Monday, May 31, 2010

Three Dependants, Rented Accommodation

 I was in the Credit Union the other day. For those of you not in the know, the Credit Union is a bit like a bank that doesn’t supply a laser card. You can’t get an overdraft, it’s impossible to pay utility bills and likewise you can’t really do anything that involves monthly money transaction stuff. Bottom line, you pay in money and they’ll give you a loan of about three times how much you have put in. The good thing is that most Credit Unions don’t do a credit check on you; they use their own judgement so it means that people like me can be deemed as credit worthy. In a way, it should be called the Debt Union, because most people I know don’t have any credit, just a loan that goes on for years and years because whenever you’re broke they offer to top up your loan for you. It means you end up always in debt and they earn money on the interest.
Well anyways, there I was in the Credit Union and couldn’t find my account number, so the nice lady with the red neck scarf looks me up in the computer and says ‘ah yes, I have you here: three dependants, rented accommodation.’
‘Excuse me?’ I say, so she repeats it ‘three dependants, rented accommodation.’
She says in that sort of neutral nasal tone exclusive to banking clerks in tidy uniforms with neck scarves that make them look like air hostesses.
‘Ah yes’, I say, that’s me. You see, it took me a second to recognise myself in there. Had I been asked to describe myself in four words it might be more on the lines of
‘struggling writer, ageing badly.’ But I knew what she meant. The three dependants bit highlights that I am more than likely what the State refers to as ‘a one parent family’. I did prefer the old ‘deserted wives’ status. ‘Deserted wife’ has a shawl in there somewhere, ‘one parent family’ is a bit too politically correct for a struggling writer, ageing badly. Of course what the nice lady in the Credit Union is pointing out with those two words, is that three dependants definitely mean three black marks on my credit rating, and whether I’ve been deserted or did the deserting, being on my own with three kids says something about me socially, and that something is most likely not praise for doing the work of two parents on the income of one.
The ‘rented accommodation’ remark is interesting though. A few years ago when they defined me as a rented accommodation sort of person, it was probably a bad thing. It meant that I’d never gotten my act together to get a mortgage. I wasn’t respectable and bottom line, people who don’t have mortgages don’t have security. Rent, in their eyes is ‘wasted money’, so only wasters rent property. But these days, living in rented accommodation means that I’m not in negative equity, most likely not in arrears and less likely to be evicted than my respectable house owning counterparts are. It also means that if my struggling writer career ever does take off, I’ll be one of the people who can buy a house at a realistic price.
So come to think of it, ‘three dependants, rented accommodation’ might be a lot more fortunate than it sounds. After all, the urchins are likely to get jobs at some stage and support their mother. The rented accommodation is constantly under negotiation with a landlord who happily reduces the rent when there are empty houses on the street where we live.
I bet the Credit Union love people like me. I was thinking of going in this afternoon and getting my loan topped up, I just can’t think of anything to buy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sex Within Marriage Yes, but Don't Masturbate

