Archive for March, 2011

Here’s my guilty secret – I watch Coronation Street. Ever since the tram crash, I have been reeled right in. I’m not about to defend my viewing though – you can judge me whatever way you want to on that issue. I am, however, going to share an element of discomfort I have with a storyline at the moment and ask you what you think.

Here’s the synopsis:

Pretty, blonde Maria lands herself a job as PA to the (female) boss of the knicker-factory. A potential client – Frank – comes along with what could be a huge order vital to the continued existence of the factory. He’d like to view samples later that night in the comfort of his own home. Carla – the boss – despatches Maria to town to have her hair and nails done and to buy herself a new frock for the meeting. Maria buys a black frock and was  gorgeous and glammed when she arrived at Frank’s house.  I have no issue with what she did or didn’t wear. Personally, I don’t think it was appropriate for a business meeting – but I would defend Maria’s right to wear whatever she likes wherever she likes.

They had dinner, they had wine, they had chats, then Maria hoped they’d get down to business and Frank would sign the contracts she had brought with her. Frank hoped to get down to business of another kind. He had the hots for Maria and clearly wanted to play hide the sausage. Maria, for her part, had told Frank that she wasn’t interested and that she had a boyfriend. He didn’t seem too keen to no for an answer, though. We saw Frank and Maria on the sofa, Frank kissing Maria when clearly she didn’t want him to and we saw Frank’s hand on Maria’s thigh.  Maria pushed Frank off her and legged it out of the house.

Clearly, if this had not taken place in Soapland, it would not have been a pleasant experience for the woman involved.  In this scenario, Frank was out of line. I have no issue with that, but I am puzzled by Maria’s insistence that Frank ‘tried to rape’ her. Because I don’t think he did. I think he assaulted her, I am pretty sure he scared her, I’m fairly convinced she was shocked and shaken; I would suspect that he was using his substantial leverage – the possibility of giving work to the factory – to entice or persuade Maria to have sex with him. I am sure that Frank’s actions constituted an assault, but I don’t, however, think he tried to rape her.

Maybe if Maria hadn’t managed to escape when she did, Frank would have raped her – but who can say for sure?

Am I missing something? Or should Maria revise her statement and stop telling people that Frank tried to rape her?

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Like the vast majority of people in this country, I was born into a Catholic family and was brought up as a Catholic. However, as I have not considered myself a Catholic for many years, and putting down “liberal agnostic who sometimes attends services at the Unitarian church” doesn’t seem quite right, I’m going for “no religion” on the census form next month. In a country that still essentially uses baptismal records as an excuse for not providing totally secular, non-denominational education, I think it’s important that those of us with no formal religious belief or none at all make our voices heard.

However, according to Brian Whiteside of the Humanist Association, some census enumerators are actively discouraging this. In yesterday’s Irish Times, he wrote that:

on the question of religion the enumerators have been instructed to guide people to fill in the form to reflect their background rather than their current position. How does this help us plan for Ireland’s future?

How indeed? If this is true (and anecdotal evidence in the comments to the column suggests that it is), then the CSO are actively encouraging people to give them an inaccurate picture of religious practice in this country, and it’s nothing short of a disgrace. As Whiteside says,

imagine a survey on car ownership. The question “Do you have a car?” is not asked; the survey goes straight to “What type of car do you have?” And then, someone who has no car is encouraged to say they have a Morris Minor because, way back, it was the traditional family car.

What do you think? Have you encountered CSO staff giving such advice? And if they want our religious background, how far back do they want us to go? Parents? Great-grandparents? Prehistoric ancestors? Maybe we should all go for “sun-worshiper”….

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Yes, we’re all being told to make do and mend and embrace craftiness. But actually, making stuff yourself often isn’t cheap. So let’s hear it for Regina de Búrca, who offers a guide to being crafty on a budget.

I come from a long line of women who knit, sew and crochet. My forebears’ sole purpose of making things was to saving money. My grandmother’s Aran jumpers were undoubtedly beautiful yet their main function was a practical one, while my mother was a prolific dressmaker who made everything from our ‘good room’ curtains to my Communion dress. She taught me how to sew so that I could make clothes and repair them. But by the time I grew up, culture had turned disposable and the importance of skills she taught me had dwindled.

