Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Charlie and Lola

Almost exactly a year ago my daughter and I, quite by accident, discovered a series of the most imaginative, colourful and engaging children's stories I have ever come across. Titles such as 'I am too absolutely small for school', 'I will never not ever eat a tomato' and 'I am not sleepy and I will not go to bed' will not fail to disappoint children and adult alike. Aimed at 3-7 year olds Lauren Child's Charlie and Lola series is the perfect example of good children's storytelling mixing the everyday childhood experiences with the creative colours of a child's imagination. Narrated through the very sensible and grown up voice of 7yr old Charlie, the stories are packed to the brim with so much effortless humour that my daughter - who is a bit like Lola - goes to bed laughing. And that kind of laughter is wonderfully infectious. Lola, unlike her brother, already at the age of four possesses a masterful command of comedy and comic timing that many tired old stand-ups could learn from.
The illustrations really set these books apart from the standard children's book range. Child mixes photography with simple line sketches and collage effects with great results that really challenge children's visual and sensual perceptions of the world around them.
I am told that Charlie and Lola are on the CBeebies channel and that they are accurate representations of the book. I have yet to see them not having digital, but we have caught clips on the Charlie and Lola official website and played the Cloudhopping game on the CBeebies website and are desperately tracking down the 'I've won, No I've won, No I've Won' book and game set. If you have not yet discovered this entertaining duo I hope you and/your children will have many hours of simple laughter ahead of you.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blue in Blue

I'll leave the Heineken Cup semi-final post-mortem to the very experienced sports journos of our national dailies who will today, doubtless, find some way to translate the winning formula of kick-shove it up your jumper-and maul into pages of sparkling copy to delight their Munster readers. But, despite the fact that I find Munster's style of rugby innately boring and predictable and much prefer the spectacle of fast ball, clean passes, light footed manoeuvres, weaving between the gaps and climaxing in the final hurl of body and ball in tandem across the try line, Munster's stalwart, unfaltering reliance on a well-tested strategy executed with brilliance left their fans roaring for more. And I should know sandwiched, as I was, on the North Terrace between five extraordinarily vocal Munster fans.

Perhaps it is only coincidence that every single rugby match I have attended, from Mini, to Club, to International games alike, has been won on the day by the team with the most vocal fans. Today I went into Lansdowne road believing more than ever in the magic of this Leinster side; I listened to all the hype that had been written and reported about them since their sensational, heart-stopping victory over Toulouse three weeks ago as I would a sermon; and I knew, in the very essence of my being, that, given the 40% of possession predicted for Leinster, they would run in try after try with such spectacular skill that, for the remaining 60% of the game, Leinster fans would bang their drums, chant their chants and sing their songs to keep the team spirits from dipping until the final whistle heralded their place for the first time in the Heineken Cup final. And, though I dedicated my vocal chords to the Leinster cause, it certainly felt at times like I was the Sole Operator particularly after the opening ten minutes so heartlessly laid waste to the hopes and dreams of the Leinster fans. And, as the changing scoreboard began to reflect the full extent of Leinster's humiliation I could see men in blue making an early departure from the stands. If, on pitch, Leinster proved they had no tricks up their jumpers to match Munster's, in the Terraces and Stands of Lansdowne Road those who dared to wear blue had nothing to counteract the low-lying fields of Athenry offered up like long-lost Hail Mary's for the sins of idolatrous Munster fans.

And therein lies the problem: Leinster fans have no song. Any team worth their salt has a melody for their fans to latch onto and carouse in times of tries and console in trying times. Welsh rugby fans, when on form, have the power to open a closed roof at Millennium Stadium with the simple words 'Bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore'; wherever England's fans go so too does their sweet chariot; even Clontarf Mini Rugby teams have their own chant. But alas any attempt made by the Ladyboys to be heard went unnoticed as chants of 'c'mon Leinster' were drowned out by the swelling voices surging with every line-out won, every roving maul, every beautifully placed kick from Rog's golden boots. If only we had a song so our men in blue would know we hadn't forgotten them; a song to show them that somewhere deep inside within the first 20mins of the second-half we still believed the game would live up to the hype and we would witness a truly incredible day for Irish rugby; a song to hurl right back when the Athenry chorus commences – then perhaps we could have commuted some of our positive belief to 15 men who had given up the fight far too soon.

