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Archive for November, 2010

“every day, every hour, every minute and every second, somewhere in the world, women – irrespective of race, colour or religion – are being subjected to violence and abuse”.

When I was just a child my father extended the hand of friendship to a woman he knew only slightly; a customer who regularly came into a shop he ran in Dublin. Suspecting that all was not entirely well he overcame his natural reticence and indicated to her that if she ever needed a friendly and sympathetic ear he would be willing to provide it.

Shortly afterwards, at 2am one morning, this woman arrived at our house with her three young children in tow. She had once again been beaten by her husband but now, for the first time, she had somewhere to turn. My parents asked no questions. They merely opened their home to this woman whose own family had disowned her for marrying a man who they believed was no good. Several of us vacated our beds and shared with our siblings to make room for these late night callers. The next morning they left with hardly a word but returned several times over the years until finally this woman mustered the courage to leave her abusive husband. What was extraordinary to me was the fact that this woman was a professional with a good income of her own and the financial if not emotional wherewithal to leave anytime she chose to. I have never forgotten her story.

We have probably all encountered the scourge of domestic violence, even if unwittingly. The veil of secrecy that still conceals this dysfunction in our society is to this day preventing women, and indeed many men, from seeking the help and support they so desperately need for themselves and their children. Today in the Irish Times Health Plus supplement I was given the opportunity to highlight some of the work being done by Women’s Aid and Avon here in Ireland and to specifically draw attention to an extraordinary poster exhibition taking place in the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield until December 10 2010. I’d be delighted if you followed the link and read my piece. For those interested in visiting the Lighthouse Cinema here is information on the poster exhibition, as compiled by Anthea McTeirnan in the Irish Times today.

“More than 400 posters highlighting the issue of violence against women, curated by former Garda Colm Dempsey, are on show at The Light House Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin. The exhibition is part of Women’s Aid “One in Five Women” 16 Days Campaign, which runs until December 10th.

Director of Women’s Aid, Margaret Martin, says the exhibition highlights the facts that “every day, every hour, every minute and every second, somewhere in the world, women – irrespective of race, colour or religion – are being subjected to violence and abuse”.

“In an era when we are overloaded with images, words and sounds, the powerful graphics in these posters can help us realise the enormity of living with someone who abuses you. For women who are experiencing abuse, they also reach out to show that help is available and they are not alone, that support is available.”

The free exhibition is open to the public and runs daily from 2pm-8pm. The Women’s Aid national freephone helpline is at 1800-341900. womensaid.ie

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Smoke Fairies are Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, a British folk/blues duo who combine plucked guitars and harmonies to create lush, ethereal songs. Their critically acclaimed debut album, Through Low Light And Trees, was released earlier this year and produced by Jack White of the White Stripes. The band took their name from the summer mist that collects in the hedgerows of their native Sussex, and Jessica (above, right) answered our questionnaire ahead of their gig on Dublin’s Workman’s Club on December 7th.

What’s the first record you ever bought?

I had lots of records at home so I never really thought about buying any myself. I am very cheap so the first record I ever bought with my own money was a Take That single from the bargain bucket in Woolworths. I wanted to fit in with my friend’s Take That obsession but the 10p tape was as far as it ever got. I think I bought a compilation tape on the same day called Summer Dance Party too.

What’s your favourite smell?

Sweet Peas, warm sponges and the boiler room at primary school – I could never get enough of that smell and spent most of break time with my face up against the boiler room air vent.

Have you ever had a nickname?

I always wanted to be a cool kid with a cool nickname but no, sadly none have ever stuck. People used to shout ‘Donkey Girl’ at me out of car windows when I went out for walks because I always took my donkey Antoinette with me everywhere, but I never embraced it.

What is your favourite room in your house?

I have a room full of plants. Katherine went around and stuck eyes on them so they are all like little friends.

What are your guilty pleasures?

Naps in the afternoon and tinned food. Also, showers are better for the environment, but I do like long bath sometimes.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

When I go on ferries I like to dress up as a sailor.