In the past, craft was often a necessity, not a hobby.

It wasn’t until my grandmother’s death in 2002 that I became interested in craft work. When we had the heart-breaking task of packing away her things, I was reminded of the significant role crafting had played in her life. We found her ‘work box’ – a hand-decorated box containing a wealth of supplies, neatly stored away with a half-finished jumper and blanket. I decided I couldn’t let her legacy go to waste and so I took them all home with me.

My grandmother’s forte was crocheting; something I’d had little experience of. When I went online to find resources to teach myself properly, I discovered that the world of handicraft had changed dramatically. Once an old-fashioned, staid pursuit, the art of crafting had become subverted; reclaimed by a dynamic, sassy generation who wanted to make things for the fun of it and had set up initiatives such as the ‘Stitch and Bitch’ groups.

I have been making things ever since then. But my approach to my hobby has changed over the years. At first it was simply a relaxing and rewarding way to spend my time. But as my salary has decreased and my expenses have gone up, I couldn’t justify spending more on say, making a jumper, than it would cost to buy one, so I gave up crafting as an overindulgent hobby.

However, it wasn’t long before I missed it. The last time I moved house, I happened upon my grandmother’s work box. I thought back to the times when making things was a good way to save money, so I became determined to find a way that I could save cash while doing something I loved so much.

It has been challenging – there will always be cheaper alternatives to homemade clothes and accessories. It is impossible to compete with mass-manufactured low-price products. But what I have found is that the items I make myself endure longer than many budget items I have purchased, so in the long term they can work out cheaper.
Here are my top resources for craft supplies on a budget. Some are online, others based in Dublin. I would be very interested to hear of any other budget retailers that I don’t know about, particularly around the rest of the country!


My first port of call for wool is always The Liberties Market in Dublin 8. It is the cheapest place I have found in the City, and the best choice when looking for wool for a pattern that requires a lot of the stuff.

The ‘special offers’ section of the Spring Wools website is a treasure trove of unusual wool and knitting kits. They deliver quickly, too!

Etsy’s knitting supplies section is useful.  it’s the most economical place I’ve found for specialist wool, I’ve found some really unique types here in the past.

I keep an eye on Aldi’s and Lidl’s special offers – they often sell bags of wool.

Charity shops can sometimes stock it – a friend of mine once bought five balls of mohair wool for two euro in a charity shop on Capel Street! Granted, I’ve scoured all the charity shops in the area to find a similar deal but haven’t… yet.


The fabric wholesalers, TWI in Dublin’s Mountjoy Square is the most budget-friendly walk-in fabric shop I’ve found – . It sells an amazing range of fabrics.

http://www.fabrics-n-stuff.co.uk/ is the cheapest online fabric retailer I’ve used. The service is fast and the shipping costs not too painful, so needless to say, I’m a regular. Their range isn’t as extensive as most online sites, so often I enhance the fabric myself using batik techniques or sewing on collars or feature pieces (see vintage market in the ‘Other’ section, below).

The clearance page on Fabrics.com has some great deals. It has the best range of budget fabric that I’ve found online, so that excuses the postage costs… just.

The fabric supplies section on Etsy is an Aladdin’s cave of fabulous materials of all kinds –

The ‘Online Fabrics’ special offer page has some good deals – but with £10.99 postage costs regardless of weight of the package, I only use it for a big order no more than once a year. Don’t forget to request samples – they are 75p each for a fat quarter. Each customer gets a maximum of ten samples.

Best way to stock up on low cost fabric is to ask any backpackers you know who are jetting off – they can pick up stunning pieces in places like Morocco or India very cheaply.


My all-time favourite craft site is at Craftown. From patterns to easy to follow illustrated guides, the website is a fantastic resource for all other types of crafting.

The member-only http://www.freepatterns.com/ is a wonderful site. Once you sign up (for free) you can download their patterns in PDF format. They also have a e-newsletter service, which provides interesting tips on various kinds of craft work.

