Thursday, May 7, 2015

FAILING OUR YOUNG PEOPLE.....

Dinner table discussions are one of the best things about family life.. and like good wine they get better as the kids get older.  I had the rare experience of gathering my three daughters and my husband around a big roast dinner last night in advance of my eldest’s journey back to Perth after a short visit home. 

The last day with her is always awful.  Emotions are raw and all just below the surface.  We  are all walking on eggshells like Basil Fawlty in that famous episode of Fawlty Towers afraid to ‘mention the war’ or in our case ‘the parting’.  We usually make lots of nonsense small talk to avoid opening the floodgates of tears.

But last night was different as the talk turned very quickly to the Marriage Equality referendum.  My emigrant daughter found it hard to believe that there was a concerted campaign for a No vote.  However it was my other two daughters, aged 16 and 14 who were most vocal on the issue.

They had both recently discovered a number of families known to them who are voting no. This stunned them.  

But what upset them most, was that in the majority of cases, the off spring in these families are very angry at their parent’s stance on this issue.  Living, in Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown in supposedly one of the most liberal constituencies in the country, I was also stunned at this revelation.  One of my daughters told us of her friend who is gay and his parents are also voting no. 

Conversation continued as I recounted my rather surreal experience of debating the issue on air on East Coast Radio earlier in the day.  I talked about the misinformation and fear being spread by the No side which is very difficult to counter.  Then my youngest who is 14 exploded. 

“In this referendum we should be allowed to vote.  This is an issue that will affect our lives and the lives of our friends.  It will have no affect whatsoever on these parents who are straight and already married. They also grew up in an era when homosexuality was illegal and under the radar.  It was OK to look down and judge gay people.  And now they might be the ones who may get to decide on this very issue.  It is not fair that we cannot have our say.  That our voices will not be heard.”

And she is right.  Once again we in this bloody country are doing a disservice to our young people.  Not only can they not vote on this issue but we are not even hearing their views.

We finished our meal almost more depressed than if we had visited the issue of saying goodbye to the eldest. 

However on a more positive note, the girls also told us that their school, which is a former convent school with a very Catholic ethos, is festooned with Yes stickers and they are not being removed by the staff.  This cheered me somewhat until I realised that only a small minority of the school population will have a vote!


The clarity with which our teenagers view this referendum, seeing it clearly as an issue of equality and not one of parenting is also making me rethink my stance on the other issue we vote on on May 22nd.  Maybe a young President is what this bloody country needs?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

WEARING YOUR MID LIFE CRISIS....On Your Head

It was Coco Chanel who said that a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.  This may or may not be true.  But what is very true is that a woman’s relationship with her hair goes way beyond the obvious.  It is a deeply intense bond that proclaims something to the world about the woman’s inner life.

I remember well my first proper hairstyle.  The first time I ever went to a hair stylist.  I think I was about ten.  Before this my dear mother, who is gifted in many things but not hairdressing, used to give me the classic pudding bowl cut complete with wonky fringe that was de rigour for children in Ireland in the 1970s.  So it was a big deal to be given the two pence ha’penny or whatever it was to take myself off to the local hairdressers for a proper hairstyle.  A bob. A heavy fringe and curtain of beautifully styled hair with a turn under for added bounce.  I was gorgeous.  I didn’t just think I was gorgeous I FELT gorgeous.

The early 80’s ushered in the era of the perm.  I achieved my own unique version of the poodle, with a straight hair on the top of my head (because I was – and still am - very tall) and full curly sides.  This look involved spending hours with foul smelling stuff on my head (it did actually make my eyes water) in a trendy salon on Baggot St.  I knew it was trendy because Gillian Bowler, who was then selling sexy holidays to Greece was also a regular client – although she never went for a perm as far as I know!  Her long, luscious locks cascaded around her face from the permanent sunglasses perched on her head, winter and summer.

By the end of that decade I was a single parent and decided I required a kind of ‘don’t fuck with me’ hairstyle which was a short back and sides.  I hoped it would make me look like a strong woman.  In reality I looked like a lanky boy.  

In the 90’s I met a man I liked and got married.  My look softened along with my heart and I splashed out on blonde highlights. This marked the first time I tinkered with the colour of my hair  – well unless you include the dabbling with Henna in the late 70s.

