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Once upon a time, during the mid-1980s, I was a fresh-faced and enthusiastic young undergraduate and subsequently post-graduate student at UCD. In 1987 I, along with 300 of my peers, two-thirds of them men, graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. Back then, as now, many graduates from my class entered the big accountancy firms around Dublin and were delighted to have the opportunity to gain experience and carve out a lucrative career as an accountant. I, along with about a hundred others, decided to stay on at UCD and study for a master’s degree, an MBS in marketing in my case.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

We were intelligent and eager and we operated in a perfect meritocracy. Those that worked hardest and proved to be the brightest would graduate with the best degrees and, perhaps more significantly in the midst of a deep recession, would have the best chance of securing employment here in Ireland.

I thrived in this environment. I enjoyed the subjects I was studying and found that the combination of written exam and thesis based research suited me well. I graduated first in my class and was awarded a research fellowship for my thesis on the policies and strategies adopted by financial institutions in attracting lump sum investments. I was for that brief time first among equals and it felt good. I was hired as a business consultant by a small Dublin firm and all was well with the world. Then reality bit hard.

My male bosses were very fair & decent blokes. They treated me very well and if there was a tendency at the end of a working day for “the lads” to head down Leeson Street then I didn’t really mind it. I was happy to go home or meet with my own friends to be honest. However, some of the clients were an entirely different matter. I frequently attended meetings where I was simply ignored. I was criticised for “my” choice of biscuits. I was even complimented on the “typing and presentation” alone of one business plan that I had compiled in its entirety. I was rarely spoken to directly; clients always addressed themselves to my boss or any random male colleague that happened to be in the room. Once when I went on a business trip with my boss, who was at least a decade my senior, our bags were put into the same bedroom. He at least had the grace to look as mortified as I felt.

It came to a head one evening when I arrived at a client meeting and the male client handed accounts spreadsheets out to everybody in the room – except me; I was the lead consultant on the account and it was not an accidental oversight. I walked out. I didn’t care about the consequences and I fully expected to be fired the next day. I was called to the boardroom – and given a pay rise. The guys I worked for were genuinely decent and valued my input. However, I needed more varied experience and left to work for a major multinational. There, I was on the receiving end of a disguising, filthy phone call from a male colleague in relation to something I was wearing one day, I had to campaign to have a “girly” calendar taken down from the wall of the warehouse – a place I had to visit every day, and on one memorable occasion I found myself alone with a male business associate in what I believed to be a very compromising, dangerous situation, one  in which I felt the need to beg to be taken back to my place of work.

After a couple of years I applied for a job in the female dominated market research industry and there I thrived. I rose to the position of Client Service Director in the London office and my success there took the sting out of the occasional casual incident of sexism perpetrated by older male clients. I can honestly say that Irish men were far more prone to this behaviour than their very professional UK counterparts in my experience. One particular star in the Irish business community used to refer to myself and my female colleagues as “the spice girls” and reply to his emails during our presentations. As I progressed I was responsible for many younger male members of staff and I was always conscious of treating them with respect. I strived to never make a casually sexist remark or pass them over in favour of my female co-workers.

Therefore, and bearing these experiences and many more like them in mind, you will perhaps forgive me if I just can’t see the “funny side” or “bit of craic” in the treatment of these 13 unfortunate women working for PWC in Dublin. It’s tough out there in the testosterone fuelled business world. In my experience by merely being young and female (yes ageism is alive and well too) these women will start out at a disadvantage and will need to strive to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. This horrible, undermining, casually sexist behaviour must be taken seriously and cannot be condoned. I am perfectly prepared to be accused of being a humourless old harridan if that’s what it takes to raise awareness of this issue and eradicate such inappropriate behaviour from the workplace. I really hope we succeed but we’ve not come very far in the past twenty-five years sadly.

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I got myself my first smartphone recently, and my most-abused app so far is its little ebook reader, for which I have downloaded a delightful gloop of free classics. It’s a pleasingly tidy thing to be able to sit in the canteen in my office, reading chunky novels using only my right palm and thumb.

“Must be a bloody long text message,” said one of our managers, the other day.

“I’m reading a novel,” says I, pleased as a caramelised glutton. “I’m reading a novel ON MY PHONE.”

“Well, would you look at that! What are you reading?”

“Wuthering Heights.”

“Ah, classic. Speaking of literature, apparently Howard Jacobson’s just won the Booker for The Finkler Question.”

“Yeah, haven’t read it. I’m reading Wuthering Heights.”