The All Free Crafts site is an amazing compendium of patterns. And with no login to set up, it’s very accessible.


K & M Evans sells supplies for teachers and sells a huge variety of paper and paint and lots of other crafting tools, for much cheaper than high street art shops

Vintage markets are great places to pick up buttons, collars and other pieces of fabric that can be repurposed. I keep track of the fairs in Dublin through Vintage Ireland’s Facebook page.

The Craft Council of Ireland has a ‘for sale’ section on its website that sells everything from pottery kilns to screen-printing frames.

The supplies section on Etsy is a super resource for all types of craft work.

Aldi and Lidl sell the cheapest sewing machines I’ve found. I got mine in Aldi a couple of years ago for 70 euro.

Freecycle is a great place to find crafting staples such as sewing machines and dressmakers’ dummies.

DIY stores can be the cheapest places to find glue, wire and paints.

One of the main ways I save on my craft budget is by pooling resources with my friends. By sharing things like sewing machines, Lomography cameras, tile cutters (for mosaics) and bookbinding tools, we have access to far more supplies than we would normally. And it follows that we all have a shared knowledge base, so we save on tuition fees as well.

Handicraft in itself has added value because it can be so fulfilling -there is something very satisfying about making your own things. It brings me joy look at what I have made over the years, in particular the jumpers and blankets co-crocheted by my grandmother and I. I hope it’s a tradition that will be kept up through this generation and future ones.

Regina de Búrca hails from the West of Ireland. She has been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of four. She writes books for teenagers and has a MA in writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She currently lives in Dublin. Twitter: @Regina_dB

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Polystyrene was just a teenager when she became the singer in punk band X-Ray Spex. In 1977, they released their classic single ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’ and played on the same bill as bands like The Buzzcocks and Wire.  After struggles with her mental health, Poly opted out of music. She has spent the last two decades writing, occasionally resurrecting X-Ray Spex for reunions and finding solace in her Hare Krishna faith. She has just released a new solo album, Generation Indigo, produced by Youth, which features guest appearances from her sister, her daughter Celeste and Viv Albertine of The Slits.  Watch the video for her latest single, ‘Virtual Boyfriend’.

EDIT: April  26th, the Anti Room are very sad to hear the news of Poly Styrene’s death. She was an important figure in 1970s punk and an inspiration many women in music. RIP Poly.

What’s the first record you ever bought?

My Sweet Lord by George Harrison.

What’s your favourite smell?

Rose oil.

Have you ever had a nickname?

Poly Styrene!

What is your favourite room in your house?

My bedroom.

What are your guilty pleasures?


What would people be surprised to know about you?

That cancer unknowingly crept up on me.

Who is your closest female friend?

My daughter.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?


Where would you most like to live?

Where I am now, by the sea.

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?

Can’t remember!

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

The last one you just asked.

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

A hotwire cutter that cut through polystyrene.

What is your favourite word?


Who was your first love?


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

A secretary.

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

Gopi Gita.

What happens after we die?

Our soul leaves our body and reincarnates, or gets a complete spiritual form.

What female historical figure do you admire most?

Right now, Florence Nightingale.

Sum yourself up in three words:

Optimistic, Happy, Bubbly

And finally… What are you anti?


What are you pro?


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Yes. These are seriously good. I’m a firm believer in dessert before/instead of dinner, not to mention the use of food to butter somebody up. Now if you make these you shall be in the good books for at least weeks if not months…

In the mood I was in on one glorious Friday, I was craving something between some kind of brownie, some kind of fudgy chocolate cake. I was discussing this (a common topic) with some of the girls in the tutorial room when everyone seemed to simultaneously come up with ‘lava cakes’, or ‘melty yummy chocolate things’ if one were to go by my original thought. And would you know it, Nigella had a recipe for them and I had the recipe in my grasp! I may have added a wee biteen more sugar, which I think stood to it. I’ve had these in some restaurants and it’s just not actually sweet enough, so I didn’t take that chance.

The chocolate: I used a mixture of a 60% and also a 73.5% gorgeous Claudio Corallo chocolate that I’ve been meaning to use for ages. It has cocoa nibs in it and is just delicious.

