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!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE HEN HOUSE CELEBRATES ONE YEAR ON AIR



In the last year 58 amazing women have made the trip out to Dundrum Town Centre to be my guest on The Hen House.  This week marks the programmes first birthday!

When I came up with the idea for the Hen House I worried that I would quickly run out of women who were willing to come and talk to me for an hour.  I never doubted that there were lots of interesting and funny women out there.. but asking them for a large chunk of their afternoon to come into studio and be interviewed by yours truly was and is a big ask.  I am very grateful to each and every one of you who have given me your time, your pearls of wisdom and some great laughs.  But more than anything I want to thank you for using your voice to tell your story.

Some stories were intensely personal, some were related to your work and some were related to a cause you feel passionately about.  But each of you gave your talent and your time very graciously and generously.  And for that I am very grateful.

But more than all of that you women have made your voices heard.  Amid the male dominated noise and chatter on our airwaves, The Hen House is providing women with a platform and a space to talk, to tell our stories.

These are the women who made the last year such a great experience for me personally and who have helped to redress the gender imbalance on air in Ireland:

Jillian Godsill, (on surviving bankruptcy)
June Shannon (medical journalist and mental health campaigner)
Joanna Fortune (child psychotherapist)
Sarina Bellissimo (broadcaster – Spin 1038)
Jill O Herlihy (PR supremo)
Eleanor Fitzsimons (writer)
Vanessa O Loughlin (all things writing)
Dil Wickremasinghe (broadcaster and social justice campaigner)
Caroline Grace Cassidy and Sorcha Furlong (actresses and writers)
Abby Wynne (healer)
Sinead Buckley Quinn (Design Loft in Powerscourt)
Andrea Hayes (broadcaster, TV Presenter and animal campaigner)
Mary Mitchell O Connor, TD
Michelle Jackson (author and travel writer)
Sharon Lawless (documentary maker)
Andrea Smith (journalist)
Janet O Sullivan (pagan, witch and feminist)
Orla O Connor (CEO NWCI)
Noirin Scully, Mairin Cullen and Stephanie Batt – wise older women
Maeve O Sullivan (poet)
Caroline Erskine (Women on Air former Chairperson)
Susan Lohan (Adoption Rights Alliance)
Carmen Browne (singer)
Elaine Lavery and Hannah O Reilly – Improper Butter
Aisling O Toole (Editor – Irish Country Magazine)
Ann Colgan, Jeanette Kavanagh, Ellen O Connor – local election candidates
Ailson Canavan (model, business women and mental health campaigner)
Denise Deegan (author)
Louise Bayliss (Spark) and Grainne Sherlock on lone parenting
Hazel Gaynor (author)
Margaret Scully (radio documentary maker and broadcaster)
Sinead Burke (fashionista, blogger and small person)
Jen McGuirk (actress and intrepid traveller)
Ellen Gunning (PR)
Muriel Bolger (author, journalist and travel writer)
Maria Duffy (author)
Grace Kelly, Aimee Corcoran and Megan Brady – the Class of 2014
Deirdre O Connor (care of the elderly)
Andrea Mara (office mum)
Dr Ger Scanlon and Laura Haugh – Education special
Jillian Van Turnhout – Senator
Hazel Larkin, (blogger and writer)
Irene Lowry, (CEO, Nurture)
Mary White, Senator
Vicki Mooney (Plus size models)
Helen Walsh (holistic fitness instructor)
Cindy O Connor and Trish Errity from Pieta House
Ciara Meehan (history lecturer and curator of Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition)
Claire McGing (lecturer in political geography).

Thank you all so much......  And thanks to all of you have listened – either live or by listening back to the podcasts.

I am hoping that all of these past programmes will be available on the Hen House page on the Dublin South FM website in the not too distant future.




Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dear Enda.... about IRISH WATER

Yesterday on the Twitter machine, Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor with the Irish Independent posed the following question.  “If @irishwater were to somehow start all over again, what advice would you give to the government?”  140 characters were not enough. 


Dear Enda

There is little doubt that Irish Water a complete mess and a PR disaster.  This is the result of rushing at it like a horny bull at a gate into a field of attractive cows, whose eyes are only on the prize, in your Government’s case – the tax revenue.  Remember what your mammy taught you – “fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.”

But the Government has a bigger problem.  The imposition of yet another tax on the beleaguered people of this country has finally pushed us to boiling anger.  And this anger is not just, as some commentators would have us believe, because we live in a soggy country where it rains all the time resulting in our having some kind of psychological reluctance to pay for the very stuff that often makes us feel damp and miserable.

We are angry because we have had enough.  We are angry because this is a tax too far.  We are angry because we now know that in two years time most of us; especially those of us who live in urban centres are going to be fleeced with the unfair property tax that is calculated on value of our homes as opposed to square footage.  

We are angry because this is how we are repaid for our compliance with all the austerity that has been forced upon us for debts that we didn’t incur.  It is the people who have allowed your Government and the previous one, to enforce the cuts and taxes that have given you great kudos abroad.  Ireland’s so called recovery is not your triumph – it belongs to the people of this country. 

But we are now saying enough is enough.  We have no more to give.

But let’s park the anger for a moment.  There is obviously a case to be made for the payment of water and the treatment of waste.  In principle I would imagine most of us would accept this.  So here is what I suggest you do.  If, that is, you really are planning for an infrastructure project that will serve this country and our people for the next number of decades and not (as most of us suspect) you are just seeing Irish Water as another way to raise more tax Euros in the short term.

Streamlined, small efficient company
Irish Water should be in the first instance a small and very efficient company.  It should not be a retirement home for workers who previously have been employed by the local councils. There should be no talk of bonuses or whatever other terms have been used to describe same.  Ditto with car allowances and other nonsense.

Fix the leaks
In the first instance Irish Water should be charged with fixing the leaky system.  And don’t give us the line about how will they pay for it?  If Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council can spend €33 million on a monster library, if the GAA can secure €30 million for the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh, money will be found.  How much have you spent on the other ill fated project currently on the table, the Children’s Hospital?  This year we will pay in the region of €4 billion in that other awful austerity tax the Universal Social Charge.  As usual in politics – there is always the money - it’s a question of priorities. 

Grants for rainwater harvesting and other water conservation measures
If water is as precious a resource as Irish Water have tried to tell us it is and if we are serious about changing our attitudes to water then it is vital that the Government introduce incentives to allow people to invest a little now in measures that would conserve water in the future.  To me this is a glaring omission to the current plan for introducing water charges.  Bringing in such incentives would also have a positive PR bounce as it would give the impression that instead of being ripped off we are all in this together.  See how we took to recycling?  We can easily do similar with water conservation.

Install meters
Once the company is seen to be fit for purpose and the leaky system has been brought into the 21st century, then Irish Water can begin the process of fitting meters.  But could I suggest that most people would like a meter that they could read easily – similar to the ESB or Gas Meter and not something that exists solely under the ground at the end of the driveway.  We have never paid for water as a separate utility before and most of us have little or no idea about how much we actually use.  It is vital to build trust so a meter that is visible to householders I think is essential.

When all of the above has been completed then it is appropriate to announce a date for billing to start.  I would suggest no earlier than 2020.

Finally – once we are paying for water – there should be no talk of call out charges.  If there is a gas leak – do we have to pay the Gas Company to attend? 

I know that as Taoiseach you are surrounded by advisors that cost me and the rest of us plenty money.  You might like to review their input Enda.  Because Irish Water is rapidly going to go down in history as the biggest government mess ever – eclipsing the E Voting machines and Children’s Hospital and Incinerator messes that have preceded it.

Once you start bullying your electorate Enda you lose them.  This project needs to be completely reimagined.  Irish Water needs to be completely overhauled before you can do anything.  Then slowly, bringing your people with you, there might be some chance of success.  And your legacy may just survive... and I know that’s very important.  Not to us... but to you and your fellow Ministers.


Sincerely


Barbara Scully

P.S oh and by the way Enda, tinkering about with allowances etc is not going to quell the anger... in fact it may do exactly the opposite.  We know you are on the ropes on this one... it's time for time out and a total rethink and redesign.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SEPTEMBER... THE MOST DELICIOUS MONTH

It happens usually in mid August.  There will be an evening when the air carries a little extra chill and suddenly you become aware that autumn is waiting in the wings of the day, just beyond your perception.  It is the gentlest of whispers, carried on the breeze that signals summer is in decline and we are actually slipping slowly and quietly into autumn.  My cats usually pick up on this subtle change in the air too and they have already staked out their favourite places to sleep in various parts of the house, their summer wanderlust exhausted.

Perhaps it’s our Celtic DNA but I have no doubt that the old Irish calendar is right and we are now in Mean Fomhair – the middle of autumn.  The leaves have yet to turn and the weather is still mild but summer is over.  We have arrived at the evening of the year.

