Monday, 11 November 2019

GAY BYRNE: MEMORIES OF THE LATE LATE SHOW


                              The owl: part of the iconic opening sequence of The Late Late Show



THERE was no sex in Ireland before the Late Late Show. Did you know that? It's true. How we all came to be, is neither here nor there. Because there was no sex. There was no contraception either. Definitely no condoms.

Or at least most people claimed they never saw one before the Late Late host, Gay Byrne famously tore open a small packet on his weekly, live TV show and held up the small piece of rubber for the nation to view.

Last Monday, Ireland's best known and much loved radio and TV broadcaster, Gay Byrne died.


He passed away at the age of 85, following a long battle with cancer and was laid to rest on Friday after a huge funeral Mass in Dublin's pro-cathedral.

But others have written Gay's obituary and have done it with great eloquence. This is a personal tribute.

Gay Byrne was the soundtrack to my childhood, my teenage years and my young adult life. I grew up being allowed to watch the Late Late on a Friday night, staying up later and later, the older I got. I can't remember what age I was when I was able to stay up past the first ad break, then the second.

But by the time I was old enough to argue with my dad (a state which defined my teenage years), I was also watching the whole of the second-longest running TV chat show in the world.

That's worth repeating. The Late Late Show, which is broadcast live every Friday from RTE's* Studio 1, is the second-longest running TV chat show in the world. Started in 1962 and hosted by its Dublin-born master of ceremonies Gay Byrne until 1999, when he passed the baton to Pat Kenny.

With the very infrequent occasion where it was chaired by a guest host, the show's current host, Ryan Tubridy is only the third person ever to sit in that chair. 


But Gay Byrne was the original. And because of a rare combination of natural ability, genuine curiosity (a must for any broadcaster), relentless hard work and professionalism and a real understanding and warmth, he reigned over Irish broadcasting until recent years.

I rarely heard him in the morning on radio, as I was at school and later on, at college. But the Gay Byrne Radio Show ran five mornings a week and almost every child of my generation will remember having sick days, where they sat at home in a warm kitchen and listened to Gay chat to the nation.


In turn, the nation opened up to him. In the early days, they wrote letters. Actually, if memory serves correctly, it was mostly women who wrote letters. Later on, they phoned in. And out poured their stories.


"I grew up listening to the Gay Byrne Show and watching The Late Late," my mother told me after we heard the news that he had died. After a minute she qualified it. "I mean I learned about things. About what was going on in Ireland, what other people were thinking and feeling and doing. He got to everything."


Everything meant stuff that a predominantly Catholic Ireland wouldn't discuss. Given that sex education in Catholic schools (most schools) in the mid 1980s, consisted of the absolute basics followed by a lecture on the importance of no sex before marriage, homosexuality was a criminal act until 1993 and the last Magdalene Laundry (for "fallen women") didn't close until 1996, the Late Late was ground breaking.


What Gaybo* famously understood was the need for balance. That was true on his radio show, but even more important on his long running TV show. Growing up, I gravitated to the mix of the light-hearted and sometimes ridiculous, at other times serious and important issues Gay put out there for scrutiny and discussion.


I loved when comedians like Billy Connelly, Brendan Grace, Brendan O'Connor (I think Gaybo actually gave O'Connor his first TV break, but I might be wrong) and Tommy Tiernan guested on the show.


But I also learned about ordinary people like me, some of whom had had extraordinary experiences. Gay listened closely, asked deceptively simple questions and crucially, was never uncomfortable with silence. Because he knew that his guests would fill those silences with things they'd never planned to reveal.

He presented other shows down the years, but he became synonymous with the Late Late. In my childhood home on a Friday night, tea was only made before the show or at the ad breaks. And if the house phone rang during the show, you knew that somebody had died.

Gay Byrne's death trended on Twitter for two days after his death. My own kids, who mainly associated Gay with the annual Late Late Toy Show when they were little, and with some of his later radio and TV shows, were sad but slightly baffled.


They have grown up in a far more modern and tolerant Ireland. One where people can now buy contraceptives without a doctor's prescription, where they can divorce, where there is same-sex marriage and where Irish women can for the most part, legally and safely have an abortion in their own country. They have also grown up in an era of multi-channel TV, smart phones and the Internet.


I remember everything from homosexuality to affairs and abortion being talked about on the Late Late Show. At a time in this country where nobody else would talk about, let alone interview people who could talk about their own experiences.

I remember giggling through a show where the two producers of The Joy of Sex were invited on to discuss their outrageous video.

Maybe there was no sex before The Late Late Show.


Thanks for everything, Gay. Rest in Peace.


*RTE: Radio Telifís Eireann. (Ireland's national broadcasting station).
*Gaybo: An affectionate term for
Gay Byrne.


                                                                               *

Hello from my corner of Dublin, and a warm welcome to my monthly column.

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Sharon. xx

Monday, 14 October 2019

THE REAL HALLOWEEN



        Halloween screams: the modern festival is fun, and a far cry from its origins in Celtic Ireland.


"DO YOU like the devil?" A young woman hunkers in front of her four year old son and earnestly asks him the question in the middle of the shop. It's not an everyday question, but this is not an everyday event. The woman is buying her child his Halloween costume and right now, he's wavering between the little red devil costume and the Dracula.

Pop-up Halloween shops are relatively new in Ireland, and The Middle One has secured herself a part-time job in one, for the month that's in it. (That's actually herself above, in her shop uniform!) It sells festive decorations and a large range of costumes for children and some for adults. But despite the bigger variety of costumes, in Ireland, the traditional ones remain popular. And there's a good reason for that.

A thirty-something American woman recently told me that Halloween in Ireland is very dark.
"It's a lot more about dressing up and decorating your house and going to parties and having fun in the States,"she said. She didn't approve of Irish Halloween: it went against her Christian beliefs.