“You’ve read it before?”

“Eight or nine times. Never ON MY PHONE though.”

Wuthering Heights, at this stage in my novel-gobbling career, has become rather a cosy duvet of familiar words and themes and characters that I’m loathe to cast off for unproven tomes. It’s an unhealthy thing; one should reach for the contemporary stuff when one intends to be a bit of said stuff herself one day. Wuthering Heights is a classic, true, but it’s also a guilty pleasure, and saying that about a standard of English literature comes across as mightily pompous.

“You enjoy chick-lit, you say? Love and romance and squishy stuff? Interesting. I suppose to well-read ladies such as mise fein, the classics are the no-brainers. Like, I consider the archetypical antihero Heathcliff to be my very own … er … my own *ahem* … Mr. D’Arcy.”

Because that’s what’s happened. As I’ve grown older, and stopped hanging around outside University libraries hugging my colour coordinated notebooks to my perky bosom and looking all intellectually adorable, the “flaws” of Wuthering Heights have become as apparent as janitors’ plans in a Scooby Doo adventure. I considered myself quite the little clever clogs when, at eighteen, I could genuinely nominate Emily Bronte’s gothic classic as my favourite book. While my friends succumbed to Marian Keyes and Ursula Le Guin, I scrambled up my own towering intellect and stood undulating in the hot air of its summit. I was an insufferable wally, in other words. Eleven years later, I’m starting to see cracks in the thing. Fissures. Christ, yawning chasms. And it upsets me greatly.

Where once there was a powerful story of oh-so-rosemantic consuming passion, now there is a deeply sinister tale of sociopathic vengeance. Where once was my deep respeck’ for the feisty Catherine, now festers an irritation at what an irrational hussy she was. Where once stood Heathcliff-my-Heathcliff, there now lies crumpled a right nasty fucker who you wouldn’t let clean out your eaves, let alone take pride of place in your boudoir. I once knew that Catherine and Heathcliff were the very best in star-crossed lovers, and now it seems that they were a right pair of selfish, whingey little sods with more money than sense and unfortunate access to damp, injurious weather whenever they wanted to prove a selfish, whingey point.

Don’t get me wrong; had I the detachment to intelligently critique Bronte’s masterpiece, I would still admire it, for Wuthering Heights is beautifully written, brilliantly plotted, and deep as any other novel you could care to mention. But I don’t have that detachment, and the result is that I’m terribly peeved by all I missed when I first devoured the thing. Who knew that Heathcliff was such an epic dick? Not me; I thought he was faithful love personified! No violent boor my Heathcliff; he was misunderstood, that’s all.

When I was eighteen, I thought of Heathcliff as proof positive that Bronte knew more about true love than anyone who’d ever lived. She knew my kind of man was a tortured saucepot who’d be unable to stop himself ravishing my waiflike self, even after all of the proud ice storms I fecked his way (he’d also have lots of mysterious money and a great big house). Now that I’m all growed-up, I dither between believing Bronte was a genius birther of characters superhuman in their flawed humanity, or that she was a wannabe sex kitten who’d have run away with the gypsies if her tuberculosis hadn’t hobbled her. I still can’t decide whether Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights as art, or masturbatory catharsis.

Plaster the plot of Wuthering Heights into a contemporary setting, package it and send it out for review, and you’d get some horrified squawks from the likes of me. There’s nothing sexy about petulant suicide and domestic violence, so redo that bodice, thank you very much, Ms. Bronte. For shame!

The moral of my story is: don’t read much-loved classics after coming of age. Those delightfully solid assumptions you made about the author’s intentions turn out to have iceberg arses. Those characters you befriended and made precious start to kick lumps out your insides. You start picking holes, and a duvet full of holes is no longer a cosy comfort, and certainly not suitable reading for break times in the canteen.

For God’s sake, I was reading Call Of The Wild the other day, and found myself wondering whether Jack London was into bestiality. That can’t be right!

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The sea, Mam, the sea


My mother recently had a significant birthday. To mark this fact, my sister and I took her on her first foreign holiday.

I would tell you which significant birthday it was were it not for the fact that Mam’s next ‘first’ is to conquer The Internet. No doubt her first mission will be to google her youngest daughter and find out what secrets and lies she has been disseminating about the family on the worldwideweb all these years. If I say what age she is, she will find out, she will brain me and she will eat it with one of the small, scallop-patterned soup spoons she keeps for “company”.