September is a particularly delicious month.  After the slack routines and exertions of summer, order is restored as the children return to their studies.  The new academic year offers us all a chance for a new beginning.  Another chance to make the changes to our lives or lifestyles we may have pondered as we lay soaking up the rays of summer sunshine.  September is a hopeful month and yet a month that makes no demands of us with no festivals or bank holidays.  It is not surprising that in a recent survey in the UK less than one percent of those surveyed nominated September as the most stressful month of the year.  The most stressful honour went, unsurprisingly to January, followed closely by December.

But what makes September particularly worth savouring is that it is a month which signals a slowing down.  Autumn is when Mother Nature draws her energy inward, as the leaves fall and the earth prepares for the long winter sleep.  Me, I make preparations for the long winter nights.  September makes me look again at my living space to see how I might make it cosy and warm.  All it might take is a new throw for the sofa and a load of wood logs in the basket ready for the first fire.  By the end of the month I will have made the excursion under my bed to retrieve the storage boxes that hold my winter hoodies and fleeces, clothes that only require any old body as opposed to a supposedly ‘beach ready body’ we need for summer wear. Which is just as well as September is all about my kind of food.

In preparation for the frugal winter, nature is giving up her harvest.  Orchards are full of fallen apples and anyone can savour the rich bounty of the hedgerows which are now bursting with berries.  It is the month for apple and blackberry crumble and time to replace cream with warm custard.  It is the month when menus change – domestic ones anyway, with the welcome reintroduction of warming food like shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash and big pots of spicy vegetable soup.  Slowing down and comfort food, what more could you want?

But there is more.  September is also the most sensual of months.  The air smells different carrying perhaps a hint of wood smoke or bonfire.  The light softens, lending a warm glow to the landscape as the sun moves away from us.  The countryside and parks are a riot of autumnal colour in hues of russet and gold and red and orange.  It is a month to get out and walk, savouring the smells, the colours and the sound of leaves crunching underfoot.  And a chance to visit your inner child by reliving the thrill of finding and collecting pocketfuls of wine-red shiny chestnuts. 

September is like climbing into your own freshly made bed after a wonderful, busy, fun holiday.  It is like coming home after a hard day’s work to a warm welcoming house, closing your front door and knowing you won’t have to venture out into the world again till tomorrow.  It’s like putting on your comfiest slippers after a day in fabulous but rather painful shoes.  It’s the feeling that all is well with the world that sometimes comes with the first sip of red wine.  September is all about just being rather than doing. 


Maybe in a former life I was a bear.  Perhaps that is why I love this month so much.  But I am ready to waddle, book in one hand, hot chocolate in the other, into my fireside where I will park myself on a comfy chair, put a soft blanket over my legs and a cat on my lap and I will while away many happy evenings.  And best of all about September?  It precedes October.  Oh how I love October.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

LET'S JUDGE A PAUSE THERE SISTERS.....



Sometimes being a feminist is kind of confusing.  It is very easy to become hyper aware of anything that could be viewed as being degrading to us women.  And if you look hard enough you will find such things everywhere.

But it is vital that before we decry the culprit that we take a wee moment to think.  I know that I don’t want to live in a world where we are ultra politically correct all the time at the expense of our ability to laugh at ourselves – individually or collectively.  Therefore when your senses are assaulted by an image which shouts ‘foul’ or ‘this is sexist’ as a friend of mine says ‘judge a pause’. 

Three such images appeared in the media this week.  As first glance all three looked sexist but in actual fact only one was.... in my humble anyway.

First up was the full page ad that Today FM took out to announce two new male presenters of their lunchtime show.  The ad featured a bra with the male presenters featuring in each cup and there was a tag line of Double D a play on the image and the fact that the presenters are called Dermot and Dave. 

Next one that crossed my consciousness was the image used in a campaign that has just been launched by Concern and Women’s Aid called ‘Are You Man Enough To Walk In Her Shoes’  There was a cartoon image of a male figure in a pair of high stilettos.  I guess is asking men to try to imagine what it feels like to be a woman – and a vulnerable one at that.

The last image of the week appeared in the Irish Times yesterday.  It was a PR shot to announce the Cancer Society’s Paint It Pink campaign.  It featured RTE presenter Keelin Shanley (a breast cancer survivor) dressed in pink holding a tin of paint and a very attractive bare chested young man up a ladder supposedly painting the door.  As someone who worked in PR and the partner of a professional photographer it was most definitely a cracking photo which drew the eye in immediately.  The image was also used in The Journal and can be seen here.