Who is your closest female friend?

It would have to be Katherine from Smoke Fairies, I have known her since I was 11.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

No, I am indecisive so I would never be able to get one.

Where would you most like to live?

London is fun, but I have always thought it would be good to live in New York for a while. If not the city, then somewhere in the countryside with some land so that I can have a donkey and some sheep.

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?

I am not going to go into any sordid stories like that.

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?

How good is your knowledge of music? It is like asking how good is your knowledge of the world? Everyone is going to have a different understanding of it. It’s more of a stupid question than unusual.

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?

I just got given a new Hofner Guitar to substitute my old vintage one that I broke while I was on tour. I have never owned a new guitar and it is all shiny and perfect, but it won’t be long before it gets a few scratches in it.

What is your favourite word?

Right now all I can think of is: Tentacle.

Who was your first love?

Karen Carpenter and she still has a place in my heart.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?

I would like to think I would have dedicated time to becoming something else creative, perhaps an illustrator, but there is still time.

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?

No, but there are many albums I have repeatedly bought as gifts.

What happens after we die?

Your guess is as good as mine.

What female historical figure do you admire most?

There are thousands, so it is impossible to have just one. I like reading biographies of historical figures. I have just finished reading a biography of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. She was one of the first women to be involved in British politics and had a great sense of style but she did have a few problems, mainly gambling. I think women like Rosa Parks, Amelia Erheart, Florence Nightingale were far braver though, to name just a few.

Sum yourself up in three words:

Stubborn, Sarcastic, Ridiculous

And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro?

Anti: smoking in public places

Pro: riding the bus

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Going Home

I cried when I heard we were leaving, even though I had been suggesting we go for years.

Being English and a contrarian, I had always felt a little on the outside of Irish culture. If people in shops or taxi drivers took to me they would ask if I was Australian, American, Polish? Anything but the dreaded English.

Two years ago I was ambushed live on national radio when I was told I would be on a panel talking about St. Georges day with another English person and an Irish person, only to find myself fecked (thanks for that word – it will never leave my vocabulary) on air with the Trinity professor of Irish history. I was then forced to sit and listen to his idea of a brief run down of “the 8000 years of oppression”. Not being a history professor and not being prepared for this, I struggled to find the right tone – apologetic, but not responsible.

Ten years ago, when the Queen was giving out medals to the RUC for bravery, some of my office colleagues got quite cross with me. I understood their anger, which was verbally directed at me followed by them storming out of the office, but they hadn’t stopped to check whether I was a royalist, a republican or anything more deeply thought out.

My Irish ex-boyfriend, with whom I had a tempestuous relationship – to put it mildly – would often in a fit of rage tell me to go home to England.

It was often assumed, along the way of my 11 years in Ireland (from the age of 21-32), that sooner of later I would bugger off back to where I came from taking my plumy accent and ideas for women’s equality with me.

After this it will come as no surprise to anyone that I married an American.

Though we continued to live in Ireland we were both outsiders, him less of one than I.

I could go on with the woe is me stories but I loved many things about living in Ireland. The friends I made there are amazing. The schools my children went to were excellent. The lifestyle was easygoing and lots of fun. My neighbours were amazing people, who immigrated four months before we did, leaving our two sons hanging over the garden fence, looking in vain for their two children.

As soon as I had our children four and a half years ago, my homing instinct kicked in and I started on about moving back home, but my husband was having none of it. That was before the economy crashed and there became little option but London.

Only then did I realise how rooted I had become in Ireland, how much I loved the family home we had struggled to buy in 2007 and done up slowly since. How much I loved the fact that we knew all the neighbours and the kids could wander into their houses and how everyone helped each other out. The network of friends who did so much to help me and put up with me and socialised with me and read my children stories.

But I knew I was going home. I was going back to live 20 minutes from my parents and five minutes from my brother and sister-in-law. I was going back to the education system I went through, the working culture I understood and the pretty, affluent, towns and villages in which I grew up.