Here's the thing: Irish people celebrate Halloween despite our Christian beliefs. Obviously, we're no longer an homogenous, Catholic country. Some of us practice other faiths. Others don't practice any at all. (Although it's interesting that when Christianity was embedding itself in Ireland, its leaders knew they had to replace pagan festivals with religious ones. November 1 is All Saints Day and November 2 is All Souls Day in the Christian calendar.)

But Christianity never replaced Halloween. It simply sits alongside it. Because it doesn't matter whether we're devout Catholics or complete atheists. Most of us mark Halloween because we understand where it comes from. Rooted deep in our culture, in our stories and folklore, and in what we still teach our children at school are the origins and meaning of Samhain.*

Dating back 2000 years, Samhain is an ancient Celtic festival, which ran from October 31 to November 1, and marked the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter: the half-way mark from the lighter part to the darker part of the year. The county of Meath claims to be the birthplace of Halloween, in fact. If you look at its wealth of ancient burial sites: Newgrange, Loughcrew, Knowth and Dowth, it's not hard to see why.

Importantly, it was believed that the veil between the living world and the otherworld was at its thinnest during this time, allowing spirits to come back into the living world. But while we were keen to welcome back our loved ones that had passed on, we knew that other, unwelcome spirits could also come back. 

So we dressed up in scary costumes and wore masks, to disguise ourselves as evil spirits, and ward away the real evil spirits. The Samhain feast was laid out for our ancestors, and as they were in no position to eat it now they were spirits, the food was shared amongst the poor. 

The bonfire was the centre of the Samhain celebrations in the Celtic lands during the early Christian era. Some traditions had every house in a village extinguish the fires in their own hearths (perhaps to make them less inviting to roaming spirits) and relight them with burning embers from the communal bonfire (which they may have brought home in hollowed-out turnips).

This is one of the stories behind the Jack-o-lantern: the turnip carrying the glowing ember from the bonfire, would eventually become the pumpkin with the candle inside it. 

It was the Irish who brought Halloween to other parts of the world, including the United States. And like all other festivals, it grew and changed. Disney costumes may be part of the modern Halloween fun, but have nothing to do with the original festival. But it hardly matters.


What remains on this island, is a willingness to listen to and enjoy the stories and folklore that Irish people still enjoy at this time of year. My earliest scary story outside of the fairy tale books of my childhood, was of the Dublin Hellfire Club. Located in the Dublin mountains, it was built in 1735 on a Neolithic passage tomb, and was used by a cult made up of Lords and noblemen to practice immoral acts and hold black masses to summon Satan.  

The fact that the club was a burned-out ruin, didn't stop us swapping stories on October 31, about the notorious poker game in the club one stormy Halloween. The high-class group of friends gathered to play poker and allowed a passing stranger to take shelter within. Inviting him into the game, they realised their mistake after one of the players bent to pick up a dropped card, and saw the stranger's feet were in fact, cloven hooves.

A similar story is linked to Loftus Hall on Hook Peninsula, in County Wexford. This is probably the official setting for the legendary poker game, but good stories are always borrowed and embellished.

I know young people from rural areas around Ireland who claim to have seen and heard the banshee, the old fairy woman who heralds the death of a family member. The fact that young, educated Irish people don't actually believe the old pagan myths and legends is neither here nor there. They still enjoy being open to the possibility of spirits, especially during this transitionary time.

Symbolic food is also part of Halloween. In ancient Ireland, boys would dress up on All Hallows Eve (October 31) and go 'souling', or begging for soul cakes, which would be offered for the dead. Eventually, this became the modern-day trick-or-treat.

Still served at Halloween in Ireland, is barm brack, sometimes called bairín brack, a sweet, sultana bread, buttered and served with tea. Traditionally, various objects were baked into the bread, including a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring.

Each item carried a meaning to whomever received it. Whoever got the pea would not marry that year, whoever got the stick, would have an unhappy marriage, the rag brought bad luck or poverty, the coin brought the opposite, Whoever got the ring, would be wed within the year.

If single women didn't get lucky with the brack, they could always try Colcannon. A simple meal of mashed potato stirred through with chopped cabbage or kale, the only other added ingredients were butter and a ring. Whichever woman got the serving with the ring, would marry.
Not that any of this matters when you're eight.

And it's children who really appreciate the festival. It's children who will dress up in scary costumes and hideous facemasks, who will trick-or-treat, who will swap stories of the banshee and the púca**: the fairies and ghosts that live on in our culture. It's children who'll beg to go to the local bonfire - and who'll hold sparklers up to the night sky. And so the traditions live on.  


Happy Halloween.



*Pronounced 'sow (rhyming with cow)-in'.
** The Irish spirit that can bring good or bad fortune. Pronounced pooka.


                                                                                  *
Wishing you a massive hello from Dublin, and a warm welcome to my monthly column.

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Sharon. xx

 

Monday, 16 September 2019

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD NEIGHBOURS





I'M ABOUT to lay my cards on the table: brace yourselves.

I have always had mixed feelings about neighbours. They're a bit like family: you can't always choose them. It might be taboo to admit it, but you don't always get on with the people on the other side of the garden hedge.

I was lucky growing up. Our neighbours were generally kind and tolerant, turning a blind eye as we scrambled over garden walls to retrieve lost balls, and later, minding spare keys and turning a deaf ear as we partied. My parents' neighbours were also friends.


It was when I spent my first Summer working abroad as a student, that I was forced to rely on the kindness of strangers: neighbours I'd never met.

I was 20 when I arrived in Paris to crash in my aunt's apartment. It was my first time away from home and my aunt was away much of the time. My adventure started a few days in, when I locked myself out.