We need a song and we need one fast, at least in time for this week's Celtic League match against the Ospreys at Lansdowne. If you can't make it down to support you can catch all the action live on Setanta on Sat. night. Whatever you do, please wear blue and let's support this team who (albeit with a game in hand) are top of the league and eye balling some silverware this season.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Constitutionally Yours ...

Following on from the request by Fiona for a community of women bloggers to consider the possibilities of using the medium to stimulate political debate on gender issues in advance of the forthcoming general elections here, here's my starter for ten. So, before Bertie's footsoldiers come knocking on our doors with their clarion call for a yes vote, let's consider our beloved Constitution.
July 1 1937 is a date of little significance to most of the populace of this island and yet it is a landmark date; a recorded moment in the short history of this state when our founding forefathers proclaimed our fundamental values and our living creed. Almost seven decades have passed and, despite unprecedented global metamorphosis and seismic shifts in our domestic mores, the 1937 Constitution places an Irish woman's value as nothing more than a wife, mother and homemaker.
As a nation we have dealt with considerably more emotive and controversial issues than this, from divorce to abortion, and yet, it seems a little more than negligent that no one has sought to alter this prohibitive view of a woman's value in Irish society. Of course, by default, subscribing to the belief that 'by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved' (Article 41.2.1) we fail to acknowledge the growing contribution of fathers in the home and their role as primary carers of their children.
With regard to the mother's role outside the home our Constitution is quite prescriptive and asserts that the State will ensure that mothers 'shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home' (Article 41.2.2). For most mothers today employment is definitely an economic necessity; for others it may be a vocation or the fulfilment of some personal ambition. But, that gender should in some way provide a licence for employment is both outrageous and obsolete.
We have come a long way since 1937; neither the family nor the workplace are shackled by long outdated concepts of gender so, why should we continue to accept it of our Constitution? If our Constitution is truly to be regarded as a reflection of the values to which we subscribe, then it must embrace the egalitarian principles by which we live our daily lives.
Given that the Irish Constitution forms the basis of superior law in this country, it is imperative that this issue is give the importance it deserves and amended to reflect the actual barometer of values within contemporary Irish culture. This is a matter of great significance, even greater than the haphazard gender politics played out in today's media. It is, in fact, as Alpha Connelly, former Research Counsellor to the Law Reform Commission writes, a matter of basic human rights.
“If as stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights .... all human beings are equal ... then a constitution which endorses a gendered distribution of power and wealth in society offends against this basic moral value. In the interests of justice and equality, it (the Constitution of Ireland) needs amending.”
It is a curious indictment of our society that we have yet to have a referendum on the constitutional representation of the Irish woman that incongruously places her firmly within the ranks of second class citizen. We have some time now before we mark our X in the box when the big day arrives and we could well use that time to consider the very real implications for women and men in Ireland today if we choose to leave these anachronistic prescriptions of women unchallenged. Perhaps, Fiona, we could start the proposed caucus with some conversation on this matter and lobby for some meaningful amendment to Article 41?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Love's young dream

Something redmum wrote today reminded me of the time my son fell in love for the first time.

Nikita wore her hair in dreadlocks - the kind they fashion on every city street across Europe in the height of the summer. She was nine and he was eight and after some crazy golf they realised that they were in love. At night, on the veranda of our caravan, I mused to my husband between sips of beautiful Burgundy, at how wonderful it was to see our son mixing so well with girls.
One week later and Nikita's little sister reliably informed me on the way to the playground that she had borne witness to a stolen kiss behind the caravan. I fretted for several seconds before accepting that the summer of love had entered our holiday home and that, given their ages, there was really nothing to worry about. Aged eight and nine love is spectacularly innocent - thank God. He blushed when she called around; he visibly smarted when my husband and I cajoled him about his new girlfriend, and I grimaced when my husband told me that in a few years time they would be climbing out windows to meet each other while we dozed in the comfortable stupour of a few glasses of red.
Nikita left a week before we did and on that day my son sulked for hours on end like some petulant teenager. I am pretty certain that in his head he found it supremely difficult to reconcile his newly discovered feelings for girls with the normal eight year old response to the species inculcated in single sex male playgrounds across the country. But his heart was truly broken as the nine year old beauty from Cork belted up and headed off for the ferry back to Ireland.
The aftermath of the affair lacked all the sunniness of a French campsite. Pretty soon - too soon by my reckoning - he reverted to type. The had swapped addresses before she left and within days of us returning home she had sent a postcard. He vehemently refused to reply and by this gesture denied, if not their love, at least their singular moment of childish romance.
And so, back to redmum, where young men lure young women out of their homes for an afternoon in Mcdonalds and a stroll around St Stephen's Green in gangs of twenty plus. Between RedMum and I we have at least two decades worth of young love's dream before us; we will both be shoulders to cry on whilst the gentle and tender hearts of our offspring are smashed into pieces by those boys and girls who are the focus of our children's infatuation. I just hope that we have the stamina to deal with it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Some good news

