but plenty of other people like it – so there’s plenty of scope for Xmas markets. But also plenty of scope for peeling back the layers of this Hallmark holiday and uncovering its Pagan roots.

 

Apart from events that could take place on the ground here in Ireland, how about involving people who can’t actually get here this year, but who might in years to come? Have interactive quizzes online for school children around the globe and find out who knows most about Ireland on the various continents. Have the Dept of Transport etc. give two free tickets to Ireland to each St. Patrick’s Society around the globe. These tickets could form the main prize in the annual St. Patrick’s Ball each of the societies holds and be a wonderful way to promote tourism.

 

And what about – what about a Gathering Passport? A bit like the passport one gets when one undertakes the Camino de Compostela. Wouldn’t that provide an added element of fun?

 

These are just ideas thrown off the top of my head in the half hour it’s taken me to make coffee and write this post. I am sure that a half-decent professional in either Bord Failte or in the Dept of Transport etc. could come up with a  much more interesting and inspired set of ideas.

 

So why didn’t they?

 

Mental Health Awareness Week

Fair play to Newstalk for undertaking a week of programmes and events to highlight Mental Health. The first of these programmes was aired this morning, and featured the wonderful Caroline McGuigan from Suicide or Survive, as well as two parents who had each lost a child to suicide.

It was heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measure to hear their stories and I felt privileged that they chose to share their tales with us. Their bravery was apparent.

In Ireland, tackling a mental health problem is still fraught with difficulty – not least the stigma that attaches to the subject of mental ill-health.  Time and again, those of us who have suffered with mental health have spoken of how physical ailments are more socially ‘acceptable’; of how, if one had a broken arm or a broken leg, or the influenza, people would have no difficulty enquiring after your health and your progress. Mental health difficulties, though, are treated differently.

This stigma can also prevent people seeking help. It can be hard to ask for help when you feel that you will be judged for feeling low, or sad or suicidal.

Think, for a second, how you react to people who reveal they have, or have had,  a difficulty with their mental health. Is it a negative, positive or neutral reaction?  Upon what do you base it? Is it based on something you have heard? Something unsubstantiated? Your own experiences or the experiences of someone close to you?

See Change and Suicide or Survive are doing all they can to change the stigma associated with mental ill health in Ireland. It’s up to the rest of us to do our bit as well.

Irish Spend More On Xmas Than Other Europeans

We hear this morning that Irish households will spend up to 40% more on Christmas trimmings and trappings than their European counterparts. 


I was amazed when I heard this on the radio this morning - not because I'm surprised to hear that the Irish are the highest spenders, but because this was deemed newsworthy. 

It's hardly a big reveal, after all. Irish prices are higher than prices anywhere else in Europe. We also tend to have bigger families - and, therefore, more people to buy for - than our European cousins. While people might be having fewer children this generation, previous generations have provided us with more aunts, uncles and cousins than others in Europe.
 

The real story behind the headline is the amount of hardship this big spending will bring to families in Ireland. Mothers and fathers up and down the country will push themselves to the extremes to find the money to spend; getting into debt to provide the Christmas they want to give their families and friends. 

Instead of telling us how much we're going to spend, our media would be serving us better by telling us how to save money this festive season. 

A Little Bird Told Me

Yesterday, I sent this tweet:

“If you find these ads offensive http://ow.ly/4yryq you might think about complaining here: service@suitsupply.com”

 

I was alerted to these ads by one of my colleagues at Women’s Views on News. A number of people replied that they had found the ads offensive and that they had complained. One tweeter, however, took exception to my taking exception:

 

@HazelKLarkin: I find your tweet incredible. Asking people to complain about ads they’re unlikey to come across without you alerting them”

 

This reaction startled me. What was this person’s point? That if we don’t come across things ourselves we should not be made aware of them? Or that if we’re not likely to see an ad, then we shouldn’t have it pointed out to us? That if we come across advertisements or other information that moves us, we should not share them with our friends? How narrow would our viewpoints be if that were the case?

 

On Sunday, April 3rd, the Observer published twenty of Amnesty International’s print ads taken from the past 50 years. I don’t routinely get the Observer, but someone on Twitter sent me the link. I was delighted because, left to my own devices, I would never have stumbled across this piece. I retweeted the link and commented on my favourite advertisement.  According to the Tweeter who found it ‘incredible’ that I should have brought the Suit Supply ads to the attention of my followers on Twitter, I should have been left in ignorance.  Or at least, I should not have had an emotional reaction that I then shared.

 

Perhaps, however, this man was just objecting to the fact that I encouraged people who were offended by the pictures to complain. So what does that mean? That if you find out about something from someone else, then you have no right to respond to it? In that case, by this tweeter’s logic, I must excise my revulsion at the genocide in Rwanda because I’ve never been there and I’ve never witnessed it first hand. I must also retract my email of congratulations to Bates advertising in Mumbai for their work on the IDBI account because I’d never have known about these ads if a friend hadn’t pointed them out to me.

 

By far the most worrying thing about the whole episode, however, is that the man who found my tweet ‘incredible’ claims to be a ‘Public Relations and Media Studies lecturer in’ one of Ireland’s third-level institutions. I wonder if he refers his students to any information that they might not otherwise stumble across? Or does he just tell them not to have a reaction that inspires them to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard?