Monday, February 22, 2016


This is my last post here on blogger.  My website is now sorted and my blog From My Kitchen Table will live there....

So all future posts can be found at and link to Thoughts From My Kitchen Table.

Hope you will join me there.....


Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Yours truly - JWT Reservations early 1980s! (great hair!)
Last week The Guardian Newspaper reported that following a two-year battle, female British Airways cabin crew had won the right to wear trousers.  Later in the week a young girl from a school in Dublin was interviewed on Newstalk Lunchtime about petitioning her school to allow girls wear their tracksuits every day should they wish to.  Both stories made me smile.

Uniforms are a great idea.  Especially if they are good quality and look smart and are appropriate to the job in hand.

I wore a uniform in my first job which was working for, what was then Ireland’s largest tour operator, JWT – ask your ma, this was back in the early ‘80s.  Our uniform was a grey A line skirt, sharp white shirt (although mine generally lacked sharpness prompting regular enquiries as to whether my iron was broken), a red, white and navy scarf and a navy blazer.  Footwear was a matter for ourselves but it was generally agreed that navy court shoes were the way to go.  Again it took me a while to get into wearing what I considered to be ‘mammy shoes’ and so for my first summer as a sales clerk I wore white clogs, yes the Dutch version – wooden and leather.  Again – ask your Ma – they were all the rage in the early ‘80s.  In fact, there was an actual clog shop on South King Street if my memory serves me correctly.  But I digress.

Every so often the company (JWT, whose tag line was ‘join the JWT set’) got a bit anxious about the fact that being a very young workforce we socialised a lot and on occasion (read ‘very often’) ended up in the basement nightclubs of Leeson Street with uniforms looking slightly the worse for wear.  Yes, I know, I am a little ashamed now (no I am actually not).

My being six feet tall seemed to be a much bigger deal way back then (you all seem to have gotten taller since) and meant that when we went to get measured every year for our skirts, my order had a note attached which said ‘add three inches to skirt’.  Knees were kept out of sight – which in my case was a very good thing, they’re a long way from being my best feature.

Most of the time I wore my uniform with pride and pretended I looked as good as the Aer Lingus girls who back in those days were only seen at the Airport and on board flights, as they were transported to and from work by minibus, ensuring they were never spotted in Leeson Street dens with uniforms akimbo.  They also got regulation shoes, ensuring no clogs could spoil their lovely designer outfits. 

Winter was very sartorially challenging, particularly when one had no company minibus to get to work.  The JWT set were reliant on shanks mare, bus or in my case the train.  Yes, the train – the DART was not yet a twinkle in CIE’s eye!  Standing on the platform by the sea in Seapoint on a bitter winter morning with bare legs would bring a tear to a glass eye.  I mentioned my height already and hence tights were not an option as I never got comfortable with the gusset swinging down around my knees.

But winters could be somewhat circumvented by availing of Joe Walsh’s (he of JWT – clever isn’t it?) crafty cost saving plan.  In those days people generally only went on Summer holidays which they booked in January which was mad busy.  But us sales people had very little to do in October, November and December, so Joe offered us ‘winter leave’.  We could take off for up to three months unpaid and most of us who availed of this headed south to the Canary Islands where we picked up some ad hoc rep work to keep body and soul together while we holidayed and partied the winter away. 

It was on one such winter leave that I fell in love with a pair of Spanish, thigh high, bright red, soft leather boots.  I thought they were made for me. No heels, but long enough to go over my knee and so with my extra inches added skirt, my legs would be sheltered from the worst excesses of an Irish winter and sure weren’t they red – one of the uniform colours.  I parted with my cash and brought them home.

Their inaugural outing was on my first day back to work in early January.  As the train chugged its way towards Pearse Station I admired my legs.  As I glided out of the train with hundreds of other morning commuters I noticed that the station had added a ramp where the stairs used to be. So off I set, head held high, convinced that every young fella must be admiring my red boots, my winter tan and my statuesque height.  I probably flicked my hair too. 

The ramp was wet and my boots were brand new.  Yep, you guessed it. Feet went from under me and down I went, landing very ungracefully on my arse in the middle of Pearse Street Station.  Various people came to my aid and I muttered “no I am fine, thank you, I am fine, no damage” and tried to reassemble myself and retrieve some of my shattered pride.  To make matters worse I then had to endure the walk to Baggot Street with most of the commuters who had witnessed my fall from grace.  I was also terrified that I would slip again.  The boots were lethal.  The journey took ages.

