We are in danger of sliding into a modern version of history that looks all too familiar

First published in the Irish Independent on 23 December, 2016

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George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, is credited with the sage observation that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Sound advice, to which I would add a codicil – those who write the history dictate the repetition and in that case, are we actually repeating what happened, or inventing a past to repeat?

I have been boring my friends and anyone who cares to listen for the past five years or so that we are sliding into a new history that looks very much like the old one. I have said it on live radio, in live pubs and at live dinner party conversations. I am like a parrot at this stage.

Now I see it on Facebook, arguably the caretaker of trends, where people quote historic lessons and provide modern parallels. The rise of the Third Reich is no longer a chapter confined to a history book; it is now a series of videos on social media where people are tracing clear and obvious parallels between Hitler’s monster rallies and Donald Trump’s election rallies.

Where the Star of David may have isolated a minority ethnic group, now the hijab or even skin colour marks a huge ethnic community. Within the predominantly Caucasian America and Europe, the “otherness” of Muslims is outed.

It is a strange thing to out an entire community. Can they be outed where they are in the majority? Are the roles reversed? Today I saw a Muslim restaurant in London offering to feed for free any homeless people on Christmas Day. How many non-Muslim restaurants are doing the same? But that is a rational question and we are dealing with a rise of behaviour and attitudes that seems to directly mirror the rise of the Third Reich, and by its very nature is not based in logic or common sense, but in fear and desperation.

But how we read our history is a twin-headed beast, and not to be taken at face value.

Among the many videos I have watched on Trump, I saw a particularly insightful one by a fictitious news reporter, Jonathan Pie. Created by the comedian and actor Tom Walker, his character is a brash, fast-talking reporter who does all his piercing comedy parody just before going live – talking to an invisible producer about how he feels before he reports.

There are several Trump videos, but the most searing one was produced the week of Trump’s victory. Pie is positively foaming at the mouth when he rants at his producer. Of course Trump won, he says. Trump won because the liberals let us down. Pie rants that the right wing did its thing while the left looked smugly on. Anyone not expressing a liberal viewpoint was labelled in terms far more damning than any clumsy right-wing demagogue might muster.

“Build a wall”, “make America great”, “give America jobs” all played a straight game, while the liberal left threw labels like confetti. And that is never the way to win the game. With no debate, there is no understanding. With no understanding, there is no persuasion, and, as a consequence, no victory.

Pie called it right. We, the liberals, forgot to make good arguments and relied on lazy labels.

I was never one to defend Katie Hopkins, but she also nailed it when she appeared on the ‘Late Late Show’. She had a series of Post-its with labels already transcribed. At the time, I was aghast at her comments, but replayed again in my head with the benefit of Pie’s observations, I see it differently.

I also felt uncomfortable when a student spoke up in the audience. Also a Trump supporter, he felt unable to celebrate while watching the count in college for fear of derision by his liberal friends. Shutting down debate leaves it to fester underground, and we have a new army of Trump supporters going loud and proud. And all we have is labels to throw at them.

Is several weeks long enough to be called history? Can I look back on the most high-profile election campaign ever and see the trend, this disturbing trend?

And will history be rewritten this time? One must remember that history is written by the victors. Post-World War I, Germany was blamed for the war and reparations demanded. Revisionists have clearly turned that notion on its head, but not in time to prevent the rise of the Third Reich.

And closer to home, we see constant revisionism in this State. Tina Noonan wrote a play called ‘The Prodger’. It tells the story of her uncle returning from World War I and how he fought demons on all sides. At a showing in Dalkey, south Dublin, Ronan McGreevy, author and World War I historian, interviewed her after the performance. He pointed out that some 400,000 Irish men fought in the first war, that it was still “the” army in the first war, that it had not become the “British” army until De Valera got his hands on the history books and airbrushed out an entire generation.

Everyone on this island would have known someone in the army. But not everyone would have known someone once it became the British army. This is how history is rewritten with the connivance of victors and the acceptance of the populace. ‘The Prodger’ was performed last month in Magilligan Prison in Derry. A long-term inmate said it was not a play about war, but about love between men serving together. Or serving time together.

Before the next history gets written, maybe we need to understand it first and debate it without labels. Or maybe we should just write about love instead.trump

Always be careful to whom you choose to spill your fantasies

brainTroubled times beget troubled minds. Where once we might have crossed the entrance of our nearest church to ease our worries, now we seek solace in a range of diverse disciplines, from extreme politics to psychedelic culture to new world thinking and personal development.

