Saturday, January 30, 2010

IKEA Update and some very silly jokes

Well I was wrong, Angel actually filled ten bin bags full of stuff. These are now being stored in every room in the house except hers, while I work out what to do with them. Here is her new desk and chair and, fair dues, she made them herself! I'd heard so many IKEA horror stories about missing bits and incomprehensible instructions, but that hasn't been our experience at all. Anyway one thing she found during the big clearout was a pocket book of silly jokes. Now I like silly jokes, they don't offend anyone, so you never feel guilty about enjoying them! Here's three anyway:

What do cannibals eat at tea parties?

Chocolate fingers


What do you get if you cross and stream and a brook?
Wet feet

What was the woolly mammoth doing on the motorway?

About 5 miles an hour


(CD spent most of today practising the best ones on me, so he can impress his friends tomorrow : hopefully!)

Friday, January 29, 2010

One rule for them: lavish homes, concert tickets & sports cars

After appointing his wife to a top post at the University of Limerick, news broke this week that President Professor Don Barry will soon move in to a lavish new million euro home on campus. This was apparently funded entirely from private, philanthropic donations received by the UL Foundation specifically for this purpose. You'd wonder why philanthropists would give money to someone who already earns a very high salary - €211,893 in 2007, I understand.
Then there was further news of the excessive expenditure at State Training Agency FAS on travel, concert tickets and match tickets. This to help the unemployed to get jobs? One commentator got it right when he said that perhaps this was the only way that FAS could spend its budget in the good times when unemployment was low. State Agencies 'have' to spend their budgets. If they make savings and efficiencies, their reward is to have their budget cut, which is not good for the image, obviously.

Finally, I noticed a little snippet about the new Lexus LFA Supercar. Priced at €380,000, only 500 are being made, and prospective buyers need to put down a €25,000 deposit by March. But guess what? Demand is soooo high for this fabulous car that Lexus is currently working out who should get to buy one and who shouldn't. So who wants to buy these cars? Could it be the bond dealers who are making a fortune out of the collapse of the Irish economy?

Makes you want to take to the streets....

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A week to vote for your favourite Irish Blog


As a PR, I like awards, they make everyone feel good: the organisers, the sponsors, the voters, the nominees and... the winners! Since everything looks a bit grim at the moment, make yourself and your blogging friends feel better by voting in the Irish Blog Awards.
Nominations will close on Friday 5th of February at 3pm, so just over one week to make your choice.
Apologies if I have left anyone out, but my votes are going to the following:
Irish Mammy on the run for PACUB.

mammydiaries for making me laugh.

Autism in Ireland - The Bloggers for helping me to make sense of the past year.

Warning - you have to nominate all your favourite blogs at the one time - you can't go back to the nomination page twice.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Price of teen clearing her room: a trip to IKEA


Well after three days and seven sack fulls of rubbish, old clothes and teddies, Angel has finally purged her room of childish things. And the price of this massive clearout? A trip to IKEA to buy a new desk, "so that I can study for my leaving cert". Obviously. Surprisingly IKEA was absolutely packed out. So some people are still spending money. And why was I dipping into the savings you might ask? Well after the last Budget I figure the Irish Government is just going to keep trying to take more and more money out of the pockets and savings of people like me. But if I spend it first, then they can't, can they? Maybe all the other IKEA customers were thinking the same thing.

One girl in a factory


Being a career girl in the motor industry in the 1980s was like being a pink flamingo on a cattle ranch: exotic, awkward and fairly useless a lot of the time. I guess that everyone's first real job is an adventure, and mine certainly was....

The story begins one dark morning in September. It was dark 'cos I was sleeping on a friend's sofa in North London, and had no idea how long it would take to get to work. Too long as it turned out. I arrived half an hour late in green tights - blame the darkness again. Was very impressed with the plush offices though. Was less impressed when told that I would be working somewhere else. At the sharp end. Where they actually build the cars. On a massive manufacturing site where there would be 59,999 men and me. Okay not strictly true, but I was apparently the first female office trainee on site. This caused some consternation before I arrived. Seemingly the guys in the office were given a little pep talk about manners and language, and all topless calendars were discreetly secreted away in bottom drawers.

Yet when I finally met my colleagues, I found them pleasant, warm and welcoming. They were mostly in their early 30s with mortgages and young families.
What they made of me, I cannot imagine: a naive clueless 21 year old girl who wore black eye liner and ill-fitting suits, who still had the confidence of youth and was ready to conquer the world. My job was actually really interesting, I learned all about mass-production, working conditions in factories, how to use computers, and was involved in the early days of introducing robots onto production lines to improve productivity.

Often I had to go down and have a look see, and some of those visits have left indelible memories.... I was involved in a last ditch effort to save an old foundry on the site. It was like something from Dickensian London. The heat, the smells, the shiny sweating faces of the working men, the semi-darkness lit up from time to time by the laval glow of molten metal as it poured into moulds, and the endless noise of grinding machinery. I literally visited weeks before it was closed down.

Then there was the day I went to look at the car assembly line. I'd have probably got a more subdued reception in Mountjoy!
My manager walked and I tottered through the door to the trim line - this is where stuff like carpets and door handles are put on the cars. It was very labour intensive in those days, and I'm talking thousands of men, but very little machinery, so not that noisy. Heads began to turn as entered. For a few seconds there was quiet, and then this enormous cheer rang out, and it was taken up by every worker in the place. I swear they had never seen a woman before. Then they picked up anything to hand, and started banging and stamping their feet, it was like a baying mob. Funnily enough I was not afraid, just stunned and more than a little embarrassed. We took the short route across the factory floor, and needless to say I was never brought there again!

Luckily for me, work was not only for paying the bills, but was also a time for banter and chat and fun.
Friday lunchtimes were sacrosanct: the whole office, including the management, headed down to the local pub. Drink driving was something you did after a downing a whole bottle of whisky - a few pints at lunch time didn't count in the early 80s. 'Course I was up for it. But then one day we arrived at our local, and the day's attraction was a stripper. I bet my colleagues knew about this, but they weren't admitting anything. Anyway I insisted that we all sit in the beer garden, on our own obviously and, much to my surprise, they meekly complied....but there were a lot of trips to the bar and the Gents that day.

Lunchtime was also when I was introduced to the 80s running boom. Most of the guys in the office regularly headed down to the local park for a run. Anxious to be one of the 'lads' I volunteered to join in. Not being built for running had its consequences. A punk band called Sham 69 had a hit with "Nice Legs, Shame about the Face". This refrain was reversed by the kids in the local school whenever I ran past....

I don't actually remember the day I moved to work in head office. But I do remember the day I left the company: I hosted a leaving party, and some of the guys from my first year turned up. I was so happy to see them, thanks to their support and friendship, moving from college to work was easy for me, and perhaps I had left some sort of impression with them as well.



Sunday, January 17, 2010

Grace does Kids with Autism a favour

As they arrived, you could see their faces relax. Families of two, three, four, five and six, all set for a short break, knowing that their special needs kids would be entertained, accepted and sometimes educated. They knew they would see friendly faces, and that their other children would meet and make friends. This was the scene on Saturday as the Rainbow Junior Arch Club for children with special needs opened for 2010. As one of the organisers, I was there with other Committee members trying to say Hi to everyone, but mostly stacking chairs, rearranging tables and running after the kids.

Friends exchanged greetings. Stories about Christmas and the Big Snow were shared. And a new family was made welcome. Mum, Dad, two boys - one with autism - a girl.....and Grace. Surprisingly Grace was left in the car at first, apparently Mum and Dad thought that she might frighten some of the children, and they wanted the okay to bring her in from Club organisers. You see the Rainbow Junior Arch Club caters for children with every type of special needs - including Downs Syndrome, Angelman's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Prada-Willi Syndrome and increasingly, children with Autism.