It falls to me to be the bearer of good news because the established media appear to have no truck with positive messages anymore - we seek them here, we seek them there and we desperately seek them anywhere - a single ray of sunshine or a shining silver lining. These days every page turn of our national dailies is another bad news story; every radio talk show is congestion, tolls, fatalities, rape, violent crime and hospital trolley tallies and so it continues incessantly shrouding our lives in a pall of social disaster stories. We are becoming a nation de-sensitised to every victim's history by the unending tidal wave of misery encapsulated in each news bulletin and headline. Sometimes I catch myself blessing myself and petitioning various heavenly representatives to ward off the spell of media doom and gloom when I set forth on a long journey, when I walk darkened streets at night or when I find myself in a queue at A&E. And I can't say I am a great believer. Last week my perspective changed and I finally shook off those shackles of cynicism.
On Thursday night my nine year old son shook the house and our hearts with howls of insufferable pain. Like me, he seeks out heat and warmth wherever he can find it and, for at least a year now, has refused to go to bed without a hot water bottle. Whatever the season it has been there with him toasting his toes while he sleeps. That is, until Thursday night when it burst and sprayed a steady fountain of scorching water from shin to ankle. In an instant my husband was there to dowse the leg. I watched him contain the terror of brutally wounded skin with simple banter about school, the forthcoming six nations match and lots of talk about all the sweets he would buy our son for being so brave, whilst I bit my lower lip until it bled horrified at the thought of my child's pain.
And so we move to A&E. We follow all the rules and visit our GP first the next day. But the burn area is simply too big for them to treat and we are referred to Temple Street A&E. My first thought is that we will spend the better part of the day in a waiting room, so I fill my new handbag, which is the size of a pillow case, with bottles of juice and chocolate bars and easy peel oranges as we head off into hell that we are so reliably informed is A&E these days.
After presenting ourselves at reception we are directed to the waiting room and we settle down to a game of top trumps. Within less than a minute two nurses appear and suddenly my son is on a bed under the concerned gaze of the on-call doctor receiving Nurofen and carefully chosen comforting words.
I know that we have issues in this country with our health service, I am not denying that; it is depicted as a raging Leviathan that many Ministers of Health have struggled to tame, but when it serves us well we are silent and I wonder why. Perhaps we were just lucky on the day, perhaps we arrived to A&E at an opportune moment, but maybe we should consider that this is how it is for many people who urgently need medical care, and because they don't get airtime or pages of print to tell their story the postive messages will always be lost to a media that trades in pictures of Armageddon.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

If music be the food of love, play on!