Ingredients: (this makes six – maybe double the recipe)

12 oz chocolate – see above!

70g butter

180g castor sugar

4 eggs, beaten

Wee pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

50g flour

6 custard/pudding tins – the wee ones. I also used some ramekins but the custard tins worked better!

Baking non stick paper


Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees, and put in a plain tray.

Trace and cut out little circles for the bottom of the tins. Butter them, pop in the parchment, and butter a wee bit more! You don’t want these little gems to stick.

Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar.

Gradually beat in the eggs bit by bit along with the salt and vanilla. Add the flour and combine until it’s all mixed in.

Add in the cooled (ish) chocolate and beat it until it’s a nice smooth batter and divide evenly between the six tins.

Take your heated tray out of the oven and pop the tins onto it. Return to the oven for 10-12 minutes.

When done, gently remove, turn upside down onto your plate and gently tap the top. It should slide out pretty easily.

Give it a dusting of icing sugar and watch this happen…

Sarah Nicholson is a medical student who, when not staring at medical books that weigh more than a small child, tends to wander around the kitchen spilling flour and devouring chocolate at a rate that could challenge Usain Bolt. Has a penchant for polka dots and puppies. Also runs the monthly Irish Foodies Cookalongs. Find her at Cake in the Country or at @cakeinthcountry on Twitter.

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I didn’t take up drinking tea until very late in life – my twenties, as it happens.

Yes, I know that one’s twenties don’t exactly qualify as autumn years, but so engrained is the concept of The Tay in Ireland, not supping of a cuppa until you’ve moved out from home is as alien as growing feet on your ears. I taught myself to like tea because I was sick of various mammies dropping the pot in terror when I refused a splash. Whole armies of Missus Doyles stood against me. I couldn’t beat them. Not with reason, not with stroppiness, not with grandiose fabrications of horrible allergies; it was easier just to temper my tastebuds and get on with it.

Well, to an extent anyway. I drink my tea black without sugar, which wrecks their heads to an degree I’m placated by.

I began drinking tea. A little after that, I stopped eating meat. And the whole frantic rìrà began anew.

“You don’t eat meat? You … wha’? I don’t understand. How can you not eat meat? What do you eat instead?”

It started, as most things do, with my mother, who was amazed and appalled in equal measure, as if I’d suddenly become able to peel my face off at will. “Would you not have a bit of ham?” she would offer, as ham is, in her mind, not Real Meat and therefore perfectly acceptable fare for vegetarians. And in a sense, she has a point. Commercial ham slices are mostly salted water mixed with márla.

“I won’t have a bit of ham, no.”


“No, Mam. Vegetarians don’t eat chicken.”

“Mary Flaherty’s daughter eats chicken and she’s a vegetarian.”

“She’s not a vegetarian, Mam; she’s just health-conscious.”

“Jaysus. Well, what will I feed you?” And she’d stand in the middle of her kitchen, arms and eyes to heaven, hoping for divine intervention to recondition her unconventional spawn, praying for a celestial cow to fall into my gullet.

In the end she got used to the idea, and now, whenever I travel home to see her, she heats up two frozen veggie burgers and sticks them in the middle of a big white plate for me. Small mercies, dear reader. Baby steps.

It’s not just my mammy, who’s so set in her ways you could use her as a mathematical constant. Vegetarianism is not an uncommon lifestyle choice, but it still provokes some befuddling reactions here in Ireland. Let’s face it, this is a country where you were always expected to eat-that-up-it’s-good-for-you and thank the Lawrd above that you weren’t a starving child in Africa who’d have been only too delighted to finish that cabbage. We come from a long line of putter-ups or shutter-ups. The Celtic Tiger, and foreign holidays, and the influx of English bohemians who gave our comely maidens funny ideas about animal rights and breastfeeding – sure what else could you blame for this generation of Irish who have particular tastes and strong notions?

It’s not as if I’m a raw food fanatic, or fruitarian, or even a plain ole’ vegan. I just don’t eat dead things. I don’t give a (living, breathing) monkey who else eats meat. I don’t. That’s all.

