Monday, 26 December 2016

BREAKING THE ICE: BLADES OF SHAME.

                                   
                               Frozen wonderlands: but some of us should never skate!      


THE MIDDLE one bounces home from school, just before the Christmas holidays, with a big announcement.

"We're going ice-skating," she says. I look at her. No we're not, I think. The last time somebody in this family went ice-skating, he broke his elbow. He's still doing the physiotherapy exercises.

"With my year in school," she says, correctly reading my mind.

"Oh, right. When?"

"Tomorrow. Can't wait! I've never been ice-skating."

There is a good reason for that, but I decide to keep my negative thoughts on snow and ice to myself.

Where everyone dresses up and girls get proposed to...seriously romantic.

"You know, I don't know why we don't have permanent ice-skating rinks in Ireland. We could get in practice, then. Oh, you know what would be brilliant? A huge frozen lake like they have in New York at Christmas.

"Where everyone dresses up and whizzes around in circles, and girls get proposed to, and there's restaurants and cafes all around it, and you can drink your hot chocolate and look out. Seriously romantic, Mum."


Seriously unrealistic. Unless we undergo monumental climate change and have below freezing temperatures during the winter.

Clearly she's watched too much Frozen. I decide to offer some practical advice.


"Wrap up warmly."

"We're allowed to wear our own clothes, so I'll be wrapped up like a snowman."

"They're usually naked, except for a scarf."

I had to be scraped off the pavement by a colleague.

She rolls her eyes. The following day, she arrives home, limbs mercifully intact.


"How was the ice-skating?" I ask.

"Horrendous. I'm completely traumatised." She has a tendency for drama.

"What happened?"

"It was horrible, Mum. Everyone else was out there, scooting around, linking arms with their friends. One girl was skating backwards and doing turns! And I was holding on to the edge, because I knew I was going to die."

Melodrama aside, she may have learned an important lesson. In a small country, with a temperate climate, we don't have access to ice rinks and frozen lakes.


With the result that the small number of man-made rinks which pop up at this time of the year, tend to be sites of a ridiculous number of daft injuries.


It's the same way that most Irish people will never ski as well as say, the Swiss. Who all probably receive a miniature set of skis from the government when they are born.


But I say none of this to the distraught middle child. What I say is:


"Did you get out there at all?"

"Eventually," she says. "And then I fell. Really hard! On my bottom!"

Whoever came up with the idea of attaching knives to your feet to slide around all over the ice?

I can empathise. I even find it difficult to walk in the snow, when it starts to freeze over. I clearly remember crossing the river Liffey years ago, on my way into work.

I slipped on the icy bridge, ended up in the splits, and had to be scraped off the pavement by a colleague, who wasn't sure whether to laugh or commiserate.


"Your bottom is a good place to land. Did you go out again?"

"Why would I do that?" There is indignation in her voice. "Whoever came up with the idea of attaching knives to your feet to slide around all over the ice, is a complete..." she trails away, frustrated.

"So, will you have another go at it, do you think?"

"Never! I mean, I thought it'd be like Blades of Glory, or something." She starts to laugh at the admission. "You know the worst part?"

I think I can guess.

"There was this boy working there...."

My daughter. The ice queen.

Or not.

                                                                                  #

A very Happy Christmas to all my readers, and a huge thank you for visiting my blog this year, to read my fortnightly column.
If you'd like to share my column, please see the little buttons below.

Please feel free to leave a comment, I'm always thrilled to hear from readers around the world. 


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*If you received an e-reader this Christmas, and are looking for a light, fun read over the holidays, why not give my Irish romantic comedy, 'Going Against Type' a try?

The link below will bring you to the page at Tirgearr Publishing, where you can enjoy some free sample chapters, and all the buy links for every e-reader.*

Tirgearr Publishing


Enjoy the rest of the holiday season.
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.
 


Monday, 12 December 2016

*Christmas Telly: Tune in Together*


                    Remember when the only screen in your home was a shared TV?


I'M GOING to go out on a limb here and declare that Christmas is the best time of the year for telly. 


There are tonnes of reasons why the advent - pun intended - of seasonal movies and fun quizzes, bring a warm, fuzzy feeling. 


And they're not what you might imagine. For a start, I'm not actually a telly addict. In fact, days might pass where I don't even switch it on. Those days, admittedly, tend to be a bit of a blur, but I digress.


Watching TV by oneself is never half as enjoyable.

Nor do I cheat by tuning into other screens. I don't have Netflix (yes, I know), and I don't know how to stream movies or series. Is that even legal? I haven't a clue.


Because for me, part of the enjoyment of watching TV, is the ritual. It goes a bit like this:


1. Choose the programme.


2. Get the work/cooking/running around after family/ordering around said family, organised in time to watch the programme.


3. Ensure the fire is lit, the room is tidy and the lighting perfect. Think warm glow of table lamps; none of your 'big lights', thanks very much.


4. Boil the kettle and make tea. Popcorn desirable, but not essential.


I'm a simple person.


TV time meant the whole, rowdy family sitting in the one room.

But it's not quite enough. And here's the crunch.
Watching TV by oneself is never half as enjoyable, as watching it with other people.

As a child, watching TV by oneself was rarely an option. There was one screen in the house. It came with a maximum of four to six channels (but only if you lived in Dublin). I know a lot of people who grew up in Two-Channel-Land: our national stations.


TV time meant the whole, rowdy family sitting in the one rom, arguing with the chat show host,  shouting encouragement to the hero in the thriller, squirming at the kiss-y bits in the romance, as our parents carefully avoided eye contact.


Now, the sight of a whole family coming together to watch the same thing on TV, is so rare, that it's not just a thing, it's a phenomenon. It has a name: shared media.


Which brings me back to Christmas TV. And why its importance in this part of the world, can't be overstated. Well, it can, obviously, but bear with me.


Unlike many of our European neighbours, Irish people get substantial Christmas holidays. Of course, these exclude our fantastic essential services people (Gardaí, medical people) and rather sadly, retailers, who barely get a break at all.


TV programmers tend to put a lot of thought into their scheduling.

But our schools break up around December 22. The new terms don't begin until after Little Christmas on January 6.


Most industries break up around the same time as the schools, and generally speaking, people are off until January 2.


So TV programmers tend to put a lot of thought into their scheduling, with the result that you'll get a fair mix of old favourites, new movies and plenty of Christmas specials over the period.


And there's more of a chance that I'll get The Eldest, The Middle One and The Boy to sit and watch with me. Even if it means that the older two are also on their phones, chatting to friends on Facebook.

Usually about whatever lame movie from the dinosaur era that their mother is making them watch. But I'm a patient person.


Last year, I managed to persuade The Boy to watch It's A Wonderful Life. I watch it every year. The Boy didn't quite get it: it didn't make a lot of sense, he said. I'll see if he'll give it another go, this Yuletide season.

I spent the first few weeks wondering if I could hide it behind a bamboo screen.

Another year, the husband bought a new telly just in time for Christmas. In fairness, our old TV had had its day and was almost walking to the recycling yard by itself. But our new TV - our current TV - is massive.

Men love it, of course. They wax lyrical about how great the sport looks on a big screen. Women give me knowing looks and shake their heads in sympathy.

I was so astounded at the size of the thing, that I spent the first few weeks wondering if I could hide it behind a tasteful bamboo screen.

But at Christmas time, even I love it. There is nothing like the joy of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or The Wizard of Oz, watched on a big screen. 

Bring on the Christmas telly and those warm, fuzzy feelings.

I'm not beyond bribing the family to share it with me.

                                                          *


A very warm December welcome from Dublin, and I hope you enjoyed today's column.

I'd love if you shared it. (Check the little buttons below).

Please feel free to leave a comment - they're moderated to stop spamming, but I check every day, and I always publish and reply to genuine comments.


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   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Have a wonderful week,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.
 

Monday, 28 November 2016

DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION: MY WORST MISTAKES.



  Car accidents: if everyone gets to drive away unhurt, write it off to experience.


THE ground is frosty, as I pour warm water on my car windows and switch on the engine to drop my younger two to school.

As I've done for the last twenty years, I begin my reverse out of my narrow driveway, onto the small quiet road. As always, I inch out, stopping when I reach the pathway, checking mirrors and the car's rear-view camera, before I go any further.

But at the last moment, I'm distracted and I misjudge the angle of my turn. The front right corner of my car gets wedged in the wrought iron gate.

"Oh my God."
The middle child turns to me.
"What?"
"We're stuck."
"Mum, take it easy."
"No!"

I haven't so much as a smudged finger mark on the damned car.

It comes out louder than I intended. "No, no, no, please no." My car is only two years old. After years of driving my old one, replacing engines and gear boxes, remembering that the electric windows didn't work in cold weather, we managed to replace it.

Two years. And I haven't so much as a smudged finger mark on the damned car.
Until now.

"Oh God, I have to do something." It is a prayer.
"Well yeah, or we'll be late for school." This from the boy in the back seat.

"I'm doing something!" Panicking, mainly. I glance over my shoulder and try to continue my reverse. The car doesn't budge.

"Mum, are you having a mid-life crisis?" asks the boy.

Sweating now, I shift into first gear, rev the engine and drive forward. With a sickening clunk, the car dislodges itself from the gate and we are back in the middle of the driveway.

Shakily, I get out to inspect the damage. It's scraped, but worse, right underneath the right front light, the metal has been pulled apart. Thankfully, it's safe to drive. I get back in and start to reverse again.

"I can't reverse anymore."
The middle one sighs.
"Yes you can."
"Yes, I can."

I take it slowly and reverse perfectly. A couple of minutes later, the tears come, surprising me, as we shuffle along in traffic. The middle child hands me some tissues from the glove box, and I mop my face when we stop at lights.

"Mum, are you having a mid-life crisis?" asks the boy. I start to laugh, and it turns into hiccups.
"No, it's just shock."

"I'll drive back," I offered, "what's the worse that can happen?"

In all the years I've been driving, I've only ever had one accident. Nobody was hurt. But it was as shocking as it was dramatic.

We were taking a family holiday in Northern Spain when the children were young, and we'd hired a car and bought the highest available car insurance. For the sake of our annual two weeks' holiday, we wanted peace of mind.

On day three of our holiday, we drove up into the hills of the town, and parked behind a truck, to buy some pastries in a little bakery.

"I'll drive back," I offered. "It's only down through the town. What's the worst that can happen?"

Until now, I had left all the driving on the wrong side of the road, to the husband. I got into the car, and realised the steering wheel had disappeared. I got out again, and slid in the other side. The road looked very different. Gears looked very different, as I reached down with my right hand.

The front panel hung to the ground like an open sardine can.

"I'll guide you out and then I'll get in," said the husband. No problem. I could do this. I turned the key and then I turned the car.

I watched as the whole front right side of it disappeared under the back of the truck. What happened then is, to this day, a bit of a blur. Disbelief turned to shock, and I sat frozen, until huge sobs escaped me.

The truck driver appeared, and the husband, blessedly fluent in the language, stepped in. The police arrived. We showed them driving licences, and our 'Super Cover'.

They checked everything, got all the reports signed, and told the truck driver and ourselves not to worry. The insurance covered everyone, and nobody would be out of pocket.

The people from the bakery took one look at me, and at the ashen faces of the children, and offered lollipops and reassuring words.

When we finally managed to pull the car and the truck apart, the front panel of our rental had peeled back, and now hung to the ground like an open sardine can. The local bike-hire owner brought out a hammer, and banged the car back into some sort of driveable shape.

The truck driver shook hands with the husband, the husband shook hands with everyone else, and I managed to climb into the passenger seat.

It was my first major car accident.

It was also my first and last attempt to drive on the other side of the road.

Less than an hour after I catch my car in the gate, I pass my local mechanic in the village. I mention what happened.

"Nobody was hurt," says he. "And nobody else was involved. Your car, your gate. Metal can be fixed." And he gives me a hug.

The tension leaves my body like a physical thing.

Free lollipops...kind police...a non-shouty truck driver.

A hug.

                                                     *



QUICK NOTE:
My romantic comedy, Going Against Type (see page to the top right of this column) is on SALE for 99c/99p this weekend, until Monday, December 5th. Popping in the links:
: 99c
: 99p


                                                            *

A very warm welcome from Dublin, and I hope you enjoyed today's column.

I would be delighted if you shared it. (Check the little buttons below).

Please feel free to leave a comment - they're moderated to stop spamming, but I check every day, and I'm always delighted to publish and reply to genuine comments.


Fancy getting THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via Email? (See the Follow by Email box to the top right of this post).

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   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Have a lovely week,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.
 

Monday, 14 November 2016

EMBRACE THE COLD: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT WINTER.


                                Winter: Embrace your inner Hygge.

I KNOW PEOPLE who are counting the days to Christmas. Fair enough, you might think. It's already November 14th.

But these people have been marking off the weeks since September. Which is about as much fun as a drunk Santa. Because embracing your inner elf is not the same as embracing Winter.

Winter is a whole season: a whole quarter of the year. And in colder climes than our little island, it's even longer than that. 


Christmas and Winter become interchangeable.


There are of course lots of people who do embrace Winter. Clasp it to their woolly bosoms. A female friend of mine positively prefers it to Summer. It's a colour thing, apparently. A few years back she got her colours done with a beautician, who told her the Winter palette suited her skin. 

And no sooner has she climbed into knee-high boots, and swathed herself in warm greys, maroons and chocolate browns, than she seems to glow.

For the rest of us, Christmas and Winter become interchangeable. One minute, we're binning the carved-out pumpkins and packing away the plastic skeletons; the next we're wondering where we've put the manger and whether we fixed the wonky Christmas tree lights last January.

Not for them condensation running down the windows.

Because the reminders are everywhere, for months on end. The shops start sneaking Christmas confectionary onto their shelves in September, and by October the husband is buying mince pies, because, well, aren't they only once a year?

The stress of it all.

Our European neighbours do it all better. Britain aside (their retailers seem to be as daft as ours), most of the countries on what we used to quaintly refer to as "The Continent", seem able to strike the balance.

Celebrating Winter is something they've been doing beautifully for a long time. Granted, they probably have to. The Northern climes get a lot more cold weather, and they're almost guaranteed snow every year.

But they know how to make it fun to stay in. Not for them condensation running down the windows and worrying about leaving on the immersion after your shower.

They have houses designed to keep in heat, roaring fires, softly glowing scented candles, cosy throws, snug slippers....I've seen those Ikea catalogues.

They invest in real thermals and snow boots, so they can browse their elegant Winter markets, buying hot roasted nuts, decadent hot chocolate and home-made gingerbread.

More a philosophy than just hot drinks and mad looking slippers.

Embracing Winter is so important in countries with long winters, they have words that can't be properly translated. The Swedes, for example, have Fredagsmys, which is best translated as Friday Cosiness. It's basically staying in on a Friday night, with snacks, a movie and a decent fire.

You can be sure that this is all done in an aesthetically pleasing way. Because they're Swedish.

The Danes, on the other hand, do Hygge (pronounced Hoo-Gah). It's a sort of life-style change, a mind-set where you completely embrace everything the season offers. More a philosophy than just hot drinks and mad looking slippers, which makes it difficult for most Irish people to understand.

But you know, fair play to them.

Meanwhile, I've at least come to the conclusion that giving out about how cold the house is, is not going to make Winter any shorter.

It's time to unearth the warm jacket, go for bracing walks and reward myself with hot chocolate. And avoid shopping centres for as long as I can decently manage.

Christmas will wait and be worth it all the more, for the wait.

Because if I see another chocolate Santa this side of December, I may be tempted to stamp on it. 

Deep breaths.

Embrace my inner Hygge.


                                                                                 *


A warm Winter welcome from Dublin, and I hope you enjoyed today's column.

I would be delighted if you shared it. (Check the little buttons below).

I'd also be interested to hear how you celebrate Winter! Please feel free to leave a comment - they're moderated to stop spamming, but I check every day, and I'm always delighted to publish and reply to genuine comments.


Fancy getting THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via Email? (See the Follow by Email box to the top right of this post).

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   1. You'll NEVER MISS my fun, fortnightly personal column + updates/guest author posts!
   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Have a lovely week,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.
 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

#AMAZON #SALE


                                                      On Sale for 99c/99p on Amazon.

Morning everyone,
A quick side step away from my normal blog, just to flag a 99c/99p Amazon SALE of my romantic comedy, 'Going Against Type' today.
To read a blurb/excerpt and see what some of the reviewers are saying, check out the Going Against Type Page in the top right hand column of this blog.
Below are the buy links.
: 99c : 99p

I'll be back on Monday, November 14 with my regular fortnightly column.

Until then, have a great weekend.
And happy reading. ;)

Hugs & xx,
Sharon.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Halloween Terror: One Scary Night.


                    Halloween: Welcome to The Adams Family neighbourhood!


HALLOWEEN terrifies me.

A huge admission, I know, but before anyone chokes in disbelief on their breakfast cereal, let me add that miniature monsters and giggling ghouls don't actually frighten me.

Bring on the cackling, battery operated witches, the huge hairy spiders stuck to the ivy, and all those scooped out pumpkins, their cleverly carved faces illuminated in the dark night. No worries there.

What puts the spooks on me, so to speak, is the effort it takes to keep up with the neighbours.

For weeks now, houses on our road have decorated their windows with dozens of tiny paper pumpkins, black spiders hanging artfully on delicate threads, wisps of white web strewn across hedges and along garden walls.

Other people get the whole October theme so right.

Another artistic neighbour organises a pathway of storm lanterns up to her door, and winds Halloween-themed paper lanterns around trees and shrubs.

That other people get the whole end-of-October look so right, never fails to make me wonder - and fills me with self-doubt.

Not for them the ugly mishmash of paper skeletons, arms and legs re-taped year to year, the plastic pumpkins and cauldrons, broomsticks and tatty witches' cloaks and glow-in-the-dark candles with silly faces.

Which has to mean,
     1. They all have far better taste than me: a distinct possibility. Or,
     2. At some point, they threw away all the tat and upgraded their decorations.
Also highly plausible.

I blame the retailers. The kids are barely back to school at the end of August, when they go into Halloween overdrive, flogging everything from talking skeletons to Halloween wreaths, to cute costumes for babies.

In the US...every single person seems to dress up on October 31st

There are probably cute pet costumes too, but given that most four-legged family members have to be kept indoors, and often sedated during the fireworks season, I can't really see that idea catching on.

Anyone reading this column in the US, might be shaking their head in wonder. Although I've never been state-side during Halloween, I've seen enough TV. It delights and amazes me, that every single person seems to dress up on October 31st. And that there are so many parties!

When our kids were little, we caved one year and threw a Halloween party for friends and neighbours. All the children dressed up, and so did some of their parents, until they realised that they were making the toddlers hysterical.

The grownups behaved like people who couldn't believe they were enjoying adult company at 6.30 in the evening with their kids in tow! The kids ate more sugar in a few short hours than they'd probably eaten in a month. And the smallest ones quickly used up all their energy, then fell asleep. 

A success, by most people's standards.

Former weeny witches heading out as s**y witches.

And vastly removed from the parties our children attend, once they hit their late teens. The costumes for this age group, particularly the girls, are eye-opening.

You haven't been terrified on October 31st until you've seen former weeny witches heading out for the night dressed as 's**y witch', or 's**y ghost girl' or 's**y devil' or...well, you get the idea.

Meanwhile, it might be time to update my rather sad Halloween decorations. I could try tasteful, low-key stuff. Artfully arranged in windows and um, hidden in my untidy front garden. 

Two chances.

Plastic witch with those jellied eyeballs, anyone?
                                                                     *


A very happy Halloween welcome from Dublin; thanks a million for dropping in today. Wherever you are, I hope you enjoy the 31st, whether or not you celebrate Halloween. And I'd love to hear from you. 
    

If you enjoyed my column, I'd love if you shared it (little buttons below).


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Have a great week,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.
 
 

Monday, 17 October 2016

IS THERE ANYTHING TO EAT?


                                 Food: When did it become about more than just having enough?


"IS THERE anything to eat in the house?"

Had I five cents, every time I hear that comment, I'd have an annoying amount of copper change.

But it seems to be one of those universal questions. Like, "are we there yet?" and "can we go now?".


Am I the only parent who doesn't get any thanks when she points to the fruit bowl?  

Have they put on a sugar tax?

But food, or at least the kind most youngsters love, and most parents try to minimise, is in the news in Ireland at the moment.


     "I have a really important question," the youngest said, as soon as he came out of school on Budget Day last week. "Have they put on a sugar tax?"

I'd caught snippets of the budget during the day. I hadn't heard anything about the proposed tax on sugary foods. We are, presumably, slapping on that tax for the same reasons other countries are doing it: in a bid to combat obesity.

Marmite is being pulled from the shelves.
    
     "I don't know. Would it matter if they did?" I asked. He appeared to think about it.

     "Well, I'd need more money to buy a bar of chocolate. And you give me my pocket money. So it'd probably matter to you."

He was polite as he pointed this out. I couldn't fault his logic.


But food is a hungry issue in Ireland right now.

One of the reasons is Brexit. Since Britain's decision to leave the European Union, the pound has plunged in value. Now consumer giant Unilever is hiking up wholesale prices for its products by a reported 10 percent, to help balance the books.

Are we just fussy?


Which means that in many of our big supermarkets, well known imported items like Marmite, Pot Noodles and Ben & Jerrys are being pulled from the shelves.

I'm still recovering from the shock of discovering that Unilever makes Ben & Jerrys. For too long I've clung to the fantasy that two fabulous men, dedicated to ice cream pleasure, make the stuff in their kitchens, package it, and send it, Santa-like all around the world. But I digress.

And sugar tax and Brexit aside, here's the really sticky issue. Food itself. Can anyone remember a time when food was so contentious? Are we really more aware? More allergic? More intolerant to gluten and dairy? Or are we just fussy?

As Halloween approaches, I'll be stocking up on sweets to hand out to the Trick-or-Treaters at the door. There's no point in mentioning that as a child, my loot on October 31st contained apples and nuts. Because that makes me a hundred years old.

Besides which, every single child now has a nut allergy. I know, because they're quite articulate about it.
     "Sorry, I can't have those nuts because me mam says I'm allergic."
     "Oh gosh, I'd better not give you any of these peanut bars, so."
     "Ah no, I'm not allergic to them."

However, if sugary treats do get a price hike, I'll be rationing them this Halloween.

I'll also offer apples. Organic, of course.

If anyone has a more insightful suggestion, let me know.
                                                             *



Wishing you a warm hello from Dublin; thanks a million for dropping in today. Please feel free to leave a comment.

     If you enjoyed my column, I'd love if you shared it (little buttons below).

Fancy getting THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via Email? (See the Follow by Email box to the top right of this post).

What does that mean?
   1. You'll NEVER MISS my fun, fortnightly personal column + updates/guest author posts!
   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Have a great week,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.

Monday, 3 October 2016

THIS HOUSE SUPPORTS THE MOTION FOR DEBATE




                                        
                    The benefits of learning to debate extend far beyond confidence building.

THE BOY announced he is joining the school's debating club.

There is mixed reaction to this news at home. As his parents, we already know how good he is at argument. The thought of him learning how to back up future showdowns with fact, examples, persuasive phrases and rebuttal, fills us with a certain trepidation.

Both his parents were on their own school debating teams. Clearly, we've made too much of our minor triumphs.

In which case we'll be forced to resort to "because we're your parents, that's why".

Which is not to say that learning to debate is not an excellent thing. I think of all the stuff he will learn: 


     1. Words are better than fists.
     2. Debates have to be thought through and prepared.
     3. A structured, coherent argument is vital.
     4. Public speaking and learning to rebut in the heat of the moment is confidence building.
     5. Learning both sides of the argument, in order to understand how your opponents will argue, is a life skill.

The last skill, unfortunately, may go against us at home. If the boy understands how we'll argue, he'll be more prepared than ever to win. In which case, we'll be forced to resort to because I said so, or because we're your parents, that's why.

And we already over use both those phrases.

I choose to believe that his interest stems from a lofty ideal.

There is another, obvious reason why teenage boys learning to debate isn't a bad idea. Whether they realise it or not, debating expands their vocabulary. Which is no mean thing in the case of a youngster who goes to bed a reasonably happy, verbal child and wakes up as a grunting adolescent.


His new interest in debating also coincides with his recent interest in the law. As his mother, I choose to believe that this stems from a lofty ideal, rather than how much lawyers earn.

Truth be told, none of this should come as a surprise to me. Debating (read arguing if you prefer), is a normal, natural part of every family. Show me the family that doesn't argue and I'll show you a quiet, peaceful...ahem, I mean a family who doesn't care enough to debate the issues of the day. Or at the very least, those that affect them.

In our house, this usually takes place at dinnertime. It begins when somebody mentions something they read about or saw on the news. It doesn't matter what it is: a politician or a celebrity (is there a difference anymore?), a country in crisis or the fact that loose horses held up traffic on the N4 in Dublin that morning. 

We'd solve the problem with The Pepper Pot Method: Anyone holding the pepper pot could talk.

Every single person around the table has a different opinion. And nobody is inclined to keep it to themselves.


When the offspring were little, we'd solve the problem with The Pepper Pot Method. The rules were simple:
    
     1. Anyone holding the pepper pot could talk.

     2. Nobody else could interrupt.

And sometimes that worked. Until a frustrated younger sibling would try to grab the pepper pot. Then all hell would break loose.

These days, dinnertime discussions...debates...arguments are a lot more civilised. We all happily talk over each other, hotly disagree, try to keep up as somebody goes off on a tangent, then on another tangent.

Most evenings none of us can remember what kick-started the big wordy mess. We are, no doubt, like many other families: a microcosm of a nation of people which loves to talk and argue.

Which brings us back to the idea of learning to properly debate. If all it ever teaches the boy is to always see the other person's side of the argument, then it will be worth it.

There are already far too many people in the world who can never see the other side.

So for the short term, his parents will have to brace themselves.

                                                      *

 


Warm hello from Dublin, and a big thanks for dropping in today. Please feel free to leave a comment.


If you enjoyed my column, I'd love if you shared it (little buttons below).

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   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Have a lovely week,
Thanks for reading,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.

Monday, 19 September 2016

BUSES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES.


                                     Learning to drive takes all the excitement out of life.


I HAVE discovered that the most effective way to tone tummy muscles, is to be the qualified driver in the car with a learner.

I sit, doing my best not to be a nervous passenger, as the eldest shudders into gear and we are suddenly motoring along the widest, quietest road we can find.


"You're doing really well," I say, when she manages not to cut out every time she slows down. "Coming to a yield sign now, so that means stop. Any time now. This side of the white line." I practise keeping my voice calm and encouraging.

By this stage, my muscles are clenched so tightly, my tummy has almost disappeared into my spine.


I have no idea what the average learner-driver age is, in other European countries. But I know, thanks to my love of American movies, that youngsters often drive to school in the US. 

Which, given the size of the country, and the vast distances people regularly have to travel, is hardly surprising.


Public Transport is tragic

But Ireland is a small country. And you would imagine that owning, or indeed knowing how to drive a car, isn't high on a young person's list of priorities. You'd be wrong.


This is largely because public transport is tragic. We happen to live in Dublin, not far from the Dublin train (DART) which runs along the coastline, from Greystones on the southside to Howth on the northside of the city.


Generally speaking, our bus service isn't bad. There's also a relatively new tram service (LUAS) which is currently being extended.


That sheer rush of adrenaline when you manage to dodge death

None of which is good. Let's face it, if public transport is alright, then why bother lacing yourself into your runners to walk to work?

Or hop on a bike to experience that sheer rush of adrenaline, when you manage to dodge death, in Ireland's totally ignored or non-existent cycle lanes?


Happily, if you live outside the major cities, your fitness levels tend to be better. Here, public transport is hit and miss. If you can't drive, you rely heavily on private bus services and the good will of family and friends with their own wheels.


Or you take to the roads as best you can. And when we say roads, we mean that literally. The Irish countryside is full of picturesque little places, unsullied by unsightly footpaths.

Which is fine, if you remember to walk in the direction of oncoming traffic and wear bright clothing.

Nothing like living on the edge

And there's usually a hedgerow where you can burrow with your bike, if the road is a bit narrow for both you and that speeding car. Nothing like living on the edge to hone those reflexes.

But here in Dublin, bus drivers are doing their bit for the health of hundreds of thousands of Dublin people, by striking right through September and October.

In fact, between now and the end of October, commuters will experience 13 more strike days. About 400,000 commuters are affected by the strikes.

Although given the fact that many will have used up all their annual leave as they can't get to work, can we call them commuters? A pedantic argument, maybe.


The drivers are striking over pay. Dublin Bus says that stoppages have cost it about €4million so far. And the department of transport (Dublin Bus is a public company) is refusing to budge.

*Meanwhile, homeless charity Focus Ireland has spent almost €20,000 on bus fares for homeless children this year, despite a government promise to pay for public transport for families in "emergency accommodation". (Irish Times, 17/9/16)

All the more reason why everyone should just walk


Which means that for the hundreds of families living in budget hotels and hostel accommodation, things are even more on the edge than before.

Tough enough for a child to get to school when they're living miles away, in a single room with their whole family. Tougher still when there's no public transport running that day. But at least the difficulties in getting there become academic.

Which makes the argument for rising early and walking instead, all the more compelling. What's five miles when you're a child? Or ten miles when you're a nurse or a factory worker or a mechanic or a teacher?

And for the lazy, there's always the option to drive. If you're lucky enough to own a car. If you've managed to pay for all those driving lessons. And passed your test. And can afford the insurance, tax and petrol.

Details, right?

The eldest is in her early 20s. She saved for her own lessons and car insurance. She practices in the family car.

She's one of the lucky ones.

As for her parents, we'll just have to continue walking for the fun of it. For the whole fitness thing, you know?

And resign ourselves to those ugly footpaths. No living on the edge (should that be walking on the edge?) for us.

But you can't have everything.

***********************************

Many thanks for dropping in today. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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Thanks for reading,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.

Monday, 5 September 2016

OF CATS AND WOMEN


              Cats' eyes: prepare to be hypnotised to perform random acts of kindness.


THERE are three cats sitting on my doorstep when I stumble down to breakfast during one of the last days of summer. 


They are peering into the kitchen, making cat noises and looking lost.


I stop and stare at them. They stare right back. Strange, I think. Very strange. I don't have three cats. In fact, I don't even have one cat.

Yet here they are.
      
       'Who owns the cats?' I ask nobody in particular.

       'Yeah, forgot to tell you about that. They were doing a three-for-two at the local cat shop.' The middle child is deadpan.

"You can't come in...one of us has a cat allergy."
Hilarious. I look at them a bit more closely. I recognise two: they belong to a neighbour. The third is a huge tabby. No collar. I'm not sure I've seen it before.

      
       'I'll have some breakfast. Maybe they'll just go away.'

       'Maybe they'd like some breakfast too.'
       'Maybe they'd like to catch their own. Like one of those smaller, recent visitors to our garden. The one that rhymes with cat.'
       'You're so mean, Mum.'
       'Indeed.'

After my oatmeal, I go to inspect the doorstep. The neighbour's cats are gone. The tabby is still there. I open the door slightly and he (I've decided it looks like a he) sticks his nose in.

    
       'Sorry, you can't come in. One of us has a cat allergy. And you'll have to move, because I need to hang out the washing.'

       'Mum, who are you talking to?'
       'Er, the cat.'

I manage to get past him, but as soon as I step into the garden, he starts to rub up against my legs. I almost fall over. Clearly, this is a domestic cat. He's also a persistent one.

But most importantly, he's also lame. He's walking with a limp.

Of course! I mentally smack my forehead. The tabby is stuck in my high-walled, tree-lined back garden. He obviously got hurt and now can't get home. I finish the laundry, carefully scoop him up and bring him out to the front garden.
      
       'There you go. So, er, off you go home now.' I make an expansive arm gesture. The cat looks around and then looks at me. Like I've just killed his mother.

I go back into the kitchen and stutter to a halt.

Confused, I close the door. Ten minutes later, I open the front door again. The cat is nowhere to be seen. I walk out and hunker down to look under the car.

Not there either. He's obviously on his way home, I think. I congratulate myself. I've never had anything to do with cats, but it's such a good feeling knowing I've helped one in distress.

I go back to the kitchen and stutter to a halt. The tabby is sitting on the doorstep again.
      
       'Well you're obviously capable of jumping walls!'
       'You talking to the cat again, Mum?'
       'Look up the website for the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, will you?'

As the middle child searches for the site, I try to ignore the piteous noises coming from the cat. I phone my mother.
      
       'Whatever you do, don't feed it. It'll expect you to feed it forever,' she says.
      
       'Right, thanks.' I put down the phone and meet his green eyes. They're hypnotic. In a minute it'll have me thinking that he lives here, and the person with the cat allergy will just have to move out.

They can be lactose intolerant.
    
       'Oh this is ridiculous, he's clearly starving.' Although he doesn't look starving. He actually looks quite well fed. A minor detail. I pour him a saucer of milk and put it outside the door. The cat gets stuck in.
      
       'Never give stray cats milk. They can be lactose intolerant,' says the middle child.
       'What?? Where did you hear that?'
       'It's on this website.'
       'Oh God, what have I done? I've probably killed the cat.'

She scrolls down.
       'No, that won't kill it, you're fine.'

Whew! And while I'm at it, since when are cats lactose intolerant? That's like saying Santa Claus is lactose intolerant. Everyone knows the man loves milk!
      
       'You should leave out a saucer of water.'
       'Right.' To make up for the dairy mistake, I pour a whole container of water. The cat looks unimpressed.

Later that evening, I smuggle out some more food to him. Proper cat food this time.
      
       'What'll you do if he's still there in the morning, Mum?'
I sigh.
      
       'I'll have to bring him to the local vet. He'll be able to see if he's chipped.'

The night is warm and soon the cat disappears to do whatever cats do at night. 
When I come down the following morning, there's no sign of him.
I refill the container with fresh water.

Just in case.

*********************************************************

A warm hello from Dublin,

And a huge thanks for dropping by to read today's column. Please leave a comment: I look forward to chatting.

If you enjoyed my column, I'd love if you shared it (little buttons below).