On my second day in Tunbridge Wells I walked into town to invest in some good shampoo. The day before some miserable old bag in Sainsbury, clearly a local, had spotted my three-year-old eating a bag of raisins and out the side of her mouth said “Hope you paid for that”.

The shampoo saleslady was much more pleasant. Over a cup of free tea (it had been -1 Degrees C outside all day long) we got chatting. I mentioned we had just moved from Dublin.

She lit up, “My whole family is from Cork”, she said. I lit up too – someone who understood.

And there it was. Finally, now I’ve left Ireland, I belong to the clan.

I’m not sure if it was because, in the end it was the Irish economy that forced me along with so many Irish people out, or whether it was that this girl, who had been brought from Macroom to Tunbridge Wells as a six month-old baby in the last bad Irish recession, also had a south-east English accent.

Whatever the reason, I suddenly felt at home for the first time since I moved home.

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Saturday at English Towers is a bit of a lazy affair.  With both boys now breaking into teenage territory, nobody surfaces very early, and, inevitably, everyone wants to eat crap when they finally appear. This recipe is a nice quick one – easy to make and a stealthy way to introduce a bit of fruit into the proceedings.  Use whatever fruit you have to hand – with Christmas fast approaching (am I allowed to utter the C word yet?), cranberries are seasonal, but a couple of squished bananas make an easy substitute too.

Breakfast Muffins

(Makes 12)

Ingredients:

120g butter, melted

175ml milk

2 eggs

200g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

125 g caster sugar

150 – 200g berries – raspberries, blueberries, strawberries or a frozen berry mix

Handful porridge oats.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4 and pop some paper cases into a 12-hole muffin tin.

Weigh out the butter and pop it into a pyrex jug  or something microwaveable.  Melt it in the microwave, then add in the milk and eggs.  Whisk well.  Meanwhile sift the flour and baking powder together, then stir in the sugar.

Make a well in the centre of the floury mixture and stir in the liquid mixture.  Remember the GMR (Golden Muffin Rule), which is to just barely combine the ingredients – it doesn’t matter if you can still see the odd bit of flour, just don’t overmix it.  Lastly, fold in the berries/banana/whatever and the handful of oats and spoon the batter into the muffin cases:

Bake for 25 minutes or until risen and firm to the touch.  Cool slightly on a wire rack, but honestly these are really best served warm and eaten the same day.

NOTE: I’ve only given a rough weight for the fruit as punnet weights differ.  200g is an awful lot of blueberries, so if you prefer your muffins less fruity, cut it down to 150g.  I used a 170g punnet of very unseasonal and shamefully imported raspberries last Saturday and it was the perfect amount.

Becky is a 40-year-old mum of two boys and writes successful foodie blog www.englishmum.com. She works from home writing, testing and developing recipes and has a serious cakey bun addiction and a tendency to eat too much chocolate. Twitter: @EnglishMum

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Every year on a Friday, some weeks before Christmas, RTE’s Late Late Show hosts The Toy Show. Running for over 35 years ago, it’s a rite-of-passage for Irish children growing up. Some Anti Room contributor’s share their memories…

As a child I, along with my many, many sisters and lone brother, was always allowed to stay up for The Late Late Toy Show. It was an occasion observed as faithfully as turkey for Christmas dinner. My memories date exclusively back to the reign of Uncle Gaybo. In fact, although I can’t be absolutely sure of this I seem to remember that all the early ones I saw were broadcast in black & white. We huddled in front of the telly: faces scrubbed clean, teeth hastily done, pyjamas on and wrapped in a variety of hastily gathered quilts and blankets. As the distinctive signature tune rang out mum and dad shouted “hurry up, you’ll miss it” and we scurried down the stairs. Of course we craved the toys and bitterly envied the children invited on to demonstrate them but, despite our excitement, we rarely made it all the way to the end. One by one we dropped off to sleep even as we insisted that we “weren’t tired at all” and were carried upstairs and tucked into bed. Naturally, now that I have my own two little lads, we observe the same ritual. Tonight we’ll be in our PJs in front of a roaring fire with hot chocolate, marshmallows and a tin of Quality Street (I have my instructions) watching Uncle Tubs. It might even be snowing. As for my husband Derek. Well he’s inexplicably turning his back on the occasion and heading into the Button Factory to hear Steve Ignorant belt out a few Crass tunes. Chacun à son goût! Eleanor Fitzsimons