But I have learnt that learning without humour is often lost or put into a drawer that remains unopened.

Last year, I attended a one-day boot camp with my daughter. It was a powerful day of new thinking and reorientation but one moment stands out.

We were doing an exercise on self-talking. We were tasked with pretending to talk with someone that we loved. We were told to silently tell them how much we loved them and how amazing they were. Once completed, we were then told to reverse roles – ie, to have our loved one tell us the same happy thoughts back.

At that stage my daughter started to giggle. She had slightly misunderstood the instructions. The loved one that she had been silently chatting to was in fact her horse. My daughter shrugged her shoulders for she wasn’t sure her horse loved her as much as she loved him. I will never forget that exercise. Maybe it is a question of being careful whom you choose to love.

I recently attended an intensive three-day personal development forum. It was an advanced course and we were keen, advanced students of life. There was a structure to the day, with lots of sharing but also reflection and contemplation.

One particular exercise late on the second day was to remove suffering in any particular area. Our leader guaranteed us that by the end of the exercise our pain would be gone. We were tasked with writing in detail – great, raw detail – about the thing that was causing us suffering.

Given that we were writing at length into our personal journals, I took a deep breath and wrote from the heart. I chose a topic that mattered to me on a deeply personal level. I began to write in a raw and savage way about my suffering and how it has caused deep and painful reverberations in my life.

I wrote my guts out, every pathway that I should not have taken and every path that I avoided. I wrote a minute history that was not edifying in its reach.

Having bared my entire soul, I looked to rest but our teacher ordered us to keep writing. I had already filled my emotional bucket to the brim, there was nothing left to say.

Instead, I scribbled that much of my suffering was caused by overthinking, that I needed to find a new way of extinguishing a thought, or stopping the chatter in my head.

And so, depleted of all the ways I might have suffered over the years, I began a new chapter where I posited that a young man with a six-pack and an even longer appendage might distract me from the clamour of unwelcome thoughts through the night. Here I would become fit and loved at the same time – what an idea I craved.

Finally, finally, after an eternity, we were allowed to cease writing. The relief was palpable in the room – that is until we received our next instructions.

Find your partner, sit opposite each other, knees no more than two inches apart and read your suffering out loud. The listener must not comment or show any facial expressions.

My partner was a young man, tall and handsome with kind brown eyes. I looked into those brown eyes and said “Do not judge me” before I began reading.

Of course, it was not enough to read once, we had to read again and again. I found it hard to look into those brown eyes for my messy life and when I hit the point of talking about a young lover graphically described, I could no longer meet his eyes. In fact, as I repeated my writing out loud, my suffering did not diminish but grew on every recitation.

I found my whole body had grown hot and my upper lip began to sweat. I now had the combined problem of reading my shame and feeling my body dissolve into a hot puddle and not in a good way.

Finally, my misery came to an end. It was time to swap roles.

I laughed a little now. At least I was going to be able to balance my suffering with his. Except his beautifully crafted essay, as befits a thoughtful and present young man, was on procrastination.

I am sorry to say I laughed and giggled quite a bit as he read, earnest and clear. It was not his suffering but mine and the more he read the more I blushed, although the cause for blushing was not his, oh no, not his.

Afterwards we laughed and hugged. I am not sure if I scarred him for life or gave him an insight into the mind of a very imperfect woman.

And then as we hugged he said we might go on a date – tomorrow.

Will the Big Boys please stand up!

‘Power of one’ can make a difference, so think what big business could do on climate change

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Thomas Clare

First published in the Irish Independent 19/10/2016

I read a beautiful piece of writing yesterday. It was by the American author Clarissa Pinkola Estés. She wrote a celebrated and exotically titled book called ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’. I bought it in Australia many years ago but read only the opening chapter. When I lost my house I gave that book away. It is a shame because I think I might now based on the piece I read yesterday.

Estés wrote a short essay called ‘We Were Made for These Times’. Contrary to our fears, she argues we were made for today and triangulated a beautiful conceit in which we were meant to let our souls shine, that others would join in and like an army of glow worms we would spread out as a protective blanket over the worn old world. Each glow worm would attract and light the next worm in an exploding sea of beauty and enlightenment.

In her essay, she argued we could become a flotilla that grew one by one. “Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do,” she writes. And she encourages us to hold fast in a powerful statement: “When a great ship is in harbour and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”

The power of one multiplied into many is the glory cry of our lost generation. The Dalai Lama is supposed to have said that size is not important. He compared the impact of a single tiny mosquito when trapped with a human being inside the protective mosquito net. He challenged us to believe that we could be enough, be powerful enough and make that change.

