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?

Friday, August 1, 2014

HE WAS SOME CAT....





16 years is a long time to live with someone regardless of how many legs they have.  In our house we live with as many four leggeds as with two leggeds and the bonds of love are strong. 

This week our oldest four legged – Simba died.  He had been in decline for months but my philosophy for elderly animals is that as long as they are enjoying life I would prefer them to fade slowly away.  I am not inclined to interfere with nature’s natural leisurely journey towards the end unless there is pain or discomfort involved.  Simba had lost weight and also his hearing but he was happy and still enjoying life right until the last day or so.

It was Carla, our eldest who brought Simba home to our first house in Shankill when she was about 11 years old.  She found him in some old woman’s shed where a cat had just had kittens and the old woman said she could keep him.  He was probably a bit too young to have been taken from his mother but I had a baby myself and probably wasn’t fully paying attention and so Simba stayed. 

He was cute like all kittens are and very playful.  But as he got older we discovered a dark quirk to his large rambunctious personality.  He wasn’t that keen on children or older people.  It began when he took a swipe at some of the cousins, all of whom were very young.  He missed but we realised that if young visitors came to the house we would have to lock Simba into a room for their safety. 

This was also a problem when we hosted parties for the girls, with lots of kids running about the house Simba was invariably released from his captivity.  So with the next party on the horizon I decided to visit the vet and investigate how best to deal with his behavioural quirk.  The vet advised some behavioural realignment using cat valium.  Yes, I kid you not.  I came away with a month’s supply of cat valium which would hopefully teach Simba to chill and not attack children.

The problem with the cat valium was that they were tiny tablets and the vet told me administer one quarter of a tablet per day.  So for three days I attempted to quarter a tiny tablet which resulted in bits of cat valium bits about my kitchen.  Not ideal when I now had two small children who spent a lot of time crawling about on the floor.  So I gave up.  Instead I decided that I would administer a tablet on the day of the party to keep him calm and the visiting children safe. 

Simba was a pig when it came to food so it was no problem to get him to take the tablet.  I will never forget the faces of the parents who dropped their little darlings off, when they spied a huge fat cat comatose on the back of an armchair with his mouth open and tongue hanging out.  He was happily out of his head for hours... and no one got hurt at the party.  The supply of cat valium lasted through the parties at home stage and Simba had no recollection of any of them.

Simba grew up into a huge, lazy, vocal, affectionate cat who loved being around us and in the house.  In winter no one got as excited as he did on a cold evening when we lit the fire.  He would be in, staking his place in front of the hearth at the first sound of coal being rattled. 

He grew and grew so much that I got tired of visitors asking when ‘she’ was due to give birth.  Then someone arrived one day who looked at me as if I were really thick.  “That cat has a tumour or something” he said.  “I’ve never seen a cat that size.  Have you taken him to the vet?”  “No”, I said sheepishly. 

Next day, full of guilt I took Simba to the vet.   “What’s the problem” he said.  I recounted the story of the man who said he must have a tumour.  The vet examined Simba and then asked me two questions.

“Does he eat a lot?”
“Oh yeah,” I said “he loves his food”
“Does he take much exercise?”
“Em, no not really,” I answered “he likes to be indoors, with us. He’s kind of lazy”
“Exactly,” said the vet.  “He’s just fat.  Fine but fat.”
We were kindred spirits in many ways – me and Simba.

He was a constant in our house for the last 16 years.  He loved dinner time – watching me as I prepared food in the hope that I would drop a tasty morsel for him.  He would then join us at the table – sitting on a free chair preferably at the head of the table from where he would listen to our conversations and wonder what our food tasted like.

He thumped down off beds and down the stairs in the manner of a large child.  He talked a lot and was the only cat who always answered us when we greeted him.

Although he had issues with some two leggeds he loved other cats.  We have fostered many kittens and older cats for the DSPCA and Simba never objected to a new arrival.  In fact without Simba we would have struggled to win around some of our very nervous fosters.  It was Simba who would give them the confidence to come out of hiding and feel safe in the world.  His greatest achievement in this regard was the rehabilitation of Oprah, the feral kitten who came to us at Christmas.

Simba was the last of our first generation of cats.  In hindsight we should have staggered our cat adoptions a bit better.  Like the way most of our white goods blew up in year seven of our marriage, over the last 18 months or so I have held the paws of four beloved cats as they left this world. 