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My Scottish husband is totally baffled by the Late Late Toy Show tradition. The poor man just doesn’t get that it’s practically the law that children be allowed to stay up in their jim-jams to watch a show that goes on till almost midnight. He thinks it’s just crass commercialism – perish the thought! The Toy Show is pure magic, as anyone who grew up in Ireland will tell you. My memories are also from the era of Uncle Gaybo. We were insanely jealous of the children who took part, though my mother, ever the cynic, would always point out that we could never get on the show because we weren’t related to anyone in RTE. I’m sure she was wrong about that… Catherine Crichton


When I think of childhood telly, it’s of the televisual holy trinity, i.e. the three shows we were allowed stay up late for every year: The Rose of Tralee (mostly for girls, even if my younger brother feigned a smidge of interest just to avoid going to bed), the Eurovision (when Ireland used to actually win the thing once in a while) and the ne plus ultra of all three – The Late Late Toy Show. It was bath, jammies, wet hair squeakily combed and no messing allowed, on pain of being frog-marched up the stairs and missing out. Our collective hearts thumped along with the familiar drums of the signature tune and there it was… a lavish, sparkly, tinsel-soaked set looking like Santa’s Grotto on crack. Oodles of toys, from the old skool to the faddish must-haves were heaped around Gay Byrne, who looked avuncular, jumpertastic and, it had to be said, in his element. How we envied the kids who got to demonstrate games and monsters, dolls and gadgets. If any of them fluffed their words or the toys wouldn’t work, myself and my brothers were united in our Schadenfreude glee of how WE would have done it better. The whirling dervish Billie Barrie kids both awed and frightened me, and we shamelessly fast-forwarded their set-pieces on the video when we watched the show back the next day. In this day and age, some might say it’s a gluttonous ode to consumerism. Not me. It’s 100% escapism, fantasy and fun, especially in the context of Ireland’s economic black hole. My own children are a little too young for the Toy Show this year, but it won’t be long before we’re sitting down to it, while squabbling over a bag of Maltesers and guffawing at Ryan Tubridy’s jumper. Sinéad Gleeson

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My memories of the Late Late Toy Show are dominated by a few things: the excitement of staying up late; the glamour of all those unobtainable toys (that often ended up broken – the waste!) and the Billie Barrie Kids. I was horribly jealous of the Billie Barries because I was also in a stage school and we didn’t get to go on the Show (didn’t even audition!). I thought the BB’s were such fakes with their dazzling smiles and superior costumes.

We – there were 7 of us in my family – used to sit on Toy Show night finding fault with everything and everyone on the Show. My Ma would lament ‘You’re sooooooooooooo critical’, every ten minutes to which we would snarl with cynical, childish laughter. And I loved it. Year after year. Even now, with kids of my own from 17 to one-year-old, I feel excited at the prospect of the Toy Show. It’s a time marker, a lead up to the big day. I’m glad it has endured even if the toys are still mostly unobtainable. I think the talent may have improved though. Has it?! Nuala Ní Chonchúir

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Gold-digger Amnesty

Thoroughly depressed with the state of the nation, I decided to cheer myself up yesterday by listening to some nice, brainless pop music. I feel the qualifying adjective is important here, because there’s also very clever pop music out there, but that’s not of any use to me when I want myself opium’d up by dithering beats and sugarsnap lyrics, is it?

If there’s one thing stupid pop music has taught me, it’s that if there’s one career group more maligned than Fianna Fail politicians or IMFites, it’s gold-diggers. Yes. Young women (I calls ageism, for it appears biddies are disqualified from rushing men for the moolah) who are attracted to men more successful than themselves are terrible hussies altogether. Perhaps even responsible for a portion of our current economic woes! Gold-diggers: breaking bankers, one suit at a time.