You can also follow THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via Email. (See the Follow by Email box to the right of this post).

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1. You'll NEVER MISS my fun, fortnightly personal column + updates/guest author posts!
2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Have a wonderful week,
Thanks for reading,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.

Monday, 22 August 2016

#Life, the #Universe and my Attic.


                               Beware of decluttering: sometimes it's just about moving the mess.

QUESTION: How much can you cram into your attic before your upstairs ceiling falls down?
ANSWER:    I hope I never find out the answer to this question.


It's that time again. Summer is almost over. The new academic year looms. In my house, September is a new beginning.

Which means Autumn cleaning. More to the point, August decluttering.
I stand in the playroom and look around, feeling helpless.

It's a feeling I get every time I enter. Because it's the one room in the house that's impossible to tidy. Impossible to declutter.

Toys can be passed on...ever try to declutter books?

The fact that the offspring put away their toys a long time ago - the room houses hundreds and hundreds of books, a computer, a piano and some chairs - makes no difference.

If anything, it makes things more difficult. Toys can be passed on to younger cousins, friends' children.

Ever try to declutter books?

So, I do what I always do in this situation. I issue a general warning about throwing out anything I find on the floor. My children cheerfully ignore it. And I make a silent promise to myself to try not to go in there for another few weeks.

But there is a certain satisfaction that comes only from getting rid of stuff. Like an itch that needs to be scratched.

Grimly, I head upstairs, pull the ladder down from the attic and climb into the rafters.

How on earth do I still have baby clothes?

Not for the first time, I curse our decision to partially floor this space when we first moved in. The roof's eaves are high enough that a person can stand in the middle of the room.

All around me are dusty shelves and cupboards, bags and boxes, filled with Christmas decorations and baby clothes. How on earth do I still have baby clothes? I passed everything on to friends.

I delve into the nearest bag and unearth a tiny, hand-knit sweater. The stuff I could never bear to give away. In a box, I find old records: Duran Duran, Elvis, The Clash. A mad mix of a couple's past. 

There are more suitcases than one family could ever possibly need. At least one has a broken handle. Why didn't I throw it out?

From the landing below, there's noise and chatter. Then: "Are you okay up there?"

I reach down and grab the new memories.

I feel like answering no. I'm definitely not okay. I want to transport everything to the nearest charity depot. I want to throw all the rubbish into a massive skip.

"Yeah, fine."
     "You don't sound fine."
"No, just having a look, you know."
     "So, I've been clearing out my room and I've got a couple of bags here."
"Great! I'll be down now."
     "It's okay, I'll pass them up to you."
"You're not getting rid of them?"
     "I can't. I have to hold on to this stuff. I just don't have room here. Sure there's tons of space in the attic, isn't there?"

I look around.
     "Mum?"
"Yeah, pass it up."

I reach down and grab the new memories. School diaries and yearbooks spill from the top of the bag. I put them back and close it as best I can. There doesn't seem to be any more room on the floor. So I put them on top of the growing pile.

Disheartened, I climb back down the ladder. Before anything else can find its way to a new home right above our heads, I push it back into the attic and close the door.

The middle child beams at me.
     "Look at my room! I've cleared two shelves!"
"The two bags?"

She nods. I smile and go downstairs. There's half a lifetime of stuff in that attic.

But today is not the day to throw it out.

*********************************************************

A lovely big hello from Dublin,

And a huge thanks for dropping by today. Please feel free to leave a comment - I look forward to chatting.

If you enjoyed my column, I'd love if you shared it (little buttons below).


You can also follow THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via Email. (See the Follow by Email box to the right of this post).

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2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Have a wonderful week,
Thanks for reading,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.

Monday, 8 August 2016

BUY THIS NOW AND CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER!





           Advertising: The product matters less than the idea that happiness can be bought. 



THERE'S an ad on Irish radio at the moment, which annoys me so much when I hear it, I have to turn off the radio immediately. 


The ad isn't the most obviously annoying one doing the rounds. It's not loud, or garish, it's not delivered in a fake foreign accent (aargh!) and it doesn't demand that you get to a particular shop RIGHT NOW or EVERYTHING WILL BE GONE.

Instead, it's pitched at a particular niche. A modulated, middle-class female voice kicks off mid-sentence, as if you've just stumbled upon her rather annoying conversation with herself.

The ad, like all ads, tries to sell happiness.

She lists some of the wonderful (expensive) items that you can buy in this store, and intersperses with mad little things about the season and the weather and all the delightful things you can be doing when you've re-mortgaged your house to buy out half the shop.

In other words, the ad, like all ads, admittedly, tries to sell a lifestyle, an idea. It tries to sell happiness!

What makes it more annoying than other ads, though, is how coy it is about it all. There's a certain part of me that can almost handle loud, pushy product advertising. "Buy this now, or be a complete loser for life."

This one however, is all about subtlety and seduction and soothing tones.

It has, unfortunately, the opposite effect on me. I hear it and think, God, we've really lost the run of ourselves. Or words to that effect. This is a family-friendly site!

There's another ad a bit like it. This time, delivered in a chocolate-smooth-with-just-a-hint-of-roughness-around-the-edges male voice. It goes a bit like this: "You've always dreamt of owning this car. Now is the time."

If they were really big, then they were massive.
Hello? The time for what? To borrow to the hilt in order to buy something, that's going to instantly depreciate by thousands, the second you drive out of the forecourt? Trust me when I tell you this is an ad for a luxury marque. I mean, why else would you dream of it?

And am I the only one who's never, ever dreamt about a car?

But back to shops. It isn't that long ago, that shops in this country were just that: shops. They were not stores. Even the big ones weren't stores. They were just, well, big shops. If they were really big, then they were massive.

The word massive, of course, has a couple of meanings in Dublin.
        "Ah missus, your skirt is only massive," actually means "your skirt is quite lovely." But I digress.