I'd stepped briefly into the hall, to throw a bag of rubbish down the chute, when the door slammed behind me. Not only were my keys inside, but so was handbag with my money, bus pass and work swipe. And I had to get to work. Arriving late, or not at all, was not an option.

I considered my choices. I was eight floors up and there was only one other apartment on the floor, rented by an elderly couple I'd never met. Until now.

I rang their doorbell. After a few minutes, the door opened on the latch. A puzzled, wrinkled face peered out.
'Bonjour,' I said, in my best school French. 'Je reste avec ma tante.' I pointed to the door behind me. 'Jai oublié mon key.'

The elderly Parisian woman looked completely bewildered. But by some miracle, she realised I wasn't a threat and unlatched the door to let me in. After I shook hands with her equally baffled husband, I pointed to their balcony doors: identical to the ones in my aunt's apartment across the hall.


They nodded, having established there was no point trying to talk to me: I
wouldn't understand them. I stepped out onto the tiny balcony. Between there and my aunt's balcony, with its open doors, was an L-shaped ledge. Eight floors up.  


I slipped off my shoes and threw them over to the balcony, then tucked my long, summer skirt into my knickers, and swung one leg, then the other, onto the stone ledge. As I began to inch my way along, I risked a downward glance and saw that a small crowd was gathering in the street below.

I reached the other balcony, climbed over and waved to the neighbours.
'Merci beaucoup,' I shouted. I thought they both looked a bit older now, but it could have been the distance. From the ground below, my audience applauded. I hastily reassembled my skirt, and gave a small bow.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself wrong-footed yet again. Newly wed and with a small baby, I realised the walls of our lovely new townhouse were fairly thin. We didn't know our new neighbour, except that she seemed to come attached with very musical friends.

I finally met her. The small girl was six weeks old and hadn't slept for about three nights in a row. Neither had I. At some stage on the third afternoon, she finally succumbed. Still in my pyjamas, I crawled back into bed and closed my eyes. Then the noise began on the other side of the wall.

I sat up in bed. Clearly, my neighbour had dismantled a door so they could all dance on it in hob-nailed boots. Door dancing: it was a thing. Just not in modern suburban town houses, as far as I knew. The small girl stirred and threatened to wake.

I struggled into a dressing gown, grabbed my keys and ran next door. I knocked loudly. Nobody heard. The door dancing continued, accompanied now by lots of jiggy Irish music and enthusiastic hups. I glued my finger to the doorbell.

Finally, a young woman appeared: boho style, long blonde hair, warm smile.
'Hi, can I help you?'
'Stop making noise.' Sheer exhaustion and baby hormones had reduced me to short sentences. A tear may have slid down my cheek. 'I live next door. I have a new baby. I just got her to sleep.'

She looked stricken.
'I'm so sorry. And congratulations on your baby, that's lovely news.' I felt like the most unreasonable neighbour on the planet. 'Leave it with me,' she said. Moments later, there was total silence. The small girl and I slept.

Our neighbours moved some time later, their building work on their new house apparently complete. And within a few short months, I was back at work, writing features at a national newspaper.

'That singer, what's her name, has just moved into a new house in Rathmines,' my editor announced one morning. 'They've a new album coming out: see if you can get an interview. The house is fabulous.' It was all about the photos, I knew.

I secured an interview at the house, and read up a couple of recent articles on them, which included some grainy, black and white photos of the band.

Arriving ten minutes ahead of the photographer, the following week, I rang the doorbell and waited. A young woman answered: boho style, long, blonde hair, warm smile. Shock rendered me speechless as recognition flashed in her eyes. Then she stuck out her hand and widened her smile.
'Pleasure to meet you,' she said, as if our previous encounter had never happened. Gratefully, I grasped her hand and played along.

By the time our second girl was born, we had moved to a slightly bigger but much older home. Then we had The Boy. And having good neighbours became more important than ever. No more so, than the hot Summer day I struggled up the road with my then very lively, five year old son.


After I dumped two bags of groceries in the porch, I decided that a half hour of
TV for him and a shower for me, was essential. I was half way up the stairs, and half way out of my clothes, when I remembered that the groceries were still in the porch.

I ran back downstairs, just as the boy ran out of the TV room. I was in the porch when he closed the front door, locking me out of the house in my underwear.

Quickly, I scanned the road: nobody around. Then I peeked through the letter box. The boy was giggling at his joke.
'You got me,' I shouted. 'Let me in, now.'
In fairness, he tried. The problem was, in our old house, the doorknob was too high and too tricky for a five year old.

'Get a kitchen chair,' I encouraged. 'and after you let me in, I'll give you some chocolate from the corner press.'
Even standing on the kitchen chair, he couldn't manage the front door. He did, however, find the extra-large bar of chocolate. As I peered through the letter box, I could see him, sitting on the bottom step of the stairs, steadily munching his way to vomit-ville.

Despite the warm day, I was feeling quite cold now. What I needed was a spare key, and the nearest neighbour with my spare key lived across the road and three houses up.

On a normal day, I might have risked the dash across the quiet cul-de-sac, less than fully dressed. But there were builders gutting one of the other old houses: it was out of the question.

I emptied the grocery bags, wondering if I could tie them together and wear them like a sort of plastic dress. I viewed the umbrella stand. And then I spotted it. Right at the bottom, underneath a dozen battered brollies: a neatly-folded picnic blanket.

I wrapped it, sarong-style around me, and hot-footed it across the road. My neighbour wasn't in. But her Swedish au pair was. She didn't even blink when she opened the door to see me barefoot and wearing a blanket. Maybe she'd been tipped off.

I'd like to say I never locked myself out again after that. But it would be a lie. Thankfully, it's never again, been quite so dramatic.