Few experiences in my life have moved me as much as listening to good music. In my teens I might have been a Goth but my mother binned all my army surplus shop purchases as soon as they entered the house and I never could master the whole eye-liner thing. But like most people the music of our youth stays with us all through our lives and I return to the Smiths, David Bowie, The Cure and favourites like Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones when my heart is broken, when I feel my age creeping up on me like the lines around those eyes I once wanted to blacken; but mostly I return to my friends when I want to believe that one day, if I really wanted to, I could sit up all night and watch the morning come. And so, the songs that made our histories, from first kiss to last love, become the soundtrack we return to time after time to nourish ourselves on the food of our innocent folly and joy when all else fails.
At thirty-two I have become an unapologetic music crank and will listen to very little released post 1989; that was the year my heart smashed in two on the disco floor as John went off with sexy Sadie. Reared on a diet of classical music where the Beatles sometimes made a guest appearance as a treat, pop music became my secret joy, my tainted love, as my father shook his head in disgust at the thing we dared to call music. Nonetheless, I sought out my own music that began with Billie Holiday and ended with Bjork.
And then it happened; it had threatened to so often with promises of brilliant bands and unknown artists that could release me from the eighties and launch me comfortably into the next century replete in the knowledge that I had finally moved on. But it never amounted to much before until someone, who shall remain nameless for fear of financial assassination by some mighty mouse corporate entity, gave me, what we used to call back in the day, a mix tape. A simple white envelope, crackling cellophane window and hand written playlist was all that stood between me and a new musical experience that I can only describe as the best thing since last week's orgasm. And so I say, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, I'm going to Chicago for some Palace Music where I can take Julie London off the turntable for Julie Feeney. Come on Feel the Illinois-e as I let my self slip, slide away into century 21 to the beat of a much different, more magical drum! And so, to my anonymous friend I say, Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing, Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing, Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty? What would life be? Without a song or a dance what are we? So I say thank you for the music. For giving it to me

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Blog Off!

Conor Brady's article in the Village at the beginning of the month sparked off some ideas in my head about blogging, the purpose and future of it in particular. In his article Brady cites an entry on Wikipedia that expressed unfounded allegations against John Seigenthaler, founder of USA Today and Robert Kennedy's administrative assistant in the 1960s , stating that he had in some way been involved in the assassinations of both President John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. It took 132 days in total for the editors over at Wikipedia to remove the offending allegations and one cannot begin to imagine the intractable damage done to Seigenthaler's character and reputation during that time. Brady's prinicipal complaint is that blogging opens the doorways to a host of novice journalists who break the basic standards of the profession by 'publishing everything first and then letting the reader edit'. Yet while the Siegenthaler case highlights the sometimes sinister intentions of rogue self-publishing voices floating around insidiously in the internet ether, I can't help thinking that there are more bloggers out there concerned with facts, accuracy and good-intentions than otherwise. Brady equates the rise of the blogger with the 'concomitant decline of fact-based journalism', but now more than ever the established media, in this country and indeed many others, are quite prepared to run stories that they know will secure high takings at the corner shop with only a cursory backwards glance at the truth after the damage is done. Who can forget the car crash journalism and unspeakable injury inflicted on the grieving Lawlor family when the Indo chose senationalism over fact to rush a story onto the front pages of the Sunday edition, or indeed the malignant effect the unchecked venom of Kevin Myers unleashed on our single mother population over at the Irish Times? In an age when more and more people get their daily dose of news via television or internet the importance of blogging will surely rise. It's future is unknown of course, but it is unquestionably an interesting and exciting time for the ever-increasing blogging community. I don't believe that mainstream media will be entirely usurped by blogging, but I remain convinced that the blogosphere can provide a very particular service as distinct from traditional newsrooms. Bloggers bring a personal voice to reporting through the expression of their opinions and often illustrate their political and moral responses to news with an abundance of first hand experience. Paul Conley makes an interesting point on the blogger v mainstream media debate. He writes "Blogging isn't just writing. It is more. It is writing and conversation. And those two things combined make for better journalism than either could alone." And I am inclined to agree. The vast majority of bloggers provide a facility for commenting on their writing which in turn can be read as a very real barometer of public opinion on a given issue that is considerably more diverse and fresh than any letters-to-the-editor page could ever be. The success stories of blogging further underline this point as the mainstream media gradually turns to bloggers to fill opinion columns - both GUBU, who writes for the Sunday Times and red mum who has a weekly column with The Echo secured their positions by virtue of their blogs. Turning stateside where publishers have offered book deals to Julia Powell of the Julie/Julia project and former editor of Wonkette, Ana Marie Cox, who makes her first literary outing with what is billed as 'the political novel of the season' Dog Days and has just signed a deal for her second novel the power of the blog to release untutored, intelligent and well-informed voices should neither be trivialised nor undermined. Since I have tuned in to blogging I firmly believe my life is richer as I expose myself on a daily basis to opinions, dicussions and ideas that would normally be censored out of our national dailies and weeklies. I still read my favourite newspapers and magazines of course, but more I more I want to know what my faceless and often nameless internet friends think about today's hot issues. Where to bloggers? Onwards and upwards!