In big shops (the sort where Santa Claus would establish his grotto every December, long before malls, and Santa popping up just about everywhere) there were departments. Women's clothes would be one department, children's toys would be another...you get the idea.

Now there are department stores with franchises. Loads more choice. And you can find nothing.

But it hardly matters. Because shopping - like the ads that entice us in to these stores - has nothing to do with buying what you actually need or even want.

It's about creating an experience, a feel-good factor, a smile on your face when your wallet is empty and your arms are heavy with stuff you'll never use.

I've fallen into the trap often enough myself. I have a white Summer dress hanging in my wardrobe. The sort of dress you buy when you are twenty and tanned. And wonderfully thin. It even has bikini straps.

I bought it in a rush of happiness and complete and utter self-delusion.

I've never worn it. Mainly because it is the same colour as my skin. Not a good look.

But I can't bring myself to throw it out, because I only bought it a few years ago, in Spain. It was hanging outside a cute shop, full of artfully-arranged, eclectic, beautiful things. I bought it in a rush of happiness and complete and utter self-delusion.

The practical side of me has decided I might dye it. Although then, it'll probably just be a blue dress with bikini straps hanging in my wardrobe. Mocking me.

Meanwhile, the best stuff is never advertised. I don't mean walks on the beach or hanging out with friends.

When was the last time you heard an ad for a playground? Or an art gallery? Or a library?

Do retailers only advertise things we don't need?

But surely that's a cynical step too far. I mean, who doesn't want happiness?

Or picnic blankets? Or storm lanterns? Or silk flowers? Or scented candles? Or a new sofa? Or throw cushions?

Actually, I quite like throw cushions....and storm lanterns.

That's it. I'm just never turning on the damned radio again.
*************************************************


Hi there,
Many thanks for dropping by today. Please feel free to leave a comment - I look forward to chatting.

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Thanks for reading,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.


 

Monday, 25 July 2016

TRAVELLING IN IRELAND: A SURVIVAL GUIDE


                              Getting around in Ireland: Be prepared for interesting directions.

ARE YOU PLANNING on coming to Ireland this year? Then prepare yourself for slight possibility that you may never leave.

The reason has nothing to do with our charming cailíní or wonderful old pubs.

It's because when you're driving around Ireland, you'll find yourself having to ask for directions. Surely that's the normal way of things, I hear you say. Ah yes, but if you've never heard an Irish person give directions, you're in for a rare treat.
          
Tourist: "Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to (insert wherever it is you're hoping to go!)"
           Local: "Ah now, I could direct you to there no bother, but you're starting from the wrong place."
           Tourist: "Right, so where do I need to start?"
            Local: "Arragh, from the right place of course. Where was it you started? You need to go back to where you were, and start again."


Unreadable place names


It doesn't help that our signposts still leave a lot to be desired - and even when they're there, you won't be able to read any of them.

Why? Because we have some of the most unpronounceable place names in the whole of Europe.

Picture yourself on the beautiful West coast of Ireland. Perhaps you're visiting Galway, the famous City of the Tribes. And you've heard that Muckanaderawlia (bear with me) is a lovely little village to visit in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking region).

Except when you get there, how do you know? The signpost reads Muckanagherderdauhlia. It happens to be the longest place name in Ireland.

Worse, if you get talking to the locals, they might use the Irish, Muiceanach idir Dhá Sháile, which translates literally as 'Pig-shaped hill between two seas.'

In case you were wondering, like.

It isn't even the funniest of our place names, though. And there's a few in the running for that particular accolade.

Newtwopothouse grows the best grass in Ireland

Nobber, for example. It's in County Meath, and it comes from the Irish 'an obair', meaning 'the work.'

Cockhill Road, Stamullen is another Meath example. It's up there with Shercok, a town in County Cavan, and Kilcock, in County Kildare.

Not to mention the unfortunately named Muff in County Donegal. Apparently, the name comes from a mispronunciation of the Irish 'Magh', meaning plain.

Then there's Newtwopothouse in Mallow, County Cork, which is, wait for it, famous for growing the best grass in Ireland. The normal sort. Enjoyed by sheep and cows.

They're not all long names, of course. Some of my favourite are Inch and Ovens, both in Cork and Camp in County Kerry.

For the religious, there's Rosary Road and Lourdes Road

Dublin place names are just as mad. We have Lazer Lane, Lad Lane and Coke Lane. (Would I make this up?)

And as a stark reminder of our colonised past, there's Protestant Row and Little Britain Street.

In times gone past, we would also have been a hugely religious country. Why else would we have proudly named streets Rosary Road, Ave Maria Road and Lourdes Road.

On the flip side are slightly more violent names like Kill (County Kildare), Swords (Dublin) and Kilbrittain, County Cork.

Another thing to remember as you're motoring around our little country, is that the signpost will have the Irish name on top, the English underneath. Bear in mind that how you pronounce it, won't compare with how it's actually pronounced, and you'll save yourself frustrating conversations with the locals.

However much you might be tempted however, do not rely on Sat-Nav. During one of our recent 'snows' - don't get me started on how the country grinds to a halt when there's a few flurries - some visitors were driving through the Dublin mountains.

Mindful that Dublin people themselves, get lost in those Dublin hills, they were relying on Sat-Nav.

It was all going beautifully until they found themselves in the famous Sally Gap, unable to move because they were snowed in.

Luckily, they were just about able to get a signal on their mobile phone.

The motto of this story? Never trust Sat-Nav. Or signposts. Or directions from the locals.

Best thing really is an open-ended ticket.

That way you can just leave when you eventually find your own way.

Go n'éirigh on bóthar leat.*

***************************************************

*Old Irish expression literally translated as May the road rise with you, but simply meaning: Good Luck.


Dear reader,
Huge thanks for visiting today. 

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Have a wonderful week,
Thanks for reading,
Hugs & xx,
Sharon.