I had somewhat recovered my composure by the time I arrived at JWT HQ.  On the safer surface of carpet tiles, I once again flicked my hair as I entered the office, one red booted foot after the other. And sure enough I was greeted with comments like “Wow, some boots”,  “Great boots, Scully” although the remarks lacked envy or admiration and carried a hint of mirth.  Then my boss came out of his office.  In those days it was OK for a man (boss or not) to pass remarks on a female colleague’s appearance.  “They are not appropriate with the uniform.  Don’t let me see them again.”  All in all, it was a dark day.

So my tan faded and I went back to having legs purple with the cold by the time I arrived at my desk for the rest of that winter.  School days all over again.

Now we have a DART and a Luas into town.  JWT are no longer the giant of the Travel Business they once were.  Aer Lingus have long since abandoned their staff mini bus.  Bosses would be very reluctant to make remarks on a female colleague’s appearance – uniform or not.  But we still insist on some women wearing skirts.  I have never seen a female member of Aer Lingus or Ryanair cabin crew wear trousers; although I have seen some of the latter in bikinis.   I should be thankful for small mercies I suppose.

Monday, February 8, 2016


The fastest growing economy in Europe. New jobs being created every week. Cranes once again stalking the Dublin skyline.  Even Dun Laoghaire, poster town of the recession, has an air of recovery about it with new shops opening regularly.  Although many of us will be playing catch up for decades to come, as we try to replace savings and pensions that were decimated in the crash, until recently, I was relieved that the worst seemed to be over.

Micheal Noonan said the emergency is over.  I knew things weren’t perfect.  I was aware of a homeless crisis but thought the government had it in hand with their plans for modular housing as an emergency solution.  I thought we were doing alright, until I watched the recent RTE documentary “My Homeless Family”.  Rarely has a programme made me so angry.

Using their own voices and most poignantly the voices and the tears of their children, these brave women (and it was mainly women) clearly illustrated just who have paid the price for our recovery.  Living in self-described ‘posh prisons or cages’ the pressure being exerted on these families every day is incredible and the documentary made for surprisingly hard viewing. I wondered why and then I realised it was because we were watching ourselves.  These families are every family; just like us they battled to keep their kids amused, they supervised homework and celebrated birthdays in their collapsed tiny worlds.  It could so easily have been any of us.

Lone parent, Erica and her daughter Emily have a bond that is strong and familiar.  I recognised it just I recognised Erica’s fear for the future as she tries her best to provide for her child.  I was a lone parent for ten years and it was only a twist of fate that meant I had a supportive family with room for me and my daughter to live at home until I could afford to move out on my own.  But I know Erica’s dreams. I dreamed them too.  A house we could call our own; where she could have her own bedroom.  Where she could have more space to play.  Where she could invite her friends over after school.  Erica’s pain although sharper was familiar.  I was just lucky.  But I could have easily been in her situation.

The women who generously let us view their lives in an intimate way, instinctively understand that a secure, safe, place to call home is essential to children’s development and to family life.  A home is not just a roof over one’s head and a bed to sleep in, it’s much more.  The writer and essayist, Samuel Johnson said “to be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution”.  How can these families achieve any of their ambitions living in such tiny spaces and with no security of tenure?

Over the coming fortnight we will all be bombarded with how brilliant the Government were in rescuing this country and dragging us back from the brink of disaster.  Yes, they did take control of the finances and restore some order to them.  But the recovery belongs to the people, all of us who suffered cuts to our incomes and increases in our taxes.  Austerity has been very brutal and almost all of us have paid a heavy price. 

But the highest price has been paid by those who are vulnerable; families on very low incomes or social welfare and lone parents. These people, families just like ours have been sacrificed in the name of this recovery.  Families who now have nowhere to call home, through no fault of their own.
The blame for this does not merely lie with the current government.  For decades’ successive governments abandoned the policy of building social houses. Somewhere along the way our Governments went from running a country to merely running an economy. 

For many (not all) involved in politics it’s a game.  It is a game created by men and still dominated by men, with a very male energy running through it and like any game it is all about winning. Keeping your seat at all costs.

But politics is not a game.  It is the art of caring for the people of the country.  The women on My Homeless Family knew that.  Having been stripped of that most basic right in life – a place to call home from which to build proper lives for themselves and their children, they are now doubly disadvantaged.  If this republic means anything, it falls to the rest of us, to be their voice at the election.  Homelessness must be front and centre of the next programme for government.  Otherwise we are all complicit in their misery.