And I do believe. I do believe in the power of one. I believe in the power of the underdog. I believe in the power of passion over cynicism, in the power of right over wrong, in the power of believing I too can make a difference. However, and this is a big however, just because I believe I can make a difference in my tiny world, it does not excuse the powerful from making a difference in theirs. In fact, I call upon the powerful to do much, much more than is currently being done.

This is where Norman Crowley enters the stage. A serial entrepreneur with a flotilla of extremely successful businesses of his own in his wake, he has stepped into the climate change arena. Founder of Crowley Carbon, this West Cork businessman has created a technology company that saves large companies hundreds of thousands in wasted energy. In fact, such is his determination to strong-arm ‘Captains of Industry’ to turn off the fossil fuel tap, he promises to pay them if he does not save them money.

It’s a no-brainer, so it would seem. Engage with Crowley Carbon and save up to 50pc off spiralling energy costs. And if that doesn’t happen, then Crowley Carbon will pay you the missed savings. Except it’s not happening. Many, if not most, multinationals are stuck on small, single-digit reductions in energy usage. They puff themselves up on their miniscule saving and present it proudly like a school child in show and tell.

Norman travels the world talking about the issues. He has put his own money where his mouth is. Hell, he has even founded a not-for-profit foundation opening in Powerscourt in early 2017. Called Cool Planet Experience, it is Ireland’s first interactive climate change exhibition. He tells the ‘Captains of Industry’ that 97pc of all scientists believe in global warming (sorry, Danny Healy-Rae); that global temperatures are increasing year on year; that half of the global ocean heat increase since records began has taken place since 1997; that tropical diseases are on the move; that climate has as much to do with refugee displacement – if not more – than war; and it is predicted the earth will be incompatible with organised human society by 2050.

He blames lizard brains. What else can make sense? We all have them. It reduces our concerns to the immediate, the necessary, to the end of the week. You think that those horrifying statistics might wake up the consciences of big business and big government capable of doing big things. But no, those pesky lizard brains mean the current outbids the future. It is a losing bet and the house always wins. We have quotas imposed from every angle to reverse our climate change. World bodies, political agencies and global coalitions impose regulations on countries, institutions and businesses. We have quotas that are timid in their ambitions. Improvements and reductions are sought in low, single- digit steps.

And so hearing global executives telling big-swinging-mickey stories about their 2pc achievements is risible. Even Donald Trump would not boast about a two-inch appendage. It is simply not enough.

It is time for the ‘Big People’ to stand up and make a difference.

Norman Crowley was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Energy Symposium held in Cong, Co Mayo, on October 14

Irish Independentsunrise

I have embraced my inner clutter goddess after finding a home

First published in the Irish Independent 09/10/2016

 

I am now the proud possessor of a hammer. A proper hammer, and I have used it a goodly number of times. About 20 times so far. To hang pictures. On the walls of the house where I rent.

A little over a month ago, I did not have walls to rent. I had exited my old house, rented for the past 10 years, where I had lived with my two daughters and our animals.

I had exited our house as the lease had been terminated. There was no trouble, just the owner wanted her house back. I searched Wicklow high and low for alternative rental accommodation but nothing was to hand.

As the months rushed together, I found myself getting more and more frantic. I looked at caravans, thinking I might buy one at the end of the summer. But like time shares, caravans should never be bought in warm months. Fortunately, the ones I viewed were so shabby as to be unattractive even in the heat, which was one positive consequence of a modest budget.

I planted my daughters in a cottage, found at the eleventh hour. A friend offered to rent me a bedroom and at the grand old age of 51, I went couch surfing. I had tried to embrace the new me, the new rental-continental me, and now the trendy couch-surfing me. But I was failing miserably.

I went each day to Lawless Hotel in Aughrim and plugged myself into the net. I pestered those patient staff with gentle requests to reset the modem when the internet went down. I drank endless cups of tea and sometimes, when budget allowed, bought lunch as well. I hid myself in a corner and did my best to ignore the busy rural trade plied in front of me.

I resigned myself to several months of stealing internet while I tried to set up my business again. It stuck me forcibly that having no fixed abode made it very hard to be upbeat and win business. I chatted on the phone and joked about my incipient alcoholism should I continue to have to work out of bars with internet. It was tough going.