I can only imagine my neighbours are grateful for small mercies.

                                                                                   *



Wishing you a massive hello from Dublin, and a warm welcome to my monthly column.

Feel free to drop comments in the comments box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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Happy reading and take care.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx


 

Monday, 19 August 2019

HAVE EVERYTHING - WILL TRAVEL





PEOPLE who go on holiday amaze me. Not because they go on holiday: lots of people do that. I'm lucky enough to be one of them. Usually a week or ten days in Spain. I'll get to that in a minute.

No, the reason other holiday makers amaze me, is how relaxed they are about the preparations. Earlier this Summer, I had coffee with a friend who was heading out of the country the following day.

"So you're all ready, then?" said I.
"Ah yeah, we just have to check in. And pack, obviously."
I may have dribbled coffee down my chin. It was the day before and she hadn't packed or checked in? Had she never read the article, Getting Ready For Your Holidays? Did she not understand check lists or countdowns?

At this point, I'll admit I have no solid memory of ever reading an article about getting ready for your holidays. But I've read various bits down the years, and I've somehow cobbled it all together in my head. Preparation is key. Would you even consider hosting Christmas dinner for say, ten people, if you hadn't at least tidied the house, done all the vegetables in advance and had the turkey in the oven for hours? Exactly.

This year, four out of five of us in my family, flew off to spend ten days on the Costa Brava. Between us, we traveled with one large case, and two small carry on cases. And I brought everything. You needn't suspend your disbelief: they are not magical cases. I am simply the queen of packing.

I know all the usual tricks and tips. The clothes rolling, the shoe-stuffing, the packing from the corners into the middle. Everything from beach towels to toiletries and a first aid and medicine kit that would rival a small pharmacy, was crammed into those three cases. I've read the stories about cases being lost by airlines, so as always, I made sure that there was at least one change of clothes for everyone in the carry-on luggage.

Because I'm so thorough, I have to start about a week before the holiday. Don't get me wrong. I don't spend a solid week packing. But if I leave it to the last minute, there's no time to hunt down something I might need.

"But aren't you going to a proper town?" one friend asked, when I bumped into him in the local supermarket. "You can just buy anything you've forgotten."
"What do you pack when you go away?" said I.
He shrugged.
"Some clothes and my toothbrush."
Amateur, I thought.


Did he not understand the delights of sellotaping the lids on shampoos and shower gels, before wrapping them individually in (reusable) plastic bags and sellotaping the bags? Had he never experienced the satisfaction of needing something in the middle of the night when the shops are shut, and having it? Whether it was a sprained ankle, a tummy bug or a mosquito bite, I was ready.

But nobody gets all their ducks in a row. We had almost reached our departure gate, when The Eldest realised we'd left one of the aforementioned carry-on cases at security. Cue a frantic dash back through the airport, followed by a sprint back to our gate, seconds before our flight closed. The joys of air travel can't be overstated.

I have to admit, my general preparedness isn't restricted to travel abroad. On any given day, my handbag holds everything from a notebook, my current read, my purse, phone, keys and sunglasses, sunscreen and a small umbrella, to a travel first aid kit and a travel coffee thermos. I may be a frustrated girl guide, I'm not sure.


And I didn't lick it off the stones. I have great memories of holidays in West Cork when I was a child. The journey from Dublin to Cork, before we got mad money from the EU to build motorways, took a full day. At least it did, when we traveled as two families in two old cars and stopped off in the middle of the journey for 'dinner' at some hotel in the midlands.

My parents too, self-catered, and as we headed south to spend our fortnight in one half of a two hundred year-old farmhouse, my mum and my aunt even packed food and baked goods into the back of those old cars.


When it rained on the beach, each of the four grown-ups would take a corner of the large picnic blanket and unroll a heavy-duty plastic sheet over their heads and over us and all our stuff. We children, now well sheltered, would be herded to the middle of the blanket to sit it out. It was the Father Ted holiday, long before Father Ted.*


I have never heard of anyone doing that in 2019. In fairness, I never came across anyone doing that when I was a kid, except for us. As for packing, these days, unless you're travelling to Timbuktu (and for all I know, Lidl has opened a couple of stores there), you can buy as you go. Travelling light really is an option.

I prefer to travel tight. And be ever ready.

                                                                 *


* Classic TV sit-com about three priests living together on a remote island off the Irish coast.



Wishing you a massive hello from Dublin, and a warm welcome to my monthly column.

Feel free to drop comments in the comments box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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Happy reading and take care.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 24 June 2019

SUMMER IS COMING


                                                            

SUMMER is on its way. That's the official line from Met Eireann (Irish meteorological society) and they're never wrong. OK, that's not quite true, but it's hard to get it right all the time and things can change at the last minute. But they're right about this.

It's all about cyclones and weather pressures, apparently. They can see them sweeping down through neighbouring countries and coming in over the Atlantic and what have you. The upshot of all of this intense study was a grand announcement: our Summer begins today.


I don't mean temperatures climbing to 16 degrees Celsius with a strong Easterly wind. Because the only thing that's good for is drying clothes, thanks very much. The weather experts have predicted 25 degrees this week. Maybe even rising to 30: an official heatwave.


We're not a bit cool when it comes to heatwaves. We get so excited about them that we start doing all kinds of mad things. We run out to buy barbeques and patio furniture that we'll barely use. Our parks fill with half-naked, sun-starved bodies, basking in the new warmth.

Just down the road from me, kids spend happy hours jumping into the local canal to cool off. (I've no idea how safe this is: but it happens). Small shops and businesses close up on random days, hanging hastily scrawled signs which simply read: Gone to the Beach.

Last year, the heatwave went on for weeks. It became the lead item on our nightly news and our Government issued national emergency-type warnings about heat stroke and water shortages. It was massively exciting.

