Monthly Archives: March 2011

St. Patrick’s Day


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I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to hear about my St. Patrick’s Day, deep in the land of St. Patrick (although, not really, because, actually, St. Patrick was probably Welsh, so, in reality, the Welsh saved the Irish, what with that whole snakes thing, and yet, we’re still considered such a dull country and/or people, which really isn’t fair when you think about it, I mean we’re the ones who came up with eisteddfods and Bryn Terfel, so where would schools and the over-60s crowd be without us, let alone the Irish?) So, ANYWAY, I’ve finally decided to download the images from my camera and write down what it was all like.
Well, before you get too excited, I didn’t go to Dublin for the St. Patrick’s Festival, I didn’t even go in to Cork for their festival. I didn’t drink 12 Guinness and stay out til 5am, dancing in the streets and singing ‘My Heart Tonight’s in Ireland’ and the ‘Black Velvet Band’ with people I had only met a few hours before hand. My employer here kept telling me that ‘the Irish don’t really celebrate St. Patrick’s Day’, which I found confusing, because every store I saw seemed to be decked out in shamrocks, leprechauns and flags with, ‘Happy St. Patrick’s Day’ in huge letters. But, I bit my tongue and waited to see what ‘not really celebrated’ meant in Ireland.
Funny story about St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Apparently, up until the 1970s, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin consisted mainly of tractors. Furthermore, the pubs were closed all day long, and the only place you were allowed to drink was the bar at the Dublin Dog Show (held on the same day), and it was just a really happy coincidence that the Irish are a people who truly love competitive dog shows, at least, they were, until the laws were changed and the pubs could open on St. Patrick’s Day.
Anyway, eventually, someone on the Irish Tourism Board turned on the TV one year and saw the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade and went, ‘Hang on, shouldn’t we be getting a piece of that action?’ They subsequently launched the ‘new and improved (now with less tractors)’ Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which, even though it had very few tractors and more people dressed up like shamrocks, was a big disappointment to all the American tourists who flew over from Chicago and New York to see it in the following years (them being used to rivers being dyed green and balloons the size of skyscrapers and that sort of carry-on), so, not feeling able to compete with the Americans for size, they outdid them in length and launched the St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which lasts 4 – 5 days and has music, theatre, dance, art and general revelry.
But, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Bandon was a much more traditional affair. The main street was closed, and people lined the footpath waving Irish flags, shamrocks in their breast pockets, ridiculous leprechaun hats on their heads, and bushy red beards attached to their ears etc. Its strange, this sort of display of national pride in Australia makes me feel somewhere in the range of uncomfortable to disgusted, whereas over here, it made me happy. I don’t know if its because of the undertones of Australia Day (or Invasion Day, depending on what cultural group you belong to) or the Cronulla riots and seeing the Australian flag used as a cape, or if I just hate Australia (jokes, guys, jokes!) but I would recoil slightly from seeing the Australian flag plastered all over the place like I saw the Irish flag in Bandon.
The parade was headed by an old dude in a kilt and hat playing the uilleann pipes, which are a traditional type of Irish bagpipes. In fact, when I saw them, I yelled out, ‘Oh, wow, awesome, its bagpipes!’ and was delighted for about 30 seconds, which was as long as it took me to realise how silly a comment that was, and that I had, in the absence of any other contenders, turned into the annoying American tourist that all Irish people loathe meeting (you know the one, they keep calling things ‘quaint’ and they want to talk about which county their family came from, and to hear stories of the ‘old’ country and get directions to the most traditional pub around that is currently showing a trad. session and an Irish dancing show, hopefully at the same time and, oh, while we’re at it, do you have any of those great, ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’ T-Shirts, for sale?). No-one else around me said anything, and I want to hope its because they didn’t hear me and not because they were so embarrassed for my sake that they were just trying to pretend it didn’t happen.
Following the man on the bagpipes, we had 4 or 5 middle-aged women holding baskets filled with flowers, dressed in full-length velvet cloaks and holding a handwritten sign stating, ‘Bandon Traditional Hooded Cloaks’. This completely intrigued me, but no further explanation was forthcoming. Were the cloaks historical artefacts? Or was this a business? Could I, in fact, purchase my very own Bandon traditional hooded cloak to wear to the movies, for dress-ups or to do the vacuuming in? My employers had no answers for me, and the hooded ladies disappeared into the crowd. Perhaps they were invisibility cloaks? In which case I really missed an opportunity.
There followed a myriad of tractors of all different colours, driven by a myriad of farmers of all different ages and nose shapes. There is something very awesome about 15 or 20 tractors driving down the main street of the town. Something that made me want to yell out, ‘Ooh! Tractors! How quaint!’ But I bit my tongue. They were followed by a parade of beautiful old-fashioned cars. The cars truly were fantastic – many of the owners had packed their whole families into the cars, including pets and snacks for all, so it kind of looked like they had gone out on a 1950’s family holiday in their brand new car, taken a wrong turn somewhere, and finally found themselves in a 2011 St. Patrick’s Day Parade with no clue of how it happened.
After the cars, there were people parading from most of them groups and activities that one could participate in whilst living in Bandon – girl guides, scouts, the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association – a very important and influential group in Ireland), the Rowing Club, the Dance Schools (my eldest charge was dancing with her school), the Capoiera school etc.
I had a great day, although it was ridiculously wholesome. I heard a lot of people talking about how it was the biggest parade they had seen in a while, and there were muttered comments about the recession. The mayor was a bit less subtle, and stood up and made sweeping statements about the difficult times ahead and how important it was for the community to come together, like they had done today and how inspiring and uplifting it was to see so many people out and about and yada yada yada. I don’t remember much of the speech because we were desperately trying to get away at that point, away from the wonderful community that had come together, so we could rush off to our very secluded, private holiday home. Not sure if the mayor would have approved of that.
However, it was interesting how much of the parade centred around the children of the town – they were mainly the ones marching in the parade, and so it was their parents and siblings who were standing around watching the whole thing. In some ways it was a nice metaphor, or symbol or something. That the community had come together for the sake of the children, which is certainly what will need to happen over the next few years – after all, none of those kids contributed to the economic crisis that Ireland is currently in, but they’re going to feel it just as much as everyone else.
And on that hugely sentimental, overly-sugary note, I will say that next year, I hope to attend the St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin and spend the night with a group of American tourists, drinking Bailey’s, being obnoxious, asking locals where the leprechauns are and singing, ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling,’ just to see what the other extreme would be like.
Image: St. Patrick’s Day card from the eldest girl, now my most treasured possession.
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The Open Mic Night


