Messines – Happy Christmas Everyone!

 

Don Mullan, author, humanitarian and Christmas Truce ambassador, stood in front of two graves in Messines, Belgium. On the left was Private T Delaney of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who died on Christmas Eve 1914 and on the right, was Private M Murphy of the same division who died on December 30th.  It was a charged and emotional moment as he spoke of the 1914 Christmas Truce. That first Christmas in the war that was to end all wars and had already broken another promise of being over by Christmas. The gap in the dates on the two gravestones indicated that the truce, or at least the death toll, had temporarily stretched for five days. In a war that killed 13,000 men a day, this was a significant easement. Mullan said if the dead solders could talk, they would exhort the living to live, live, live. We, the Waterford Omagh Peace Choir, sang Red is the Rose with difficulty. Everyone was obviously and visibly upset, especially the very youngest members, and we struggled through the verses. This moment had been four years in the planning and the choir carried its emotion in the song.

 

The 1914 Christmas Truce is well documented at this stage. It is said a young German tenor sang Silent Night or Stille Nacht, prompting the Allies soliders to sing carols in return. Tentatively, solders from each side emerged from the trenches and exchanged cigarettes and brandy. They showed the ‘enemy’ pictures of their loved ones. They played a game of football with the Germans winning 3-2. It is one of the more extraordinary and poignant stories to emerge from the senseless slaughter of millions, 18million to be more accurate, before the carnage finished.

 

It had been intended that Jeffrey Donaldson and Martin McGuiness would accompany the choir but the talks breaking down in Stormont had put paid to that plan. Instead, Brenda Hale, MLA, joined the 40-strong choir on our trip. Her story moved us deeply. Her husband had been an officer in the British Army, but had been killed fighting in Afghanistan five years ago. Her profound dignity and sorrow touched us on a very personal level. She spoke movingly of the sacrifice her family had paid for the price of democracy. In Brenda we could see the human cost to war, any war.

 

The choir itself had been founded out of war and the Omagh bombing in 1998 when Phil Brennan, musician and writer based in Waterford, reached across the divide to use music to heal. Over the years the choir had grown to encompass singers from Tullow, Wicklow, Gorey, and even Clare when renowned tenor Jerry Lynch brought his haunting version of A Silent Night to the mix.  The choir had been singing this concert for the past four years and finally had arrived in Messines to give the ultimate Christmas Truce concert.

 

Messines is the smallest city in Belgium and suffered horrendously during World War 1. The entire city was raised to the ground, with only the crypt of St Niklaas church remaining. During the war, the crypt was used as a medical space and a young Bavarian officer was treated for gas inhalation there. He felt it was dishonourable to greet the enemy that Christmas day. His name? Adolf Hitler. The choir visited the crypt and its cold felt even more oppressive with this story. We sang Silent Night in the chill air as if to stem the horror of the memory.

 

Messines is significant for Ireland as two Irish Divisions fought side by side in the battle of Messines Ridge in 1917. Catholic and Protestant from the 36 Ulster Division and the 16 Irish Division fought together and suffered terrible losses. Indeed, three old boys from my Dublin school, The High School, perished on that very battle field: Corporal William Francis, Captain George Porter and Captain Charles Alexander. There are links everywhere that cannot be severed or ignored. In 1998, ironically the same year as the Omagh Bombing, The Island of Ireland Peace Park was unveiled. The park was built by young people from Ireland to commemorate the Irish soldiers, north and south, who perished during World War I.  We visited this beautiful and simple park with its stunning round tower – the slit windows that only light the interior on the date of the Armistice – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. There we formally changed the name of our choir from Waterford Omagh Peace Choir to the Island of Ireland Peace Choir in the presence of the Mayor of Messines.

 

Afterwards we travelled to St Matthew’s church to give our concert. We sang from our hearts, the memory of the graves of the solders still in our thoughts and none more so that the tragically engraved stones for unknown solders bearing the inscription – A Soldier of the Great War – known onto God.