See, I was bopping along to Cee-Lo Green’s wonderfully catchy “Fuck You” (“Forget You” to anyone still relying on the radio to get them their aural jollies) when I paused, took a breath, furrowed my brow. Cee-Lo’s complaint is that his ladyfriend left him for a much more affluent gentleman, one who owns a car and has no problem taking the lady for the odd spin in same. Seeing them spinning about the place makes Cee-Lo feel most disgruntled. If only he had the kind of money that could buy him a car! Then he could still be with the gold-digger, whom he still loves, but also really resents because she’s not turned on by penury.

At first I felt for Cee-Lo. As a wurkin’ class ladette, I understand how difficult it is to get by in life without a pot to piddle in. There’s, let’s see … underpaid jobs, holes in the arse of your pants, running out of restaurants without having paid and having to resort to getaway bicycles to avoid arrest. It’s a hard-knock life. I also know that there’s no law requiring a woman to get hot under the collar for a partner who’s just not cutting the wholegrain organic mustard when it comes to ambition and success. I’m much more likely to fancy a motivated, educated bright spark than a couch potato with a grudge; does that make me a gold-digger? I think not! Take that, Mr. Green!

Likewise, I am perplexed by Timbaland’s hip-pop song “The Way I Are”, which in a lyrical sense comprises of a gruff man barking out all of the reasons no one should touch him with a bargepole. “I can’t even buy you flowers!” he snaps, though without adding that he’s happy to grow or pick some instead. He is then mollycoddled by a husky female telling him that it’s grand, that so long as he’s got his mojo in the bedroom he can do without it in the real world, hinting that it’s more than his ego she’d like to massage. And this is just preposterous. You can’t reward the useless like that! Sure they’ll never learn if you keep telling them that despite their barely being able to afford the chips on their shoulders, catches of either gender will be only too happy to cast their kecks aside for a hop off them. Did I miss the memo about drive, integrity, and fiscal independence not being aphrodisiacs after all? No, I didn’t. Because they are. Huge big ones. Pulsating ones. Oh yes.

Hip-pop girls have retorted these points more melodiously than me, of course. Fado, fado (in the 90s), TLC, in their song No Scrubs, told layabout boys that they were going to have to do a little better than be roaring out random compliments from their mates’ cars if they wanted to pitch woo successfully; yet t’was far from gold-digging they were reared.

The funny thing is that hip-pop boyos have long rapped, yodelled and purred out the characteristics of their ideal ladyfriend, and having economic savvy, her own career, and half a brain were never on their To Do lists; gold-diggers are ok if you’ve got the money for them, but a right slap in the testicles if you’ve recently become a victim of the worldwide recession. Well, lads; reap the whirlwind. The gold-diggers have become accustomed to a certain level of achievement from their life-partners; there’s no point complaining about it now, not when she had to spend all that money on implants to impress your shallow arse in the first place.

Back to Cee-Lo, who pouts that his gold-digger’s new friend is “more an X-Box” while Cee-Lo himself is an “Atari”. I suppose he realises that Ataris were made redundant back in the dark ages. Certainly no amount of dewy-eyed sentimentality will convince me to trade in my next-gen console for one of them dinosaurs. And that doesn’t make me a gold-digger (or even a Digger T. Rock).

It makes me a prudent, prudent lady.

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This is my country, and I am not leaving.

I’m not a great patriot, nor even a Republican.

I’m not a big GAA fan; I don’t drink Guinness; I’m not religious; I can’t sing The Lakes of Pontchartrain late into the night.

I’m not from a farming background; I haven’t read Peig Sayers; I’ve never been out in the bog.

I  was too young to be working for most of the Celtic Tiger years, and my family lived on one income for most of them.

I do not know what the Tiger looked like and I did not hear it roar.

