Monday, August 26, 2013


A few years ago BBC2 screened a documentary series called ‘Tribal Wives’.  In each episode a different British woman went to live for a period of weeks with a so called ‘primitive’ tribe in various parts of the developing world. 

There was one particular episode that stands out in my memory because it dealt with what happened when that week’s British woman got her period.  In the tribe she was living with menstruating women had to go to a special hut on the outskirts of the village.  So off our British woman went, somewhat horrified that she was being ‘put out’ of the village as if unclean.  But she found the experience very soothing.  In the special hut she was minded by other women who braided her hair and she was not expected to do any work.  After a few days she returned to her duties in the village feeling refreshed.

I had forgotten about this until recently when I read a wonderful book by Anita Diamant called The Red Tent.  This book tells the story of Dinah who is the daughter of Jacob, he of the infamous 12 sons, one of whom had a Multicoloured Dreamcoat.  But what I found so engrossing about this book was the actual Red Tent. 

Dinah grew up with many mothers as Jacob had many wives.  As is generally the case when women live together, their menstrual cycles synchronised and so the Red Tent was where the women of the extended family went while they bled.  For three days and nights, they did no work, no cooking but spent what sounded like a reasonably relaxing time chilling out together in their own female tent.

I just love this idea of retreat for a few days once a month.  Imagine if instead of living in a world that has evolved from a patriarchal society we actually had come from a matriarchial system.  How would our world differ?  Well for one I doubt we women would have gotten to the 21st century pretending we don’t actually have periods. 

This pretence is beginning to change.  We now have ads for tampons and towels with their cute little wings on the TV but the ads are largely a bit weird and full of blue liquid.

Last year Bodyform posted a brilliant ad on YouTube addressing a Facebook post by ‘Richard’ who sought to expose the lies contained in the advertising of feminine hygiene products.  In this ad, Caroline Williams, fictional CEO of Bodyform, admits that their ads have lied but makes the point that their focus groups in the ‘80s couldn’t handle the truth of periods with mood swings and cramps etc.  She even makes reference to crimson landslides.

Lately another period ad has been causing a sensation online.  This one features a young girl who is the first in her group to get her period and becomes (for a while) a kind of period superhero distributing tampons all around her.

And that, right there, is the point.  Women are superheroes.  Once a month we manage to carry on for a couple of days through cramps, headaches, mad appetite surges, sore breasts and the need to be reasonably near a loo every couple of hours.  Do we complain?  Not if we know what’s good for us we don’t?  Do we look for some time out?  Oh no, because then we mightn’t be equal to the guys.  So instead we dose up on painkillers and we try not to give the game away by putting a comforting hand on our sore abdomens as we carry on with business as usual.  

It’s the same way we pretend we don’t miss our kids when we are in work.  It’s why we are afraid to be seen crying.  We are hyper aware of doing or saying anything that might make us seem less, well, less macho than the guys.  We deny a lot of what being a woman is about.

It’s time for a new wave of feminism.  It’s time we looked at how our world is organised and made some enlightened changes.  We need better work life balance, better maternity (and paternity) leave, we need to be proud of our emotions and we need better and affordable childcare.  But most of all... we need to shout loud that WE ARE WOMEN AND WE BLEED... and sometimes that feels crap.  Actually perhaps this wave could be called the Red Wave of Feminism.

It’s time that we took a lesson from our ancestors and our sisters in supposedly ‘less developed’ countries.  I am not suggesting a row of red tents on the outskirts of our cities, town and villages... although if they came with a spa attached.. well maybe.  Could you imagine the networking possibilities of powerful women spending some quality time together once a month doing nothing but planning and dreaming and thinking?  It would be better than the golf club has ever been.

 But we need to stop pretending that being a woman is very similar to being a man.  Because it’s not.  And no, I haven’t written this while suffering PMT... I’m menopausal!

Friday, August 9, 2013


I was recently asked by the Irish Examiner to write a piece on a new book entitled "What Do Women Want, Adventures in the Science of Female Desire".  It seemed like a straight forward enough task until I read the book.  I decided I needed help - so I roped in two of my media women friends and the results of our hilarious but serious conversation are in today's Irish Examiner.