So far, our Summer has been nothing to write home about. We had so much rain in early June that there was flooding. Up until a few days ago, I know people who were still turning on the central heating. Others never bothered to change out of their Winter stuff, but where's the fun in that?

I'm hanging the sign. Mine reads: Gone to the Garden. I'm probably sipping lemonade and writing something. The umbrella in the middle of the tiniest patio table in the world, is shading my eyes. I'm soaking up the Vitamin D and storing up the memories.

I'll see you next month. ;)

                                                                            *


Dear reader,

Forgive me if you see a bit of a pattern emerging here; like most Irish people, I'm obsessed with the weather. 

Feel free to drop comments in the comments box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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Happy reading and take care.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

 

Monday, 27 May 2019

THE 7 BEST REASONS TO VOTE

                                                    The Irish Election: lives on the line.

I'M ABOUT to make a sweeping generalisation: brace yourselves.
Irish people love politics. In a world where people who can vote often don't bother, and where whole generations of voters respond only to soundbites and daily dramas in high places, we live for old-fashioned elections.

I should clarify this immediately by saying that I have no idea what happens to us when we leave our little parcel of land in the middle of the Atlantic. Maybe when we emigrate, we assimilate so well that if our fellow countrymen are indifferent, so are we. I'd like to think not, but I can't be sure.

But back to the 4.8 million right here in the Republic of Ireland. Give us an election: local, general or European and we're happy out. Promise us a referendum (which is how we voted in same-sex marriage and on Friday last, how we reduced the wait for divorce from four to two years) and we're fairly ecstatic.

Never mind the nay-sayers who give out about the election posters littering the lamp-posts the length and breadth of the country. Or the thousands of us disturbed in the middle of our dinner to greet canvassers and candidates on our doorstep. Who cares if we have spinach stuck in our teeth whilst we quiz them about our appalling housing crisis and climate change. Sure don't we love to have something to give out about?

And we're a small country. Not just population-wise. Land-wise, too. So it's easy to get around. Relatively. And we tend to know everyone. That's actually the truth. If we don't know someone, we'll quiz them until we discover someone they know, that we know as well. In fact, if you're not careful, you'll find that the person you've been quizzing is actually a distant relation. Or they sat beside you in school 30 years ago. Or they know someone you know, who you rather they didn't.

And Irish politicians are particularly skilled at discovering what's known as your 'seed and breed': who your parents are, where you grew up and with whom, and most importantly what your political allegiances are.

That works both ways, of course. We pride ourselves on knowing who our local councillors and TDs (members of Dáil Eireann*) are. Because you never know when you might need them to sort something out. Or at the very least, make a fair fist of it. We expect them to be articulate, savvy and when needed, stately. But above all, they daren't forget their roots.

But lest there be any doubt about the reasons to be politically aware, and especially, the reasons to vote - here's the 7 best.

1. After you've voted, you get a sticker at the polling station which reads: 'I Voted!' You can wear it proudly for days afterwards. It's especially important to share it all over social media. Because if you don't, it obviously didn't happen.

2. You get to chat to complete strangers on your doorstep at the most inconvenient times. This can provide a number of benefits, not least of them social. A little story to demonstrate from the recent elections. The Middle One answered the door one evening to a new candidate running for local office. The young man put out his hand. "Lovely to meet you," he said. The Middle One got a little stuck on the first part of his greeting. "I love you too," she replied, before realising her mistake. To his credit, he pretended not to hear. Unlike his campaign aide who stood behind him, struggling to  keep a straight face.

3. You get to play Lois Lane on your doorstep as you interview would-be and well-established politicians on everything from dog poop on the local beach to when-the-fecking-hell-will-my-grownup-kids-be-able-to-afford-their-own-place with the state of the housing crisis?

4. For two whole months before the election, you get to examine the finer details of all the main runners, based purely on their posters. Naturally you judge them on their political strengths, policies, experience, political affiliation and their teeth.

5. Thanks to our system of voting, recounts can go on for weeks. Which provides endless fodder for the media, free entertainment for the rest of us and other things to talk about apart from the weather.

6. You can take a personal pride in your achievement when your candidate gets in. You put them there! If you're Irish, you won't forget it, either.

7. Aside from downing a Guinness, while belting out the national anthem, it's probably the closest you'll ever get to honouring your country.


* Dáil Eireann: The Irish Parliament
.

                                                           *

Dear reader,

Thank you so much, as always, for dropping by to read my column. Now, a bit of exciting June news: The Night Owl Romance Summer Fun reader event is here!
 

Ready to Win? I’ve teamed up with Night Owl Romance and other authors to bring you the chance to win a Waterproof Kindle Paperwhite (USA ONLY) & Amazon Cards (Open to the World).

 
During this event I'm going to help you find some great new books. Make sure to check out my novel, Going Against Type, along the way.

 
Enter the giveaway at:
https://www.nightowlreviews.com/v5/Blog/Articles/Summer-Fun-2019-by-Night-Owl-Romance



Lots of luck!!

 
Please SHARE today's column. 

 
 
To get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. 

For all buy links for, Going Against Type, click here: Tirgearr Publishing
 


Happy reading, take care and see you next month.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 29 April 2019

THE GREAT IRISH SUMMER


                                                                Roll on the Summer




THE IRISH Summer of 2018 will go down in lore as one of the great Summers. The sort of Summer that James Joyce might have imagined for Ulysses' Leopold Bloom. But rather than one perfect day, we had weeks upon weeks of perfect days.

I'm talking about the sort of days that stood up to international scrutiny. The kind that delighted our visiting American third cousins and bewildered our annual influx of Spanish students, as they tucked their rain jackets back into the bottom of their suitcases. Day after day of sun, our green fields turning brown and brittle without rain.