Eventually Grace joined us, and she was a revelation. As soon as she came through the door, all the children with autism crowded around her. The other children were interested, but for the kids with autism, Grace was just a magnet. We had to organise for them to take turns walking and playing with her. Often, their parents struggle to keep them engaged in Club activities, but on this day, the kids with autism were centre stage, their faces lit up with joy.

Grace is an Autism Assistance Dog. I had heard of them, of course, but never seen one before, and I had no idea just how powerfully therapeutic they can be. Sadly, because it was such a busy afternoon I did not get a picture of Grace, but hopefully that family will be returning, and I certainly plan to post up some pictures then!

Note: since I started writing this piece I have been introduced to Clive, an Autism Assistance Dog who has his very own wonderful blog.

Friday, January 15, 2010

HAITI


I can't imagine a country less well-prepared for an earthquake than Haiti, says Adele Kierans, a professional fundraiser for international aid charities, who spent some time in the country. "I've never seen such poverty anywhere, they have absolutely nothing, and no resources to deal with such a disaster."
Adele was in Haiti on a fact-finding mission, reviewing projects run by an international charity in the slums of Port au Prince. She vividly recalls landing at the main airport:
“It is one of tiniest airports that I have ever been to, it's no wonder there are problems bringing in aid," she says. "You get off the plane, walk through a small holding bay - which is the airport building - and into the arrivals area. This is actually outside the main door of the building. Suddenly you are completely overwhelmed by noise, heat, smell, colour and crowds. Waiting is a huge mass of people shouting and calling, they surround you, and instantly you feel that your personal space is grossly invaded. That's a feature of life in Port au Prince - you never have any space for yourself.”
The city slums are one-room shacks, built of breeze blocks with corrugated iron roofs. They climb the steep sides of the hills that make up this city, one piled almost on top of the next. The streets are of mud, and the sewers are open gullies. Yet living in these dreadful conditions were some of the most welcoming people that Adele had ever met:
“They were so generous and giving, they would insist on cooking for us, and then would watch us eat, and we were afraid that we were eating the only food they had. But you couldn't refuse, as that would offend them. One of our projects was a Nutrition Clinic which helped parents to treat their children's malnutrition with foods that were locally available. When we visited, all the children were lined up in their best clothes, waiting quietly to meet us. It was very moving. The Haitian people have resilience, strength and a strong faith, which is very important to them, and I heard that they were singing hymns in the streets during the quake. They also have pride in themselves and their country, and don't like asking for help. But they have to ask, and now more than ever.
"Conditions were so bad before the earthquake. There were only a few hospitals, and a third of the population has no access to medical care at all. And as well as all the usual diseases you find in a tropical country, Haiti is afflicted with one of the highest rates of HIV in the world. Now the hospitals have gone, and there is no water, no food, nothing, just searing heat and dead bodies. I was there, I met the people, and now I find that I cannot turn off the television, and I cannot sleep for thinking about what these lovely people are going through."
Recent pictures of post-earthquake Port au Prince here:
Adele currently has no connections with any of the charities that work in Haiti, but suggests that giving to Concern would be a good option, as they have had an office there for 16 years so know the country and have people well placed to help. Contact Concern here:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I've changed my mind on water charging


Well who would have thought that we would run short of water in this beautiful green country? I live in the capital city of one of the richest nations on Earth. How can it be that the taps run dry?

Then I heard that the reason was not less rain, or more leaks in the pipes, but was mainly due to people leaving their taps running night and day to avoid frozen pipes, in the knowledge that doing this could result in their friends, their neighbours, family members, the old, the young, the sick and the disabled having their water cut off. I'm sure that having frozen pipes is a horrible experience, but surely depriving people of water through your actions is just morally wrong?