Let me instead present something only slightly less revealing: my mother in her swimsuit. She is very, very cute in it. It is purple with a neon-pink trim and it only took us three shopping trips and a very heated half-hour in the dressing room of Marks and Spencers to find it.

This is also a first. When we were children, Mam found she couldn’t look at any large body of water without feeling dizzy. Not a swimming pool, not any river bigger than the stream up the road; certainly not the sea. My sister and I didn’t learn to swim and neither did she. I don’t know why deep water inspired such vertigo and nausea in her. It was just a fact and a given. By the time I wanted to ask, I was afraid to. My fear of asking was as irrational as her fear of the water itself.

I know her seasickness was fear-induced because somewhere between my sister and I leaving our landlocked county in our late teens and all three of us going on her first sea-and-sun holiday as adults, she was able to shed it. Last week, she waded straight into a warm Atlantic up to her waist, laughing as the waves knocked her off her feet.

“Isn’t it amazing to think I haven’t done this before?” she said, a huge smile on her face.

I was further out, floating, shielding my eyes to look back at her big achievement. She was proud of herself and I was proud of her. And from somewhere else I felt sadness, and entirely unrelated to the sea I was floating in, I tasted salt.

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The R-Word

I was at a little gathering recently. Some food, some drink, and early-evening gossip – not exactly the environment for fireworks or teary politics. And yet, even before the trickle of wine had morphed into a hedonistic gush, and bottles of spirits were dug out of cupboards to help along those heading towards delicious bitching, one of the guests had driven away in tears, while another paced outside, chewing through cigarettes and trying to coax her blood pressure down. What had happened to cause such an catastrophe? Simple; someone had used the “R” Analogy.

Kristen Stewart and Martin Cullen don’t generally have all that much in common (apart from his surname matching her on-screen boyfriend’s whilst rhyming with her face), yet both recently found themselves wincing apologies after likening intrusion into their private lives to being raped. Mindlessly comparing an occupational hazard to a serious crime was, naturally, seen as being extremely offensive to real victims; Stewart’s reference stung because of her rich, privileged status, Cullen’s because he’s a man in a position of influence and power. At the party the other night, our perpetrator spoke of how she’d discovered that a person she thought had loved her had lied to her, in the most heinous way, over and over again, essentially creating a version of himself so far from reality that she had fallen for a man who didn’t really exist. The truth was devastating. She felt worthless, stupid; she had wasted a year of her life on a charlatan. In her confessional state, she let slip that it felt like she’d been raped. The other guest, who had been raped in her teens and has always been honest and open about how she continues to struggle to come to terms with it, was sorely offended.

Her short, angry burst can be summed up thusly: don’t ever use the R-Word to describe anything but the R-Word. You cannot imagine it unless you’ve been through it.

The first guest, chastised and mortified, fled the gathering.

Now. There’s never going to be a place or time when I feel it’s right to wonder aloud how this rape victim or that rape victim feels about the crime committed against him or her. People deal with trauma differently. The aftermath of an assault of a sexual nature is an even trickier minefield for the victim to navigate – everyone knows you just don’t see as much victim-blaming with any other kind of serious, personal crime – which is all the more reason to accept that there is no “norm” here, no tried-and-tested rule for Getting Over It that we can package into a handy guidebook and give out at the Rape Crisis Centre. Some people loathe the term “victim”. Some sneer at the alternative “survivor”. Some refuse to be ashamed. Many, and here’s the kicker, feel such deep shame and fear that they never recount their experience, ever. To anyone. It’s a terrible truth that victim-blaming can apply in the victim’s own head, as well.

Which is where my problem lies with bashing those who dare to use the R Analogy. Yes, it’s an extremely insensitive metaphor to pull out of the ether when you’re feeling lazy and indignant. And it is worrying that likening every personal trauma to rape could normalise something which should never be normal. But who’s to say that celebrities who cry rape-a-like know nothing of rape? Who’s to say that the girl who fled our party had no idea what she was alluding to? Rape is, unfortunately, not rare. There are many people in your social circle who could, no doubt, offer qualified opinions on the matter – quite possibly, a few more than you might expect. People will use the R-word. Some of them might even know what they’re talking about. Is there any real advantage to reacting abrasively?

My friend was certainly well within her rights to feel indignant. I’ve always admired how audacious she can be when recounting her experience; as upsetting as it is for her, she’ll talk it out, she’ll “go there” if it needs to be said. But I wonder too, how would she have reacted had the other girl turned around and told her, “Yes, I do know what it’s like…”

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On a recent visit to my parents’ house, I was given a huge box of assorted junk to sort through. In amongst the Leaving Cert notes and photographs and cassette cases were the diaries. Innocent-looking copybooks, mostly, covered with brown paper and scrawled REM lyrics. I had to wait until I was back in my own flat with a cup of tea before I could bear to open them up.