Monday, October 5, 2015


We headed north in August for a wonderful weekend in Belfast.  Can't believe I left it this long to visit.... I found a proud and friendly city with a great sense of humour.

My travel piece appeared in the Irish Examiner last weekend and you can read it here.

Here is a short photo essay of our time in the city which I thought you might enjoy too.....

The SS Nomad - tender to SS Titanic

Lovely spot for lunch just across from Titanic - Cast & Crew

A cool spot for dinner.... HADSKIS


The wonderful St Georges Market

Hours of gorgeous browsing










All photos by Paul Sherwood.  www.sherwood,ie

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Back in April, The Media Show on RTE had a segment about the shocking level of sexism that exists in Irish Media.  Dr Tom Cloonan and freelance journalist Alison O Connor presented research and personal experience to back up this fact.

I have written before about the appalling state of Irish radio with regard to women's voices but the fact is that sexism exists across all media organisations in this country.

Therefore not only is our political system totally skewed so also is the media that reports it.

Gender balance in media is not some lofty aspiration to be achieved by a slow change of mindsets and culture, it is an urgent problem that needs to be fixed NOW.

You can listen back to The Media Show here  and below is the transcript of the broadcast.

Transcript of Media programme Sunday 19 April 2015
Presenter Conor Brophy

Are women getting a raw deal in the media?

Debate: Alison O Connor (Freelance journalist) and Dr Tom Clonan (Security correspondent with the Irish Times)

Is there sexism at play in the how women are treated within media organisations?

Q. Tom, do you think there is particular macho or masculine culture within the media?
A. I suppose I am coming from military background. As an army officer and as a captain I did my doctoral research (PHD) on the experiences of women in Ireland’s armed forces. The military would be constructed as a very hyper masculine environment with a very robust canteen kind of culture in it. Unfortunately the research I conducted revealed unacceptably high levels of discrimination, harassment and particularly bullying and sexual violence against women in the army.
After I retired, quite by accident, with the twin tower attacks and so on, I found myself working in the journalism space and, I suppose, coming from the military, I had expected or I suppose I had this idea that media would be progressive and would have an equality friendly environment and would be very different from the military. In fact I found and find that many workplace settings within the media would make the army’s eyes water in terms of the masculine, casual sexism and quite a lot of bullying in this environment. That was both an unexpected and disappointing finding on my part.

Q. Would that be your experience Alison?

A. Absolutely Conor. To put it another way the media is a big Mickey industry. It’s so male dominated. I did an informal ring around today. If you take, for instance, each day a news conference takes place to decide what sets the agenda what’s important, what’s setting the agenda for the next day-80%-90% of the people at that are male. These are also the people who would be writing editorials lecturing politicians or others in industry for having a poor gender balance or for not doing their bit and I suppose the worst is that they would often consider themselves to be pretty right on and if not a feminist a friend to the feminist or to  the female. I think it comes from the fact that the media is a very competitive industry. It is quite a selfish industry in that in many ways you are trying to get that scoop, you are working on your own; the hours are very anti social. I work freelance now and I work from home so I’m observing it a little bit from the other side. There’s very little effort, from what I can see, to accommodate women with children who want to stay in their jobs. It’s part of the macho culture to stay late and being seen to stay late. It doesn’t make it easy and I see friends my age who really want to stay in their jobs and who are immensely talented and would be a huge loss to the industry and I see no effort whatsoever to accommodate them in any way in terms of trying to mix both work and being a parent.

Q Tom, you had a point to make there

A. Sure. I’m a journalist in practice but I also do a lot of radio and TV so I have a footprint in all the major Irish media organisations. I have observed the workplace culture in each of those settings. The other thing I will say is in my capacity, I am now regarded as a whistleblower. That was not a term in use when I did my PhD. Over the years, whenever I appear in the media, like when there is a TV documentary or a radio documentary as there was here in RTE on the series Whistleblowers I have been contacted by female journalists in Ireland who have repeated similar stories of harassment, sexual harassment and bullying. I think in relation to the status and role of female journalists within the Irish media. This is a particular Irish phenomenon. I think there is a requirement for major investigation and further analysis in order that we remove those obstacles.

Q, There is an issue there Alison that you referred earlier-if these sort of allegations were made, if this sort of thing was to happen in any other sector it would be very much seen as and would be the duty of the fourth estate to hold the powers that be to account.