I’ve been feeling more than a little low the last few days for a variety of reasons. Mainly, though, I think its the lack of adult interaction. There is, after all, only so many times you can jump on the trampoline or watch ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ before you find yourself staring off into the middle distance, asking painfully adolescent questions like, ‘What does it all mean?’ and, ‘Why am I here?’ and if you’re not careful, if you don’t nip it in the bud quick smart, you’ll wake up in the middle of a full-blown existential crisis, going to bed in the same clothes you spent the day in, not bothering to wash, let alone brush your hair or cut your nails and convincing yourself that you may as well build a little stick hut, grow a beard, learn to talk to animals and live out your days as a hermit, because, really, what’s the point anyway? What has modern life ever offered us apart from bad animated movies? (I have it on good authority that the Bondi caveman was looking after children before he decided to pack it all in and live on the cliffs of the Bondi to Bronte walk)
The truth is, though, that modern life has many things to offer. Like the internet. Where you can find a website called the ‘People’s Republic of Cork’ (www.peoplesrepublicofcork.com), which gives you listings of all the things happening in Cork on any particular day. The other thing modern life offers is the open mic night.
Yesterday, feeling fairly miserable, I decided to search said website for something to do. I could have, of course, just popped down the pub in Bandon, but I tried that on Saturday night in Castletownshend, and it didn’t work out so well. Well, it was fine for a while. I had a few pints of cider, read my book at the bar and talked to the very attractive Turkish bartender, who was terribly fascinating, particularly when I haven’t spoken to any boys over the age of 4 or under the age of 48 for a while. However, after a few pints, and wanting desperately to ingratiate yourself with the locals, you find yourself laughing and nodding along with whatever is happening around you, in the hope that someone will talk to you. You usually look a little bonkers, especially when no-one picks up on the hints and you’re just sitting next to a group of people smiling and nodding and being ignored. In the worst case scenario, you can’t actually understand what is being said, but you nod and smile anyway, and then, suddenly, someone turns to you, to share a joke, your ear tunes in to the drunken, West Cork accent, and you realise, that, horror of horrors, the people you have been trying to make friends with are making racial slurs about the black boxer currently on the TV and you have to try and back away, awkwardly disengaging from the conversation which up until this point you had seemingly been enjoying. Or is that just me?
ANYWAY ANYWAY ANYWAY.
So, I was on the search for a group of people that I might have more in common with. And, I thought I found it in the Open Mic Night being held at the Slate Bar, for singer/songwriters, musicians and poets. On a mad, mad whim, I decided to take along two poems I had written at the start of the year and perform them at the open mic night. One was very serious and sentimental, all assonance and alliteration and free verse, the other was very very very silly, with a strict rhythm and rhyme. So, no connection whatsoever, except for the fact that I wrote them.
I took the opportunity to get out of my ugg boots, wash my hair and put on some make-up. I swear I will never rail against make-up companies again (well, lets be honest, I will, but…) as there is nothing like the feeling of getting dressed up because you have somewhere to go. There is nothing like the feeling of seeing your plain, drab face turn into something pretty and sparkly and pleasant. No sitting on the couch eating banana bread for me. I was off to meet people! To make friends! To humiliate myself in front of a room full of strangers!
Walking into the bar, I started to panic, as I noticed some very effortlessly cool people in flat shoes, dreadlocks and no make-up walking in behind me. Oh, crap, I thought. I’ve completely misread this place, and I’m going to look like a fool, with all my necklaces and high heels and shimmery eyeshadow. They’re all going to be sitting around, gently strumming their guitars, drinking beer, being carefree and my sentimental poem is going to look self-indulgent and my funny poem is going to seem neurotic and over the top. Oh god, oh god, oh god. I think, well, I’ll just see how the night goes, and if its the wrong vibe for the poems, then I’ll just listen to the music. When I get into the pub, I see that the only people who are inside are there for the open mic night. There’ll be no hiding in the corner for me, unfortunately. I head straight to the toilet to plot my next move.
Cider. Obviously it has to be cider. I go back out to the bar and buy a pint.
A couple of sips and I think, screw it, and head over to the MC, tell him I’m a poet and would like to perform tonight. He’s friendly and enthusiastic. My fate sealed, I go and sit back down again to drink as much of my cider as I can before heading up to the microphone.
The first act gets up. Its a middle-aged man with a guitar. I think, ‘great, they’re not all cool.’ Then he starts to sing a song about God and I start to panic again. Have I totally misread the place? Are they all Christians? Are they going to get offended at all the swearing in my poem? I’m suddenly feeling very religious and hoping that what this man is singing (God’s love and grace surrounds us every day) is true.
The MC comes over to me again and we have a bit of a chat, he asks me when in the program I’d like to get up. I tell him whenever is fine. I’m going on 3rd after a young Irish man who is about to release his first CD. He’s very good. Crap.
My one comfort has been that everyone seems to keep talking through the music. That won’t help the poetry, but at least I can be comforted that ‘all eyes won’t be on me’, so to speak (anyone would wonder why I decided to become an actor…). However, as soon as I stand up and talk into the microphone, the room goes quiet. Everyone’s faces are turned to the stage. Is it my accent? Do I have something on my face? This is weird. Is it literally just because I’m reading a poem and people don’t know how to react? I feel like stopping and saying, ‘No, really, its fine, go about your normal lives, don’t let me interrupt you, don’t feel you need to listen or anything.’ Standing up there alone, being able to see every single face in the room is a terribly intimidating feeling. That’s why I like stage lights – you can’t see a single face in the audience. And also, while we’re on the subject, who decided musicians were allowed to close their eyes when they were performing? How is that fair? You don’t have to look at anyone and you look cool and totally into the music. But you’re not into the music, are you? You’re just shit-scared and trying to hide it.
Anyway, to end a long story, I did the poems. Everyone listened. I didn’t fall flat on my face. People came up to me afterwards and told me how much they had enjoyed them (particularly the last one – the funny one). A lovely Frenchwoman came and told me in broken English that she was very lucky to have come on the night when I performed, as it was very ‘different’ and ‘unexpected’ (I love compliments from people who don’t speak fluent English, they always come across more bluntly, because the intonation they use on the words is different – you get a totally different impression of what was trying to be said). The MC in particular was very friendly, he gave me a free CD of his own music (nice gesture, or can he not get rid of his CD’s? I haven’t played it yet – I’ll let you know) and told me about a poetry specific open mic night on a Monday at a place called ‘The Long Valley’ in Cork (nice gesture or was he trying to get me away from his open mic night because I was so crap?) Anyway, that’s where I’m going on Monday. I’m also going out tonight to my course in Cork, I’m going to Kinsale tomorrow to work with my director, I’ve decided to go see a trad. session in Clonakilty on Saturday and a singing session in the same place on Sunday. I’ve been so busy, I hadn’t noticed that I haven’t actually made any friends yet. I’ve got lots of nice people around me, and I see them when I’m doing various activities, but no one that I would feel comfortable calling up and saying, ‘hey, lets go for a pint.’ I am on a mission to rectify this, hence all my hanging out in pubs. Still, I think I need a better opener for conversation than just smiling and nodding – it hasn’t seemed to work yet.