And oh, I was a moany teenager. I moaned at length and in terrible handwriting about boys I fancied who didn’t fancy me back (and vice versa), about getting braces, about the social injustice of not being allowed to go to the school disco. I seem to have left the most embarrassing stuff out, like the time I tried to cut my own fringe, but still, the copybooks made for stomach-lurching reading. They’ve since been tucked away out of sight in the spare bedroom.

But while I don’t reckon my adolescent rants will be seeing the light of day again any time soon, plenty of people in Ireland and the UK have been dusting off their diaries and taking part in so-called “shame parties”. Part confessional, part group therapy, participants in the gatherings take turns to read the most squirm-inducing diary entries, song lyrics, poems and letters from their teen years aloud. One such party, the Cringe series, has spawned two books of assorted angst from its contributors, including some gems excerpted by the Guardian here.

So, ‘fess up, readers – did you keep diaries as a teenager? And could you stand to re-read them now – in private or in public?

Catherine Brodigan

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I had a horrifying brush with misogyny the other day. Out on the town with a group of women I was sharing a friend’s birthday with, I encountered a rush of disdain and disparagement towards my glammed-up companions I was not quite expecting and didn’t know how to handle … because it was coming from me.

I’m not good with the whole Girls’ Night Out thing, generally. I don’t like to categorise my friends by gender, or segregate them in social settings in case De Boys try to mate with De Girls. Just because we share a certain physical blueprint doesn’t mean we have anything at all in common, after all. I find, too, that when there are plans for a Girls Night Out, there is a certain leaning towards inviting along women you wouldn’t usually socialise with, just to make up the numbers – sisters of friends, daughters of neighbours, ex-girlfriends of troublesome future brothers-in-law, all swept into the same cocktail bar in a sort of unintentional, uncomfortable celebration of womanhood that begins and ends with fragile smiles and scornful texts home. There was something of that in my recent night out; the birthday girl had collected quite a hodge-podge of ladies, only two of whom I’d met before (and only one of those I’d had a conversation with). I can be quite the chameleon when I feel like it, though, so I wasn’t too worried about fitting in. There’s always common ground somewhere, and I could always do what I did on the last hen night I was at – inadvertently but mortally insult the groom’s sister and thus become the evening’s entertainment.

But there was no common ground.

Not even lowest-common-denominator ground.

I don’t subscribe to the girly model – rosé, make-up counters, Sex And The City – although some of my close friends do, and we still find plenty to talk about. I’m not gay, into Converse, or hopelessly addicted to reality tv, but I still manage to have a best friend who’s all three. It is an entirely new experience for me to find myself surrounded by aliens, in other words – it’s not like I expect to only get along with people exactly like me in every way – and yet I was, out in the city, with pretty and vivacious sorts who were all around my age, but utterly alone. We were all of the same cultural background – we all watched the same sitcoms growing up, all loved the same 90s bands, all well aware that Deirdre Barlow hadn’t a criminal bone in her body. And yet I couldn’t find a single thing to talk about with my new companions, no gap in their inane codswallop to hitch sense to, and scramble into. In fact, it wasn’t so much lack of common ground. These women were idiots.

I know, Jesus, I know. I shouldn’t call other people idiots; we’re all capable of idiocy, but the odd pratfall into brainlessness doesn’t make you a lost cause. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to look good, whatever shade of “good” you go for. Being bright orange, wearing a paint pot of mascara on your fake eyelashes, and pumping and trussing your breasts up to your chin doesn’t mean you’re of but modest intelligence, as celebrity glamour models never tire of telling us. Aspiring to nothing but being bright orange, wearing a paint pot of mascara on your fake eyelashes, and pumping and trussing your breasts up to your chin probably does, though; style is an embellishment to a personality, not an alternative to one. And embellishments and improvements to a personality all too deftly hidden were all these girls could talk about – I want my boobs done, I want my arse waxed, I want my nose fixed, I want to meet a footballer in Lanzarote and pose for Maxim and wear a tiara up to the chandeliers when our wedding is covered in Ok! Oh look! My knickers match my dress! I’ve always believed that there must be something ticking away behind the facade of the dolly bird – it takes a healthy bank balance to keep one in designer claws and bottles of WKD, after all – but I honestly could find nothing at all to latch on to with these ladies, no topic of conversation we could all get behind without anyone’s brains leaking out her eye sockets.

