Thursday, October 27, 2011

OICHE SAMHAIN

This piece was featured on RTE Radio 1's Sunday Miscellany Programme last year.
I will again be featuring on Sunday Miscellany this Sunday - 30th October - with a piece on Owls! Tune in after 9am news.


Halloween, Oiche Samhain. In its original form ‘as Gaeilge’, the name holds a hint of the magic and mystical mayhem that to me is what today, the 31st of October is all about. Of all our feastdays, Halloween is the one that links us most closely with our ancient Celtic and Pagan past. Today carries echoes of ritual and belief stretching back over hundreds and hundreds of years. Halloween speaks to a very deep and primitive part of my soul. I love it and always have.

Nowadays a lot of our Halloween traditions and customs have been overlaid with American style elaborate decorations and costumes. The old cry of “have ya any apples or nuts” has been replaced by the chorus of “trick or treat” which will ring through neighbourhoods tonight. But like buns becoming cupcakes top heavy in sugary frosting, Halloween may be somewhat overdressed but its origins are firmly based here in Ireland where fairy lore and a fascination with the ‘other world’ has always been a part of who we are. It is a celebration of the unknown, of the spiritual and speaks of the Irish penchant for eschewing authority and our love of a bit of occasional anarchy and chaos.

To this day I have absolutely no memory of ever having had a childhood birthday party but I have very clear recollections of my youthful Halloweens. Each year I dressed up as the same thing – a gypsy. I wore a long, multicoloured skirt, a head scarf and huge ‘clip on’ hoop earrings. But best of all, my mother applied eye shadow and kohl to my eyes making me a very glamorous gypsy indeed.

The Barm Brack is an important part of Halloween and in the 70’s it came with a whole array of bits to choke on. There was a rag for poverty, a bit of a stick indicating you would be beaten by your spouse, a coin for prosperity and of course the best prize of all was the ring. Mother would slice up the brack on the plate, keeping each slice firmly in place while my brothers and I, made our choice. The ring was immediately discovered, bulging from the cake, wrapped in greaseproof paper. Oh the excitement.

Once tea was over and darkness had fallen it was time to brave whatever ghouls and witches were abroad and head out to collect our store of apples and nuts. As autumn tipped into winter, the nights were cold and our breath made little clouds of condensation ahead of us. The air smelt of damp, decaying leaves overlaid with a whiff of gunpowder from bangers and the scent of distant bonfires. As we moved from house to house we passed other neighbourhood kids, their faces hidden behind garish plastic masks. Who were they? Did we know them?

Once the cold got the better of us and our bag was sufficiently heavy with its feast fit for any squirrel, we headed home. In the light of the house we investigated our booty just in case someone had sneaked in a chocolate bar. Usually they hadn’t. So we munched on monkey nuts as we recounted the nights events to the sound of ongoing bangers exploding outdoors.

I carry the memories of my childhood Halloweens with me to this day and relive them each year, as I hand out sweets and chocolate to my neighbourhood’s children. My own girls are now too old to have me accompany them around the houses and mobile phones mean they can contact me if they need to. Last weekend we decorated the hall and front garden with large spider webs, cats, ghosts and witches. I usually don my own witch’s hat as the light fades on this the most magical day of the year. But maybe for tonight, I will search out some huge hoop earrings and a headscarf! Either way, I can’t wait.


Photo by Paul Sherwood - our front door on Oiche Samhain

Saturday, October 22, 2011

HANDBAGS AT DUSK

What do you think of when you think of the Queen of England?

What is the image comes into your head?

Her slightly bend frame? Her permanent rictus looking smile? Her classic wave? Or do you, like me, see her in her sensible shoes and clutching tightly onto her Royal handbag? I have often wondered what she carries in there, seeing as though Royalty apparently don’t carry money and she has ladies-in-waiting and all kinds of other minions to cater for her every need. I’d love to have a furkle in Lizzy’s bag. But I digress. The point I am actually trying to make is that to me, the Queen always carries what I consider to be the quintessential handbag. A square, solid, sensible bag designed to clasp firmly in your paw!

Now, I’m as much of a bag woman as the next girl, but have never been a fan of the handbag per se, always preferring a long shoulder strap to facilitate the draping of said bag around my person (and my preferred option is a strap long enough to wear across my body thereby allowing both hands to go about their business unhindered by bag duties). But I don’t know any woman who would dream of going out without her bag. For us girls, bags are an essential part not just of our wardrobe but of who we are. You can tell a fair bit about a woman from her bag... but you can do a full character profile by analyzing the contents of said bag. And right there is one of the most interesting things about women and their bags. Why is it we get so uneasy when someone else delves into the depths of one of our most personal spaces? Early on in our relationship, the photographer learned that only in a case of life or death should he ever delve his masculine arm into the inner sanctum of my bag. Kids are not permitted inside either. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.... please tell me I’m not.

Who remembers the anger in this country when the late Brian Lenihan insisted that “sure everyone partied through the Celtic Tiger years”. We all looked at each other and declared indignantly “I most certainly did not party.” But we know who he was talking about. Yep, he was most definitely referring to the women with more money than sense who paid huge sums of money for the latest designer handbag for which they had to wait months, on a list in Brown Thomas. Can you imagine their excitement when they finally got the phone call to tell them that the latest Gucci bag had arrived with their name on it? No? Well me neither.