One day, about thirty odd years ago I was taught all I needed to know about sex ever. Sr. Something-or-Other with the evil eye explained that if you don’t receive God’s call to become a nun, you may end up getting married and should that abominable union take place you must be prepared that the man will insert his penis (she pronounced it ‘penace’, god love her) into your vagina. It would be a painful process, but luckily the procedure was only necessary when conception was desired. She then proceeded to bring up some more relevant issues to help us through puberty. One was that patent leather shoes reflect your knickers so don’t wear them. There was a  long rigmarole on how to wrap sanitary towels in newspaper and dispose of them in a manner that wouldn’t cause all the local dogs to rip the bin apart and resurrect your towel. Tampons were not mentioned. We were told that if you were put into the unavoidable situation of sitting on a boy’s knee, you should put a phone book between you and him. Today, in my dotage, I no longer recall which myths came from the mouths of nuns and which from the wise girls behind the bike sheds. In general they were much of a muchness. I learned you could get pregnant from a toilet seat, masturbation makes you go blind, you can’t get pregnant when it’s your first time, unless of course you have oral sex; you’d get pregnant from that straight away. Using a tampon meant you lost your virginity and ‘gay’ was an adjective used to describe lovely weather.
All these things sound funny now, but let’s face it, it can take about twenty years to navigate your way out of guilt and repression and some people never even managed to do that. I’ll save my comments on how the notion of celibacy brought the Catholic Church to its knees and move on to what the Irish school system is teaching our kids nowadays.
Last night I accompanied my thirteen year old son to a sex education session for sixth class students. It meant we had to miss watching Ireland qualify for the Eurovision song contest in return for a cold school hall watching biological diagrams and hearing a lot of technical explanations about sex. There was a huge cringe/giggle thing going on with the kids and although it’s good to know how the body works, do they really need to know that the fallopian tube is about as wide as a pencil? Things were dragging along nicely until the guy giving the talk put up a slide saying that sex is ‘an intimate act performed between two adults in a committed relationship, ideally marriage.’ So here I was in a room with someone telling my kid, in a very subtle way that sex is still not for pleasure or fun, unless, ideally, you are married. Similarly, he claimed that ‘most women’ wear sanitary towels and that tampons are complex and need to be changed very often.
The kids were then sent off to write questions on all of this which he brought back to us and read out. The deal was that he’d go through the questions and we had to either agree with his answer or agree that he wouldn’t answer it at all. One kid’s question was: ‘is it wrong to masturbate?’ The nice man giving the talk (he works for a counselling institute who offer prayer groups and other almost right wing catholic services) explained that he would not say that it ‘isn’t wrong’ to masturbate. His argument was that some parents may feel it’s wrong and others may not. Being the only vociferous objector to kids still being made feel guilty in 2010 I decided to shut up just in case there was some stuff on telly after the Eurovision that other parents might be waiting to go home to.
Of course the school principal was all supportive of the sex education guy and tried to stick us to the fact that we can only cover what’s on the school curriculum. I did look it up when I came home, and if you ask me, the guy had totally twisted it to try and work in some good old Catholic guilt. The actual wording in the curriculum reads: (and I don’t agree with it either, but this is what we’re stuck with):
“The most intimate expression of love is when a man and woman express their love for one another physically in sexual intercourse. During sexual intercourse the man and woman become physically close to one another and the man’s penis enters the woman’s vagina. This is a special experience for the man and woman and ideally happens in the context of a committed loving relationship as in marriage.”
Leaving out the word ‘IDEALLY’ completely changed what our kids were told.  Committed? Yeah, he should be. Bottom line, not much has changed. Key message: sex is not about fun. If it feels good don’t do it. Granted, masturbation no longer causes blindness, but it’s still not right. Luckily the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest are not on until Saturday, so I have tonight to re-educate my son.
Hopefully he’ll listen to my liberating words of wisdom. But you know what teenagers can be like sometimes - such wankers.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Thing About the Lotto

What’s all this rubbish that the Lotto is a ‘tax on people who are bad at maths?’ I’m great at maths. I’m even aware that statistically you are 600 times more likely to be hit by lightning than you are of winning the lotto. But that’s rubbish, because every week you hear about people winning the Lotto but you seldom hear about people being struck by lightning. So you could say that the Lotto is taxing on people who are good at maths.
I spend €4 a week for the pleasure of lying in bed planning how I’m going to spend my winnings, and €4 is a cheap high. So saying that the Lotto is a tax on people who are bad at maths ( or ‘math’ pronounced with a lisp if you’re American), is like saying that going for coffee is a tax on people who are bad at understanding health issues.
Let’s face it, life is about getting high: sugar, drugs, drink, ambition, fear, greed, anything that gets you out of bed in the morning. Playing the Lotto is about the buzz of being in with a chance.
I know that I’m unlikely to win; however, being good at maths (math) I’ve figured out that my chances are slightly higher than other peoples. You see, there’s a story somewhere in my family that somebody called to my great grand uncle’s house asking directions. He walked out to the gate to point this guy on the right road. As he stood pointing he was struck by lightning and killed.
So with that in mind, I wonder how the statisticians would work out what the chances are of winning the lottery given that someone in your family has already been struck down by lightning. I reckon higher, because if somebody in your family has already been struck by lightning, then there must be less chance of it happening to you. So given that I’m unlikely to be struck by lightning but come from a family where freak things do happen, it must surely mean that the freak thing I’m likely to experience is a Lotto win.  So I’m off now to play Lotto with that in mind. After all, it could be me!