Oh… and, in case you’re interested (because this post isn’t long enough), here is the poem I read out that went down well…

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Most unfair it seems to me,
That I should love, and yet not he.
I smile and laugh, I bite my tongue,
Pretending that I am not won.
I do whatever (I even rhyme),
To get the bastard off my mind.
I toss my hair, I prick my thumb,
I kill the butterflies in my tum,
I sit myself down seriously,
Talk one-on-one, just her to me:
‘You can’t love him, I won’t believe,
Its him that makes you tear your sleeve,
And scratch your nails and pull your hair,
Knit your brow and curse and swear.
Yes, he speaks French, what’s that to you?
So do loads of Frenchmen too.
And though he has one LL.M,
I’ve met some men who have got 10.
He wrote a book, it won a prize,
Which means we know he’s good at lies,
Tall tales, short fiction and excuses,
These things stir his creative juices.
So, I can’t accept, its just not true,
You think that he’s the one for you,
Even if it takes all night,
We’ll cure you of this sappy trite.’
But still I cry and weep and wail,
Because I know she’s doomed to fail,
You see, the pattern’s known to me,
The outcome’s clear as clear can be.
First, I’ll get all good and mad,
I’ll list each thing you do that’s bad.
To make certain that the feeling’s licked,
I’ll call you names, like dick and prick.
I’ll spend one whole day cursing you,
And then when finally that’s all through,
Another I’ll spend wishing for,
You to get herpes from a whore.
If that doesn’t work, again I’ll try,
And hope that you just fucking die.
After three sad days, I’ll finally cave,
And wish to God that he might save
You from the curses I have uttered,
And, further, make sure your toast is buttered.
To add insult to injury,
When you call, I’ll say, ‘I’m free!
Yes, let’s meet up, and chat and kiss,
(I’m woozy at the thought of this)’
I’ll be joyful, you’ll be polite,
We agree to meet somewhere some night.
You’ll say, ‘That’s great, I’m sure I’m free,
I’m sure as sure as sure can be,
What time? Oh, don’t know ‘bout that,
I think I’ll have to call you back.’
And so I wait, an hour or more,
I rearrange my whole sock drawer.
And when two hours turns into five,
I wonder if you’re still alive.
I send a message, just to be sure,
I joke late calls are ‘breaking the law’.
No reply. Well, that is that.
I start to think its ‘cause I’m fat.
Is that so weird? I’m sure its not.
I’d get a call, if I was hot.
Or maybe I’m not smart enough?
Or my skin is hard and tough?
Its my laugh, I know, its irritating,
Loud and coarse and emotionally draining.
I don’t like onions, its sadly true,
But, really, does it mean so much to you?
They’re only onions and I don’t hate
Babies, sunshine or birthday cake.
Once, I said ‘Turkmenistan’
When clearly I meant ‘Pakistan’,
But is that really your sole reason
For all this tacky telephone teasin’?
If only I were more like her,
Or her, or her, or her, or her, or her,
They’re all so calm and so collected,
I’m sure they’ve never been rejected.
If only I was who I’m not,
I wouldn’t be in this tight spot,
I’d laugh and sing and dance ‘til dawn,
And never would you see me mourn,
Over cads or lads or boys or men,
In fact, I’d have so many of them,
That you would find, it would be me,
To whom the boys would yell, ‘I’m free!’
And they’d be anxiously ironing trousers,
Quietly praying I’d ring their houses.
Then, I’m sure, my stupid love,
Would be as gentle as a dove,
He’d buy me roses, he’d keep dates,
He’d say ‘sorry’ when he made mistakes.
But most of all, he’d feel great pride,
That he was standing at my side,
And finally, he would come to see
The enormous privilege it is to be,
Loved and held in high esteem,
Fawned and doted upon by me.