A. It’s something funny to do with journalists. I do not know if we see that journalism is a vocation or something. Even if you walk into the average newsroom it’s been my experience that a lot of the time even the desks and the chairs and the computers are pretty crap. Journalists don’t collectively look for better conditions. It’s as if we are being Superman or saving the world. It extends a bit to that, to do with the conditions. A particular thing in relation to Leinster House- It’s like a boy’s boarding school. It’s overwhelmingly male. We have such a poor representation of female TDs. The majority of women you see in Leinster House are either parliamentary assistants or catering staff or ushers. It is testosterone laden. There are very few places where you could replicate that. There are very few institutions that are so absolutely and immensely male.

Q. Even at a low level Alison and I hesitate to use that term, in preparing for the programme I contacted some female journalists who are prominent within the media. Some have never experienced sexism. Some have but say they take it on the chin. You put up with it.

Alison: If you have an exclusively male environment, if decisions are taken at a level where it is testosterone driven with no oestrogen feeding in then the balance is all wrong.

Q What needs to be done then Tom?

A. If you look at the arm forces, an organisation that operates in very difficult circumstances in Golan Heights and Syria and so on. After my research was published and investigated by an independent government enquiry they developed a mission statement with regard to equality. They also have a very strong dignity in the workplace charter. It’s incumbent on the NUJ and all the media organisations that they put in place very clear and explicit policies, goals and objectives that are measureable with regard to the participation and promotion of women and female voices at all levels in our media. That would be a start.

Q  Alison?

A. I know it would be difficult to implement but I would favour quotas for current affairs panels and for the experts- the people that programmes bring on to tell us what we should think about an issue on any given day be it domestic or international. That’s the way things will change Things have improved. There is now more awareness. An argument you will hear from senior people in the media  and which is trotted out is that listeners don’t like female voices. I have never seen that research. They are not used to listening to women’s voices. On certain radio schedules on certain stations you can go for hours without hearing a female voice

Tom: Research in International military scene shows that women’s voices are actually the most compelling and attractive voices. In cockpit prompts in fighter aircrafts they use the woman’s voice as they believe we are more genetically disposed and hardwired to listening to our mothers. There is no research that shows that female voices are not attractive but there is plenty of research to show that sexist men will often quote false science to support sexist misogynistic views.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


I remember well the first bottle of wine I ever bought.  Well I didn’t purchase all of it.. I had shares in it, so to speak.  I was about 16 and with a few girl pals walked over a mile (no – we had shoes and it wasn’t snowing) to a shop where we had heard they weren’t very fussed about proof of age when purchasing alcohol.  We could afford one bottle between us.

As we neared the shop it was decided that I alone should enter the premises since I was the tallest and so surely must have looked the oldest.  The girls waited around the corner while I completed the transaction without any bother.  Then, nursing our precious purchase, we trudged all the way back (well, it was uphill) to the friend’s house whose parents were away.  Once there, we sat around the kitchen table and after a long struggle with a corkscrew managed to get the wine open and carefully doled it out between about five of us. 

We were all staying the night and so went to bed convinced we were all drunk and relishing the thought of hangovers in the morning.  Oh the innocence of it all.

Since those heady schoolgirl days I have dalliances with various other tipples.  There were the Bacardi & Coke days, the (brace yourself) Malibu & Pineapple days (I feel nauseous just thinking about that) and indeed I still am partial to an odd Hot Port or Pear Cider depending on the weather. 

But wine... sigh.... wine and I have never fallen out of love.  Wine has been there.. every step of the way.  From that first bottle of what was most likely Black Tower or Blue Nun to the bottles of Merlot and Shiraz languishing in my wine rack as I type.

Languishing you say?  Yes languishing.  Because, dear reader, I never saw it coming.  I thought we still happily involved in a beautiful relationship; a relationship that I will admit it had its ups and downs.  There were some nights (or indeed afternoons) when we overdid our love for each other.  There were dawns when I should have been in bed rather than struggling home from a neighbour’s house.  There were times when the day after the night before was a bit of a struggle as a result of my overindulgence.  But in fairness after well over three decades together we know each other fairly well and like a good marriage, we generally got on pretty well. 

In fact it was better than that.  We had some great laughs down the years.  The early days of cheap plonk and dodgy corks which disintegrated into the bottle as I struggled to remove them and then had to strain the wine through tights....  What?  You never did that?  The days spent in Spain drinking rough local vino from earthenware jugs.   The cosy, winter nights, me and my wine, together by a roaring fire.  All the celebrations, the birthdays, the Christmases...  we did them all..happily together. Not (necessarily) getting drunk you understand but just enjoying each other’s company.