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OMG look what the cat did to the Christmas Tree

 

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  • OK – Let me confess about the twelve days of my Christmas tree:
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  • Jillian Godsil 1. My youngest normally does our christmas decorations but she is away until Christmas eve
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 2. I didn’t buy a real tree because a good friend is allergic to the sap
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 3. I couldn’t find the old one for ages and finally I did but I appear to have lost the middle piece for I am sure it was taller than that before
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 4. The two pieces I did find were very squashed and despite pulling and prodding I was not able to much improve their appearance
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 5. I was also unable to locate the stand
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 6. A stable boot (a work boot), surrounding by bundles of election pamphlets makes a passable stand
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 7. but it is liable to movement with very little encouragement
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 8. So the application of lights was problematic – every time I tried to wind a strand around the tree, it fell over
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 9. I partially covered what branches remained outstanding with the lights with some effort
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 10. I then tried to hang ornaments but the wobbliness of the tree meant that I had to hang them more for balance than ornament
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 11. this I managed and turned on the lights to deliver the wonderful view that you can see
    5 hrs · Like · 1
  • Jillian Godsil 12. And then I blamed the cat!!!!

Messines – The 1914 Christmas Truce

We traveled to Messines for an emotional celebration of the 1914 Christmas Truce. The Waterford-Omagh Peace officially changed its name to the Island of Ireland Peace Choir

Watch the news here 

Here we are singing in Iveagh House with President Emeritus Mary McAleese and in the Independent the next day

RTE  RTE video 

And we were also featured on Nationwide on December 19, 2014

 

And we went a bit viral along the way ….. including marking it into the UK Telegraph 

graves

 

Mixing your genres – Feminist, Activist, Comic ….Erotica!

How do you make the medicine go down? With a spoon full of sugar of course.

Watch me explain on video here

 

Last year when I found myself speaking into a vacuum about debt and austerity in Ireland, I decided to use the one weapon at my disposal, the one thing the banks could not take from me – namely my pen – and I wrote a trilogy that has at its core the harsh human cost of our economic tragedy. And I say tragedy because most of what has happened to Ireland was so unnecessary. I can guarantee that in all the reviews of 50shades there is not one mention of the collapse of the American banking system. Whereas in the reviews of my humble trilogy there are loads of references to the social and economic landscape that is Ireland today.

So, if you fancy the idea of reading about Ireland in recession, spiced up with some very naughty bits (for people cannot live by recession alone) then I think it would be a very good thing to buy and read my books. Telling the truth through fiction (and naughty bits) seems like an honourable thing to do. And reading about Ireland in Austerity is also an honourable pastime.

Here is me talking at the Women’s Inspired Network in Wexford to explain how I came to mix my genres.

The Cougar Diaries – thinking women’s erotica – Also read by men (and students of modern Irish history)

The Cougar Diaries, Part One (UK) (US)

The Cougar Diaries, Part Two (UK) (US)

The Cougar Diaries, Part Three (UK) (US)

and if you prefer hard copies – why not visit Lulu.com

xmas picture

I used to be an Asshole – Lessons in Genteel Poverty (with apologies to my mother for the headline)

Genteel Poverty

I met a new friend last year. He once had a good job in the private sector but fell into trouble, lost his job and put his home in jeopardy. His new found interest in debt propelled him into a filmic project to talk about the impact of financial ruin on individuals. He asked me, as the then poster girl for debt, to talk about my experiences. And he said something that had a huge impact on me. His words went as follows – I used to be an asshole but I’m okay now. I didn’t have to ask him to explain. As someone who had crossed over to the other side of the debt fence, I knew exactly what he meant. Applying the pejorative noun to myself, it wasn’t that I had literally been such an insensitive person, but I little knew the privations of everyday poverty while still gainfully employed. And that is the kind of privation that wears you down. It’s not the big things, although God knows that can be tough too, but the financial destitution that leaves you with no money in your wallet at the end of the week, or even worse, nearer the start, is the kind of soul destroying existence that breaks you down. And it is not until you cross that line that you can even begin to comprehend the fragility of your soul. An extra egg for your tea may not have added a gloss to your soul, but staring at the empty cup can pare it away, sliver by tiny sliver.