We did mad, hedonistic things, like eating outside. Every day! Gardens and balconies, normally reserved for growing a few plants and bracing the cold just so we could boast of the odd barbeque, suddenly came into their own. The umbrella in the middle of my tiny patio table, stayed put for months. I'd sit there, basking in 20 degrees Celsius, and declare on a daily basis that it was like Being in The Mediterranean.

The farmers had a dreadful time of it, of course. The poor animals needed grass and water. And then there was the whole food growing bit. Which was difficult with water shortages. Believe me, I'm not making little of that.


But bear with me here. For the rest of us, it was amazing! A full, long, proper Summer. We'd booked to go away for a week to Spain. I've never resented all the stress around airports and flying as much as I did, when I'd have been happy to enjoy the sun on the Costa del Dublin.

Being Irish, we still managed to discuss the weather ALL SUMMER. In fact, it was all anybody talked about. Opinion in the street was firmly divided between those who thought it was too hot..."Ah, I've had enough of it now, we need a bit of rain to cool us all down," and the rest of us who figured we were well overdue a fabulous time of it, thanks very much.

And we did all sorts of un-Irish-y stuff. After about three weeks of The Good Weather, you couldn't get a garden patio set for love nor money. Hardware shops and DIY stores were sold out. The term 'outdoor living' started to creep into our vocabulary. Garden pride and the inevitable garden envy became a thing on Facebook and Instagram. We completely lost the run of ourselves.


It even trended on Twitter. The idea of decent Summer weather trending on Twitter anywhere, might seem unlikely. But it was a thing. And we were bloody well going to make the most of it while we could. So, in typical Irish fashion, the jokes began.


It started reasonably enough, with a tweet that ran something like 'I've got two washes on the line, lads. #IrishSummer #Summer 2018'. I should explain here, for anyone who doesn't know: Irish people are obsessed with GETTING CLOTHES DRY. Which is entirely understandable in a country where it rains a lot.


But Twitter was having its moment. Another person tweeted that they had all the bedsheets out on the line. Tomorrow, they'd be washing all the big towels. The sheer indulgence of it! And then one wit added that sheets and towels were nothing. They'd taken up their fitted carpets, washed them and hung them all outside to dry.

And suddenly, thanks to the great weather, there was nothing left to wash! The guilt I felt as I looked at an empty washing line ON A BEAUTIFUL SUNNY DAY, was nearly too much for me!

I got over it just as quickly. Just as I got over the mess of the house and the fact that I'd already moved half my furniture outside. Because wasn't I living there anyway?

We've got through this Winter, and lads, it wasn't too shabby. We're nearly in May. For weeks now, we've been trying to predict the Summer ahead. We got a taste of the good life at Easter. Four glorious days, when the temperatures soared and we hastily found a few warm-weather essentials and bared our goose-bumpy skin to the sun.

A neighbour told me we're due another Good Summer. "It comes in threes," he said. "Three good years and then three not-so-good ones." I didn't like to point out that there's never been a pattern. He was on a roll. "Once you have a good Easter, that's a sign of good weather for the Summer."

It's all about as scientific as placing a small, plastic statue of Our Lady of Prague outdoors, the night before you need good weather for a wedding. But hopes are riding high. I've already bought the sunscreen. Here's to our Irish Summer.

                                                         *



Dear reader,

April felt like the fastest month on record! I hope, wherever you are, it was a good one. 

Feel free to drop comments in the comments box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
💚)

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. 
If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. 

For all buy links for my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, click here: Tirgearr Publishing
To find out more about me, check out the links/information at the sidebar on the right.


Happy reading, take care and see you next month.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

 

Monday, 1 April 2019

THE PERFECT MODERN MOTHER







YESTERDAY was Mothers' Day here in Ireland. The day when those of us lucky enough to still have our mothers buy them flowers and chocolates and cards, and tell them that they're The Best Mother In The World.

And, with a bit of luck, those of us who are mothers get told the same thing. We're the best. For that day, anyway. Until the following day we're the worst again, because we've asked for something completely unfair and unreasonable like a tidy bedroom.

But there is a different species of mother alive today. She is the perfect mother: a sort of modern day Stepford Wife.

So who is she? The shiny-haired, perfectly made-up and amazingly thin woman in front of you at the checkout, three beautifully dressed and well-behaved children in tow?

What about that group of women in the coffee shop, who wear designer gym gear and sip skinny lattes while they exchange advice on the best nannies and schools?


Or is she the young mum who only posts airbrushed pictures of herself, her family and their wonderful meals and holidays on social media?


Is there a bit of her in all of us? Fuelled by an unspoken belief that as mothers, we must apply the standards expected in every other part of our intense, highly competitive 21st century life. 


I remember seeing the 1975 Stepford Wives movie when I was a child. It was funny and creepy and massively entertaining. But the weird thing was, I actually knew a Stepford Wife.


Of course, I was a child, so I didn't realise at the time that's what she was. Not even after seeing the movie. But she was perfect. At least, that's what she seemed to want everyone to think. She and her husband were friends of my parents. Not close friends, but the type who'd be invited to their house every now and again for drinks or afternoon tea.


They had two children: a boy and a girl. They were close enough in age to me and one of my siblings, so whenever my parents were invited up, we'd go along and hang out with them.

Their house, naturally enough, was perfect. It was pristinely clean. There was never anything out of place. At a time when there was no such thing in Ireland as playrooms for kids (the notions, because who the hell had that much stuff?), they lived in a FOUR BEDROOM house and had a whole bedroom just for their toys.


We just thought it was fierce posh (it was) and we were madly jealous. But it was more than that. They never seemed to fight. A brother and sister who never fought!! No matter how many times we asked them, they always denied it.