“Do you eat fish?” is the most common question I’m asked.


“But fish aren’t animals!”

“They are.”

“Fish have no memories,” I’m informed.

“Evidence suggests that they do,” I reply. “And anyway, I know plenty of people with terrible memories and I don’t go about attacking them with chilli sauce and cutlery.”

“Are you one of those mad people that won’t eat eggs?”

“I love eggs.”

“Well, I suppose that’s ok so,” they say, backing away slowly.

None of this is because vegetarians are considered dangerously insane, mind. I firmly believe that such bewildered reactions to my diet come from our hospitable culture – you wouldn’t have visitors to your house without offering them refreshment, and it’s a pain in your homely bosom if your visitors have unpredictable attitude towards dead pigs. Worse if you’ve got a veggie coming to dinner; what on earth can they eat, if not steak/chops/chicken/salmon? You cannot leave a guest hungry at an Irish table. It would be mortifying.

There’s also an attitude, not confined to Ireland, that vegetarians are prissy, overly-principled, preachy and awkward. All of which apply to me on a general basis, but my vegetarianism genuinely isn’t something I prop my chin up on. I’m really easy to please. Just give me spuds and salt. Job done.

The lack of understanding what a vegetarian is, as opposed to having to understand their motivations, is what flummoxes me. Vegetarians don’t eat dead animals. Dead animals are what meat’s cut from, so no meat. The most complicated thing is cheese, and in fairness, I do understand that many carnivores won’t be aware that some cheese isn’t vegetarian – I don’t understand why Irish restaurants don’t know this, though. Surely chefs know the difference between vegetarian rennet and animal rennet? The amount of veggie dishes in Irish restaurants liberally and lovingly sprinkled with parmesan really confounds me – parmesan is made to a traditional recipe which includes calf rennet – but then again, I recently bought Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals (I’m the only veggie in my house) and the majority of his “vegetarian” recipes had more parmesan in than a waddling procession of overfed Italians. If Jamie Oliver, the world’s most famous chef, doesn’t know what parmesan is, then I can’t really blame the local beee-strow.

In the meantime, I’ve resigned myself to sticking to coffee in McDonalds and nibbling my fingernails at catered events. Oh, and surviving on the occasional, lonely veggie burger when at the homestead. One day, we’ll get the hang of these alternative lifestyles.

And on that day, I intend to stuff. My. Face.

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Salvete! Abigail Rieley on the joys of learning Latin.

The Eagle, based on The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff, hits Irish cinemas this weekend – I’m counting the days. Every time I see those toilet brush helmets my heart gives a little flutter. It’s not the sight of Russell Crowe wielding a gladius or the cast of the TV series of Spartacus wielding a lot more that has me this way, this is an obsession with much older roots. When it comes to all things Roman, I’m a total groupie. It might have something to do with growing up in London and being told that if you dug down far enough you could find the layer of ash from when Boudicca burned Londinium to the ground. It might have been the crumbling romanticism of the grassy piles of stones called Caesar’s Camp near where I grew up in Wimbledon. But if I’m honest, I was too much of a bookish kid to root my obsessions so much in the fresh air. This one has a lot more to do with a wonderfully dotty Latin teacher and the Cambridge Latin series of text books.

My school before I left England was the kind of place they used to make Ealing Comedies about back in the day. We celebrated the school’s birthday every year with lime green, sickly sweet cake, there was a school song as well as a school hymn and a glass case at the end of the first floor gallery had its tiny compartments filled with the tourist tat of an Edwardian past pupil who’d taken the Grand Tour of the Holy Land – piece of the True Cross – check, stone from the island where Jason and his Argonauts stopped off – check. Around this same wood panelled gallery hung heavy black boards with the names of those who had left with flying honours to a glittering Oxbridge education. It was a minor public day school, stuck in amber and tradition, smelling of chalk dust and furniture polish.