But back to the hammer. In the middle of all this angst, I got a message from a friend. He had heard about my latest predicament (and there have been quite a few) and got in touch to say he had a cottage to rent. I saw the cottage the next day and moved in the following weekend.

Since that time, I have thrown all notions of minimalism out the window. I have rejected the clean interior designs beloved by the very cool. Instead, I have embraced my inner clutter goddess and have been nesting with an enthusiasm that is religious in its zealotry.

I realise that I had not bought one thing for the house I rented for the previous 10 years. After losing my original home to the banks, I had been coasting. I lived in the house but it was not a home, not in the material sense. I thought I was ‘over’ possessions. I had them all taken from me, or I had sold them or I had lost them – and I no longer cared.

Now, in my little unexpected dreamboat of a house I can only see my possessions, which are growing daily. I have raided all the charity shops in a 50-mile radius. I buy things, small things, clutter, knick- knacks, bric-a-brac, and bring them home to my little house. I place them on small tables, on window sills, and I hang pictures on the walls. With my little hammer.

I have never been so given over to materialism. It matters not one whit that my budget is modest and my target shops are charitable ones. Last week, I was trying on a skirt in a Saint Vincent de Paul shop in Tinahely. In the make-shift dressing room, I spotted a tangle of coloured glass. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a pendant lamp shade.

It was intended for use in the shop but the kind attendant sold it to me for a fiver. I brought it home and hung it in my bedroom. And then I turned on the light. The bling is terrific. The ceiling and walls of my bedroom are littered with shards of coloured light.

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I, who once had crystal chandeliers, am riveted by my coloured glass. I rush guests up to my bedroom and turn on the display. I am prouder than a circus master of my precious find.

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I am the same for every stick of furniture in the house, every trinket I purchase and every plant I buy. I walk around my home and talk to the contents. I thank them for their use or their beauty and sometimes both. It is like a veneer of pixie dust is covering the entire house. I never knew that I had missed feeling at home so much and having now arrived at home, I am so happy.

Irish Independent

Festival Rules

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I can write this now. I had to wait until I could confirm my daughter had escaped from Electric Picnic alive with all her limbs intact and preferably with her tent still in tow. It is a good tent and I did not want to see it discarded with the other tents. Although I know that discarded tents and wellies can be collected for refugees which is a fabulous use for them. On this occasion and with this tent though I wanted to see returned home.

My daughter is a good daughter too and I wanted her safe home too. I bumped into many parents over the weekend whose daughters were also at the picnic. We shared stories and worries. I hope they all came home safe too.

Going to the picnic was a last minute decision for my daughter. A lone ticket attached to some friends was for sale and she jumped at the chance. I jumped too but with worry – and I am the most laid back mum on the planet. I do benign neglect with a passion but on this occasion I began to double and triple think.

I’m the same as Jonathan Healy of Newstalk fame. He announced several times on air last week that he had never done a music festival. I have to confess to being of the same breed – although it is not without trying hard to break my duck.

And so I had no real idea of what my daughter would witness on her three day sojourn.

She pulled the tent from the attic and said that would do her. But when I picked her up she had not actually opened the tent to see if it still worked and had all its pieces. I made her promise that if it was a failure she was to call me and I would collect her.

The other problem with the tent was the sheer size of it. And the weight. Then the sleeping bag took up most of the remainder of her space. She put the tent bag on her back and balanced another bag on front but she could not walk far with such a load.

She was to meet her friends on George’s Quay to catch a bus to the Picnic. But the day before she only had a vague meet up plan. I stood over her while she texted firm details.

She told me that the Happy Pear were going to be there and as a big fan of the brothers she planned on eating exclusively with them. I began to worry about food. What if the queues were too big, what if she couldn’t find the stall, what if she ran out of money?

Eat Chips I advised her. Chips are good, chips are soakage, chips are cheap. At a music festival eat lots of chips.

Then I started worrying about finding her tent in the dark, and more importantly finding her tent in the dark with drink taken. My next rule was to only drink near her tent. She was not to get tipsy unless she was in stumbling distance of her tent.

Then I started worrying about finding the toilet in the middle of the night. And then finding her tent on the way back. While driving her up to Dublin to join her friends I stopped at various garages and then at the Cornelscourt shopping centre looking for torches. I could not find a single torch between Aughrim and Blackrock.

Finally in Dunnes Stores I found some decorative Halloween-themed, battery-operated tea lights. The batteries were even included and I returned to the car and my daughter triumphantly clutching the set of four lights. I triumphantly presented the orange collection as proud as if I had won a medal.

