Monday, November 15, 2010

The Money Will Come

It’s always annoyed me the way rich people often preach about how you should just do what you love doing and the money will come. It’s just that the ones who say things like that normally spent about twenty years working their asses off on an oil rig or working as an engineer or a nurse in Saudi Arabia
Then, when they had a load of money, they invested it into something really risky but cutesy, like starting up an organic chocolate cake café where you can come and stay for the weekend and do courses in the art of combining yoga and seaweed. Somehow, the whole thing ends up as a huge success (nothing to do with the millions they stashed in it to set it up) and they talk on some TV documentary about how they walked away from working their weary jobs to follow the thing they love, and that now, signs on it, it was all worth following your dream.
Of course, someone suggesting you follow your dreams instead of hating your boss is paramount to offering a child ice cream instead of cabbage, or an adult come to think of it. And unlike a lot of my former colleagues, I actually have dreams. So I decided the very best option I had was to pack in the job. Because after all: life really is too short to spend it sitting around oval tables at terribly important meetings.
 Of course, the money didn’t come, but I’m damn near close to finishing the novel, and I got to spend quality time driving kids to school and back from school and to the shops and hockey and even driving teenage boys 200 yards up the road to the gym. I was starting to do things like fold tea towels and sort socks, so I decided that maybe life wasn’t too short to sit around oval tables and scribbling in a diary. After all, there were free biscuits and pens and little boxes of mints with the company’s name on them.
Still though, I had developed an acute allergy, bordering on psychosis whenever I looked at my colleagues, the computer or any documentation connected to the job in question, along with a nervous rash that broke out whenever the phone rang, so there was no going back. Then I had an idea. I applied for a job in a call centre: one of those places that I’m always threatening my kids they’ll end up in if they don’t study harder. But because I didn’t particularly want it, I was able to tell them I could only work up until lunch time or forget the job thank you very much. That’s fine, I was told, whatever suits and do you fancy going for a few jars later?
 Without realising what I was doing, I was walking myself into the life that those phoney people with their little organic cafes and cottages in the south of France do – I was actually doing what I love to do: being a bit busy in the morning with a bunch of mad call centre people who actually have lives and wear runners, not suits, while also having time to write and spend time bossing the kids around instead of driving them around.
So I got home this evening and plonked myself on the couch to open the post. The bulky envelope was a copy of an anthology of poems that I have a piece in. As I flapped the cover open, out fell a cheque for €20. I mean hello: money for poems?
I’ve taken it as a sign that it’s really true. Do what you love doing, and the money will come. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lesbian Sex, the Movies & Blocked Noses

The missus took me to a movie last night. (It seems we’ve all started calling ‘fillums’ movies.) It was that new one ‘The Kids are All Right’, and yes, we went to it because it’s about a pair of lesbians with two kids who are dealing with a sperm donor. Now let me just say one thing, we ourselves might be a pair of lesbians, but we do not  have two kids and a sperm donor to deal with. In our case it’s seven kids and two ex husbands.
Still, though, it was a film we could relate to and  I couldn’t help trying to work out which of the lesbians I was most like in the movie. First of all I thought I was like the one with short hair, because she was unappreciative and grumpy and she drank too much. But then the other one had an affair and was always starting up businesses that didn’t work, so I thought I was a bit more like her. In the end I thought I was a bit more like the sperm donor, because he’s this mixed up guy who ends up losing everything.   

There wasn’t an awful lot of sex in the movie, but it did make clear that a sex life was actually happening, even if the one of them did go off and shag that donor in the end, and I was thinking well why not at the start and save your money, but it turns out he only got 60 quid a pop anyway.
I suppose any Hollywood movie needs a bit of cock, because after all, most of the audience will probably be straight, but at least we didn’t feel like freaks anymore, now that middle aged sexually active lesbians with kids are in a mainstream movie, so we ended up having a bit of a romantic night, which transcended itself into a bit of a romantic morning too, and then everyone was late for school and I never got to finish my coffee.
You see, the problem with lesbian sex is this: it’s hard to know when it’s over. The one thing I envy about men, well let’s say the ones I’ve been with, is that they can do the business and that’s it. Into the jocks, out of the bed and don’t call me, I’ll call you.
It’s different with women. You see if I do anything to her, I get turned on, and then she does things to me, and then I need to touch her again, and then that gets me going again, and that goes on for a few hours and then there’s all the touchy feely stuff, and then because of all the touchy feely stuff we both get going again. Then because we’ve both gotten going again, well, I won’t bore you with the details.
I did notice one thing this morning though. My nose was totally blocked up from the heat being on, but after all the middle aged rumblings of ‘stop, no don’t stop, is the immersion on, do that again, are the kids up yet, etc…’ I noticed that my head was totally clear and I could feel the Connemara wind through both nostrils.
I bet if the nasal spray companies knew about this they’d try to ban sex. Well come to think of it, a lot of people have been trying to ban lesbian sex. I bet it’s all a big conspiracy from the pharmaceutical industry. Now I’m wondering what else it might cure? Maybe if we went back to bed it might help my bad hip, but we can’t, she’s gone to work and I have to put the bins out. There’s always tonight. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Gifted is That?