I thought you might enjoy - so here is the link.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


(Originally broadcast on Sunday Miscellany 2013)  

Summer 1979.  Ireland had a postal strike that lasted four months, 200,000 people took to the streets to demand changes to the tax system and protesters battled to save the Wood Quay site from development.  Brendan Shine was at No 1 asking “if we wanted our old lobby washed down?”   I don’t think that was a euphemism but I still have no idea what he was on about.  I was more interested in Gloria Gaynor realising she could survive and Debbie Harry’s heart of glass.

In the midst of all this unrest I was doing my Leaving Cert and preparing to enter the real world now that my education was over.  1979 was the summer I had waited for, for years.  This would be the summer I would bid farewell to the terrifying nuns, to my green uniform and more importantly this was the summer that I would embrace a grown up social life and meet lots of boys.  It was that beautiful oasis between education and work; a summer to savour freedoms of all kinds after years of rules and regulations.

The first taste of the promise that summer held came on a sunny Saturday in May.  My mother, feeling I needed a break from the study, insisted I accompany her to the Annual Dun Laoghaire Garden Party.  In the sun we shared a bottle of wine.... for the first time.   A couple of hours later as we both giggled our way up Marine Road, two guys passed us on the opposite side of the street.  One was very tall and had long leather clad legs which immediately caught my attention.  Once they had passed I decided to risk a second glance.  As I turned around, so did he.  Eyes met and we both laughed.  And I fell in love, in the way you do when you are 17.

May melted into June and during the long weeks of attempting to cram my brain with all sorts of useless information, I wondered about Sexy Long Legs.  Being six feet tall, I always knew that I was going to have a problem finding a boy to take to my Debs.  But summer would provide me the opportunity to track him down and secure his company for my big night in November.

Finally exams were finished and we raced out of our convent school and into our futures which we seemed to think we would find in Dunelles pub.  Located in the basement of the new and shiny Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre it was a windowless, dark, cavern; like a private club for penniless youth.  Singer Dominic Mulvaney and his guitar wove the music of Dylan, Young and Croce into my memories of the place.  There was magic and lots of funny smelling smoke in the air.

The best spot in Dunelles was a booth which had a view of the stairs.  There me and the girls would play the ‘whose legs are those’ as they descended into the murky half light.  And it didn’t take long for those familiar Sexy Long Legs to make a confident swaggering descent.  He knew everyone, except me. 

Meanwhile Aer Lingus’s first female pilot got her wings, boat people refugees arrived from Vietnam and the country got ready to welcome the Pope.  My main worry was my Debs and the fact that the clock was ticking.  I had to get to know Sexy Long Legs enough to ask him to accompany me before someone else did. 

Nights in Dunelles dissolved into each other and then in late July it happened. I was standing on Marine Road, waiting for the last 46a home when he joined the queue.   Trying to act cool but feeling very hot under the collar I boarded the bus and he sat on the seat in front of me and offered me a Rothmans.  Through a cloud of smoke, I abandoned small talk and got right to the point. “Would you fancy coming to my Debs in November” I gushed at him.   “Yeah, why not” he answered, “that will be three Debs Balls this autumn.”  It wasn’t quite the answer I was looking for.  

Next night in Dunelles I couldn’t wait to see my date again.  In he arrived and as he breezed past, the only change was that he now said “Hi Barbara”.  Slowly the realisation dawned that my asking him to my Debs had not conferred any changed status on our relationship. In fact I was just last in a queue of three dates he would be accompanying on their big nights too. 

But me and the girls had found the social life we craved and we had met lots of boys.  Summer rumbled on with nights ending with either a visit to The Ritz on Patrick’s Street for a bag of chips or a walk to The Forum Cinema in Glasthule where the only late night movie ever on was ‘Pink Floyd Live In Pompeii’.  We endured the heavy metal for the thrill of being surrounded in the dark by the unfamiliar musky aroma of male bodies. 

As August died, The Boomtown Rats were declaring they don’t like Mondays and in town, a new punk band called U2 were playing in McGonagles.