The thing that upset me most is that these ladies were of the same social class as myself (how outdated does that sound? Social class!). We were all working class, urban girls … exactly the kind of girls one might expect to act like lipglossed ninnies. It was like coming across a pocket of prejudices in the middle of your PC conscience, or like meeting a tribe of savages on an expedition to save the rainforest. I used to loftily insist that girls like that didn’t exist outside of dance music videos or Big Brother buffoonery, and it was a nasty, unwelcome shock to find them congregating, dim as you like, in the real world. And, like the hitherto optimistic explorer in the jungle paradise, I wanted to run from the savages. What’s the point in trying to woo the headhunters? You’ll only lose your head.

Not having the option of running away, I drank myself stupid instead. Which wasn’t a stereotypically idiotic action to take at all. But what else is there to do when you’ve just choked on your own politics?

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I’m in a giving mood….blame the good weather.

Anyway, I thought I’d divulge a few of the things that have been making my life more fun as of late. First up, time to get a little Beaut.ie on yisser arses:

I have discovered two new beauty products that have made my life a lot easier. First up is the Bourjois 1 Second Fan Effect Brush nail polish. No more waving my hands about like a muppet to get my nails dry (and then, per sod’s law, getting them fucking well smudged on something): this stuff works in record time. And you literally need to use one stroke of the brush…hell, a cracked-out chimp could do her nails with this gear. The first time I got introduced to it in fact, I had several Martinis taken and used it with one eye closed. And you know what? I looked like I’d gotten a frickin’ manicure. In the middle of Solas.

I’ve also been curious about getting eyelash extensions, but now I don’t need to, thanks to the L’Oreal Double Extension Beauty Tubes Mascara. Seriously, it makes your lashes hit your bloody eyebrows. Plus, there are no smudges, at all at all. I woke up one morning with the full face of make-up on and a rather handsome young specimen there next to me. Initially, I panicked, thinking that the poor chap would be a little freaked to see me in my grizzled panda-eyed state, but no…the lashes stayed put. Even if he didn’t.

Right, onto the music recommendations before the boys start to doze off.

I, along with about 30 others, went to see a rather lovely band last night called A Sunny Day In Glasgow, who are in fact from Philadelphia. I’m a sucker for twee, shoegaze, lo-fi indie and this lot really did it for me. Those fabulous folk at Foggy Notions really have an ear for a brilliant, obscure act, and have brought some fantastic, lesser-known luminaries to Ireland in the last year. It was a criminally short set, and the vocals sounded fairly manky in a live setting, but on record ASDIG are really rather incredible. Think the shimmery, glazed dreaminess of Cocteau Twins or Velocity Girl mixed with something a little more robust like Superchunk or Drop Nineteens. A match made in heaven if you ask me. And yes, I did leave my heart in 1995.

Sure give this ASDIG song a lash:

A few nights ago, I dropped in on Honoria for a sociable cup of tea, which then of course turned into an impromptu, 8-hour Sauvignon bender. That lass is such a feeder!! Anyway, we ended up yanking out old records at 4am (profuse apologies, Penny’s neighbours) and found a long forgotten gem from Rollerskate Skinny entitled Shoulder Voices. And, having not heard this lovely album in well over a decade…well, it was simply the nicest shock you could get. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of hearing the sadly defunct Rollerskate Skinny, take a gander at this (and pay no mind to their ridiculously charmless singer, the albums really are worth a listen):

Another of my favourite defunct bands is Swirlies, who created one of the best shoegaze albums ever, in my mind. You can download their albums here, legally and for free. Start with They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days, and see how you go. And don’t say I never give youse nothing.

Or if you don’t fancy doing all that, just listen to this:

What with the renewed interest in My Bloody Valentine, I am optimistic that shoegazing will make a comeback. Oh happy feckin’ day.

For purposes of gainful employment, I had been working with a lot of music since very recently, and I admit, dear reader, that I became so jaded and sated with music that couldn’t bear to listen to anything new. But I am finally coming out of hibernation and am finally able to stomach the sound of a decent album again. In fact, I have been monstrously excited by albums from Beirut, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear.

So if anyone has any music recommendations along those lines, please lob ’em on over. At this moment in time, I like my music like I like my men; woodsy, earthy, robust, sincere, a little bit dark…and with a kink.

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