There was a programme on the other night about gifted kids. I tried hard not to watch it, but in the end I watched bits of it and started to get mad, as I knew I would. The worst part was watching a lone parent mother drag the three kids off on the bus and hang out on a university campus all day in order for the kid to do something relevant to his brain. It hit a nerve with me as I remember doing all of that a few years ago. The TV cameras didn't show the bits where one of the kids gets sick on the bus, or of losing a coat somewhere or a child, or having to change busses because of a breakdown.
By the time the next two kids were assessed I had gotten fed up with the whole dragging up to Dublin lark, and besides, these courses; the only ones available for gifted kids, are elitist. They cost a small fortune, which I don't understand, as surely there is no reason for them to cost way more than any other extra curricular activities for kids? So it means that really, it's only middle class kids and up who are getting the stimulation they need in order to balance their other, quite ordinary attributes.
You get it all wrong with the first kid anyway. I sent him to a 'child centred' Educate Together school, where the focus is upon the child's individual needs. It didn't take long for me to be told that there is no funding for kids like mine, and at the lowest point of trying to explain his needs to a teacher was when I was asked 'do you not think you're being selfish asking for support for your child when we have so many kids here who really have special needs?'
Maybe that was the high point though, because it was also the moment that I realised I was banging my head against a brick wall. If anything, the school were adverse to my kid being gifted and I always got this underlying feeling that deep down they wanted to prove that academic ability is way less important than social development and I also realised that the so called 'special needs' tend to have a 'top of the pops' trend to them. When my son was in primary school there was definitely a leaning towards spending all the support money on socialising kids with autism into the classroom.
Now don't get me wrong, I've seen some great and important work happen on this area and I've experienced it with peers of my children, I just don't see why it should be so top heavy when it comes to funding. All I'm pointing out here is that it's by a long shot not the only need going on, even if it might be the one that produces the best tangible results for the teachers involved, because you can really see the changes, and it looks good.
Gifted kids don't make great statistics, and during my son's time in primary school the little bit of funding that had previously been there was removed. 'Gifted' is also a very unfortunate word for kids with a high I.Q. It sounds as if they are lucky or talented. It conjures up the image of a bright and happy child who is already set up for a wonderful and happy career. In fact, 'gifted' in a child, means to me an imbalance between I.Q. and emotional intelligence. In assessments, the word 'gifted' is used to describe a child whose I.Q. is in the top 5% of the population. So that means that if you were to go on the law of averages, a school with 200 kids in it will have about ten gifted kids and no resources to do anything to support them.
Trying to balance a high I.Q. with an average emotional intelligence has a huge impact upon a child's development and is, indeed, a special need. I should know, I've lived through the tantrums.
In my son's case he just about made it through primary school by skipping a class and with a huge amount of absences. The school had no resources and no interest in teaching him what I thought should be the basics for any child, and that is: how to learn. His mind was never really stimulated, and this was a total disaster when he entered second level education. He didn't have a clue about how to apply himself, and also, having skipped a class, he was younger than most of his peers.
Of course, the social needs are huge, but you can't really separate them, can you? Having worked in training myself for many years, I've become aware of how the interest in emotional intelligence has grown, and let's face it, you don't need a high I.Q to manage Ryanair, but you sure won't be accepted into pilot school with an I.Q. of 80 either. I just don't believe that you have to square a circle, and I don't see why it's such a big deal not to have great social skills if you are happy enough within yourself. After all, if Bill Gates hadn't been a bit nerdy, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog right now. The bottom line is this: we need every type of person in our society, and we need to support some more than others. Practically, though, it seems that 'support' doesn't mean helping a child to get comfortable with who they are, but rather, helping to mould a child to fit in with what the average is, and what 'looks right'. And ultimately, supporting gifted children within the system can be a dangerous job. They might just be insightful enough to question the value of it all...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Age Matters

If you didn’t know what age you are, what age would you think you are? It’s a question I can’t answer myself. In my head I’m around late twenties. Emotionally I’m not sure if I’m three or a doting geriatric. Intellectually I’m stuck: on the one hand I’m a grown up and have an M.A., so I could pick out a mature age for that one, but on a practical level I find myself asking my kids to help me with simple maths.
As for the physical part of it, I look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘wow, not bad, I still look twenty.’ The problem is though, that I don’t, and not even the mirror thinks that I’m the fairest of them all. But to hell with wrinkles and sagging boobs and surplus weight, I still just see me, and I just am. So let others put me at 30 or 40 or 50 or more, I see the same face every day, and I’m fine with it.
The one thing that really gets to me though, is the issue around date of birth. Once I hit my mid forties I decided that I’d have to just give up age, because whenever I assessed my lifestyle with regard to my age, it just didn’t seem right. I mean, would you really expect to see a woman hitting her late forties climb out of a tent at the electric picnic? Or should a woman of my age really select Converse runners as her preferred choice of footwear?
I went through a stage where I decided to act my age and not my shoe size (which is a frisky 39 if you’re a member of the European Union). So I bought some drab grey pants, started watching the soaps and exchanged recipes with people around my own age.
Then I got the blues. I realised I was in my mid forties and decided that I may as well give up thinking that I’ll ever achieve any of my dreams now that life has passed me by. I questioned my sanity for preferring Lady GaGa to Bob Dylan and quit my diet, because what did it matter anyway, now that I’ll always look like an aul wan no matter how fat or thin I am. I bought sensible shoes and felt that silly hats were not for my generation. I planned taking up golf, but didn’t go that far as I still had an active sex life. I did still manage to became dowdy and uninteresting though.
Then a great thing happened. I was another year older and I was pure fed up with it. So I decided to give up age. The first thing I decided not to be was a pillar of society. I bought a new silly hat and routed out the old runners. I packed in my day job because I decided it’s a much better idea to finish my novel than to work at something that doesn’t light my fire ( which probably puts me somewhere between 17 and 23 if I’m to go back to that ‘how old are you?’ question.)
Of course it’s difficult to give up age. Most days I feel some age or other, but it’s always a different one, so luckily, if I’m pushing 70 on a Monday, I might just be 20 by Wednesday.
I’m not sure what age I am today. I’m heading off to Dublin to read one poem at the launch of an anthology in some bar, and considering that I’m skint and the whole outing will cost me about 150 quid if I’m to pay for travel and a room somewhere. So that kind of behaviour would probably make me a young 30 year old travelling minstrel. Thing is though, I didn’t sleep very well last night and I feel exhausted. I need my 7 hours and I didn’t get them. My bad hip isn’t liking this wet weather and the doctor reckons its arthritis.
So it’s going to be a long evening. My heart is in it but the bones are creaking. It must be my age.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Free Education? Yes, but Pay for Schooling

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a bit of a laugh really, unless you believe that some time Utopia really will happen. Some of the things seem basic, but they make me think. Article 25 (1) declares that Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…’
What I want to know is this, exactly who is it provides you with these rights? And the other thing that I’m puzzled about is where you rank the various rights. Personally I think that free food is much more important than free education. Well I’ll correct that actually, education is free, it’s schooling that isn’t.
Given that 20,000 students marched to Dail Eireann in Dublin protesting the cost of education, I wonder are they educated enough to know what ‘free’ really means? Because free doesn’t mean that it costs nothing. If you don’t pay yourself, somebody else does.
I do think that people who want to enter third level education should have every possible chance to do so, and I’m all for means testing, but given that anything that’s free is not really free, it’s paid by the so called ‘taxpayer’, I just wonder why it seems more important to pay for schooling than it is to pay for food. And bottom line, where do you decide what’s more important?
Of course there’s the argument that we should be a ‘smart economy’. Does smart mean people with college degrees? Do you have to have a piece of paper and some letters to your name in order to get the country back on its feet again? These days people have started believing that college degrees are almighty, the way they used to believe in the Church and the politicians and the banks before they discovered they’d been taken for a ride. Smart? Beats me. So I thought about marching to the Dail to demand the setting up of free soup kitchens as part of one of my basic human rights. But I’ve always been more the practical type than the revolutionary and seeing that ‘Dail’ is an anagram for ‘Aldi’ I may as well go there instead. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What it's like to be Broke