My siblings and I fought like cats and dogs. Or you know, brothers and sister. We couldn't get our heads around this perfect pair.


But I had an inkling where it all began. Once, shortly after one of those visits, I overheard my mother ask my father if she and my dad were doing anything right at all. Their friends seemed to be living a flawless, wonderful life.

She was always elegantly dressed, their children well behaved. Apparently, they were both doing wonderfully at school and excelled in everything they did. Not that we all did a lot of extra-curricular when I was growing up, (too many paper dolls to dress, balls to kick and trees to climb) but while most of us did one thing each, their kids seemed to do loads. 

And obviously, they were geniuses who would run the world when they grew up.


Looking back, she was the only person like this that I knew. I realise now what an enormous amount of pressure she put on herself. Not to mention on her family.


Fast forward to 2019 and we're surrounded by modern day Stepford Wives. Think about it: at a time when women have made incredible progress in workplace equality and female empowerment seems more tangible now than ever before, we make things as difficult as possible. For ourselves and for other women. How?


It's simple: women compete with other women. Whether or not we want to, whether or not we realise that we do it. And sometimes, the younger we are, the more insecure we are. We don't know whether we're getting it right. And we don't yet have the wisdom to know that sometimes it doesn't matter.


And this competition ratchets up a couple of notches as soon as we become mothers. The second we hold that small human in our arms, some weird transformation takes place. We compare ourselves with other new mums and find that we're not enough.


So we try to be it all, do it all - and do it perfectly. We hold down careers, or if we choose to stay at home, we turn the job of being at home into a business. If we can't be the best at our hard-won salaried careers, then we'll be bloody super women at home. And we'll make sure people know it.

So we don't just let our children play: we organise and supervise endless playdates. We ensure that our small humans days are filled with music lessons and Maths grinds, tennis and dance, football and art classes. Modern mothers are more far more focussed on their children's success than any previous generation.

Only it's not about our children: it's about us. Do we tick all the boxes? Fabulous job: check. Beautiful home: check. Instagram-perfect meals: check. Happy family: check. Accomplished kids: check. Toned body and groomed appearance: check.

The irony is, that in a society that increasingly hands out participation medals to children, their mothers daren't be ordinary. Because every advertiser, salesperson and media site - especially social media - equates ordinariness with failure. To be a success, we must be extraordinary.  


The reality is very different. Being a woman in 2019 is hard. (Being a man is hard too, but that's a column for another day). But being a woman, who must always pretend that everything is wonderful, is bloody exhausting.


On Mothers' Day, we celebrate and thank our wonderful mums for being just that: mothers. I don't have enough distance to know yet what sort of mother I've been to my own three children. I do know that if I'm half as good as my mother, I'll be happy.

Let's try to replace competitiveness with kindness.
And aim to live our best life, not our perfect one.

                                                                                *

Dear reader,

We've put the clocks forward here in Ireland for daylight saving, so we can look forward to brighter mornings for the next while. (Hoping it'll be easier to get out of my warm bed!) 

Feel free to drop comments in the comments box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
💚)

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. 
If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. No spamming - I promise.

For all buy links for my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, click here: Tirgearr PublishingTo find out more about me, check out the links/information at the sidebar on the right.

Until next time, happy reading, take care and have a lovely April.            
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 4 March 2019

The Spring Clean


                          Spring cleaning: time to embrace older ways

DOES anyone spring clean anymore? How many of us use the changing of seasons as an excuse to give their house a thorough scrub? Or is it such an out-dated idea that we simply don’t consider it?

Have we all embraced the ideas of Feng Shui and Hygge, making our lives and homes streamlined, minimalist, clutter-free , always clean? As Japanese author and queen of clearing out, Mari Condo, urges us to ditch anything that doesn’t spark joy, the notion of the spring clean might seem laughably quaint.

It also might seem very late, but last time I blinked it was still January. February upped and ran away with itself, which is why I'm currently looking down the barrel of March and wondering if I could get away with doing nothing. I won't.

My own house is neither streamlined nor minimalist. I have read the Feng Shui bible and researched the Danish concept of Hygge, down to the last scented candle suggestion. I have dismissed Mari Condo’s advice, on the basis that I don’t believe in gently waking my books before I discard them. I’m not a masochist. And were I to get rid of clothes that don’t spark joy, I’d quickly find I’d nothing to wear and no money to replace them. Quite simply, I am useless at throwing out stuff. Which brings me back to the spring clean.

My mother always did a great spring clean. A keen gardener with a large garden, she hated the thought of spending fine days indoors, when she could be outside, digging and planting. No sooner had we taken down the Christmas tree on the 7th of January, than the cleaning products and special cloths would appear.
First, she would empty every press in the kitchen and the good sideboard in the dining room. She would wipe the inside surfaces with soapy water before putting everything neatly back.

When I asked her recently if she threw anything away, she looked astonished. It was difficult enough to get everything in the first place, she said. Why would she throw stuff away? The outside surfaces came next. Not for her the hasty cleaning with baby wipes. For at least a week, our house would smell of washing up liquid, special polish for brasses, another for silver, and Mr Sheen for the G-plan furniture.

Then came the floors: the lino washed, although in fairness it was washed frequently. Ditto the carpets and then hoovered until they were almost threadbare. Finally, she would wash all the windows, inside and out, with balled up newspaper and vinegar water before shining with an old linen cloth. No matter how cold it was, every window would be left open as carpets dried and the house aired.

My mother’s mother used to assign different cleaning tasks to different days of the week. Monday was wash day. My grandmother raised five children but never even owned a twin tub. Yet every Monday, she had a full line of clean clothes, that ran the whole length of her small, terraced garden. As someone who can barely wring out a t-towel, I wonder now at her sheer physical strength.  