The wedding highlights were just beginning to fade when the grey hair started to be an issue. Marriage, huh?  Anyway I added a box of Clairol that looked vaguely similar to my own colour, to my supermarket shopping and did a home job.  But the toll on the bathroom was immense; splashes of brown on tiles, on the loo, on the sink and not to mention to ruined towels. 

In spite of my efforts the grey continued its relentless march.  Tougher action was called for.
So began the visit to the local salon every two months to ‘have my colour done’.  Two hours to read trashy magazines and wonder about celebrity life styles after which I bounced back out to my life with a shiny ageless head of beautifully blow dried hair. 

Then two months become six weeks and now we are down to one month.  And I am beginning to fear that I am losing this battle. 

Now let me state clearly the obvious.  And that is that while my hair has been succumbing to my great age – so has the rest of me.  I have lines on my forehead and wrinkles around my eyes and mouth.  My chin has trebled and my jaw line is slack.  And that’s just my face.  But somehow I can live with all of that.  In fact I come close to believing that my face now has character.  My lines and wrinkles speak of tears shed through both sorrow and sheer joy.  And in the right light – fairly dark light, let it be said – I look, well, kind of reasonable.  No siree - no botox or fillers or any of that rubbish for me. 

But my hair lets me down every time those grey roots start to appear.  Immediately I look (with all due respects to her) like my 80 year old mother. 

The recession hasn’t helped.  There have been months when I have taken pity on the dog whose nails are scraping on the floor and who trips over his own long hair and taken him to the groomers with my hair money.  Sure what will another couple of weeks matter, I ask myself. Oh but it does matter.  Once those grey roots appear all around my face, I notice people talking to my hair rather than to me.  I keep catching sight of myself in shop windows or mirrors and wondering why my aforementioned mother has joined me.

Last summer my hairdresser gently suggested that I might like to start to lighten my hair colour a little.  This would make the appearance of grey roots a little less obvious.  But I wasn’t happy.  My hair had never been light brown.  It didn’t match my eyebrows.  I didn’t feel like me. 

So I decided that I should do something radical with my hair.  Purple, I thought to myself.  I’ll dye my hair purple.  Deep Purple – not that Kelly Osborne washed out purple... but proper purple.   That would be very rock ‘n’ roll. 

So next visit to my beleaguered hairdressers I informed them of my wish to go purple, proper purple.  They tried to politely dissuade me.  But I insisted.  They said they didn’t really have the purple I wanted in stock.  Sure maybe I should think about it. 

I did.  I asked them just to give me a trim and blow dry and on the way home I picked up a colour from the supermarket.  My first attempt turned out a bit red rather than purple.  But I preserved – for the last six months I have been various shades of red and pink – usually at the same time.  I never achieved the purple I envisaged.  My hair was a bit of a mess.

But here’s the thing about one’s hair.  Unless you really, truly care, you only really pay attention to what’s framing your face.  So I was pretty unaware of how weird my colour was until I travelled half way around the world recently to holiday with my emigrant daughter whose first job was in a hairdressers.

“Jesus Ma, you’re hair’s great craic – it’s brown, grey, pink and red.”  To make matters worse, the climate in Bali is very humid and so my multicoloured barnet also frizzed out in all directions.  I finally realised I did indeed look a holy show. 

In desperation I sent a message to my long suffering local hairdressers begging them for an appointment on the way back from the airport. 

“I think I might lighten my hair... “ I muttered sheepishly.  “For the summer, like.”    
The colourist looked at my poor sun bleached, dry, multicoloured hair. 
“We didn’t do this, did we?” she asked.
“No.  I did”
“Right.  Well there is no quick fix.  Killing that red tone is going to take a bit of time.  We will have to go a bit darker before we can lighten it.  Otherwise you will just have pink highlights.”

Pink highlights?  For a minute, I wondered.   
But I think I am over my hair proclaiming my personal mid life crisis.  I am ready to move on!   I think.....

Monday, February 23, 2015

#askhermore

Feminism is a funny old game.  It is a classic case of two steps forward and one backwards.  As women move forward in our quest for full equality there seems to be an equal counterweight which balances this progress by reminding us that we still aren’t really that equal.  Just in case we get ahead of ourselves like.

Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the media and entertainment.  Take the movies, for example.  While there seems to be a feeling abroad that things are improving for female lead roles, research recently published by the Centre for the Study of Women in Film and Television showed that, in fact less than 12% of the lead protagonists in the top grossing 100 movies in 2014 were women.  Less than 12%.  And women only represented 30% of all speaking characters in these movies.

But along with these dismal statistics are the facts that most of the women in film are younger and usually identified by their social roles rather than their careers.  In other words they are portrayed as far less powerful than their male counterparts. 

At this juncture can I just give TV3 a shout out for their superb new soap drama series ‘Red Rock’ which is liberally sprinkled with strong female characters, who operate in their own right.  It’s very refreshing and they are every bit as compulsive as any of the male leads.    

Anyway, back to Hollywood and the fact that we might think that Disney putting a princess into a blue dress means that things are changing.  The reality is that they are not. 

Of course one of the main ways to reduce a woman’s power is by subtly reminding her that no matter what her accomplishments are, she will still be judged first and foremost on her appearance.  And no where will you find this illustrated more elegantly than on these ‘Red Carpet Shows’ that precede all the big awards ceremonies.  In one fell swoop these shows have managed to reduce some of the most wonderful actresses and female performers in the world to beauty pageant contestants. 

E! Fashion Police (yes, an actual programme which used star the late Joan Rivers) leads the charge in this regard with their vacuous presenters, Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic who line up female stars to ask “so.... who are you wearing?”  E! has also championed two new technologies to help them in their task of reducing the actresses to clothes horses.  The Glam Cam rotates an image of the actress round and round and up and down so we can judge her from all angles and then we have the mani-cam.  Yes, you guessed it.  A mini red carpet so the actress to walk her fingers towards the camera so we can view her manicure and her jewellery.  

However the good news is that the fight back is on, it seems to be working and it began on the much maligned medium of social media. 

The Representation Project grew from the success of a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom called ‘Miss Representation’ which examined how women were portrayed in across all media, from film to news and current affairs.  The mission of the project is to highlight and challenge the limiting depictions of women in media. 

In response to the inane questions that female actors are subjected to on the red carpet they began a hashtag called #askhermore.  This allows users of social media, particularly Twitter to urge broadcasters to ‘ask her more’ than just what dress she is wearing.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like a nice frock and wearing too much make up to a ‘posh do’ occasionally.  And yes, I watch these Red Carpet shows and love to see the style.  But I would also love to hear about how the actress felt about the role, or what she was doing next. 

The website Buzzfeed sent a reporter to cover the red carpet at the recent BAFTA’s in London who only spoke to male actors and gave them the ‘who are you wearing treatment’, along with requesting Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton to ‘do a twirl’.  You can guess who did and who didn’t.  But it was the look on the mens’ faces as they were faced with such trivial, banal questioning that was the best.

At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January actors Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore all refused to parade their fingers for the mani cam. 

But to borrow from Mr Dylan, “the times they are a-changing”.  Last night, as I watched the first hour of E!’s Red Carpet Show the change in emphasis was obvious.  Men and women were both asked who they were wearing – but that was it.  They were then asked more.  And for the time I watched anyway there wasn’t a mani-cam or glam cam in sight. 


The fight goes on but at least the battle to #askhermore seems to have been won.  


You might like this story on the Oscars From My Table Archives  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

FEARLESS NO MORE.....


I have a fear of clutter.  I throw stuff out at an alarming rate.  I especially hate the idea of the space above our heads being full of rubbish, so things have to pass my inspection before they are allowed to be stored in the attic.  However there are two large bags up there which I insist on keeping.  I rarely investigate these bags but I like to know they are there. 

These bags contain a part of my soul.  They contain my old diaries.  No, not the kind of private journals into which you pour your heart and innermost darkest secrets.  No, these are work diaries.  And they go right back to the early 1980s.