Monday, May 24, 2010

Body of Christ, Anyone?

I’m just back from a First Holy Communion Party. For those of you who are not up on the festivals of the Catholic Church, it is the celebration of a child’s first time to receive the Eucharist. And the Eucharist, if I understand correctly, means that the priest utters some sort of spell to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. They call it transubstantiation. You go up to the altar. The priest holds up a piece of bread in front of you and claims that it’s the body of Christ. You agree. It’s all very complex and that is why you have to wait until you are seven years old to receive it, because seven, according to the same church, is the age of reason. 
If you are to go with tradition, girls wear white dresses as a symbol of their innocence and boys wear pathetic little three piece suits as a symbol of I don’t know what. Perhaps it is to highlight that they are all set for a career in banking or as circus ringmasters.
The communion celebration that I went to was quite non eventful, and that’s a good thing. Apparently the Eucharist is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, but luckily there was no sign of betrayal or back stabbing at this communion. Possibly because that sort of carry on had happened years before the communicant reached the age of reason. As a result, her father awkwardly hovered around the event, a visitor to the kitchen he once called home. Then there were the ex in-laws, who are never quite sure what their place is at an event like this: should they check that their son is paying the maintenance before they start tucking into the heaps of food and buckets of chilled beer? The communicant had ditched her white dress quite early on, in favour of shorts, a t-shirt and a bouncy castle and this also caused some slight embarrassment to visitors as they trickled in, for some weren’t sure just which kid to hand over the envelope of money to.
The mother of the communicant was exemplary. She hosted family, in-laws, outlaws, neighbours and friends allowing them all overstay their welcome and not mentioning the blisters from her sexy yet appropriate shoes. She’s the kind of woman who can get away with wearing a conservative yet low cleavage dress even in a church.
So saying it was non-eventful is an understatement really. It was colourful, it was interesting, it was gluttonous and the sun was splitting the skies.
It’s just that these days, First Holy Communion traditions have taken on a new dimension as our minority Irish ethnical group referred to as ‘the Travellers’ have triggered controversy with the introduction of new Communion traditions such as the hiring of white pumpkin style coaches or limousines for the occasion, along with diamond studded dresses that look more like bridal gowns than innocence. Recently, there were newspaper reports of a major fracas outside a Cathedral, where two ‘mother of the Communicants’ got into a major fisticuff allegedly about the size of two different Hummers which had been hired for their daughters (important to mention here that one vehicle was pink, the other white).
Personally, I love all the traveller bling. They know how to have a day out. And as for it not being appropriate, I disagree. Remember, this is meant to be a re enactment of the last supper, and that was one of the biggest historical fall outs ever, if you ask me.
As for the extravagance, a traveller family who I know spent over €5,000 on their daughter’s communion. I was thinking how turning your social welfare cheque from €240 to five grand is a real mystery to me. But life is full of mysteries; at least that’s what you have to cope with once you’ve reached the age of reason, which I have. I suppose it’s all about transubstantiation, isn’t it?