Simba knew the end was near and took himself off to die at the end of the garden. Unfortunately he (we assume) took a tumble into a little inaccessible stream at the end of our garden and it took us some hours to locate him.  In the end it was Mia (13) who found him and she had to come back to get help to reach him.  While she did that, another of our cats, Diego took up position beside the dying Simba until Paul arrived with a ladder and took poor Simba home. 

He was weak and his body was shutting down so bundling him into a soft blanket we took him to the emergency veterinary hospital in UCD where they agreed that we should help him on his journey.  So he died as he lived – mainly peacefully with a bit of drama. 

We took him home with us and on Wednesday evening in a soft rain, as the light drained from the sky, Paul dug a grave for our beloved boy and we lay him to sleep by the lilac tree in the garden.  Diego watched from the wall.

We now have four young cats – the oldest is about 2 and so I guess in another 15 years or so I will once again be shedding salty tears as they take their leave.  It’s always sad and you never get used to it.  But it is a tribute to the animals any of us chose to live with, that they connect with us in a deep and meaningful way, that they colour every day of the life we live together and that they become true members of the family.


Simba will live on in our hearts and the stories of his life will be told for years to come.  He was some cat!


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

THE BEST OF TIMES

Oh, how my summers have changed...

Clich├ęd and all as it sounds, it really does just seem like only yesterday, that summer holidays from school started with a trip to the Zoo.  The first sunny day after the kids finished in early July I would pack up the car with all necessary supplies and we would head over to the Phoenix Park. There we would pass happy hours marvelling at the exotic creatures until they started to flag – the children that is, not the exotic creatures.  The final few enclosures could be a bit tortuous but it was always a great day, well except for the traffic on the quays on the way home.
                   
Summer also meant a visit to Glenroe Farm in Wicklow, usually with the cousins.  A good summer meant we may get there more than once.  With the sun on our backs we would wander around talking to donkeys, cows and pigs before finally choosing a picnic table or two on which we would spread our food and treats.  Afterwards the kids would do another round of the animals or just spend an hour in ‘pets corner’ while the mammies and the grannies stayed and chatted or gossiped.  It was bliss.

But days out weren’t always so organised.  Most summers we had countless picnics in the local park which has a great playground which would keep them amused for at least an hour while I read my book.  Or we could go to the river bank – well stream bank really – with our fishing nets to catch pinkeens – on the strict understanding we threw them back.  Or we could just sit on the grass making daisy chains or eating ice cream. 

Other days we could head to the beach at Killiney for a walk and for skimming stones or to Sandycove for a paddle. 

The last summer treat, which began as they got a little older, was to take a trip down the N11 to Bray.  Old fashioned fun which carried echoes of my own childhood as we sampled rides on the bumper cars, the ghost train and the Waltzers.  We also had a budget amount of small change to lose on the slot machines.  The best part of the day though was ending with a bag of chips and a coke consumed in the car as we watched the sea through rapidly steaming up windows.

I miss eating chips from a bag in the car.  I miss paddling.  I miss daisy chains.  Hell I even miss catching pinkeens.

But we weren’t always out.  Every summer began in the hope of lots of warm weather and so we bought a paddling pool which over the years got bigger and very slightly more sophisticated.  But we had one rule for our paddling pool – it had to be able to accommodate the end of the garden slide.  On those sunny days, before water charges were even a glint in a Minister’s eye, I would rig up the garden hose to the top of the slide and off they would go; an aqua park in the back garden.  It made a muddy mess of the lawn and many bushes got permanently damaged from small bodies careering into them at high speed but it was the best of craic, even just for the observer.

As the summer slipped towards autumn, we bought new schoolbags and school socks in Dunnes Stores and assembled the books for the coming year without needing a mortgage. 
We also paid a visit to the toy store and the art shop to treat ourselves to some indoor activities for the winter; games and crafts and colouring books and crayons.  God I miss the excuse to lie on the floor for an hour colouring in.  Talk about being in the moment – ‘colouring in’ is the most amazing de-stresser.

I miss spending hours in the kids section of the bookshop among so many beautifully illustrated and magical books. 

But that’s what happens with kids – suddenly your sunny, exuberant, up for anything darlings leave junior school and head into secondary.  They get very tall and all of a sudden you are not great craic anymore (well you are, but never in public).

And while as a parent you relish the new freedom their independence affords you, there are things you will miss and will probably continue to miss until some day you will be called ‘granny’ and get to do them again.

But until that day comes, I vow that this summer I will return to the Zoo - on my own if necessary.  I might even paddle in Sandycove.  And come late August if you spot me in the local toy shop buying a colouring book and a box of crayons.... say nothing.  Oh and it is true that we view the past through rose tinted specs.... but they were the best of times.... honestly.