So I've changed my mind. I'm now fully in favour of water metering and charging, once everyone gets a reasonable amount of free water, and only has to pay for what they use over and above that amount.
I was talking to a someone who knows about water last night, and the facts as I understand them are as follows: Ireland has a derogation on the EU Water Directive that means that we don't have to introduce domestic water charges. All other countries are required to have a programme of water metering introduced by January 2010 as a water conservation measure. The Government will need a new derogation to meet EU requirements if it proceeds with domestic water charges.

Metering is regarded as the only way that people can be persuaded to conserve water - we use twice as much water per person as the Dutch for example. Some of that is due to leaks, but seemingly most of these leaks are in pipes that join the domestic system to the mains. The beauty of water metering for local authorities is that they will quickly learn the location of leaks: because the meter will clock up all the water that leaves the mains, even when this is lost through leaky pipes. So the householder will receive an enormous bill, and is likely to very quickly contact the local authority to get repairs done. I would hope that householders would not be charged the excess bill under these circumstances - I heard about a Church where everyone ignored the pond that had appeared in the Churchyard: until the first water bill was received for more than €5,000!

I certainly don't think that water charging should be a revenue raising measure, and how you stop that happening I do not know. If the Bin Tax was just designed to encourage recycling, people would not be required to have a black bin and to pay for it. My bin is full almost entirely of nappies. If I did not have a disabled child I would not need a black bin at all, as everything else is recycled or composted.

The sad thing is that if people had heeded the calls to conserve water over the past week, charging could perhaps have been avoided. It's too late now, a clear message has been sent to the Government that as long as people have free water, they will use and waste as much as they like. So I've changed my mind, roll on water charging and let's make sure the taps do not run dry again.



Saturday, January 9, 2010

The minefield of user-friendly language

I suppose this had better start with another warning that what follows may upset some people! What's more this post will show why....

About 5 years ago I started to get strong hints in work that I needed to change the way I wrote letters and emails - significantly it was about the time that the whole social media thing started.
Basically I was told that my communications had to be more 'user-friendly'.

As far as I could work out this meant doubling or trebling the length of every communication and checking it carefully to ensure that it sounded warm and friendly, and possibly adding an 'x' or an 'o' or a :) to finish...


So this:
'Meeting arranged Thursday 9am boardroom - please bring draft presentation. Thanks'

Becomes:
'Hi, I'm just contacting you to let you know that I have arranged the meeting for Thursday at 9am in the boardroom. I really hope that this will suit you, and it would be so great if you could bring along the presentation, as I would love to see how it is coming along. Thank you so much. I'm really enjoying working with you on this project. xxxx'

Am I the only person in the whole world who finds this culture of 'niceness' maddening at times?


Once you start writing this way, there are so many things to consider. Is there a hierarchy of niceness - does one person warrant one 'x' and another two? And how do you decide and what if you insult the one who gets one when she finds out that someone else has two? Then if you send a series of emails to someone and they are not equally 'nice' will the recipient worry that they have upset you in some way? Perhaps there is a manual about the etiquette of writing with user-friendly language. If so please would someone tell me about it!

As someone who is naturally direct, a bit spiky and more than a little awkward, this new form of communication is a complete minefield. And worse, it doesn't seem to apply to MEN. It's only us women who are expected to write like this. Maybe it's the latest way to halt our rise up the corporate ladder - cos we have to spend so much more time composing this stuff. Or is this the normal way that other women communicate?


Worse again, as someone who writes for a living - well I used to - I really feel insecure about my abilities to write in this new style, which is one reason why I don't participate as much as I would like on Facebook or in the blogosphere. So this is also by way of an apology! I do read all your blogs - I just don't always feel confident enough to comment.