Friday, May 21, 2010

I might be a Blogstitute

I’ve just donated to the Poetry Bus Blog! You should check it out on my blog roll; it’s a great new poetry thingy. I donated for two reasons. Firstly, because they have a donation button on their site that I was curious about, and secondly, because I prefer reading things that are not governed by media moguls, and while I’m forced to pay for newspapers ( and I do buy them, supposedly for intellectual stimulation but really to do the crossword and Sudoku) nobody makes you pay to read their blog, which is, when you think about it, the refreshing work of an independent thinker. Unless, of course, the writer is being paid to produce it by some giant media mogul.
So who pays the bloggers? Well that’s it, nobody. Granted there are some blogs that I would gladly donate towards the demise of, but the bottom line for me is that blogging is a relatively new form of reaching people, and things like the Poetry Bus are original, great and dependant upon generosity. I gave them a fiver by the way. It’s what I throw into the buckets of people doing bag packing for charity at the supermarket. Just like at the supermarket, I convince myself that I am doing it for purely altruistic reasons, but in reality I do it for myself. I feel good when the bag packer’s eyes light up when that fiver goes in, because it’s a note, not a coin. And let’s face it; a fiver is not a high price for inflating your ego for the day and telling yourself how generous you are. Same with the donation: I feel like a proper blog reader now, a good person and a supporter of the arts.
So that’s when I got the brainwave. Why don’t I become a blogstitute myself?  I googled (is googled in the dictionary yet?) setting up a donation button on a blog.  As you may have already experienced, googling is like doing a complex thesis, you start to take detours in all directions. Mine ended with me trying to set up a button that says ‘buy me a coffee’. I thought the word ‘donations’ might look more like me holding out an empty coffee cup and showing off my gammy leg into the bargain. I couldn’t figure it out though and I’m not booked into the ‘how to improve your blog’ course until next Thursday.
There were a lot of opinions about these ‘pay me for this’ buttons. Most people seem to think they’re greedy, and those who use them complain that they never get any donations. But by the time I’d read all this and decided it was a bad idea to add the donation button, I had already navigated my way into having it up on the site.
Thing is, if I do get any donations, I haven’t a clue how PayPal get the money to me. It’s probably all not real. PayPal money is probably just like Monopoly money, just like blogging isn’t ‘real’ writing. And if bloggers got their hands on real money, would they still blog?
Who knows? I can only speak for myself. If I got paid for writing I’d take a moralistic approach. I’d only use it for research purposes, like travelling around the world and staying in luxury hotels so that I could blog about how superficial life becomes when you have a few bob. By the way, the donation button is top right…

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Clubs are not about Books, are they?