As I said goodbye I asked her to text me morning and night to say she was still alive.

It turns out I need not have worried. The Happy Pear was not at the Picnic but there were plenty of other eateries and yes my daughter ate chips.

She did not bring enough drink she said and it was too expensive to buy drink there. However, I secretly smiled at this comment. Less is definitely more at a festival in my parental viewpoint.

The tents were well laid out. It was easy to find it even in the dark. Her own tent went up and was only a problem when the friend sharing the tent left the flap open in the rain. Even a good tent will let in rain if open.

She texted me the first night at 12 midnight as she went to bed. Her neighbours were not so good and kept her awake until 630am. The next night she got her festival legs and didn’t hit the sack until 430am.

And the little tea lights proved to be of some use in the tent itself. Their combined wattage was not enough to light the way to anywhere but they provided a little glow in the dark – enough to make the tent seem cosy when she finally went to bed.

So, she survived. The tent came home with her. The craic was mighty. She met other friends. Her legs are killing her with all the walking and generally standing around. She will probably sleep for two days straight.

And I am going next year!

I call it ‘couchsurfing’, but really I’m homeless

In the Irish Times Weekend Magazine August 6, 2016 

Facing homelessness for the second time, Jillian Godsil explores how this social issue has become a middle-class problem

 

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I’m trying to think of a word to sum up how I feel. I think there must be one out there but I can’t put my finger on it. I know what it feels like, a funny ache that lives mostly in the pit of my belly but sometimes it crawls up to lodge in the back of my throat.

I am homeless, for the second time in my adult life, and – though each person’s situation is unique and many are worse than mine – I am part of the great sickening statistic that haunts this land.

The first time I became homeless, the banks repossessed my fine home and sold it for a pittance. There were so many wrongs I hardly know where to start.

But I was stoic then. Gracious almost. Leavetaking suited me, liberated me or so I told myself. I embraced the continental way of living. Let us rent instead. I threw the words out carelessly as if they cost me nothing. I was a new woman to whom possessions were as naught. It is easy to be flippant about possessions when none are left.

I swaggered around as if being divested of things was easy. But this was a façade, and I was dreadfully hurt by the absence of things – notably my security. And more notably still, my children’s security.

Here you may want to stop me, to rail against me and deliver a lecture. Like a pregnant woman who gathers advice thick and fast from well-meaning, if censorious, others, a woman re-entering the state of homelessness tends to get lectured.

The first time I lost my home it happened in a flurry of newspaper clippings. I was among the first to have a home repossessed by the banks. Not the first but a public first (I was in the already in the public eye after I had tried to sell the house on YouTube). As the eviction unfolded, I felt the weight of injustice push down on me from all sides, and I welcomed the media spotlight upon my situation.

Now I am facing into the maelstrom of homelessness again. I am not alone. There are hundreds of families being evicted every month and moving into emergency accommodation. Tens of thousands more sit on the social housing list. For every vocal Erica Fleming, who told her story of homelessness and single motherhood through RTÉ and other media, there are hundreds of silent witnesses.

This time I am lacking any of the securities I felt before. There’s no sense of karma. I smile in all the right places, laugh as loud as the next person and perform daily tasks with astonishing ease. There, look, I am dressed and functioning. Offering words and busily attending to matters.

Last August we were told we must leave. Plenty of time to find a little cottage and a few acres you’d think. But then perhaps you have not been listening to the news or reading the papers.

The freight train of our own personal eviction notice has paid no attention to months, weeks and days in its relentless pursuit of its deadline. It has slammed through all time, steel wheels slicing through our emotive pleas for clemency.

God’s grace descended on us at the final hour but it separated us too. I managed to find my children, now young adults, lodgings in a pretty cottage with just three rooms. There they have sequestered themselves with their belongings and dog and cat. They are creating a new home and I am proud of their independence while all the time there is a tearing in my belly at our forced, untimely separation.

I am residing in a friend’s house. I call it “couch surfing” to sound modern. I am surrounded on all sides by boxes and rails and the sad paraphernalia of a rented life; nothing more sturdy than a chair or lamp. This is temporary: even friendship has an expiry date when accompanied by suitcases.

I wake up this morning, my first morning in my current lodging and look around at my life. To cheer myself up, I am calling it an adventure. This morning I have a new, if temporary, view outside my bedroom window. I am surrounded by fields in turn populated by horses, cows and sheep. It is very peaceful and pastoral.

I’m sure homeless people all over Ireland are trying to convince themselves or their chlidren that their situation is not as awful as it feels. But I do it anyway.