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Cow Poo


So, I had many things to write to you today. I’ve been planning to write individual posts about St. Paddy’s Day and Castletownshend (now with correct spelling!), and many other things that would delve deep into the Irish psyche and explain this wonderful country and people to you, but nothing has inspired me to actually sit down and write. That is, until this afternoon and…. cow poo.
I’ve been planning for the last couple of days to put a plan in to action. A plan to have the perfect, tantrum free afternoon with both of the girls. This plan involved me having everything organised before the eldest girl came home, thereby not giving her a chance to come in and start getting bored or grumpy or making mischief. I decided to take them both on a long bike ride, one that would take up all our time in the afternoon together, so there were no moments of boredom to be filled, no horrible moments when I would suddenly be expected to think of a fun and entertaining game on the spot, or risk playing Ludo or Snakes and Ladders again. Luckily, the weather played ball, and it was a perfectly mild, sunny afternoon. I know the eldest girl likes to have picnics on our ‘bike rides’ (generally the picnic takes up more of the afternoon than the bike ride itself), so I decided to bake lovely banana choc-chip muffins in the morning, ready to take that afternoon. This meant giving the youngest girl a bowl of flour, water and egg to play with on the floor to stop her hassling me for the uncooked muffin mixture, as well as chasing her all over the house afterwards, wiping said flour, water and egg mixture off of such creative places as the wall, the TV screen, the carpet and the building blocks. I was happy and organised all morning, and I was going to be happy and organised and enthusiastic all afternoon. No matter what.
Things started… ok. I thought we were heading for disaster when the eldest girl started worrying about the flatness of her back tire. Of course, we don’t have a bike pump, so I had to try and convince her that she was going to be fine, even with a flat tire, and that just because the tire was flat, it didn’t mean there was a hole in the tire. Eventually she agreed, though grumpily, and we got on the bikes, but she refused to talk to me for the first part of the bike ride. I didn’t let it annoy me, I continued to be sunny and chatty with her until eventually we saw a very old dog on the road with a sore leg and she started talking to me about him spontaneously, asking whether or not he needed a bandage.
When we finally sat down for our picnic (a whole 10 minutes away from the house), I got out the popcorn, the juices and the muffins. The sounds of delight from both girls made me feel like a conquering hero. I had tamed the masses. I was a domestic goddess. I was the grand champion au pair…. but then, ‘Actually, these don’t taste very good.’ Pause. ‘Did you put fruit in these?’ Pause. ‘You said they were choc-chip!!!!’ I point out all the choc-chips in the muffin. No good. The eldest girl doesn’t like fruit in her muffins, no matter how much chocolate accompanies said fruit. I didn’t know this. Warm banana choc-chip muffins with butter were my favourite as a kid. I can still remember the first day I tried them: just out of the pool, still in my swimmers, still cold and wet – then, a warm, choc-chip muffin taste sensation. ‘Fine,’ I say, ‘Fine. Your sister loves them, so she can eat them and you can eat popcorn’ (the youngest girl having hoovered two muffins into her mouth this morning, me having to forcibly prevent her from putting her head in the oven in her enthusiasm to eat more muffins, more quickly). Small victories. Next I hear, ‘Want popcorn. Want popcorn. Don’t like cake.’ The youngest has seen her older sister eating popcorn and she wants a piece of the action. Fine. Fine. Utterly humiliated, I take away the muffin and give the youngest girl the popcorn too.
By this point, I am wanting to just get back on the bike and keep cycling and forget the failure of the muffins. But the eldest wants to play catch in a nearby cow field. Catch is not the most enjoyable game when there are only two players (the third player being only 4 and not really up to the task of running away or catching) and when one person is always ‘doing dibs’ (ie the eldest girl) and the other person (ie me) is always ending up being ‘it’. Still feeling hurt after the muffins I say I don’t want to play catch. So, we stand around outside the field not quite certain what to do. Finally, I ask the eldest if she wants to have some running races. This both lets me get some exercise and keeps us all occupied. It works for a while until the youngest gets a stitch (trying to eat popcorn and run at the same time = not a good idea), and the eldest works out that either I will always beat her, or, if she runs and I do a sideways leap (think meerkat) to give her the advantage, then she always wins, but with no drama or last-minute photo finish to keep her interested.
So, we start wandering around the field. It being a cow paddock, there are great big cow pats all over the place. These look like big frozen pools of tar. They look like lava after its spewed forth from the volcano and cooled down. The eldest girl figures out, however, that if you step on them, a fantastic green ooze seeps out from underneath. Only the top bit is dry – the bit that’s been exposed to the sun. There follows a good half an hour of going through the whole field and stepping on every single cow pats and watching them ooze. I suppose it has a similar appeal to popping pimples. I’m reminded of one fabulous holiday I spent with friends, Cressida Green and Phillippa Green (for some reason, these girls are always referred to in my head with their last names – they just trip so nicely off the tongue/brain) during which we played frisbee with dry cow pats, at least until one of us picked up one that wasn’t completely dry, so I can’t really claim to be completely ignorant of the appeal of the cow poo.
My youngest charge also got into the spirit, but because she was younger and had less understanding of the whole process than her sister, she sort of just stepped, as hard as she could, in to the middle of the cow pats. Let me just mention, she was wearing crocs, so all the fabulous, stinky green ooze then squished through all the holes in the crocs and stained her socks (and I later discovered, her feet and toes). We made fabulous discoveries. Like the fact that the poo really smells (who would have guessed??) – which the youngest in particular found wonderful, ‘Can I smell? Can I smell?’ she kept asking, as she put her face dangerously close to the cow pats. Another was that the poo was full of ants! And flies! Hooray! Another was the discussion of how long ago each cow pat had been made, ‘ooh, that was a particularly squishy one, it must have been made yesterday.’ ‘Oh, that’s all dry, that was made ages ago.’ Another question was, ‘why do all cows have diarrohea? Are they all sick?’ Answer: ‘No, no, that’s just the way cows poo.’ Reply: ‘But we know that’s actually disgusting!’ Answer: ‘Well, maybe the cows find our poo disgusting.’ But, best of all, was when I banned the girls from walking through more cow pats, so the eldest then found a stick, dipped it in the ooze and decided to wave it around, a little too close to my face for comfort. That was when I decided we were done with the cow paddock.
What amuses me about the afternoon was that I spent so much time coming up with wholesome activities, great big plans with muffins and bikes and things that required a lot of effort on my behalf, when all that was really needed was a great big field of poo. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting when I was told I was looking after 2 girls. I had images of dressing dolls and brushing their hair, and colouring-in and playing dress-ups. But, no, no, its all about the poo.
On the way home, we did have some of those charming, stereotypical childhood moments, the ones they put in Hollywood movies with white-picket fences. We found a ladybird on the tree and passed it from hand to hand and then back to the tree (via a few trips to the ground in between). We got chased on our bikes by a barking dog. We stopped outside another field, this one full of cows (rather than cow pats), and we stood and held a conversation with them. We chose our favourites. Not to brag, but the cows kept running away, scared of our bikes, and then, as soon as I talked to them, they would come back. The eldest girl decided it was because of my accent and the cows were confused and couldn’t understand me. I thought it was because the cows all liked me best and that I was some sort of cow whisperer, who should have their own show, like ‘Bondi Vet’, but in flannel and jeans and an akubra hat.
In the end it was a very successful afternoon. And, I can now add ‘cow poo’ to the list of activities in which both girls are happy to engage at the same time for hours on end.

