Profane cow

Bless me, Comrades, it’s been *thinks how long since Glen Hansard’s Oscar speech* a few years at least since my last confession, and these are my transgressions:

I didn’t do what my parents told me so I don’t have a pension set up.

I said bad words like absolutely! (in that way) And one time I think I said..going forward. Possibly not in jest.

I had impure thoughts about Amy Huberman. It didn’t involve removing her clothes, just thon Newbridge Silverware that brings out her Stepford side. Only I went in for a swift but almighty boot up the arse. Kick like you mean it etc.

amy huberman

Amy opens up for the first time to Tommie Gorman about the trauma she endured at Newbridge Silverware

I called my brothers names. I’m ashamed to admit they included solvent, capitalist, over-achiever, and funds manager. OK, I didn’t really call any of them a funds manager. I wouldn’t want to be disowned altogether.

When Bob Geldof invited refugees to stay in his gaff, I was concerned they might be exposed to the music of The Boomtown Rats. Haven’t they been through enough?

Yesterday, I legged it into the nearest shop when I spotted my Mother-In-Law advancing. I’ve no idea why I did this. On the plus side, my mate said she never saw me run so fast.

Michael Palin. I still would.

I mean-spiritedly, if accurately, assumed the judges of the Irish Blog Awards were a mixed ability group when I discovered my favourites didn’t make the cut.

Stephen Fry. I still would. Even if it meant life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

I didn’t LOL at any of the excerpts from the current glut of books out on the Irish condition. I’m too afraid to name names for fear of risking torture for outrageous acts of social disobedience and sacrilege. As the quest for the true essence of Paddy continues, I’m sure there are a few chapters in there dedicated to the perennial curmudgeon, impossible to please. I’ll be bitterly disappointed, if not. I aim to do my bit in contributing to that most complicated and elusively layered beast: The middle-aged Irish woman.

I typed LOL. Twice.

My self-loathing has spread to wincing on people greeting me in our native language, and any time I’m exposed to Irish dancing. Richard Dawkins claimed Catholic education was worse than child abuse so that woefully misplaced hysteria has already been taken.

Yeah, Richard Dawkins. etc.

I typed Richard Dawkins. Three times.

I’m responsible for our wee one cultivating a Michael Jackson obsession. It started one afternoon when I innocently introduced her to The Jackson Five on youtube. It ended with her insisting on watching Thriller every night after dinner, just before one episode of Peppa. Here, have a listen.. “Darkness falls across the land..” Sorry, wrong link, I hit the Amnesty film, Chains, there by mistake.

I’m a fan of all of Graham Linehan’s commendably great work, though The I.T. Crowd did it for me better than Father Ted. And Moone Boy gives the latter a run for its money.

Finally *whispers* I might’ve laughed at Liam Neeson’s voiceover. A baby laugh. A whimper. More of a cough when I think about it.

*Bows head solemnly for absolution*

From a distance

It doesn’t matter how endless the climb to the top of the estate, over either shoulder the cathedral is always higher. From the cathedral, stacks of tiny boxes curl around the hillside like they’ve seen it and are raising it a few thousand metres. A precarious move, but it’s just an illusion. The cathedral presides over everyone, defiantly sticking two spires up at them.

From the estate entrance, the houses form intricate tiers of dominos poised for collapse; all two hundred and something nicotine-coloured of them. A concrete relic from an era callously snubbed by design and sanity. The faded mural hints at the outline of flowers painted by local children who have since gone on to have their own. Aside from a smattering of window boxes and tiny four-by-four grass patches, it’s the only attempt at something resembling a communal garden. A lone blackbird sits on top of the padlocked gate to the all-weather pitch staring vacantly at the frayed Palestinian flag flapping on a neighbouring pole.

From the confines of a civil service office thirty miles away, servants in suits only ever refer it to as an area of deprivation. Among the top ten percent in Northern Ireland. It therefore gives a few of them a reason to exist.

From desks less than a mile away, it fails to qualify for traffic calming measures, or a playground. Against policy, they’re told, so children play on the road where toy tractors and scooters are regularly abandoned to the mercy of on-coming drivers; some of them not old enough to qualify for a licence.

From number 29, Irene shakes her head, fearful it’s all going to kick off again. There was a bare-knuckle fight at the weekend, right on the street in broad daylight, she points diagonally. The police were called but they didn’t bother coming out.

It’s less than a year since it last kicked off. Why are so many of them living here?, a handful demanded to know from the Housing Executive official before they were joined by a steady chorus of dissenters until civility fled the scene and there was standing room only. They come in here taking houses, spat one man. And the noise of them, not to mention making our young people afraid. No-one thought to point out that many of them have been living on the estate before most of those gathered. Or how odd it was that the discovery of abandoned used needles in the same week didn’t pose as grave a threat to the safety of their children as those other children.