So your honour, which of these images is guilty of being sexist?  Only the first one.  Why?  Like most other things in life, because of the context.  This ad featuring male presenters’ faces on a bra is sexist because it was put out by a radio station that has not one female presenter presenting a daytime show during the week.  It is boys radio and so therefore cannot use women’s breasts to advertise a programme not matter how clever the play on words.  If the station doesn’t think that women should present primetime radio shows, then they can leave our underwear out of their campaigns.  So Foul and Sexist can be correctly labelled to this ill conceived campaign. 

The second campaign ‘Are You Man Enough To Walk In Her Shoes’ I don’t have a problem with even though I don’t own and never had owned a pair of high shoes.  But I know that makes me the exception rather than the rule where women are concerned.  Most women I know own and wear high heels – not every day maybe but regularly.  Therefore it’s fair enough to use this fact to come up with a fun campaign to raise money for vulnerable women.  And high heels do make women vulnerable... but that’s a different column.

Lastly, the PR photo for cancer that featured Keelin Shanley and male model Darragh Hayes was simply a great photo.  Mr Hayes is a model doing what he does best – looking delicious.  Irish (female) models regularly post in bikinis to promote all range of weird and wonderful products.  Yes I agree it’s a lazy photocall but I believe if we even up the score a bit – more handsome chaps looking.. handsome I can live with it.  I am not sure I want to live in a world where being able to admire a beautiful body is outlawed in case it offends someone.  As long as it is models that are used and the score is even – as many men as women – so what?

As we become more aware of women being undermined and belittled we are in danger of over reacting.  We need to bear that in mind, sisters!



Friday, August 15, 2014

WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF?

I am afraid to watch the television news at the moment.  I am afraid of what I might see.  I am afraid of the nightmares that might result.  I am afraid of images that will burn into my brain and resurface at some time in the future.  I am afraid to confront the reality of what is happening in the Middle East.  I can’t seem to process what I am hearing and reading.  I don’t know how to react or what to do about the horror that seems to be spreading through the region.

I don’t understand the politics of the area beyond the most simplistic outline of recent history.  I don’t pretend to have any particular insight into the cultures of the Middle East.  But what is going on right now in Syria, Gaza and Iraq in particular is beyond politics.  It is beyond reason.  There can be no excuses, no justification for the cruelty and the barbarism that has become rampant. 

It began with the killing of children in Gaza.  How can there ever be a reason to bomb a school?   And it happened not once but at least twice.  Day after day, week after week, we saw photos of these broken little innocent bodies as they lay dead or dying.  This destruction not caused by some madman on a solo rampage but by a sovereign nation’s army.  Big, well armed men, killing tiny children.  How can that ever, ever be justified?  It was evil when it was done by the provisional IRA bombing campaigns and it is wrong now.  No matter what history has done to a people, no matter what injustices have been perpetrated against them, killing and maiming children is a war crime.

There is little worse in my mind than killing babies but the depravity of the violence in Iraq in recent days is just beyond comprehension.  It’s like hearing the story line of some very violent and sick movie.  I have skimmed reports that have mentioned crucifixion, beheading, and dogs feeding on bodies. I have seen reference to a photo of a young boy, the son of a fighter holding the head (just the head) of a man – the enemy.  He is another young child who is lost to war.  I have read about women being taken in large numbers to be sold or raped.  I can’t do more than skim the reports because the detail is too shocking, too sickening, too upsetting.

And if that sounds like a very wimpish and, dare I say it, girly response that’s because it is.  
The countries of Syria, Gaza and Iraq are populated by ordinary families and by women who are far more like me than they are different.  Women who are mothers too and whose lives revolve around caring for their families and particularly their children, feeding them, loving them, educating them and protecting them.

And it is these women and their children who are increasingly haunting my dreams.  I see the fear and the horror in the eyes that stare at me from the appalling images that are carried on news bulletins and in the press. 

Somehow I feel that these women, who have suffered appallingly, who have lost children and loved ones, who live with the threat of rape, know that I know what is going on.

And I am struck dumb by not being able to process these stories.  I have taken weeks to try to even write this blog post.  I can’t articulate a response to this horror.  Anything I say or write seems wholly inadequate.  But yet to do and say nothing is to ignore those eyes I know are looking at me. Looking at us.  Wondering when we are at least going to say something, to condemn what is patently immoral.


Our government didn’t represent me when they chose to abstain from the UN vote on Gaza recently.  If any country on this planet should be able to identify with injustice, violence and the need to broker peace it should be Ireland.  So it is doubly shameful that we chose not to stand up, to speak out.  Our President has spoken only informally on this matter, stymied as he is by the constraints of his office.  Perhaps he is also afraid to watch the news, afraid of what he might see.  What the hell is wrong with us?