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The Irish Economic and History Lessons


I had a fascinating couple of conversations with the Dad of my Irish family last night. There was too much for me to remember it all, so, first of all, here are my history lecture notes.

* ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ was filmed in Bandon
* Michael Collins spent the night before his assassination at the hotel in Bandon, he was killed just up the road
* There is a potato famine graveyard just up the road from Bandon
* When some construction work was happening in Bandon 20 – 30 years ago, they knocked down a shed and found a pile of rifles from the civil war, all of them etched with the names of local men who owned them
* Castletownsend, which is where we are headed tomorrow, has its very own pair of elderly, eccentric local aristocrats, as well as the bishop who happened to marry Becks and Posh (and still catches up with Becks from time to time)
* The Irish WWI soldiers who were injured, were brought back to Cork to be treated, those who then died, were buried in Castletownsend, so the graveyards are full of generals, captains etc and very important people.

The far more interesting part of the conversation, though, was when we talked about the state of the Irish economy. When I was in Australia, I couldn’t understand why everyone in Ireland was so upset about the bailout. I remember having a conversation with a lady I met at a concert, at which we agreed, why were they protesting? Surely there was nothing else they could do but accept the bailout? But since I’ve been here and learnt more about the conditions of the bailout, as well as the circumstances surrounding the initial recession and economic crisis, I’ve started to get angry on behalf of the Irish people.

As far as I can tell, there are two very big problems that Ireland has had to come up against when dealing with their economic crisis. The first was the bank guarantee. During the initial GFC in September 2008, the Irish state decided to guarantee all the debts of the Irish banks to prevent them from failing. On the surface, this was not necessarily such a bad idea, as other countries, like the US and Australia, also guaranteed their banks. The problem is that, unlike the Australian banks, which didn’t end up defaulting on their debts, the Irish banks did, making all of the private debt of individual investors in the banks into public debt of the government. This means that Irish people who had money in the Irish banks technically don’t lose their savings (I say ‘technically’, because they now have to pay back their own savings through taxes), but it also means that the Irish taxpayer is suddenly expected to pay back the banks for all the stupid, manic, risky hedge funds and other idiocies and mistakes the banks and their managers made during the past decade. That is a debt of almost 100 billion dollars, if you can fathom that, and that debt is now the Irish state’s problem to deal with, on top of the deficit the government wracked up on its own (on a side note, the Irish government’s deficit actually wasn’t that big compared to Japan’s – the Japanese deficit was at 200% of its GDP when the earthquake hit last week, the only difference is that until mother nature started wreaking havoc on the country, most people believed Japan would be able to pay back the debt. No-one believes Ireland can pay back their debt, so they’re all running shitless from the country and putting a freeze on lending, which is what screws up business, which is what screws up the economy. Just another reason why economics is so fucked up and booms and busts and recessions are, in many ways, just about confidence and lack of confidence. In other words, its all in your head).

The second, and by far bigger problem, as far as I can tell, is that because Ireland no longer has its own separate currency and central bank, because it is a part of the Euro currency zone, it cannot do the things that countries do when they are in dire financial straits, like devalue their currency or increase/decrease interest rates. So, now, when the Irish state is in serious trouble and people are really struggling, you would expect an independent country to keep interest rates low to take the pressure of their citizens and their debt repayments, to allow them to have some spare income to put back into the economy. This would also potentially encourage people to take out loans to, say, start business, which is what is how a country gets out of a recession. However, the Euro central bank is increasing interest rates. Further, when Ireland’s property bubble started in 2004, the Euro central bank was keeping interest rates low, whereas an independent country would have raised interest rates to put the brakes on the economy (like Australia was doing in 2007 – 2008, just before the GFC). Things get worse when you look at the ‘bailout’ that Germany and France and the rest of the Eurozone have approved from Ireland. They want Ireland to pay back the 90 billion-odd dollars that has been given to prop up the Irish banks, and they’ve put a ridiculous interest rate onto the loan (actually making themselves a tidy profit off of the lending), meaning that its going to be even harder, nigh on impossible, for Ireland to pay the debt back, let alone get its economy working properly again. They also want Ireland to do things that are going to hinder its economy, like increase its corporation’s tax rate. This would essentially further deter international companies from coming to Ireland, setting up business and boosting the economy. The reason Germany and France want the change, is so they can attract the same businesses to their own countries.