If your bag says a lot about who you are, I guess I am generally big and cheap! For casual wear I like a roomy bag, generally an unstructured shape that can mould itself against my hip in a decorous manner. When attempting to look a little more business like I tend favour a satchel type bag, although it should be said that as I buy cheap bags, I probably achieve more of an unsuccessful business like look! Finally I have one or two small bags. These are specifically only ever used when I fly with Ryanair. They have been chosen carefully so that I have quick access to my phone and money while in the airport but which can then be squashed into my cabin bag in order to get past the eagle eyed staff at the boarding gate. Or if its winter they can usually be hidden under ones jacket! Ohh the feeling of power when you know you have duped Ryanair and their SAS type boarding procedures.

I did once spend a lot of money on a bag. It was during my black phase and although I was going to a wedding, I was aware that I was running the risk of looking like a grieving widow. I thought a nice, sophisticated bag would be just the thing. Silver, I thought would be nice and so splashed out about €100 on a sparkly handbag to add a dash of glamour to my look. I actually still think it’s a nice bag but I also still smart at the slagging I got at the wedding from my so called friends, one of whom is a classic handbag connoisseur. They thought my silver bag was hilarious... in fact I think the Queen was ever mentioned, as in “doesn’t the Queen have a handbag like that”. To this day my very expensive silver sits sadly in my wardrobe, like a sad butterfly who only lived for one day.

Maybe it’s time my handbag went out again... and I have just the event for it. Next Thursday, 27th of October, Heavenly Handbags, an auction and sale of pre-loved bags takes place in The Lost Society, Powerhouse Town Centre, Dublin 2. This event is being jointly organised by Boots and The Hospice Foundation and will raise funds for Childrens Hospice Homecare. Along with bags there will be pampering and wine and tasty canap├ęs. Doors open at 6pm and tickets are only €20 from Boots in Grafton Street, Stephens Green SC, Dundrum SC, Swords Pavillion and Donnybrook. Grab a few girl friends and get along... it should be fun and you would be helping a great cause. Oh and if you see a lovely silver handbag give it a wave....and don’t laugh!

Photo by Chris P on Flickr

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

PUTTING THE BROADS INTO BROADCASTING

This night exactly one year ago, I was preparing to take my courage in both hands and get the bus into town to attend a seminar which was aimed at promoting Women On Air. The bus wasn’t that scary in the end – in fact I think bus ceilings have gotten higher making them far safer for me. I distinctly remember in the 80s I used hit my head off the roof regularly. But I digress. As I approached the National Library, the voice in my head was going great guns with really helpful stuff like “what the hell are you doing?”, “you’ll know no one”, “are you going to announce to all these smart career women that you are a suburban housewife with delusions of being a writer?” and finally “go home you big eejit.”

But one foot kept placing itself in front of the other and so I landed into the lecture room trying my best to blend in with the background. As I took a seat I found one friendly face – Eleanor Fitzsimons – a real journalist and writer and someone I had met just once before. To this day Eleanor remains one of the best women I know and that’s not just because she gifted me a little bit of credibility on that day last year.

As I listened to the great presentations by Helen O’Rahilly and Helen Shaw, the little voice in my head was still asking, “why are you here?” The honest answer was that I was not entirely sure. All I was sure about was that I love radio.

Before I reached the dizzy heights of being a housewife, I worked for a national charity as their Public Relations Officer. In that capacity I had done interviews on Morning Ireland, Today with Pat Kenny and (God Bless Him) Gerry Ryan. On retirement to the world of domestic goddessship I occasionally emailed programmes with views and had done phone interviews with Marion Finucane and Gerry again. I had recorded some pieces for Sunday Miscellany and Lyric FM. In the months immediately before that first Women On Air gig, I had begun doing occasional panel pieces with East Coast FM in Wicklow. All of that experience qualifies me as nothing other than an opinionated woman, albeit one with plenty of life experience. It also confirmed the fact that I love radio... but still I felt very much a fraud sitting with all these career women and very experienced journalists.

The effervescent Margaret E Ward, founder of Women On Air didn’t seem to think I was a dinosaur or “big eejit” and neither radio producer Helen McCormack who I also met that night. In fact Helen asked if I would come in to be a contributor on the Tom McGurk programme which she produced on 4FM.

I floated home that night last year. Not only had I enjoyed the event, especially the networking afterwards, but I had been accepted, as me! And that is what is special about Women On Air. Along with presentations by industry experts and leaders, it is a supportive and encouraging forum encouraging any women who wish it, to find their special voices. I am passionate in my belief that we need to hear more women on air. We need to put more broads into broadcasting! More importantly we need to hear from women from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all qualifications and from all kinds of kitchen tables.

I still love radio, have done some more work with 4FM, am a regular on East Coast FM’s Morning Show and still contribute to Sunday Miscellany. I am also now on the organising committee for Women On Air (you gotta give something back). So if like me, you are wondering about radio, get up and get involved. Leave a comment and I will make sure your details are on the mailing list for future events.