I drink coffee; I have an iPhone; I have a job in the ‘meeja’. I have a nice car. I have a nice life. But it is not a moneyed life.

I make my own coffee; my iPhone is a cast-off from a wealthier friend; my car is nearly ten years old; and my job, though I love it, is not well paid.

My best friend from college lives in London. My best friend from school lives in Australia.

Two weeks ago, when the PriceWaterhouseCooper ‘story’ broke, internationally, my friend in London emailed me.

“Another awful story coming from Ireland. They are just pathetic.”

“They”, meaning “the Irish”. She is almost ashamed, now, to tell people where she comes from. She works in the City of London, and is surrounded daily by ridicule of our pathetic financial situation, our morally bankrupt politics and the bringing low of our once high-flying economy.

She has a law degree and a masters degree in PR. She is one of the highly educated workforce that is lost to our future.

One week ago, when the IMF were, then weren’t, then were, then weren’t, then were, taking over the budgetary strategy of my country, my friend in Australia emailed me.

“I want all the news! But not about the economy, thanks. I don’t want to know why I can’t come home.”

She has a chemistry degree and a master’s degree in chemistry. She is another of the highly educated workforce that is lost to our future. She followed every bit of advice about the knowledge economy; she has experience of working in the world’s top three pharmaceutical companies thanks to her excellent education; and she is in Australia because there is nothing for her here. She wanted to go for a year, maybe two. Six months in she has realised that it will be a long time before she comes home.

I was a student representative towards the tail end of the boom. Of the other five motivated, ambitious, articulate people who sat on that committee with me, three are in Australia. One has returned to her native Poland. My last comrade standing will leave Ireland for India in January.

These people are the doers – where will we be when all of them have left?

I am from a rural village where our GAA team is doing well for the first time that I can remember. This is a great thing, but the reason?

Most of the boys I went to school with are at home, and not working. It is wonderful that they are turning to sport rather than drink to take up their time, but it’s unlikely this will last forever.

I asked one of them, who is still working (in a factory which is earmarked for closure, and letting people go every week), why his friends hadn’t left.

Where would they get the money? Good point. It costs thousands of euro to go to Australia, and there isn’t much employment for unskilled workers any closer than that. They didn’t go to college, and worked in the construction trade in its dying days.

They were breakfast roll man, and now they are at home living with their parents in the houses they grew up in. When we were in primary school, there were 18 children in my class. Out of that 18, not even half of our fathers had jobs.

We’ve been here before. Yes, there are difference; we’re billions in debt and the international community is by turns laughing at us and outraged at having to bail us out of greed and stupidity of a few bankers.

You could be forgiven for thinking that yesterday’s four year plan was strategically designed as a kick in the arse out the door for my generation.

Those who aren’t gone already will have their wages cut (again); lose any tax breaks that are left; pay more for college; and have their social welfare cut.

We didn’t benefit from the boom. Many of us didn’t vote for Fianna Fáil. But we are being punished for the greed of our parents’ generation and an elite few.

It’s time for our generation to stand up. Leadership is needed, and the generation in power have completely failed us. They will not be paying for these mistakes for the rest of their working lives; we will. Those of us who are left.

Because, like I said, I’m not leaving.

I’m not leaving, because this is my home.

I’m not leaving, because I have done nothing wrong.

I’m not leaving, because I have worked hard to get where I am.

I’m not leaving, because I have not gambled recklessly with my finances and those of my country.

I’m not leaving, because my country needs me.

I’m not leaving, because our country needs our generation.

I’m not leaving, because it’s the people who stay who shape what a country becomes.

I’m not leaving, because we are the ones who can stop this from happening again.

I’m not leaving, because I don’t want my children to have to leave.

Deirdre O’Shaughnessy is editor of the Cork Independent newspaper, Cork’s largest circulating free weekly newspaper and a regular contributor to Newstalk 106-108fm. She blogs about society, politics, and media at http://www.deshocks.wordpress.com and makes up for a very short attention span with youthful exuberance, sometimes.

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