SO. To sum up, the Euro zone is sometimes working as if it were a single unit, and other times working as if it is a bunch of separate countries. They don’t seem to have gotten the mix right yet (well, who can blame them? The Euro zone is relatively young – only 10 years – and was an experiment when it started). I remember there was a lot of debate when the Euro was introduced in 2001, about whether or not this was a good idea, whether it was truly going to benefit all the countries involved, or whether the richer countries were going to end up propping up the poorer ones. Its the reason Norway didn’t join the EU, its the reason the UK, Sweden and Denmark didn’t adopt the Euro. At the time, when everyone was rushing to sign up, it seemed like madness and pigheadness and pettiness that these countries didn’t want to join, especially when things went so well and the Euro was so strong in those first 8 – 9 years. Now, it seems sensible.

I still have faith that the Euro zone can work, but the big, powerful countries can’t ‘have their cake and eat it too’. Germany and France can’t take the benefits of being connected to a booming economic like Ireland’s in the good years and then refuse to assist (and I mean, truly assist them) in the bad years. Germany and France (and other countries too, I just can’t be bothered listing them) are wanting to pretend their economies are separate now that things are going badly, when they wanted them to be interlocked when things were going well. The economic zone just can’t function that way, and as far as I can tell, it doesn’t actually assist Germany and France in the long term. Its like the social welfare state. The best argument for social welfare is that the healthier the poorest people in a country are, the healthier all people are. If one group of people in a country are much worse off than the rest, it effects the whole of the society and how well it functions. Surely this would be this same for the Euro zone? Germany and France can’t deny that their economies are now irrevocably linked to the Irish (and Greek and Spanish and Portugese), so, unless they want to go through the massive hassle and expense of going getting rid of the Euro and going back to the deutsche mark, they are surely going to have to assist these failing states, aren’t they? Further, surely if they are hindering the Irish economy, they are, in effect, hindering their own?

Alright, this has been a very long and dry post (I hope not boring! I find it fascinating!), but it was important for me to write it all down. Congrats if you’ve gotten this far, and I hope you found it mildly interesting and/or easy to understand. I hope I’ve given you something to mull over. If you’ve got any thoughts on the subject, I’d be interested to hear them and I promise to get back to my fun, diverting, holiday posts in a day or two.

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Creative Connections


Photo: An example of a picture made by printmaking. Hopefully, by next year, I’ll be this good too 🙂