Summer faded into autumn and I continued to try desperately to capture the heart of Sexy Long Legs.  Finally on a warm September day he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk down the Pier.  By the lighthouse we shared my first joint and afterwards lay on the grass in Moran’s Park watching the clouds and then we kissed. The sheer boldness of that day was thrilling in a way I still can’t articulate. 

An enormous, ugly library now squats on what used to be Moran’s Park with its dark recesses, neat lawns, mysterious deep black pool and where the birdsong was interspersed by the gentle twang of lawn bowls.  It was a great place to lie in the grass and savour first love and the last summer of true freedom – that delicious gap between the world of education and that of work. 

And yes 'sexy long legs' accompanied me to my Debs and looked even finer than he did in his leather trousers... but....  “sin sceal eile” (that’s another story).

The image above is of a painting by local artist Jim Scully.  Check out his website here

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


The first thing I thought when I heard of Pat Kenny's move to Newstalk was that I hope they have somewhere for him to park his motorbike with a roof.  I then hoped that the arrival of such a radio superstar might nudge the station into providing decent coffee. 

It is going to be a huge change for the veteran broadcaster, leaving the leafy campus and free parking in Montrose for the altogether more utilitarian surrounds of the third floor of Marconi House.  

But that aside, Kenny’s departure from RTE is wildly exciting for media nerds (of which I am one) as it opens up a range of possibilities and conundrums for broadcasting generally and for three stations in particular... namely RTE, Newstalk and TV3.  But it seems to me that the biggest challenge may in fact be for RTE 2FM.

Clearly RTE Radio One has the most pressing problem as it now has quite a large hole in its weekday schedule.  ‘Today with PK’ sat squarely and very comfortably in the mid morning slot; a slot in which Gay Byrne and more recently Gerry Ryan worked their radio magic for decades. 

The untimely death of Gerry Ryan proved how unprepared our state broadcaster was for the sudden departure of one of their major stars and revenue earners.  With no obvious successor poor Tubridy was moved from his comfortable slot on Radio One and was shoe horned into 2FM where it was hoped he would hold onto that precious ‘Ryanline’ audience.  It was an impossible task for Tubridy and the station still seems to be in a quandary as what to do in with this previously lucrative morning talk slot.

Many believe that 2FM should revert to being a music station and go back to trying to serve a younger audience.  Personally I think the station has missed that boat.  The teenagers I know wouldn’t listen to 2FM in a fit, stations such as Spin 103 (Dublin) in particular have that market sewn up. 

The problem for 2FM it seems to me is that a lot of their presenters and indeed their audience have stayed with them.  Gerry Ryan would be mid 50s now as is Dave Fanning and Larry Gogan is well beyond that and is (rightly) still broadcasting on the station.

RTE Radio 2 was launched in 1979 which was the year I left school.  I have listened fairly frequently ever since and I was a huge fan of Gerry Ryan, who brilliance at broadcasting and whose people skills were only fully recognised when he was gone. 

Unlike when Gerry died, there is a list of possible and seemingly very capable presenters who could deliver the goods and retain the audience (read advertising revenue) in the wake of Pat’s departure;  namely Miriam O Callaghan, Claire Byrne, Aine Lawlor and Audrey Carville.  And yes... they are all women.... as good ole Bob Dylan predicted all those year ago... "the times they are a changing."

It is interesting that Newstalk are scheduling Pat Kenny immediately after their Breakfast Show.  RTE have traditionally given listeners a bit of respite after Morning Ireland in a slot that went from Ryan Tubridy to John Murray and is currently being caretaken by the very capable Miriam O Callaghan.

So I wonder would all this upheaval will signal a return to Radio One for Tubridy where he could once again provide the light relief after Morning Ireland before handing over to one of the female current affairs heavy weights I listed above.

So the problem RTE still has really is what to do with 2FM.  Personally I think there is still a space for ‘talk radio light’ in the morning.  It needs the right presenter.  It may well be a woman... (there are no women presenters on 2FM weekday prime time) and like a lot of the pillars of 2FM, she may not be that young!  I’m thinking a Fiona Looney or Jennifer Maguire kind of woman.  Wouldn't that be something....  

Then Newstalk and the other independent radio stations might realise that women can do radio too... and can do it very well!