Miss Bickersteth was one of those traditions. If she had been a character in one of those Ealing films, Joyce Grenfell would have been a shoo-in for the part. By the time my class came to her we were primed with stories from older siblings, mothers, aunts. Her legendary status crossed generations. She was a slight, wiry woman with greying hair sculpted in Art Deco pin curls. Every class she would stride in, in her tweed pencil skirt and sensible brogues and stand behind the teacher’s desk, almost crackling with enthusiastic energy. She had a passion for a dead language that was ridiculously infectious and she was one of those rare teachers that everyone loved. No matter what we threw at her (even if our ideas of playing up in class were embarrassingly lame) she would take in her stride. When we decided to play dumb she followed suit and then threatened us with a test, when she arrived in class to find all the desks and chairs upside down she ignored them and made us sit on the floor. The woman was unruffleable – except on one occasion I can remember.

Now, I know that Latin isn’t generally seen as one of the sexiest subjects on the school curriculum, but you never heard one of Miss Bickersteth’s classes on life in ancient Rome. We learnt that doctors would use spiders webs to coagulate the blood in an open wound and, on one memorable occasion, how prostitutes used to ply their wares under the bridges of the Tiber. I think we were mistaken for the Upper Fifth, because half way through the description her hand flew to her mouth and she actually blushed. It took us several minutes to convince her that we had heard worse, before her embarrassment would subside. We had heard worse though. On Miss Bickersteth’s recommendation the whole class had been avidly tuning in to the BBC adaptation of I, Claudius, currently getting a second airing at 9 o’ clock on a school night. For kids raised on a diet of Enid Blyton and Adrian Mole the sex, madness and political intrigue of Robert Graves’ classic novels were intoxicating indeed. It was in I, Claudius I saw my first sword’s-eye view of a beheading (which still makes me rather queasy to watch) and we were all shaken by John Hurt’s crazed performance as a Caligula who ate the baby he had ripped from his sister’s womb in the hope it should sprout from his head as Aphrodite. Then there was Livia – the Joan Crawford of toga-ed divas – poisoning her way through her nearest and dearest.

Miss Bickersteth’s Latin classes had a Brother’s Grimm knack of showing us that life could be a dark, bloody affair. There was nothing dry or dusty about them, even if the verb conjugations formed an academic litany reaching back to Tom Brown’s Schooldays and beyond. But gifted and all as Miss Bickersteth was as a teacher, we wouldn’t have had that description of medicinal cobwebs without the Cambridge series of Latin text books. There aren’t many school books, with the possible exception of Soundings here in Ireland, that have wormed their way so into the psyche of those who studied them that they have their echoes in some of the most popular of popular culture. Like Soundings the Cambridge books worked because they had great content. Instead of pages of exercises and verb conjugations (worthy of repetition – they figure a LOT in Latin classes), these text books told a story. Book 1 was set in Pompeii. You knew from the beginning the ending was going to be harsh, with explosions. We were shown videos of the sad, frozen, ash-covered bodies, seen the all too visible silent screams frozen in their last moment of fear. We knew that the family going through day-to-day life with the express purpose of introducing us to the next stage of vocabulary were destined for a fiery end. Prosperous banker Caecilius, his lady-who-lunches wife Metella and their grown up and rather hunky, in a way that can only be captured by black and white stylised illustrations, son Quintus. By the time we got to the final chapter and laboriously translated the initial rumblings of Vesuvius, even Miss Bickersteth was rather sombre.

We had read about Caecilius getting anxious about a swan being slowly roasted to entertain a business associate or irritating his wife with the purchase of a particularly comely female slave. Now his final hours had come we all read the last instalments together. It came as rather a shock when, researching this post I visited the Cambridge website . The books are as I remember, although the green covers I remember have been long since revamped. Quintus now doesn’t look half as hunky as I seem to remember but I discovered, when I read that final chapter again, that I can still read the Latin after all this time. The chapter must have left one hell of an impression! Reading it again after all those years I’m amazed at how strong it still is. Read it yourself if you’re interested – it’s here. But I warn you – it’s poignant stuff – Caecilius gets hit by falling masonry and the family dog, Cerberus, also succumbs.