But over the last few months something changed.  At first I assumed we were going through a rocky patch.  Two glasses of wine of an evening was starting to result in a horrible headache which often woke me in the middle of the night and lasted for most of the following day.  As a sufferer of migraines I do tend to get a bit panicky at the onset of a headache.  These weren’t migraines but did leave me feeling pretty awful and very, very tired. 

I persevered, as one does when a relationship has a wobble.  I tried to drink water along with the wine. I thought that was helping for a while.  But I was only fooling myself. 

So I bought a bottle of white.  It’s not the same.  We just don’t have the same chemistry.  There were fewer headaches but there was no spark.  No deeply satisfying sigh at the first taste on my lips. 

The bottles of red sat sadly looking at me from the rack in the kitchen.  So I decided to risk a glass the other night.  Spaghetti bolognaise tastes better anyway wish a dash of red so I opened a bottle and poured a glass. I inhaled deeply its spicy aroma.  Glass to lips and that first taste... oh it was sublime.  How I had missed it.  But I was sensible – I limited myself to just a glass.. and a half. 

Next day, I woke at six am with the familiar feeling of my head thumping on the pillow and my day went south slowly.  I cried bitter tears at the realisation that our relationship must end. 

Later I went downstairs and addressed the wine rack.  “It’s not you” I sobbed, “it’s me. I am so sorry, but it’s over.”

Let me tell you something, it’s a man’s world and the menopause is a bitch... with teeth.  But I am holding onto my bottles of red... because this can’t last forever, right?

Monday, June 15, 2015



In the last few years I have become a right pain in the ass about The Dalkey Book Festival.  “It’s great,” I enthuse to all and sundry, “brilliant events and the town buzzes with energy and the sun always shines”.  Most of those I know who visit will book one or maybe two events.  But me... with my addictive personality... I book way too many and end up tearing about the village from tent to town hall and back again.  I try to build in gaps where I can venture home just so my kids don’t think I have actually gone away for the weekend.  Although every year I wonder should I book into the B&B in the village if there is such a thing – and that’s another mystery – why isn’t there a boutique hotel in Dalkey?  Staying onsite would enable me to not miss a thing... I could completely immerse myself in all the cleverality.  Like the old days back in Dunelles pub in Dun Laoghaire where even if you weren’t smoking a joint yourself, you could get high just breathing I could absorb more just by being there.

Dalkey is a perfect location for a festival.  It’s small and retains the feel of an Irish village, but it also has lots of great places to eat and drink.  And boy is it scenic.  Even for me, a Dun Laoghaire woman (2nd generation, I’ll have you know) who misspent much of her youth around Dalkey, the festival allows me to glimpse the location through fresh eyes, especially this year with the addition of the The Seafront Marquee in Dillons Park overlooking Dalkey Island.

But what makes the Dalkey Book Festival so compulsive is that it provides much of what is missing in Irish media today.  A chance to sit and listen to some great speakers discussing big questions, philosophical questions... the kind of stuff that makes you think.  There are great panel sessions too where various topics are debated.  But not debated in the polarised way we have become used to seeing on TV where the extremes are encouraged to contest the issue in sound bites with the facilitator constantly chiding them to hurry up.  Dalkey Book Festival is many ways is reminiscent of the heyday of the Late Late Show.  Long conversations liberally sprinkled with anecdotes and humour.

It is a perfect way to hear your favourite journalists (Fintan O Toole, Olivia O’Leary and Dearbhail McDonald featured this year) as well as writers and thinkers on a wide range of topics.  And that is the key to understanding the Dalkey Book Festival – it’s not just about books, it’s about much more.  And at its heart are the long philosophical conversations that Irish people love to have on topics that are important to us.  This year there were sessions titled ‘Economists, What Are They Good For?’, ‘New World 2020’ and ‘The Next Billion’.  My own favourite was ‘Who Owns 2016’.  And again, unlike the debates we are normally subjected to in Ireland on radio and TV, there are no winners.  No conclusion – but plenty of food for thought, plenty to mull over for days afterwards.

Oh - and it tends to remarkably free of politicians.  What's not to like?

Well, there is one thing... I would love to see more women on the various stages.  From quick count I did on the adult events (there’s a great kids programme too) there are almost double the amount of men on stage than women.  And historians - although I like Diarmuid Ferriter, I sometimes wonder is he our only historian.  I would especially like to hear someone like Mary McAuliffe discussing Ireland’s revolutionary decade.  Mary has done lots of interesting work on women’s involvement... perhaps that might be something the organising committee would look at next year.

Either way I will be there.  I’m saving already... are you on their mailing list?