So, I realised I haven’t told you anything about my creative arts course yet, as I got side-tracked by many other things, like Dublin, and the Decemberists and singing Irish men in Aran sweaters. The other thing was, that after the first meeting I had a little bit of a freak-out, because it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be like (that’s what happens when you miss the information evening because you’re driving around the streets of Blackpool), and I wasn’t certain that I wanted to do it. But, I am certain now and I’m really, really, really grateful that I’ve been accepted into the course.
So, first of all, it is a fully-accredited course. Attendance, assessment, the whole bit, though, being artists, they’re loathe to be too harsh with us all in regards to those things. Thank goodness. When I ‘graduate’ next May, I will have a certificate in creative facilitation, meaning I’ll be qualified to run arts courses in community centres, schools, social welfare groups, hospitals – wherever the people need art, I will be there with my paintbrushes and paper. The Irish qualifications are ranked from 1 – 10 (10 being a PhD) and this course will give me a Level 5 (if I want, I can do a little bit more coursework and it will go up to a Level 8 – so, about a Master’s or Grad. Dip, I suppose?). And, I stress again, its FREE. Makes me wonder why I’m paying so much money in HECS fees to UNE to get my Masters in Teaching. I’m going to have qualifications up the wazoo by the time I finish these courses. And, yet, I still have no desire to ‘get a real job’.
You may have also realised by now that the course is based around the creative arts, as in, NOT the performing arts. When I realised that on the first evening, as well as that it was an actual course, aimed at getting us qualified (rather than just us being in a room and dancing to music whilst covered in streamers and paint or whatever) I started to panic, thinking, I didn’t want to be locked into a course like that, I wanted to be doing writing, and performing etc. etc. However, as soon as they got us up and making things on the first evening, I forgot all my concerns and had a ball. I felt 5 years old again. We had to make a piece of clothing that represented our expectations for the course (out of paper and cardboard etc.), so I made a bright pink, green and white dress with streamers for the skirt, so they would move in the wind and when twirled about. I was ridiculously proud of my dress, thinking everyone else must be jealous of my amazing, cardboard dress-making skills. I went home that night and couldn’t go to sleep. I stayed up decorating my folder, making postcards, writing – and I couldn’t wait for the next session.
The second session we learnt about printmaking, so we’ve been etching designs on to bits of plastic, which we then put through a press to print our drawings. I did two, one based on a Decemberists photo (I know, I know, I’m obsessed) and the other from a 1980’s United Colors of Benetton magazine. Again, I was overwhelmingly proud of my of my prints, I kept sneaking out the back to where the prints were drying and staring at them and when people came in, I pretended to be admiring all the other prints, when really I just wanted to keep staring at my own. I was so sad when they told us they thought we should leave them at the community centre, so they didn’t get lost. I wanted to set them up on my nightstand so I could stare at them as I was going to sleep.
We had another all-day session yesterday with an actor/writer from Dublin, named Priscilla, with whom we are creating a ‘pop-up cafe’ for the Cork Midsummer Arts Festival. This is our big project, and I’m so excited about it. If you haven’t heard of pop-up cafes, you should check them out, they are really fantastic. Basically, empty shopfronts are taken over by artists and volunteers for a set period of time, who overhaul the space and create a gallery/cafe/experience to make use of the otherwise dead space. Its been happening a lot over Ireland and the UK, because, of course, there are a lot of empty shopfronts due to the recession, and as I found when I was in Dublin, the result is a dull and depressing city. This is disappointing for tourists, but much more of a concern for residents. So, Priscilla has created a pop-up cafe before, where she tried to recreate her family’s Sunday evenings. She got all the old decor, got her Mum to come in and serve, or sit down at the table and tell stories, got all the old records, made her Dad’s old gingerbread recipe etc. etc. etc. She also had a fantastic charity/second-hand store called, ‘Help Me! Help Me!’ at the Dublin Fringe, where she got rid of a whole pile of her old stuff, but instead of having people buy it, they had to offer her things that would help her (example: ‘How to decide what projects to do and what projects not to do?’ The girl who helped her with this got a love-heart shaped badge). See website if interested:
http://helpmehelpme.com/
So, yesterday, we started talking about places that we liked to visit, and why we liked to visit them, as well as things that made us feel at home, in particular, sayings and phrases that made us think of home (I found this very hard – as I don’t think my Dad was much of a ‘sayings’ man, does anyone have any suggestions?) Half the group was then given a challenge – we were given 20 Euro and sent to a local charity shop and told to get some things that would help us make the space feel like home, as we were going to have a tea-party. The other half of the group stayed at the community hall and started to set up. This was so much fun! Well, no, it was complicated. I was in the first group, so I went to the charity shop, which is something I normally LOVE to do, but, of course, 20 Euro is not much, and we had 9 people, all of whom had very different tastes. In the end, I had to agree to buy a whole heap of things that I would not have wanted to buy myself (an oversized mug with ‘World’s Biggest Hangover’ on the side, for example, a shimmery, metallic green cartoon seemingly inspired by ‘The Wind in the Willows’, for another), in order to get some things that I liked (a white, crocheted pillow and a painted plate from Spain). But, when we got back to the hall, the group had done it up so beautifully! They had made cardboard hats for all of us, decorated with paper flowers, we had gingerbread, tea, sandwiches, coffee, coloured tablecloths, table games, as well as all of our prints, which we were going to look at and tell each other about over tea. We had bright, African music on the CD player, and everyone was in the doorway, welcoming us in. It was so much fun, and I’m very excited about the prospect of creating this experience for other people. What’s going to be interesting is how we resolve the differences of taste and opinion that we are inevitably going to come up against.
The women in the course are all fascinating too. Its a course only for women, by the way, don’t know if I mentioned that before. Anyway, half of the places are for women outside of Ireland/EU, so we have women from South Africa, the Ivory Coast, Romania, Iraq, Somalia as well as another woman from Australia (what are the odds) and the rest of the women are from Ireland. They all have very interesting stories. According to my employer, the community centre is in the very rough area of Cork (I’m to park the car nearby so I don’t have to go walking around the area on my own) – its called ‘Mayfield’, which amused me, because, of course, there’s a Mayfield in Newcastle, which is not the most salubrious of neighbourhoods either – one of the women was in foster care as a child, another made a print from a family photo, and told us it was ‘pretty much the only photo with all of us in it’, which blew my mind. I don’t know if that’s because the family was broken up, or they didn’t have a camera, or it just wasn’t a happy family, but to have only one family photo just doesn’t seem possible to me. Maybe it’s just because my Dad is so snap-happy.
The course is a god-send, though (listen to me with my religious talk… it must be all the prayers and thinking about what a bad person I am and lack of eating Nutella sandwiches), having some time to myself, to get out of the house, to hang out with people around my own age, to be working together on a project, to be learning new skills… all these things are so so so so so beneficial. Ironically, we’re spending all this time talking about home, and what makes us feel at home, but the place I’m feeling so at home at the moment is at the course! I don’t get to go this week because of the St. Patrick’s Day long weekend, and I don’t know how I’ll manage. I’m probably going to Castletownsend with ‘the family’, which should be good. Its supposed to be a lovely town, on the coast, blah, blah, blah. I would be more enthusiastic, except that the eldest girl just came and stole the dog from me (she has only started showing interest in the dog once she noticed how much I liked the dog and how much the dog liked me) and so now I am feeling pathetic and sorry for myself. I know I have no rights over the dog, that it is more her dog than mine, but I also know why she wants the dog, and I see how she treats her pets, and I just feel so hurt and homesick and sad. One of the things you miss the most when you don’t know people, or don’t have great friends around you (well, at least, one of the things I miss the most), is just hugs, and the ability to touch other people in an affectionate way. The dog is one of the few things I have that I can go to for a ‘hug’, or, at least, for some affection when I’m feeling low. The only other one is the youngest girl, and she’s more unpredictable, sometimes she’ll grab hold of your hand, and press it on to her cheek, and hold it there, squished between cheek and shoulder, which makes my heart catch, or, she’ll wrap her arms around your leg as if it were a tree trunk, but other times she’s too caught up with Peppa Pig to care (The eldest girl has her own version of showing ‘affection’. You don’t go to her for hugs. You go to her to be tickled and pinched and licked and hit and have her fingers stuck in your mouth – seriously, why would that be a pleasant thing for her???). Murray the dog gives affection unquestioningly and constantly, she comes to my room to find me and sit on my feet and she’ll sit there quietly and happily for hours. I have an insanely large empty feeling when Murray gets dragged off my feet and into the eldest girl’s room.
*Sigh* Listen to me. I sound ridiculous. Its just a dog. And my charge is just an 8 year old girl. I’m supposed to be the emotionally mature one.
But, its the little things, isn’t it, that keep you happy?


Photo: Murray the Dog. O my bleeding heart.

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The Lentian Detox

Photo: The Man himself. Or, not the man, depending on your religion and point of view.