My first career was in the travel business and my oldest diaries date from my days working for JWT.  Although holding no deep secrets, they do provide plenty of clues to what was going on in my life then.  Because along with work related appointments and reminders, my social life is also recorded therein.  Pages that end with a scribble that says ‘Toners’ (pub in Baggot Street in which I spent quite a proportion of my meagre salary in those heady days), or Fridays that often say “the Pink” referring to the place to hang out back then. 

Music gigs were also an important feature with weekends littered with band names like ‘Stepaside’ and ‘The Lookalikes’.  Just looking at these notes, which give away no secrets, I can remember many things that will remain forever secret, well as long as I don’t ever fall out with my oldest friends.

But it’s not just the pages of the diary that hold clues to my previous lives.  My diaries have always been used as storage folders for important bits and pieces of information – everything from other people’s business cards to notes and letters.  My JWT diaries hold copies of memos requesting holidays.  There are long rolls of telex communications that were vital for some reason or other.  Ask your ma or da what a telex is.  These diaries are a window into the world of work in the largely pre computer era. 

At the back of the diaries are lists of vital phone numbers – although in those days I could recite most of them off by heart.  I don’t even know my children’s phone numbers now – something that does worry me.

And there are postcards from various far flung destinations.  In the days before Facebook when we went on holidays we sent postcards back to let friends and family know that we were having a wonderful time.  They’ve lasted way longer than last month’s Facebook posts.

Currently in my work desk I have a drawer that is full of my most recent diaries... the writing and broadcasting ones.  One of the great joys of self employment is getting to pick one’s own diary.

About five years ago, when I first decided to leave the cosy and safe confines of my kitchen table in deepest suburbia in order to market my opinions in the media I came across a diary called ‘A Fearless Woman’.  Knowing that this was what I was going to have to become, I bought it.  It was pretty and colourful and each month began with a page emblazoned with an affirmation. 

I have bought a Fearless Woman Date Book even since.  Let me share what January 2014 said; “From the deep well of her spirit, her brave voice awakens to rise and to roar.  Empowered to say what she knows to be true, she speaks up and doesn’t hold back”.  Great motivational stuff that I cling to on days when I wonder what kind of an eejit I am to think anyone is going to commission me to write anything at all. 

So for the last five years my desk has been graced by my gorgeous Fearless Woman Diary.  Then in the haze Christmas shopping madness, I made a rash decision.  My head was turned by a pretty little pocket diary covered in glitter.  “Sure wouldn’t that be grand” I thought to myself; a nice sparkly diary that I could have in my bag.  Big mistake. Huge.

Two weeks into January I was lost and I’m still completely bereft.  My glittery diary is too small.  I can never find it.  It won’t fit precious photos or slips of paper I may need.  I hate it.

But worst of all, it’s now too late to find a Fearless Woman diary in the shops. 


The moral of this tale is that all that glitters (yes, I know he wrote ‘glisters’) is indeed not gold.  Also - you are not what you eat – you are your diary. And how am I to continue to be a Fearless Woman in 2015 when I only have a stupid glittery yoke to work with?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A FAMINE SIT COM? WHY NOT?

When I first heard that Channel Four had commissioned a ‘sit-com’ about the Famine I winced.  My reaction was one of revulsion.  The famine remains a special kind of horror that we may still be coming to terms with as a nation.  The National Famine Monument in Co Mayo was only unveiled in 1997 and it was not until 2008 that we, as a country inaugurated a National Famine Commemoration Day.   Why did we take so long to begin to deal with this catastrophe?  Do we carry the horror of starving to death in our DNA as a kind of race memory?  Do we Irish people of today carry some residue of guilt that our families survived and remained in Ireland?  I think all of these questions may have an affirmative answer.

I know I was not alone is experiencing revulsion at the idea of a comedy being set around those awful years between 1845 and 1850.  There is currently an online petition with over 20,000 signatures against this proposed project.

But once I got over my initial reaction I was almost equally disturbed by the notion that I might consider certain topics to be off limits to comedy or satire.  All my life I have found humour even in the darkest moments.  And I believe that it is this ability to see the absurd even in the tragic that has regularly saved my sanity.  I am a huge believer in the power of humour to make life bearable and at times joyful beyond explanation.  There is nothing as exhilarating as to be taken to that place where you are literally crying with laughter.