Monday, July 7, 2014

It's that time again... SUMMER READ RECOMMENDATIONS


As usual here are my top picks for Summer Reading for you.... You are very welcome!!

My very top recommendation goes to THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

This is an Australian story in the true tradition of Australian stories in that it’s quirky and witty and warm.  It’s the story of a nerdy, highly intelligent Genetics Professor called Don Tillman and his attempt to find a life partner.  But it’s not really that.  It’s a love story... but it’s not really that either.  It’s about relationships, control, love, food, travel and everything else that is important in life!

It will make you laugh and it will engage you totally.  I read it in just over 24 hours and I didn’t want it to end.  The film rights have been purchased... doubt the movie could match the book though.  It’s a cracker. 

Next up is WOMAN UPSTAIRS by Claire Messud. 
This is an unusual choice for me because although it’s a beautifully crafted book, the main character is not totally likeable. Nora Eldridge has been a good girl all her life.  She is a great teacher to third grade.   She lives alone, is childless and looking after her elderly dad.  But she is also an artist who doesn’t ‘art’!  Those closest to her have no idea that she is unhappy, unfulfilled and craving a life that she glimpses through a new boy in her class. 

It’s not the easiest read but the main theme is one that I feel will particularly resonate with women who generally fulfil multiple roles in their lives while often subjugating what it is they really want to do.  It was an interesting read for that reason. 

STILL ALICE is by Lisa Genova is a beautiful book that tells the story of Alice and her journey into Alzheimer’s Disease.  It’s gracefully told and is set in one of my favourite places – Boston and Cape Cod. 

The main character Alice is not an elderly lady in the final decade of her life – she is a 50 year old Professor of Linguistics at Harvard University.  She is very much a career woman with three grown up children. 

What strikes me most about this book is its central message.  It is a message that I know something about from years working for The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and of watching my mother in law lose her memories to dementia.  That message is that behind the disease – our main character is Still Alice!

A moving but not depressing read.  I highly recommend it.


SUMMER OF 76 by Isabel Ashdown was recommended to me by a Twitter friend after I had written a piece about The Last Summer – you know that delicious summer you leave school and stand of the cusp of life.  For the record - my last summer was in 1979!  You can read my piece here.

The actual summer of ‘76 was remarkable for the heatwave that hit Ireland and Britain.  Temperatures soared and people sizzled.  Our story is set around the main character Luke who is enjoying his last months at home on the Isle of Wight before he heads off to college.  It’s a momentous summer of coming of age, of male friendships and at the centre is a salacious scandal that shocks the local community.

Again this book is well written and will have huge resonances with anyone who was a teenager in the 70s with the references to music and styles of the time.

This book for me is everything a summer read should be.

Now can I mention some Irish books that I haven’t read yet as they have all just or are about to hit the bookshops.

First up is Maria Duffy’s latest offering ONE WISH which tells the tale of Londoner Becky Greene who moves to Ireland for a fresh start only to find herself pregnant after a one night stand.  Four years later and her daughter is asking questions about her father. So Becky decides to track him down.  Maria is a prolific writer and this book is sure to be another goodie.  It launches this week but is in bookshops now.

Muriel Bolger is one of Ireland’s best known and most experienced travel writers who has taken to writing fiction in the last few years with some great success.  I have just started her latest book called THE PINK PEPPER TREE.  Muriel’s books always feature travel which is why they are such great summer reads and this latest one is no different with a trip to Monte Carlo featuring prominently.  Sure what’s not to like?

Caroline Grace Cassidy is another talented Irish writer whose story telling style often reminds me of Maeve Binchey.  Her last book The Other Side of Wonderful was an engaging tale but with a dark edge which was deftly handled.  Caroline is putting the finishing touches to her
latest story “I ALWAYS KNEW” which is out in August.  I am confident it will be another great story.

Finally anyone who was moved The Diving Bell and The Butterfly will be interested in IT’S NOT YET DARK by Simon Fitzmaurice.  In 2008 Simon was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease.  He was given four years to live.  Against medical opinion he chose to ventilate in order to stay alive.  This book tells us starkly and clearly about his inner life, the power of love and living every moment.

So there you have it.. and like old Uncle Gaybo used to say every year on The Toy Show about giving the gift of reading to a child... let me say what I say twice every year... don’t buy online if you can support your local bookshop.


If money is tight – remember we are lucky in Ireland to still have a great network of libraries.