But whilst the house was clean and tidy, she never de-cluttered. She was, like her daughter after her, part of the ‘keep it just in case’ generation. And if something wasn’t useful, it always seemed to have sentimental value.

When her own children left home, my grandmother would often take the bus to our house to help out. Her favourite job seemed to be scrubbing down all the painted white doors with Jif*, to rub away our small, grubby fingerprints. For weeks after, we’d find a residue of the stuff on our hands and clothes.

I have to admit that I never felt the need to clean a house from top to bottom, to usher in the new year or the better weather. Generations of women – it was always women – before me, wouldn’t understand. If I’m looking for excuses, I might say that I’m too busy, or I don’t have brasses or silver or furniture I need to see my face in.

Clearly, though, I have inherited my mother and grandmother’s tendency to hold onto things.

Maybe someday I’ll de-clutter. Until then, I won’t be too hard on myself. In the meantime, I need to do something. And this is the year. Sparkling windows and fresh carpets: a proper spring clean. It sounds quaint. I’m quite looking forward to it.

                                                           
*Brand of cream cleaner.


                                                                                 *

D
ear reader,

March is here and we're already getting some gorgeous days in Ireland: blue skies and warm weather. Long may it continue! 

Feel free to drop comments in the comments box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
💚)

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. 
If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. No spamming - I promise.

Finally, March 3rd - 9th is READ AN E-BOOK WEEK. To celebrate, Tirgearr Publishing is having a half-price SALE on #Smashwords.

For just $2 you can download my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, the story of rival columnists who write under pen names, and unknowingly fall for their bitter enemy: each other.

Find the Smashwords link for all e-readers 
HERE and use the code EBW50 at checkout. 


Until next time, happy reading, take care and have a great March.           
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 4 February 2019

HOW TO LIVE FOREVER: ON LENTILS.




     Pulses, vegetables & fruit: is a plant-based diet the future?






IT'S happened again: they've changed all the rules about food. And I have to quickly admit here, that I don't even know who 'they' are. The World Health Organisation, maybe? At least I hope it's them. I can get on board with the W.H.O.

You've probably heard about it. 'Twas all anyone was talking about a couple of weeks ago. How we should eat. How much of it we should eat. How we'll all live to be 150 if we eat it.

OK, I made that last bit up. But you know the way these things tend to get a bit exaggerated. Just thought I'd do my bit. Ahem.
Where was I? Oh, right, the new food rules. Principals, if you like. Guidelines. Here goes:

1. Cut your meat and meat-related protein back to miniscule proportions.
I mean, this is not the exact wording, you understand. I'm popping in my own interpretation/bias/opinion.
But it's mad stuff. I mean, I don't eat huge amounts of meat or fish. But if I follow this, I'll be eating about half a chicken breast a week, and one tiny fillet of fish and like, one egg.*
Given that you're supposed to eat protein every day, I give you the second rule.

2. Substitute animal protein with plant based proteins.
We're talking beans and pulses, here, which I do eat. Usually in a casserole. With sausages. Then there's tofu. Anyone know what tofu tastes like? I asked someone who's eaten it. Nothing, they admitted. And it has a funny texture. You have to marinate it overnight.

They weren't exactly selling it to me. Then they said that it goes very well with Asian food. To be perfectly honest, I was a bit depressed when I heard that. It's not that I don't like Asian food. I'm just rubbish at cooking it.


3. Eat tonnes of vegetables and fruit.

Apparently, your main meal of the day should look something a bit like the following. Half of your plate should be veggies: the brighter, the better. Your carbs should be the size of a very tightly closed fist.

I had a look at that. It's not too bad if it's a potato. Like every Irish person, I love my spuds. But it's not an awful lot if you're talking about rice or pasta. Your protein, plant or animal based, should fit neatly into the palm of your hand.


You've probably gathered by now that I'm not one of those vegans. I know it's on trend right now, and I admire and respect their choices, but I think I'd find it hard to be vegetarian. I'm one of those strange, old fashioned types that loves everything. Meat and plants. Fish and fruit.

But increasingly, I'm feeling out of step. Omnivore has become a dirty word. Seriously like, if I said I go around beating people up (I don't) or telling children there are no unicorns (when obviously there are), I don't think I'd get such a hard time from certain quarters.


However....having said all that, and I have to say I'm feeling a bit better after my rant, I've given it a bit of thought. Not initially, obviously. I mean, the first morning I heard it on the news, I was searching for something to make for breakfast.

I have an appetite like a teenage boy in the mornings. Don't try to suggest a croissant and a bit of fruit to me, or I'll throw it at you. That morning, there were rashers in the fridge that had to be used up, so I grilled them with a fried egg.


But all the talk about how we should all be eating has sort of seeped into my brain. Osmosis at work. Or brainwashing. But the good sort of brainwashing, I suppose.


I had a salad for lunch yesterday. Admittedly, it was a bit cold, eating all that salad in the middle of winter. Vegetable soup will do just as well, apparently. Especially if it's homemade.


Live long and prosper. Maybe I'll make it to a hundred and ten.

*Not exact amounts.


                                                       *



Dear reader,

Anyone else feel there were about 275 days in January?? Anyway, here in Ireland, we celebrate St Bridget's Day on February 1st and hope that we'll get a kind Spring. Belated happy St Bridget's Day to you.

If you've anything you'd like to add to today's column, I'd love to hear from you. Just drop any comments in the comments box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
💚)

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. (Scroll down to the buttons below!)
 If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. No spamming - I promise.

If you fancy a light, fun read for your e-reader, there's my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type. See PAGES in the side bars, or go to Tirgearr Publishing.

Until next time, take care and have a lovely February.          
Hugs,
Sharon. xx