Friday, January 8, 2010

When men cook it still feels odd

This week I braved the snow and ice to go to a Nollaig na mBan hosted by a very good friend of mine. Six of us relaxed and ate and drank and chattered and gossiped while her husband and son cooked, served and cleared away. It has to be one of my favourite social occasions of the year, with good food and great company without the stress of being in a restaurant and wondering when the food will arrive and will the chef spit in the soup if you ask.

Nollaig na mBan 2010

Menu

Melon and parma ham
----------------
Pork in cream sauce
----------------
Pear and chocolate flan
----------------
Coffee, Tea and sweets

Hungry now?

For any Mum who struggles every day to provide 3 meals that all the children will eat, Nollaig na mBan is such a luxury. I'd choose it over a spa visit, any day. But the strange thing is that it still feels odd to see the men of the house cooking and serving. Does it show how little has changed? Or is it because I'm a child of the 60s with a stay-at-home Mum who grew veggies and cooked everything from scratch? Maybe the new generation is different - I'd love to know how many single men say host meals for their female friends - it certainly never happened to me!


Monday, January 4, 2010

Tales from the Square: Friends


Once upon a time a young woman from Wales set off on a big adventure with her charming Irish husband. Their eyes had met over prawn sandwiches in the staff canteen, and now he was rescuing her from the prospect of a life of stifling domesticity in an Essex semi-d. They sailed across the sea to Ireland to start a new life. For a year they rented, and she really struggled to make friends. Finally, after begging and pleading with the bank for months - as you had to do in those days - they were finally permitted to take out a €55,000 mortgage to buy an old redbrick house in a square in North Dublin.

It turned out to be a lucky choice.
Again she knew no-one, but to her delight, the neighbours were determined to change that. Soon after she moved in, a knock on the door led to an invitation to meet up. The neighbours weren't put off by meeting an awkward foreign girl with a penchant for hats, and soon a group of firm friends was formed, all just starting on the journey of parenthood. They shared the first smiles, the sleepless nights, the first steps, falls and tricycle rides. Labours were endlessly dissected over bottles of wine - one wanted caesareans, one didn't, one gave birth at home, and one just wanted pethidine. The years passed and all the women rejoined the workforce, one moved to the West, two marriages broke up, but the friendships remained strong.

Today one of the group is a successful businesswoman, one a fledgling writer and two are currently unemployed, though very busy with their families. But the old ties remain, and three of the friends met up on Saturday in the local pub. It had benefited from the boom: there was a fresh coat of paint, a new fire and the furniture had been rearranged, but it felt the same and the friends reminisced about the old days in the Square.


It was great to meet up, and as always it was a reminder of how a small gesture of welcome led to life-changing friendships - there are always people who need friends, we just need to look out for them.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New decade, new generation


Ten years ago my little girl was too tired to stay up for the New Year celebrations. Myself and RH had his family round, the port laid down on our wedding day was drunk, and we were all full of hope for the next decade. Roll on to 2010 and my little girl - Angel - is now 17. She is the one out at a house party, and I am at home minding Smiley and CD, and asleep before midnight - though awake between 3 and 4 checking her progress to a friend's house by taxi. I have no idea where RH was last night. In his new single life, I'm sure that he was celebrating somewhere. I've already heard that Angel saw in the New Year with a few drinks, so the first day of the new decade will involve a serious talk about alcohol, not the best way to start January. She's seen the damage that alcohol can do, but I also want her to have fun while she is young. She seems to be working hard at school, so I'm reluctant to make her stay in. Up to now she has never really given me cause to worry. Responsibility has been hers since Smiley was born. Suddenly there was a very sick baby in the house, yet she never complained or caused problems, just gave lots of love to her new sister. She did the same after CD was born, even though he was difficult from day one. So what now? Hopefully, this was a little blip, letting her hair down for New Year. Maybe her resolutions will include being a little more sensible, because even with the recession, she has so many opportunities and talents. May she make the very best of them. This is her generation and her decade.

Note of curiousity: almost all recent photos of Angel have sadly been deleted. Something to regret when she is older I think