In the meantime – Margaret E Ward – take a bow for a great idea. We’ve only just begun.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY WOMEN ON AIR!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A LESSON IN MOTHERING - FROM A CAT!

Consider this post a third instalment in our ‘Adventures in Kitty Fostering’ series. After the stories of Hector and Maggie, we took a break in order to facilitate a smooth transition back into school routine etc. But once October arrived, I knew in my heart that it was time to check out if our friends in the DSPCA had need of foster families again. Not surprisingly they did and when I phoned them last Friday, I made a spur of the moment decision to provide a temporary home for a little family.... Moma cat and four 10 day old kittens. It should be said that poor Moma is only a kitten herself – not yet a year old.

So we now have a total of ten 4 leggeds sharing our lives and our home. The latest arrivals, like their predecessors are installed in the kid’s sitting room which is a bright sunny room in the front of the house. The nice people in the DSPCA provided us with a crate in order to coral the kitties as they get older. So inside we have made up a comfy bed with plenty of space for Moma to recline and feed her babies. I should point out that I am calling her Moma because after a couple of try outs we have yet to find a name that suits this magnificent feline. I am not happy about that.. I would far prefer that kitties in my care all have suitable names. But as TS Elliot famously said “the naming of cats is a difficult matter, it isn’t just one of your holiday games”. Her kittens however have all been given monikers appropriate to the season. So we have Samhain, Salem, Gandolf and Merlin. However the problem with their names is that they are totally interchangeable as each kitten is identical – jet black and so we have no idea who is who.

Anyway last night I was given a lesson in how magnificent cats are by Moma cat which left me feeling very silly altogether.

As they seemed to be all well settled into their new environment and as we had handled the kittens a wee bit without any difficulty, I thought it was time to attempt to get a photo of the four little bundles of blackness which I could post on Twitter and Facebook. (The online community love cats).

So I took each kitty and placed it carefully on the sofa, with cushions strategically placed so that they couldn’t fall off the edge. I went to grab my phone for the picture. As I did so, in arrived Moma cat who took one look at the set up on the sofa, shot me a filthy look and immediately jumped up and retrieved nearest kitty. Grabbing her by her scruff, she expertly jumped off the sofa and transported her swinging bundle back to her bed. By the time she returned to the sofa I was a gibbering eejit. Picking up all three kitties I placed them back in their bed, muttering “sorry Moma cat, ...... look they are all back,....... they are fine”.

She delivered me another withering look and I went back to the sofa alone, feeling scolded, stupid and shallow. Moma cat was still scowling at me from her crate. Her expression seemed to say “they are only 12 days old, far too young to have their image posted on social media”.

I apologised again.

PS – If you have a suggestion for a name for a beautiful, balletic, sleek, jet black female cat please let me know.

There is no photo with this post for obvious reasons!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

SO HOW WAS IT FOR YOU? - JWT Reunion

Going to a reunion, after more than 25 years is a very strange experience. 7 years ago I went to my 25th year school reunion. Last week I went to a JWT staff reunion. I worked for the company from 1979 to 1985. Both experiences were similar as in both cases I was meeting up with some very special people who were part of my daily life all those years ago.

And right there is the very first thing you learn. People don’t change. Sure they may look a bit different – lacking hair or grey hair in the men and a definite softness in the face and body of most of the women – but voices, mannerisms and personalities remain intact. So that as soon as you begin talking all those physical differences fade away. Years melt and relationships seem to resume exactly at the point they left off… . even though it is decades since you have last spoken together.

At a deeper level something else also shifts… very subtly you are brought face to face with your younger self. Your carefree self, the person you were before you embarked on a life partnership, before kids, before the slavery of a mortgage. Very often your younger self is one who has suffered few traumas or difficult life events. And a reunion offers you the opportunity, if only for a few hours, to become that person again.

Sure, lip service is paid to finding out how many kids your ex colleagues/friends may have, where they live… but in reality no one really cares much about that stuff. We acknowledge that we have all moved on with life – in a myriad of different directions. But that’s not the point, is it?

The whole point of a reunion is to reclaim and revisit those earlier days. To hug the special people who were once a very important part of your day to day life. To acknowledge the fun, the craic and the laughs we shared so long ago. In the intervening years you have often wondered if you are looking back at those times through the proverbial rose coloured glasses. A good reunion shouts loud that you are not wrong. Those days were the best of times. The times you laughed loudest and longest; the times when your main concerns were in having a good time and enjoying yourself.

Life would be very boring if everything remained the same forever. We are all on a journey and so we all move on. We have all seen different things, done different things, experienced tough times and sublime joy. But the great gift of a reunion is the pause it allows in life; a pause in which you are granted the opportunity to revisit your past, to remember your younger self and to embrace her. And if you are lucky you might be able to reclaim a little bit of that more reckless, more spirited, more spontaneous you. The trick then is to ensure she doesn’t cause too much chaos in your current reality!

I will keep you posted!

Photo of old pals - Des Abbot, yours truly and Tony Fitzgibbon - decades later