So, they Catholic amongst you will know that Lent started on Wednesday (Ash Wednesday), preceded by Shrove Tuesday. Not being Catholic, and not even a little religious, these things are very foreign to me. But, in Ireland, they are hard to get away from. I walked into a local supermarket recently to find signs up everywhere advertising ‘Pancake Tuesday’ on the 8th of March. This confused me massively until researching Lent on Wikipedia a few days later I found references to Shrove Tuesday, also known as ‘Pancake Tuesday’, also known as Mardi Gras. Basically, you get rid of all the naughty foods in your household (sugar, eggs, butter, nutella etc) prior to Lent, by making piles and piles of pancakes and then eating them all in one evening. Its the binge before the diet. I was under the impression this was not a good way to start a diet, considering the fact that it basically indoctrinates the binge/starve cycle, rather than healthy, normal eating, but, hey, its sanctioned by the Catholic Church and, by extension, God, so it must be ok.
Walking through Dublin last weekend, I was handed my very own ‘Trocaire’ box, the outside of which read, ‘Your Trocaire box has arrived!!’ making me feel that not only should I know what a Trocaire box was, I should be expecting it, and be expecting it excitedly. I should be running down the street, giving people high-fives, and screaming with joy, ‘My Trocaire box! My Trociare box has arrived!’ A little more internet research revealed that Trocaire was a Catholic charity that runs a big drive during Lent, charity work and donations being the twin generous side to the deprivation/starvation side of Lent. I was a little disappointed, quite frankly, which made me feel guilty, which then made me feel Catholic.
I’m intrigued by the idea of Lent. Its popping up everywhere. The girl at my creative course tonight said she was giving up meat for Lent (which I found a little strange, as being a vegetarian is something I do all the time without even thinking about), but I’m almost certain she’s not Catholic. On the radio today, I heard a man stating he was off ‘alcohol, crisps and sweets’ for Lent. No-one in my household is giving up anything, but they still made pancakes on Tuesday (the binge without the diet! This is my kind of family!) I’ve been doing some research into it and the deprivation thing is meant to be done for a variety of reasons. 1) To allow us to focus on our relationship with God through prayer, meditation etc. 2) To make us take a break from our selfish lives 3) To punish ourselves and remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. Leaving aside the last reason, which I think is a little freaky and unnecessary, and leaving out the ‘God’ (or, reading it more liberally, as in, ‘the world’, ‘the universe’, ‘the eternal mother’, whatever you want to name it), I think it all seems like a good idea, and certainly something that many people could benefit from.
I found an old Irish Independent article (from the Celtic Tiger days) online which asked various celebrities what they were giving up for Lent. The ones that weren’t giving up anything were getting on the high horses and saying that they thought people were doing it ‘for the wrong reasons’. That is, giving up chocolate because they wanted to lose a few pounds, or because they had overdone it at Christmas. I guess they’re right, in that you can do that at any time of the year (and its just called a diet), but I don’t know that, if you enter into the deprivation in the right mind-set (eg, leave off the third reason for doing Lent, the beating yourself up and telling you that you are an awful person and need to be punished, and just go for the, ‘be mindful of your life and your connection to the world’ reasons) it might not be beneficial.
I’ve never been Catholic, but I have been into self-denial for as long as I can remember, so I thought, maybe this year, to get into the spirit of the Catholic country I’m in, I would try to give up treats for Lent (plus, you know, I’ve been eating so terribly that only my big jeans fit, I’m constantly panicking that I’m pregnant, and there’s no way I’m pregnant, unless its the Immaculate Conception X 2, and no angels, not even ones that look like Alan Rickman – one for the ‘Dogma’ fans – have come to visit me, so the point is, yes, I’d like to lose a few pounds too, snobby, high-horse celebrity, or at the very least, stop eating so much chocolate because its not very healthy). So far, I’ve done very badly. I ate very well for the two days running up to Lent, but as soon as it actually hit Lent, it all went to crap. You see, I thought I’d let myself still have alcohol, you know, so I wasn’t going overboard with the deprivation, but of course, what happens when I have alcohol is I get into a very carefree mood and I think things like, ‘Why would I give up treats? I LOVE treats! That makes no sense! I’m not Catholic and stuff! I’m going to have a Nutella sandwich. Or 4.’ Lent ruined. After, oh, about, 22 hours (8 hours of which I was sleeping).
Anyway, I’m going to give it another whirl. I’m not beating myself up about the lapse, or feeling guilty about it (which would certainly add to the Catholic experience, so maybe I should start), but I am curious what it would be like if I managed to do it. And, once again, I’m not talking about the deprivation side of things, that’s just a diet, and I’ve been on enough of those to know that its hell and horrendous and generally doesn’t work anyway. What I’m talking about is the kind of spiritual, mindfulness, which sitting in front of the TV and eating crap doesn’t really encourage.
So, yeah, we’ll see. I reckon I could be a lot more innovative, effective and hard-working if I drank herbal tea all the time and read books or wrote in a beautifully-lit room instead of watching endless re-runs of ‘Scrubs’ and ‘Frasier’ (side-note: The Comedy Channel should change its name to The Unfunny, Extremely Irritating, Canned-Laughter Channel, as all it ever shows is re-runs of ‘Two and a Half Men’ and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, the title of which only ever makes me want to yell at the TV screen, ‘No they don’t! They don’t! Nobody loves Raymond except Raymond!’), but I don’t know if I’m serene and spiritual enough to pull it off. I’d like to get some fisherman’s pants and wooden beads and incense and go all Elizabeth Gilbert in her India-phase, but I’m realistic that, in spite of how good it would be for me, I’ll probably only manage to be all Buddha-like one day in seven. I wonder if the Catholic church would be happy with me still calling it “Lent” quite frankly, considering the changes I want to make to the festival. Oh well, who cares.
Anyway, I’ve got my Trocaire box on the night stand, and I’ve put the plan in writing, and pledged it to the internet and whatever Facebook friends decide to read this post, so maybe that will make a difference. I will keep you updated on my progress, negative or positive.

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This is what you shall do…

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

– Walt Whitman

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