We lost American comedian Joan Rivers last year.  At times Ms River’s comedy made me wince too.  Particularly when she attacked someone for being fat or ugly – or God forbid, both.  I still think that personal attacks are the lowest form of wit.  Ricky Gervais is another purveyor of this brand of humour.  I like my comedy to be a bit clever.

When Ms Rivers died, I tweeted that I sometimes found her humour to be cruel rather than funny.  That tweet didn’t earn me any new followers and I was taken to task by a number of her fans online. 

Over Christmas, ITV screened ‘An Audience with Joan Rivers’ which was originally aired in 2005.  Towards the end of the programme she was asked if there was anything she wouldn’t joke about.  Her answer completely won me over. 

It’s a well known fact that her husband committed suicide (as she says, ‘in the 80s when it was still chic’).  She explained that when she went back on stage the first time after his death,  she could feel the audience wondering how she would be.  She tackled their curiosity head on.  Her first joke was about suicide. 

However, she then went on to talk about how her beloved daughter, Melissa reacted after the sudden death of her father.  Melissa has spoken him on the phone the night before he died.  Melissa was also the only person home when the phone call came to say he passed away.  Joan got somewhat emotional when she explained how, for over a week after the funeral, she couldn’t reach her poor 15 year old daughter.  Finally she took her out to dinner to a very expensive restaurant in Hollywood.  As they looked at the menus Joan said “you know Melissa, if you father were here looking at these prices, he’d kill himself all over again”.  And Melissa laughed.  Connection was re-established.

I think there is a reason that we are the only species on earth that have a sense of humour.  I am sure that our ability to laugh is designed as a release valve – a way of making life more bearable, especially at times of disaster – personal, national or indeed global.

Joan Rivers can joke about suicide because she has experienced it at close quarters (and she did a lot of charity work around the issue).  There was a truth in her comedy. 

The young man commissioned by Channel Four to write this sit com about the Famine is Hugh Travers.  He is Irish.  So too is the production company, Deadpan Pictures.  That also makes a difference.  So although the project may air on a British TV station, it will be an Irish creation.

We Irish should be the first to make comedy around the Famine, because we know the truth of it.  It won’t lessen the horror of what happened.  It won’t insult the memory of those that died.  It won’t change anything.  No more than the movie ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ lessened the horror of the Vietnam War. 


But it had better be funny.  To be unfunny would be unforgiveable. I wish Mr Travers the best of luck.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

LOVE CHRISTMAS? ME?... Maybe this year



Every Tuesday a lovely, chatty man who loves to laugh calls to my door with a delivery of eggs.  We shoot the breeze for a couple of minutes and we always end up with a laugh.  Last week the poor man had the misfortune to ask me if I was looking forward to Christmas.  “Looking forward to Christmas” I roared at him... “looking forward to Christmas.  No I bloody well am not.  Christmas is just a whole heap of hard work.”  By now his expression of slight bemusement had morphed into something approaching terror, as if he has awoken some sleeping beast or had suddenly realised he was on a rapidly accelerating runaway train.  He started to edge back out the door.  But I was only getting going.  “Along with the stress of weeks of present buying in stuffy over crowded shops I then have the prospect of peeling a mountain of spuds on Christmas Eve, followed by carrots and sprouts... that no one likes but we have to have them because they are traditional.. and God forbid we move away from tradition.  Not to mention trifle, puddings and Christmas cake.  Now who the hell in the right mind would look forward to Christmas?  It’s too much bloody hard work” I roar.  The poor man was at the front gate by now, muttering “right so, see you next week.” 

As I closed the door I realised that I seemed to actually resent Christmas even more than I had thought.  I felt sorry for the egg man who would clearly arrive home to his wife saying “jaysus Barbara went off on a right one today”.  Although maybe he wouldn’t say anything to his wife for fear he might awaken the sleeping beast with her too.

But seriously, Christmas is a huge amount of hard work and yeah I do have offers of help but maybe I like playing the martyr or maybe I am a bit of a control freak but I generally do the lion’s share of the donkey work myself. 