From number 64, Bridget shakes her head, fearful it’s all going to kick off again. We get blamed for everything, she sighs. The IRA turned up at Mickey’s door the other week accusing him of robbing equipment from yer man’ building site. It turned out it was one of their own. On the plus side, her son finally got someone to take him on for work experience as part of his apprenticeship. He was university material but it would’ve been perceived as a step too far by the rest of the men. When he was doing his GCSEs, he had to change out of his uniform before coming back to the estate. Too risky otherwise. Bridget remains hopeful of change. She can see it already. The girls want good jobs and the parents know they need to be getting an education. But we’re written off. And one family is always keeping an eye on the other, you know?

From Christmas, it’ll have been a year since Irene and Bridget and their kids joined 50 other families from the estate for a trip to the panto in Belfast. Irene put its success down to the mediation that followed the meeting, and them having a better understanding of their responsibilities and not giving too much bother. Bridget put it down to all the families on the estate having a rare opportunity to come together to get know one another. We’re just the same in many ways, do you know what I’m sayin’?

The Irish paradox

Writing it and doing all your research, because there’s a lot of research in it…what did you learn? What was the biggest learning, or was it stuff you just had confirmed for you, or were there insights that made you go “wow, I’ve learned that now, that’s a new thing”?

I suppose there was a lot of things I was hoping to learn and I was pleased to learn that we are actually very kind. ‘Cause I was hoping we were very kind; and we are. I think probably the most disturbing thing actually is going back to racism again because it did mention most ethnic groups, and Muslims. But Travellers…there’s a fella, a sociologist called Michael MacGreil, who wrote a book in the ‘70s called ‘Prejudice & Tolerance in Ireland’, and that’s been his career – studying into that on an on-going basis. And in his studies, a quarter of Irish people, the settled community, would deny citizenship to Travellers. It’s as profound as that. If you think about it, most people in the settled community don’t want a Traveller living anywhere near them, they don’t want to work with one, they wouldn’t want their kids to marry one. Well, what’s the difference between any of that and apartheid, say? It’s essentially an apartheid state for them. Now, that’s not to say the Traveller community doesn’t have a massive problem with criminality and not getting how to interact with the settled community…. But, they are a community in crisis, I think. I think modernity was a complete disaster for them and they don’t really know how to deal with it. And no-one’s really helped them, and there’s been virtually no attempt made to understand them or indeed for them to understand us. That conversation hasn’t happened.

And do you think that’s something that you might campaign about on your programme or in other ways? Is it something that you kind of got interested in since doing that research?

It is. We’ve done one or two things on it before. Again, though, it’s one of those things that you have to cut your cloth to a degree because…. …. We’ve had Michael Collins on, the Travellers rights spokesman, and, of course, every time he comes on, the abuse is unbelievable. Yeah, so, it’s like you almost have to find a way to present this to people to say “well, this is actually good for you, and it’s good for your communities if we have this conversation”

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An excerpt from an interview by Roisin Ingle with broadcaster, Sean Moncrieff, on his new book.

Full interview available here: https://soundcloud.com/irishtimes-lifestyle/sean-moncrieff

Out of the blue

Sauntering into a shoe shop to punch in my pin number less than a minute later for the first expensive pair tried on would not be considered the wisest move. My working hours have been chopped by 30 per cent; my wages taking a nosedive with it. But for all my reckless spending that fuelled a spontaneous past, it’s a sign my internal compass needle is attempting to get back on its axis.

For a woman with too much say, the stuff left unsaid is only so because it refuses to wear any kind of sentence; or to find a word with a zip that closes. It reached a point where the thought of another changing room encounter led me to avoid them altogether. So while I can’t articulate being at war with my mind, I’m beginning to recognise vital signs of emerging victorious from one vicious battle.

So it would seem that shopping is no longer an activity in which I’m a passive participant channelling my compulsive spending through the children’s section. My underwear drawer might still be a museum of an epoch fashion forgot, but I defiantly choose a shoe shop instead of Mother Care. Actually, I wasn’t defiant at all. My feet just kind of took me that way. There was no cross-roads, no conscious determination to turn right instead of left.

That it was trainers I purchased might not signal full sartorial rehabilitation but it’s a start. To returning to the road I pounded up yesterday after ditching the car after feeling the sunlight on my face and a giddy childhood yearning to engineer the crunch of leaves under my feet. Climbing the steep incline in the glare of weary workers inching home, the only part of me that felt exposed was my ears. I mentally scanned our kitchen trying to remember where I left my Walkman for next time, unconcerned that my glowing face was fast becoming visible from space.

Half-read books are rescued. A full head of hair resuscitated. A burning desire to tear down every set of curtains that have stayed up long past their expiry date ushers a drift towards other interiors in need of revival. Phone-calls and door-knocks no longer go unanswered. Mostly. Unless it’s the pizza delivery guy. Not really, I haven’t gone all born again. But it’s grand again, instead of grand; the grand half an octave too high that strains to mask the reality of the grand two octaves lower, and slower. My daily dose of exclamation marks has been reduced to 20 mg. And I expect to be completely off ducking and diving by the end of the month with the first of a few road-trips. First we take Manorhamilton then we take Elphin. Via the underwear shop.