Actually I’m obviously not the only one scarred for life by that final chapter of first year Latin. Reminiscing recently with a fellow alumni of those slim green books Caecilius and his family are cemented in the adolescent brain. They even pop up in the Dr Who episode The Fires of Pompeii. A scriptwriter perhaps keen to exorcise a haunting image has given Caecilius a new start with the ever faithful Metella and Quintus, who will now not have to face the British weather in Book 2 with the irascible but memorably named local big wig Cogidubnus.

These days my Latin might be rusty but I’ll still be booking my tickets to soak up the Romano-British action. Ancient Rome was the first thing I was ever a geek about and for that I’m forever thankful to Miss Bickersteth and Caecilius et al.

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Jean Harrington on why she couldn’t consider buying a daffodil for Daffodil Day – until now…

Credit: Youghal OnlineJean Harrinton on why she could not - until now - consider buying a daffodil for Daffodil Day.

I’ve always been a great sport, and would consider myself an altruistic person. I have enthusiastically fundraised for different charities over the years, and partook in dinner dances, fun-days, table quizzes, sponsored fasts, sponsored walks and parachute jumps (just the one actually!). When a friend suggested that we run Dublin’s Mini Marathon for the Irish Cancer Society, I didn’t hesitate. I had seen thousands of women running for them year after year and was aware of the amount of people whose lives were touched by cancer. I always considered myself lucky that I never actually needed their services.

One day, this all changed.

When my father was first diagnosed with cancer in May 2003, his consultant decided not to do chemotherapy on him, but said that to remove his tumour first would be the best course of action. I didn’t know anything about cancer, so I decided to ring the Irish Cancer Society’s helpline to see if they had any advice they could give me.

The lady who answered the phone was very polite and concerned, but said she was unable to help, and there was no nurse present who could take my call, but she took my number and said I would get a call back.

Two weeks later my Dad was admitted to hospital, where he underwent microsurgery, to allow the surgeons ascertain the size and extent of the tumour. He told me that everything appeared to be fine, and they scheduled his operation for 23 May. Dad assured me that everything was under control, but I like to get a second opinion. Just before his operation, I rang the cancer helpline again, seeking reassurance that this was the best course of action. Again, I was told that there was no nurse available to take my call, but once again a kind lady took my name and number and said I would get a callback.

The operation to remove the tumour from his stomach was deemed successful by his surgeons; even though they were surprised to discover that it was the size of a football. I expected that this was the beginning of his recovery, and that every day after that would be a day of healing. Once again I was wrong.

He developed an infection, and his body started to shut down in shock and protest at the scale of operation. Ten days after they removed his tumour, he was put onto a life support machine. I was inconsolable. I was angry. I prayed for a miracle.

I wanted someone to blame. I rang the Irish Cancer Society’s helpline for the third time; I wanted them to tell me that it would be okay; that he would come around. Once again, a kind lady told me that no one was available to take my call, but that a nurse would call me back.

When the nurses switched off Dad’s life support machine, I still hadn’t spoken to anyone in the Irish Cancer Society. They clearly were short of resources, but rather than rally round them and start fundraising so they could help the next person, I’m afraid to say I lost myself in grief and blame. When I saw anyone selling daffodils for them, I would glare at them, willing them to ask me to buy a daffodil so I could tell them my feelings. Luckily the volunteers were wise enough to let me pass by unobstructed.

This grief and anger stayed for many years, longer than I expected it to. When I heard the ads for Daffodil Day year after year, it brought back my familiar feelings of loss, pain and grief. This year, however, the anger was missing. I seem to have finally accepted that my Dad, Robert Harrington, who died at 55; six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, is no longer in my life. I miss him SO much, and I feel a great sense of loss that he is not involved in my life. But I also accept it. This year, almost eight years after my father’s death, I think I’m ready to buy a daffodil.

NOTE: A friend who was fundraising for the Irish Cancer Society made contact with them last year on my behalf. They apologised for the situation I had been in (no apology was needed), and they said they have remedied the personnel problem. People who need to talk to someone about cancer should have no problems getting through to the right person there, and shouldn’t be put off by my story. My mother had a cancer scare late last year, and when I rang them, I was immediately put through to a nurse who advised me on the best course of action.