Now back when the kids were smaller and I was relishing the surprising joy of being a ‘housewife’ (hate that term) I was a wee bit terrified at the thought of providing Christmas Dinner for extended family.  It’s not that making roast turkey with all the trimmings is that complicated but the trick was and still is getting everything to be ready at the same time.  My Achilles heel is usually getting the roast potatoes sufficiently crispy without the vegetables going soft. 

Actually I have two Achilles heels.  The other is that every year I make two puddings – because I LOVE Christmas pudding but also, because, until last year, I always burn the arse off the first one.  Then someone gave me the secret of placing a saucer under the pudding bowl – who knew?  No more horrible smell of melted plastic in the kitchen followed by hours trying to scrape said stuff off my best heavy bottomed saucepan.

Anyway,  by the time I actually get to eat my pudding I am red faced, in a sweat and completely exhausted and only slightly inebriated.  Everyone else is merrily pulling crackers, well pissed and completely oblivious to my pain. 

But I hate that I am beginning to be known as a Christmas Grinch.  “Oh Barbara, she hates Christmas” people say about me.  But it’s really only the Christmas dinner shenanigans I hate.  I love Christmas carols, I love cold crispy weather, I love the smell of a Christmas tree and the twinkle of the lights. 

So this year I am going to attempt to make life a bit easier for myself.  I am going to buy as much pre prepared stuff as I can.  There is a voice in my head that says “ah but that’s cheating and not very traditional” but feck that.  I want to sit down without a red face and with enough energy to pull crackers with everyone else.

And the good news is that all the supermarkets are full of great ready prepared vegetables and prepared meats to make our lives easier.  The good people at Centra let me have a look at what they have in store to help a tired housewife like me enjoy Christmas more.  It looks like heaven.

From boned and rolled turkey (who needs turkey wings anyway), and ham joints to potato gratin and spouts with bacon.  They also have desserts and party food and cheese boards.   All the hard work done.  Oh joy of joys.

I no longer need to prove I can cook a Christmas dinner for ten.  Been there and done that too many times.  No this year I am taking it easier and letting Centra do the heavy lifting. 


I can’t wait to tell the egg man!!!  Now, where's that recipe for Mistletoe Mojitos?

Monday, November 3, 2014

YOU'RE GRAND....



I love starting a post with “as regular readers will know”.  When I read this phrase elsewhere I always feel kind of slighted that perhaps I am not a regular a reader as I should be.  So ...... as my esteemed and highly valued regular readers will know (are you feeling a little slighted yet?)  I don’t usually review books on my blog.  But very occasionally a book will cross my desk that is a bit special.  And this one is not only special but is the kind of book I wish I could write. because it’s very fecking clever as well as very funny.

Shortly after the launch of You’re Grand by Tara Flynn, a fellow journalist, tweeted that it was a grand read ‘for the jacks’ and he stressed that he meant that as a compliment.  I would like to take serious issue with that.   This is a book for the bath!  Not the jacks.  I read it over four long leisurely soaks in fragrant bubbles and it was the perfect place to delve into the wit and wisdom contained within its pages. 

Why the bath I hear you say.   Well this book may well be ‘a secret guide to life’ but it’s much more than that.  It may well be very funny (and it is, believe me).  But along with the hilarity and the seemingly gentle tone there is a sharp edge of satire which any woman who has lived on this little damp rock in the North Atlantic will recognise. 

However – and here is the clever bit – instead of leaving us, the women of Ireland, feeling very cross at having been ‘shushed’ and sidelined for decades, Tara constantly reminds us of where we came from.  Throughout the book she mentions old pagan Ireland when we were Goddesses.  And she hints time and again that (like cats) we haven’t forgotten that fact.

So this book will remind you of all the crap we have put up with over centuries.  But ultimately this book will raise your spirits and possibly even reconnect you with your inner Goddess.  She hasn’t gone away... she is still there.  And where better to begin to uncover her than while pampering your body and relaxing your mind in a bath of warm bubbles.


Get your paws on a copy of ‘You’re Grand’ and then buy one for your mammy and your best friend.  The sooner we all remember who we really, the sooner this country will be on the way to be properly fixed.  

Oh and by the way... even if you're not Irish and even if you don't even live here, you will find lots to enjoy in this book.. and you also could discover your inner Goddess... Let me know how you get on..  And don't forget to soak in the bath while you are at it!