I grew up in a middle class family, one that was poor enough not to have a second car or fancy holidays abroad, yet comfortable enough that we were never left wanting for any of the essentials such as good practical shoes, school books or hideous padded polyester anoraks. We did go on holidays, ones spent visiting some remote rellies in an even remoter part of the world, like the outback of Donegal. We were never disappointed at Christmas and birthdays meant a spread of egg sandwiches, TK red lemonade and butterfly cakes sprinkled with hundreds & thousands.
What we didn’t have was the  sense of community that they had in the council estate up the road. On our road most people were snooty and although my mother had to work around a tight budget, she pretended that she didn’t, and let’s face it, she never had to pull a rabbit out of a hat or try to glue a shoe back together.
Of course we couldn’t keep up with the Jones’s in the detached houses with the sea views. They went to Spain and their kids came back with sombreros, sun burn and stories of swimming pools that we hated hearing about. They went horse riding and took ballet lessons while we did the free things like the girl guides and playing hopscotch until the rain washed away our game. We were jealous of the well off kids and made great plans for when we’d grow up. But we were never poor.
Then, during my teens my father died suddenly, so by the time I turned 18, I found myself in a new situation. I was in college and living away from home. I had to earn enough money to support myself and I did this by working in a bar two nights a week. The pay covered the rent and I lived off the tips. Somebody gave me a present of an old bike, and although I couldn’t afford clothes or books or anything really other than the basics, I was young, my peers were broke too and there was something romantic about being a struggling student with a waif like appearance.
It was the 80’s, so after college I did what everyone else was doing and left the country. I had a spattering of German so decided to follow a friend who had started teaching English there. Within a fortnight I was working for a language school and within a year I had saved enough money to go and check out the fancy swimming pools and sombreros that I’d heard so much talk of years before.
Five years later I was running my own language school, driving a fancy two seater sports car and dating a handsome German doctor who shared my taste in exotic travel and good champagne. Even after we got married and had three kids, things weren’t all that difficult when you had a live-in nanny and a housekeeper. It seemed that life was looking good everywhere, so when I was offered the challenge of starting up a training business in Ireland it seemed like a great idea. We filled a removal truck and trailer, our camper van and Mercedes Benz and headed back to the Emerald Isle with the plan to continue generating bounty and opulence.
When my business challenge failed miserably, I decided that having to let the home help and nanny go wouldn’t be all that bad; after all, I’d have more time with the kids and I could be a better moral support to my husband who at this stage found himself homesick, hating Irish pub culture and started to develop an emerging allergy to living in a climate of mostly rain
The pressure of living on less and feeling like a total failure didn’t help the atmosphere in our new life of intermittent rainfall and gale force warnings from Mizen to Malin. Eventually he got fed up with Ireland, packed his bags, took one of the cars and headed back to Germany leaving me with a cleaned out bank account and the three kids. It was almost Christmas and I realised that there was no way Santa would even manage to get a pair of shoes down the chimney, let alone an X-box, two mobile phones, a drum kit and whatever you’re having yourself. Of course I was too proud to ask for help, and besides, the St. Vincent de Paul knew me, I had given them generous donations up to now, so how could I call in all of a sudden with my hand out?
I managed to juggle money around a bit and get a loan from the Credit Union.
Eventually I had to go to the Social Welfare Office and apply for the One Parent Family Allowance. In all my life I had never been in such a predicament, I didn’t even know who or what to apply for, I thought it was still called the ‘deserted wives pension’, which I like the sound of, I imagined myself queuing up at a barred window with a shawl around my shoulders and a child on my arm with a few more pulling out of the bottom of the shawl. But no, it was all very civil; the only thing that was bizarre was the amount of money I was expected to live off. Now I understand now why it’s called the ‘breadline’. It is exactly that. You can afford bread, or to make bread, but if you filled your trolley at the supermarket you’d have the whole budget for the week gone already.
So what happened? Well first of all I learned how to cook a healthy dinner for four for under a fiver and that Charity shops are not places that sell grubby cast offs, but that you can get a designer blouse, bag or shoes all for under a tenner. I learned that when you’re kids grow out of their clothes, you iron them neatly and pack them into black refuse bags and pass them on to other peoples kids, and that if you do that, the same thing will happen to you. A whole seasons worth of clothes will land on your door, all in black refuse sacks just like the ones you gave away.
I realised that asking for help makes you humble, and that you make better friends when you have nothing, because it is you that they like, not the trimmings. I found out that the cheap bubbly in Aldi really doesn’t taste all that different to the real McCoy and that growing your own potatoes isn’t cheaper, but they taste better from your own garden and growing them brings you closer to the earth.
Inevitably, most people who find themselves stripped of cash will find that they have more time on their hands. I began writing, something I’d always wanted to do, and I found a fulfilment in this that I’d never felt with any other of my successes. The poet Robert Graves once wrote ‘There’s no money in poetry, but then, there’s no poetry in money.’ My values were changing dramatically, and in many ways I became happier than I had ever been before. I tried to be as positive as I could and I would tell myself that I lived near the sea, we were all healthy, and we had a roof over our heads.
Don’t get me wrong though, there’s no romance to being broke. Try explaining to your child that you just can’t afford the €120 for hockey because that is more than half of what you are trying to get through the week on, and think about the trials of constantly saying no to groups of friends suggesting a meal out, or even a few drinks. The cinema or the swimming pool on a wet Sunday afternoon was out of the question. Then there was the constant fear of something unexpected. I remember thinking to myself when driving once ‘if I get a puncture, I’m just going to have to abandon the car.’ And when my son lost his school jumper, they cost about €50 a pop; I knew that he’d just have to get through the rest of the year without another one. Thing is though, we always got through, something always turned up. I remember having about €12 one Friday that had to get me to Tuesday, when I knew the children’s allowance would be in. That morning a letter arrived to say I had won second prize in a poetry competition. There was a cheque enclosed for €50. That money meant more to me than few grand might have done in previous years, and yes, I blew half of it taking the kids for a swim.
In my case I got back on my feet again. The remorseful ex husband began to pay generous maintenance payments (possibly something to do with being chased by the department of Justice and Law enforcement for the recovery of maintenance from abroad), the kids got older and I started up my writing and consultancy business again. This time round though, I don’t have the assumption that once you reach a certain plane you will always stay on it. In fact, now that I’ve experienced both poverty and wealth, money doesn’t mean what it used to, because I know that without it, life isn’t much different, and these days I buy the cheap sparkly because I like it and not because it’s cheap. I’ll never go back to spuds that didn’t come from my garden and I’m convinced that walking the prom is more fulfilling than the gym. But I’ve also learned this: nothing is set in stone and life is as unpredictable as the Irish weather, so you should always be prepared that sometime you might need to pull a rabbit from a hat. Don’t ask me how it’s done, because I can’t work that one out myself, but believe me, I’ve done it more than once, and should  you ever end up where I was, believe me, you’ll do it too, and you’ll come out on top in the end. Cheers!