I’ve promised myself never to join a book club. Never again, that is. Now this may seem odd coming from a person with an obsession for reading. Thing is though, I’ve discovered that book clubs are not about reading books.
My first book club was following a college course.  Someone suggested keeping in touch by starting up a book club. Great idea! Problem was that the members of this book club were all female and feminist with a slight penchant for reading books about the plight of women, especially women in Muslim countries. After a couple of sessions discussing novels based on true stories about women having their clitoris (clitorises, clitori?) Well you know what I mean, books about girls having their clits cut off, becoming slaves, being raped, etc… after a few of those books I feigned a bad period and didn’t turn up. Instead, I bought a Cecilia Ahern novel, took it to bed with wine and chocolate and that was the end of book club number one.
But let’s be fair here, not all book clubs are run by the clitorati. So I joined another one. It was very progressive; a book club frequented by both sexes where members took turns to choose the book. Some of the choices were not bad, but once a book went from being a bright cover in a book shop to a ‘proscribed’ read with a deadline, it became daunting. It was too much like school. And then there was the dilemma of what book to suggest when it was my turn. I wanted to seem like a highbrow intellectual, but I also didn’t want to snooker myself with a book I wouldn’t understand. So I suggested ‘Pride & Prejudice’ by Jane Austin. I was cheating of course, because I probably know the text off by heart.  
After a while I couldn’t take the clever and insightful comments on whatever book we were being forced to read. I realised that despite being a book addict, I don’t retain information for long, nor do I analyse any deeper meanings or allegories into books. I just read them, so my comments never amounted to anything more than ‘yeah, good book.’
I’d forgotten about this misery when some neighbours suggested a book club. I already felt guilty about bringing down the tone of the neighbourhood after I’d let some friends camp in the front garden, so I felt this may be a shot at redemption. But no: it was a non-fiction book club, covering themes such as gardening and DIY. Worse, we didn’t meet in the local hotel, it moved from house to house. That meant that whenever it was my turn to host the bloody thing, I’d have to take a few days off work to clean the house. The hostess (and no, I’m not being sexist, it was always the ‘wife’ who hosted it) presented a marvellous spread of homemade cakes and pastries, and as a rule, I was the only person who ate anything, as the rest of my neighbours seem to be on a permanent diet. I have never understood this, as they look slightly underweight from my rubenesque perspective of the world. The problem with this book club was that they actually did know what they were talking about: raised beds, how to clean gutters or the pros and cons of halogen lighting. I was lost. As a seasoned book club girl I wanted to do what book clubbers are good at doing: drinking too much of other peoples wine and gossiping.
So I’ve decided to set up an ‘Anti Book Club.’ You pick out a book that nobody wants to read. You spend a month making sure not to read it. Then you meet up, get slightly pissed, say things you shouldn’t say, eat the food that the other women won’t touch and go home feeling totally justified on foot of your obnoxious behaviour, because after all, it’s the book club.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Funeral Playlists

Not that I consider myself in any way moribund, but recently I’ve started thinking about a song list for my funeral. As I’m only 45 (I tell people I’m 55 in order to hear them say how incredibly young I look), I’m probably quite unlikely to kick the bucket any time soon. But funerals are the new weddings and I want to pick my own songs.
I’ve come across some desperate ones. I recently gate crashed a funeral in Dublin when catching up with some friends, and even though I never knew the corpse in his living days, I still felt that Garth Brooks’ ‘The Dance’ was a tad twee as a funeral song. After all, it does conjure up the image of line dancing non drinkers in cowboy hats, and the corpse had apparently been a hash smoking hippie who met his death when his boat capsized on a lake. Of course, I do understand that the song itself relates to cherishing special memories, but if you listen to the lyrics it is actually all about a relationship gone wrong. Yuck.

So now the problem is that every time a song I like comes on the radio, I start thinking ‘oh that’d be good for my funeral’. Yesterday they played the song ‘Born Free’, so I decided to email one of my brothers to tell them that this would be my funeral song wish, but before I got home they’d played ‘The Logical Song’, ‘Thank You for the Days’ and the classic ‘Satisfaction’ by the Stones. All of them were on my list by the time I got back home. Then I realised that it might be awkward if I contact any of my family members with funeral arrangements, so I decided to compile a list, because after all, when it gets nearer to dying I might have thought up of some other songs, and it also depends on when I die. If I’m lucky enough to live into old age it’s going to be shit, because I’ll have to witness all my friends dying off first and I’ll end up with a tiny funeral populated by more carers of the aged than friends.
I think I’ll start doing the rounds of funerals to look for ideas. I suppose poignant, moving and a tiny bit humorous is what you’d look for. A touching tear jerker to remind folk just how much they'll miss me.
Just now as I was writing this blog one of my kids asked me what I was at. I told him I was looking for a good personal funeral song. He said nothing, but when he walked past me again on the way out I could hear him gently hum ‘ding dong the witch is dead’…