A field for … Toby

Toby is a beautiful chestnut Bavarian warmblood gelding.  He came into our lives four years ago. His previous owner thought he had kissing spine, a terminal condition, and he was going to the factory. My daughter Georgina fell in love with him and refused to let him go. We paid the factory (ie meat) money for him and brought him home.

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It turns out Toby does not have kissing spine. We had chiropractors and vets examine him. However, what he does have is – well lots of things, most of them mental. He box walked, weaved, has herd separation anxiety and lots of other things hard to fathom. Georgina, who as you can guess is animal and horse mad, is also a T Touch student. Her friend and top T Touch healer Sarah Fisher was in Ireland and she came and worked with Toby. Georgina used the same techniques and soon Toby calmed down, relaxed and began to enjoy himself.

Of course, there is only one thing better than a rescue horse, and that is two rescue horses. So along came Deano. Deano is a top class racehorse. His sire is Flemensfirth, an American stallion and sire of many racing heroes. However, poor Deano was not very fast, at all. Paddy Last – truth be told and he was on the way to the great field in the sky when we offered him a home. He was ridden by my youngest daughter and while willing and sweet his show jumping is a bit hit and miss.

Time passed. My girls were busy doing their thing and the two boys had a great time in our rented fields. Best buddies, a true bromance, Toby and Deano are happy lads. They enjoy the freedom of the paddocks and wander in and out of the stables if the rain is too hard or the sun too bright.

A happy ending you’d think. Except while we rescued the horses, we were sadly not doing so well with the humans.

My home was repossessed by the banks in 2011. Prior to that we moved into our beautiful rented cottage in County Wicklow. The boys were joined by our rescue dog and cat. We were all set to live happily ever after – or at least until I managed to exit bankruptcy and get a job.

Read Here for the Human Story

Then disaster fell. Our lease was terminated. It officially ends on June 20, 2016. Right now, we are overhanging our lease. We are still paying the rent but we have to find another place for us and our horses.

That’s where you come in. We are trying to buy a field nearby. A field that will be ours. A field that we cannot be evicted from. A field that the banks cannot seize. We have found a beautiful spot. But we need help securing the cost.

We have been told over and over that horses are not as important as human beings. We know that but having rescued our beautiful horses we would not see them abandoned or worse. Possessions are not important but security is. We want the security of having a field to keep Toby and Deano safe.

We have found the field. It is beautiful. And we need help securing it.

A field. The Field. Our field – with your help.

Go on buy a cup of tea for Toby – Go on Go on Go on!  Just €3 will make a big difference to us.

When Viagra spammers switch to Alzheimer’s, it’s time to take notice

First printed in the Irish Independent June 1 2016

We have to help carer and sufferer break free from their prisons

When shoe shiners give you stock market advice, it’s time to sell your shares. When taxi drivers advise on where to buy abroad, it’s time to stay home.

But when your spam switches from Nigerian businessmen, cheap Viagra and belly fat pills to cures for Alzheimer’s Disease, then it is time to stand up and pay attention.

And none too soon. According to the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, the number of people living with dementia in Ireland is greater than 50,000 this year. And that is probably a serious underestimation of the problem, since there is no official register of people with dementia.

A large proportion are cared for by family members and it is generally acknowledged that family carers do not routinely get support from State services as a consequence. Add in to that mix the medical postcode lottery that persists across the country and it is obvious that certain black spots have huge implications, not only for sufferers of dementia but also their carers.

Unlike minding a family member with, say, cancer, caring for dementia is treated both as something the family can manage and also as an unspoken burden. Reaching breaking point is therefore a very real concern as it creeps up despite denial and the turning of blind eyes.

There is still a resistance to acknowledging dementia. We all know we age, deus volens, and we all know there is a heightened chance of dementia creeping in as we age; yet there is still something shameful about the condition. People with dementia are kept under lock and key and sometimes that is not a figure of speech.

What is even more worrying is some 4,000 of those are considered young, under 65 and living with early onset dementia.

Pat Fleming was one of those people, the early onset ones. He developed early onset Alzheimer’s living in the UK in his early 50s. A single man, his condition initially came to light when his family noticed erratic phone conversations before his diagnosis became apparent and they brought him home. Christy, his brother and long-time wellness practitioner, stood up for his brother. He refused to let him be pushed into the background even as Pat lost basic communication skills. Soon Pat was unable to tell anyone his name. He smiled and was happy but words eluded him like forgotten poems.