Monday, November 1, 2010

How Not To Be President

They’re at it again. There are a group of fanatical Christians from Castlebar known as the  Castlebarbarians, and called so as they do not represent the opinion of the regular Castlebarians, they are, like most fanatics, a tiny minority with big mouths. Well anyways, they have set up a website called something like ‘David Norris 4 President’, but actually when you read it, it’s full of the usual insinuations that being gay equals being a pervert and paedophile. I’m purposely not linking to the site just in case the right wing Christians who created it think that anyone would want to read such crap.
The thing that always amuses me though is the claim that being gay goes against being Christian as the bible, and we’re talking Leviticus here, claims that that sort of gay carry on is an abomination. Of course, if you were to read everything in the book of Leviticus, you’d discover that it’s also an abomination to eat a prawn and that you’ll burn in hell if you work on the Sabbath.
Now the problem is this, I’ve read all the ins and outs of homosexuality from various aspects in the bible and it looks like the bottom line is this: it’s fine to be gay. But the problem is the prawns. Eating shellfish is an abomination, and I think I once saw David Norris eat a prawn at the opening of some gay thing in Dublin. They were little crackers with prawn salad, and indeed I had one myself but I’m allowed to commit abominations as I’ve already worked out that I’m condemned anyway, because Leviticus also states that it’s an abomination for a woman to wear a man’s garment. Well I once wore a pair of grey pin striped pants to work, so that’s me out of God’s good books.
So there you go. Eat prawns, be gay, work on the Sabbath or talk to a woman who has her period and there’s no way you should be president. In fact, there’s no way you should be anything. But the good news is, if you are a heterosexual misogynist with zero charisma who hates shell fish, you may well be in line to run the country. In fact, you may well be running it already. 
The only problem now though, is who the hell should be elected as President? Given that the president is someone who represents Ireland at home and abroad, they would definitely need a proven track record in being dedicated to justice, have tons of charisma and be open minded and inclusive towards all the diverse people living on the island. How about a civil rights campaigner and independent politician who is compassionate and intelligent? Throw in being one of the worlds’ leading Joycean scholars and a sense of humour, and there you have it, perfect President.
I was thinking that David Norris might fit the bill perfectly; I’ll just have to rectify the issue of the prawns.