National Cancer Helpline: 1800 200 700 (Mon-Thurs 9-7, Friday 9-5)

Jean Harrington still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. For that reason, she does lots of things. She thought she’d like to be a writer, so she writes books. She thought publishing might be fun, so she also publishes other people’s books. Musicians are cool, so she plays the cello with a band and an orchestra in an attempt to stay cool. Then she started dabbling in teaching, as she thought that would be a suitable career for a mother (which she is). She should be too busy to blog, but when she started Tweeting (@jeanharrie) she realised 140 characters just wasn’t enough for what she had to say so she blogs at http://jeanharrington.ie

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Easily the funniest thing you will see anywhere on the internet today. Imagine Kate’s delight. I hope she and Wills have bought a full set of these….

The Fairytale Romantic Union of All the Centuries

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I have two daughters aged nine and nearly seven.  And I think they’re gorgeous.

That’s all the validation I need – my own Mammy-eyes, which would view my children as gorgeous no matter what they looked like.

I don’t need to enter them in pageants for strangers to assess them and decide whether or not my two measure up to some one else’s notion of beautiful.

It seems, however, that one woman is of the opinion that there are enough parents in Ireland who disagree with me for her to make a few bob. This woman, Jorja Gudge, is hoping to bring a beauty pageant for girls under the age of 18 to Ireland next month.

Entitled ‘Miss Princess Ireland’ this pageant is slated to take place on April 30th in Dublin. According to Ms Gudge,

‘There will be three rounds which are; Sportswear this is any sporting wear (with a glitz touch). It  could be dance wear, swimwear, football, gymnastics etc… any sport at all.’

Leaving aside the fact that I don’t think dancing is a sport, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of young girls parading in sports wear – whether or not said sportswear has a ‘glitz touch’.  Virtually all sportswear is form-fitting and skimpy.  I don’t think it’s appropriate for little girls to be dressed in bikinis or leotards and paraded in front of strangers who will then grade them on how beautiful they are.

Wearing form-fitting sportswear for actually playing sport is, of course, a completely different matter.  I am happy to acknowledge that not all  sports outfits that are form-fitting, but I’d be willing to bet that any child turning up in a tracksuit won’t win a prize.

Next up in this pageant is what Ms Gudge calls ‘wow’ wear/ outfit of choice. This can be ‘anything at all – fashion wear, occasion wear, fancy dress or theme wear.’

This is a bit vague, but I’d guess that the idea is to dress your girl in her most eye-catching gúna and hope she catches the eyes of the judges.

Last of all will be formal wear. Formal wear for children sounds innocuous enough – it makes me think of lovely summery flower girl dresses from Monsoon, but I don’t think that’s what Ms Gudge means. I googled ‘Beauty Pageants for Children’ and got lots of very disturbing images of little girls in flouncy, tacky, meringue-y, dresses that were obviously styled along the lines of ball gowns for women.

‘Also make up, hair pieces, tans etc are all permitted as this is a glitz pageant, but I will leave the decision to you on which level of glitz you decide to use,’ the organiser tells me.

Again, this is disturbing, because it implicitly tells children that they are not good enough or acceptable just the way they are. Why on earth would anyone want to use make-up, hair pieces or tans on their children in an attempt to win an ‘American-style crowns, sashes and tiaras’? What does that do to the self-esteem of participants?

When they grow up, how will these girls view themselves? Their sense of themselves, surely, will be very extrinsic? Surely, their confidence – instead of being bolstered will be damaged? And what is the use of telling a child that their worth is based purely on how they look – or how they can make themselves look by the addition of chemicals and synthetic hair-pieces?

I’m also disturbed by the fact that people attending will also be able to bring their video cameras, although they will only be permitted to video their own children. I do wonder, however, how the organiser hopes to police that one.

I don’t think that these kind of pageants do the children who take part any favours at all. I don’t think they learn any positive lessons from them – and I think they are more about satisfying the desires and dreams of their parents (usually their mothers) than anything else.

I am hoping that the parents of Ireland will avoid this pageant – and ones like it – and spare their children the damage that could potentially be done to them.

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