Christy assembled a powerful team of healers around his brother, from music to holistic healing, from drama to massage. He made a documentary about these treatments and the positive impact they had on Pat. At one point in the documentary, Pat lapses into conversation with an actor friend.

They speak no language known to man but a lively interaction ensues – indeed it is hard to consider the gobbledegook exchange as anything but real conversation. The beauty of being able to converse without racking his brain for words is powerful for Pat. Later in the documentary he sings too and his joy is very obvious.

Pat sadly died two years later but Christy is still fighting the fight – to help both sufferer and carer. He has planned a free seminar on June 25 in Dublin to help both. This has become his passion and cause.

Music is one of the last memories to go. Sr Bernadette Sweeney of St Agnes School in Crumlin recognises this powerful opportunity. Previously she was responsible for bringing strings into her school and forming an orchestra that featured in an RTÉ documentary.

This time around she has founded Memory Lane, a choir for those with dementia. When questioned if the choir might be a sop to amuse the members, she strongly denies that the choir is about tokenism. Her passion when speaking of the positive impact of music is persuasive and three days later I attend a rehearsal of the choir to see for myself.

The choir is made up of people with dementia and their carers. There is a song book with more than 100 lyrics. There is a professional music teacher and a pianist. This is certainly no gesture.

I am given a songbook and join in with the familiar songs, mostly taken from the last century.

The choir is very tuneful. I sit beside a potential new member; we met on the way in. He tells me I have a sweet voice. I am pleased; singing with this choir is a very happy experience.

Afterwards, I mingle with the carers and their loved ones. One woman in particular engages me in conversation. She is her mother’s full-time carer and her eyes rarely stray anywhere else. I suggest she attend Christy’s seminar but she checks herself. Can she bring her mother as there is no one else to mind her? I confirm her mother is also welcome, realising with a jolt how imprisoned she feels.

It is time to review the incarceration of both sufferer and carer and swap that prison for a prism through which both can experience some compassion and joy. To attend the free seminar on Disrupting Alzheimer’s, please visit www.disruptingalzheimers.org or email disruptingalzheimers@gmail.com.

Desperately seeking …Me!

First published in the Irish Independent on May 18, 2016

We are a nation of lost souls. We have swapped the security blanket of religion for the cold harsh light of truth. We wander like bewildered two-year-olds lost in a grocery store. What began like a moment of freedom has swiftly translated into a terrifying ordeal. We have three choices: stay out in the cold, embrace it even; return to our mother’s arms and the refuge that lies within. Or we can seek new truths, new comforts.

 jordan belfort

The latter choice, the era of self-enlightenment is truly upon us. It is the new drug of the thinking classes, the opiate we choose in the search for fulfilment. We had become a nation of fast food snackers and now we need substance.

The route to enlightenment has many paths. Last year, I attended a Jordan Belfort seminar – he of the Wolf of Wall Street fame. The seminar was aimed at making money but he caught the mood of the audience at an early stage.

Jordan scanned the crowd and sympathetically called us out. We were there to learn how to make money but he ringed our wings by calling on our pain. No one with a successful business attends a motivational sales seminar by Jordan Belfort, pictured below. Instead, injured souls seeking assurance gather to hear the magic patter. If the lottery is a poor man’s tax, then motivational sales seminars are an aspiring (or is that failing?) entrepreneur’s levy.

Jordan’s heart-spring moment was when he explained why some people were ducks and some were eagles. No one wants to be a duck, not even the ducks. Belfort told some funny stories about the duck mentality and in a move splendidly focused for the Irish audience, spoke movingly and compassionately about how a lot of the eagles in the audience had taken a beating in the recession.

How we had been flattened and lacked certainty. How we had begun thinking like ducks but that was okay because it didn’t mean we were ducks. The very fact that we were here today meant we were so, not ducks, oh no, but eagles about to get a new lease of life. And everyone clapped and everyone believed they had a chance to win the lottery.

Last month, I attended the Landmark Forum, a pathway to personal development and sometimes dismissively termed a cult, a case which it energetically rebuts. It may have some of the appearances of a sect; it focuses on obedience, it demands commitment and it extracts promises from its participants. It practises secrecy in some parts and full-on proselytising in others. It does not advertise its wares, but uses the Forum members to bring in new members.

Personal development is a different kettle of fish to financial development. For one, the end goal is a lot more significant and for another, it is possible without the intervention of external and random forces. It is possible. And this is the foundation of the Forum – the possible.

