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Archive for February 4th, 2011

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Fifty jobs have just gone in Waterstones, between the Dawson Street and Jervis Street branches, and at the risk of sounding rather E.J. Thribbish, I’d like to mark the passing of the Dawson Street one in particular.

When I were a lass, it was a large Laura Ashley shop which occupied that Dawson Street premises, with a huge and beautiful central staircase and a railed gallery stuffed with bolts of green and white cotton prints and rolls of impossibly smart striped wallpaper (look, it was the early eighties). I’m fairly sure that before Laura Ashley it was the old Dublin furniture firm Anderson, Stanford and Ridgeway – at any rate, in the mid eighties Waterstones opened there, bringing a touch of glamour to Dublin’s bookshop selection, which up to that point had been dominated by Hodges Figgis, Fred Hanna and Easons, and supplemented by a solid lineup of secondhand and antiquarian shops, like Duffy’s, George Webb on the quays, and the dusty wooden stairs of Greene’s where endless Everyman editions of nineteenth century classics rubbed shoulders with geometry sets and rubber dinosaurs.

Waterstones brought a clean, modern shop layout that was unlike anything I knew in the city centre then, its restrained W branding a hymn to the serif typefaces in which its books were set.  And despite its being part of a chain (nul points for romance) and a British one at that (just nul points), Waterstones in Dawson Street always felt like a Dublin shop. The staff, an unfailingly civil bunch of low-voiced smilers, knew their books and made their customers feel that their query was an important one. Even today, I heard one of them giving his full and thoughtful attention  to an elderly lady about buying a book in French for her fifteen-year-old granddaughter, when with only three days of work left he could have been forgiven for drinking blood cocktails under the stairs.

I had fifty-odd euro saved up on my loyalty card, so I went in today to spend it and say goodbye to the shop, which is trading until Sunday, and when I’d paid for my books, the staff member who completed the transaction for me popped a red-foiled chocolate egg (of creamy, luxurious quality) into the paper bag along with the books.

“Just to say thanks for your loyalty,” she said, on behalf of the chain which had just made her redundant.

Someone had brought in scones from Kehoe’s – that cafe in Trinity Street which sells rock-bun sized scones injected with raspberries – and everyone was to get one when it was their turn for a break. The shelves were as well stocked as ever – apart from the cardboard Jo Nesbo stand – and the usual three-for-two selections were on offer, along with the current BOGOF on children’s picture books. It was easy enough to get my spend up to fifty euro.

Jervis Street was a difficult shop to be in, too many funny angles and a downstairs that was hardly there. But I’ll miss Dawson Street’s Irish history and biography section, their ordinary biography section, the children’s area, the substantial fiction selection, even that unappetising little loo in the most awkward corner of the shop. No, now I’m getting sentimental, I won’t miss that. I was reeled in, as intended, by the staff’s handwritten notes of recommendation, stayed loyal with my card, did a good chunk of my Christmas and birthday shopping there over the last twenty-four years. It was a meeting place, too, in the style of Clery’s clock, but with more to do while you wait. I’ve kissed and been kissed in that tiny lift.

I took it for granted, and from Sunday it won’t be there any more. I hope all the staff members find new jobs soon, and that someone interesting takes over the premises.

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The election date is set. The parties have launched their election campaigns. Let the gender battle commence. When the shit hit the fan last November I made a pledge to self and country on my blog: votes for women. Not, of course, because we are morally superior beings. But because we, and the so-called female agenda, are, and have historically been, under-represented. In the 30th Dail, just 22 out of the total 166 seats were held by women, one of the lowest levels of representation in Europe. A recent survey of the level of representation in the lower houses of national parliaments in 30 EU member states and accession countries puts Ireland in an embarrassing 25th place.

I, along with most concerned citizens of this once great nation state, have been champing at the bit to vote in some new blood. And so imagine, if you will, my general delirium when our first piece of election material flopped though the letterbox this week.

Yes! It’s for a woman! She’ll definitely get my number one… oh bollocks, she’s standing for X party. Now I will vote for a woman, but not for X party. Not now, not ever. However fine her double X chromosome pedigree might be, X party is not getting my vote.

Eamon Gilmore was shown launching his party’s election campaign surrounded by scarlet-suited female candidates (“The Gilmore Girls”). It could have been Richard Branson and his Virgin air stewardesses. It was scarily reminiscent of “Blair’s babes” of the British Labour election landslide in 1997. Or Berlusconi’s babes for that matter. I deeply resent women being used as political accessories and prettification for powerful men. And I wonder if it’s a cynical move which will be exploited by parties who want to make it big this time: get the women voters out by giving them a token woman to vote for.

According to Adrian Kavanagh at Irish General Election 2011 Facts and Figures, the declared female candidates (as of 2nd February) were as follows:

Labour: 26.5%

Sinn Fein: 17.5%

Fine Gael: 15.5%

Fianna Fail: 13.5%

The Green Party: 11.5% (with more yet to be declared)

There is no female Sinn Fein candidate in 37 constituencies and no female Fianna Fail candidate in 33 constituencies. ” Well, bang goes that theory…

Come February 25th, decisions will need to be made. Do I put person before party? Gender before all other considerations? What is the X factor for the politicians who will get my vote? Out of 20 candidates for my area only two are women. And because of aforementioned party allegiances, one is a definite no-vote for me. My two favourite candidates are both men. If I vote for my values, I am not voting for women. Do I vote for the individual or the bigger picture? Which matters more: to me, to the country, to history?

Lucy Pearce is a freelance writer, magazine editor, trained philosopher and mama to three little ones. She is usually to be found in sunny East Cork baking cakes and wearing hippy skirts. She blogs at http://dreamingaloudnet.blogspot.com/. Twitter:
@DreamingAloudNt


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