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Safest Place for Teens

Having escaped the possibility of a short respite in prison, things are back to normal. I’m still living the ‘free’ life, which means I share my house with a sullen girl and two teenage sons. I’ll save the daughter for a more bulletproof blog and tell you about the boys: for the sake of anonymity on the web, let’s call them Lazy Git and I’ll do it Later (their real names are Eddie and Tom.) Unfortunately when Lazy Git turned 13 a few years back, I had just read a book saying that your living room is the safest place for teenage boys. As a result, I now have an ex-living room. The 42” TV (comes with valid license) is now attached to an Xbox, and there seem to be various other teens living in there on and off. It’s hard sometimes to know who’s who, they all look the same: pale, a tiny bit taller than me, way too skinny with deep voices and that type of fluff on their faces that old ladies in nursing homes sometimes have.
So apart from marking out their territory with a whiff of combined Lynx, pizza crust and testosterone that makes me want to wear a face mask, there is also the continuous sound of shooting, followed by the agonizing cries of the dying. They have reassured me that they are only killing Nazi Zombies, so it’s ok. At around 3am they pull out sleeping bags and the noise dies down until about 9am the next morning when they start wandering into the kitchen in t-shirts and the most obnoxious looking of jocks, to make themselves wheelie bin sized portions of cereal which they eat in the living room. Oh I nearly forgot, the soured milk that has spilled on the floor from previous cereal sessions is also part of that rancid smell that is now seeping through the whole house.
Then there’s the odd pack of rizla papers on the coffee table with a little corner torn off the side, normally coinciding with them opening the windows to ‘air the room’. And the time those teenage girls came over. They unplugged the Xbox and watched a movie. Some poor parent picked up the girls shortly before midnight. It was all very innocent until I found a bra hanging from the lampshade next day. I’m doing things by the book though, it’s all for the best.
This morning I ran into a friend of mine who also has teens. She told me her son won two medals at the weekend for athletics. At the end of the competition he somehow twisted his foot and broke it. He is now on crutches for the next four weeks at least. So I was just thinking, there you go, that won’t happen to Lazy Git or I’ll do it Later. Luckily, my boys are in the safest place they could be – the living room. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

T.V. License

I've just opened a letter from the post office. It's about me not having a current TV licnese.  It's bilingual Irish and English, so it opens with: dear customer/ a chara. In Irish 'a chara' means friend, so right away I'm on my guard. Do Irish speaking people attack T.V. license inspectors with hurley sticks and goats horns? And because of this do the T.V. license people strategically address them as friends? Maybe there isn't a word in Irish for customer, after all, I only learnt Irish for five days a week over a period of 12 years, so I obviously only know how to ask if I can use the toilet and just about say what my name is.
Anyways, bottom line, I don't have a T.V. license and I need one and they cost 160 quid. As an English speaker, I am aware that the T.V. license inspector has heard all the excuses so I won't bother getting  back to them with mine, which is: I don't have the money, well I do, but I don't really and in my house, bills like this don't get paid until I get some important looking summons saying I'll be going to jail next week if I don't pay. Thing is though, I'm half tempted to let them arrest me so that I can spend a night or two in Mountjoy for not having one. I fantasize about smuggling in a mobile phone and calling the Joe Duffy show from the women's prison. The conversation would be the same as most chat show conversations in Ireland, we'd say words like 'shocking', 'ridiculous', 'disgraceful' and 'waste of taxpayers money' and  'overcrowded prisons' which would be followed by professional do-gooders calling the station offering to bring bowls of stew and apple tarts to my three young children left helplessly at home without their mother. Others would go on about how lone parent Jezebels like my good self are a thorn in the side of this country, and where else would you expect people like me to end up in but Mountjoy, and that who do women without husbands think they are to be having tellies anyway. Maybe they have a point. Most of the time I don't get to watch it at all. I spend most of the day trying to earn a crust and then in the evenings I run around like a headless chicken doing the housework. So the no T.V. license may end up as a blessing in disguise: a few days of respite, and come to think of it, if I do go to jail, I might get one of those cells I've seen on T.V. shows about female murderers. They always have tellies in their cell, and I'd get to watch it in peace, and come to think of it, I wouldn't even have to pay for the T.V. license...