The course unfolds under three non-stop days of intense training. Then there is the sharing – the even more intense bonds formed through people sharing at the deepest level of their lives. It felt like being in the trenches; there was nothing too base to be shared and nothing too insignificant to be celebrated.

It may sound as though this is a transitional, gradual process but in fact it happens very fast. At 10.30 on day one, I shed my first tear. However, I had already laughed – big guffaws of laughter – at least an hour before. It had become a family event very quickly, only we moved from the trauma to the resolution at the speed of light.

Does that sound a little mad? It is a little mad.

Taking part in the Forum was a rollercoaster of a ride. Aside from the tears, the laughter and the sharing, there was plenty of anger. It is not easy to tear people apart without breaking a few long-held beliefs and opinions. But when the silence surged softly backward when the plunging hooves were gone, we looked at each other and we were all good. We were our word. We were made man, re-made man.

Just recently, I attended the funeral of my father’s best friend.

They are both now in the Summerlands, as they say in these parts, hotly discussing the politics of the day no doubt, going to the bookies or sharing a laugh. To my surprise, I found a resurgence of traditional comfort; maybe my seeking had re-opened a door backwards as well as forwards.

His son, a fine musician and lecturer in music, invited a Trinity choir to sing in the stalls. Being a Protestant service, we had many fine hymns. Being a Protestant service, the congregation all sang the hymns lustily, myself more so than anyone.

It has been some time since I was in a church and longer still with the benefit of a powerful choir at my right elbow. I reached back into the childhood of my beliefs and the comforts of hymns settled around me like a blanket.

Lame ducks, shared emotions, the endless possibility of humans, and hymns – all are beautiful and empowering and good – but the greatest of these are hymns.

Should he stay or should he go?

 

Even when @TheNotorious is not at press conferences he is still dominating them.  The curiously named Dana White looked sheepish at a press conference yesterday (April 23) when despite Conor’s absence he was still the centre of the questions.  His smile when saying he was not cross with Conor had all the authenticity of a Cheshire cat and was only from the teeth out. In all the not present not participating Conor was mentioned 53 times.

Do not be confused – this is a major battle of hearts and minds. It is a David with a Goliath-sized shadow pitched against the murkier side of UFC where finance holds sway and fighting rules are as clear and transparent as the Cat’s smile.

Other MMA fighters have joined the cause backing Conor’s decision not to be pushed around by the UFC.

However, there is an obvious difference between Conor and other fighters, he has the deep pockets to pick a fight. It could be argued he is also has more to lose if he doesn’t get his way but that is a moot point – he has picked the fight and the world looks on to see who will win.

It is more interesting given his last fight, his leapfrogging of classes and his loss. In that loss he gained more support from the nervous supporters on the fringe of acceptable society. He displayed grace, not an attribute much associated with Conor before. It also played into his emerging love for all things Irish and home: traits and passions obviously very close to his heart but only emerging into a wan sunlight after the fight.

Conor has dreamed big, bigger than his hope, and pulled it off.  In leapfrogging into his unsuccessful fight he set himself for not a fall but MMA immortality. We believed in his thirteen seconds of fame. We believed that he had fought all his life for that thirteen seconds of fame. Yet when he was defeated in the last fight he still emerged the winner. It is hard to pinpoint how but somehow Conor did better than Diaz in the subsequent publicity.

However, he had to do the next thing, whatever that was. We certainly did not expect him to retire on Twitter and thank everyone for the cheese. We did not expect him to say he was not retiring less than 48 hours later on his other favourite medium, Facebook. His coach John Kavanagh is echoing his digital footprints. Is this a digitally choreographed dance?  Is this thought out? It could be argued a moment of churlishness on Conor’s part has been skilfully turned into a righteous stance – hard to prove it either way currently. One imagines he will have to go all the way now to make a credible blow for fighter freedom.  This is the ultimate divisional jump – from fighter to protester – and we want him to win this time. A second failure is not likely to make the grade.

I hope he does win. I liked his passionate patriotism; it felt genuine. On principle I dislike the alickadoos profiteering and benefitting literally from the sweat of the players be it in rugby, football or especially in MMA.

Indeed, not only is he playing the UFC at their own game, he has just outgamed them. In a message on Facebook he hit it on the nail:

There had been 10 million dollars allocated for the promotion of this event is what they told me. 
So as a gesture of good will, I went and not only saved that 10 million dollars in promotion money, I then went and tripled it for them.
And all with one tweet.

Maybe it is time for principled decisions to make a comeback.  And for the little man to stand tall.