To be honest, I am good without possessions. I have to be since I have either lost them, was dispossessed of them or in happier moments, managed to flog them. I am, however, in possession of a very fine collection of shoes, all costing in the range of €10, in the size of 8 and with tottering high heels. I may never wear the half of them as they gather dust on my book shelves (where else would rogue shoes retire to) but they served a purpose over the recent years as my buying powers diminished to the point of necessity. Shoes are never a necessity, not matter what the infamous Mrs Marcos may have argued. My dust laden bargains sing to me still. It was my own swan song of commercialism.

So having established my impecunious state, let me try and tell you what it feels like to be the part of the new class, the genteel poor. This is where the coping classes meet the severely downtrodden and out-of-all-luck classes.  It is akin to ironing the front of your shirt, but leaving the remaining, and unseen cloth, creased. I thought it was only a passing phase, one to be shaken off with a new job offer and reinstatement of financial comfort. They say it is better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all, but I might argue it is easier never to have to have loved. It’s the losing that is the trouble, the chink too wide that fosters the loss of self.

The first I knew of my new genteel state was the change in grocery shopping. Not only was the weekly filled-to-the-brim basket a distant memory, my choice of shops and what I bought altered fundamentally. Once, at the start of my slide into genteel poverty, I arrived at a till with insufficient cash to pay for my food. I had to leave the trolley, grunting ‘I’d be back’ in a poor Arnie imitation. I was, once I recovered my rainy-day notes hidden down the back of the sofa, but not without embarrassing my teenage daughter to the point of mortification. I didn’t like to tell her, but it was to get worse. I began shopping in the different discount stores to create a full shop. I stopped buying anything in bulk, including obvious items such as toilet rolls. I literally didn’t have the money to purchase more than a week’s supply. So any possible bargains that I might have availed of, as a broke person, were beyond my means. The irony was not lost on me. They say that people waste as much as a quarter of the food they buy, having to dump it uneaten. I would argue that mostly happens in households where food is bought in bulk. When you buy vegetables for the week, they are unlikely to be chucked out. Our portion size goes down too. When I purchase those popular ‘three for a tenner’ deals in one of our homegrown multiples and where the fish portions are calculated on the basis of leprechaun appetites, we manage to divide the two tiny fillets between three. It can be very tasty but I did not expect nouveau cuisine to be so popular in Ireland in 2014.

Then there is the discount shelf in the more expensive multiples.  There is a technique to purchasing off the discount shelf as the actual shelf is tiny – a bare two feet wide and two unrelated shoppers would find it difficult to stand shoulder to shoulder and view the items. A gradual crawl around the aisle is first needed to make sure no one else is looking at the food on offer. If someone is already there, then a detour to another aisle is necessary until you can get in line. Once there, you can view the very mixed range of food stuffs – from meat to fish to funny cast-offs – which are labelled with their mark down.

On one occasion, my daughters and I saw steak on the shelf but it was not marked down. We hesitated. Then I decided to be a grownup about the situation. I grabbed the package and marched over to the butcher’s counter. A sign said that Mike was on duty, but he wasn’t. It was Tony or something similar. He looked at me and then at the steak before informing me that particular steak didn’t get marked down until 4pm – which was about forty minutes from that time. I wanted to remonstrate with him about responsible and accurate price marking and what would have happened had I tried to pay for it before 4pm. Even as I felt the familiar indignation wind up in my brain about such poor labelling, I deflated it immediately. It would have been hard to take the high moral ground when looking for discounted foods. I thanked him, returned the meat to the shelf and left without buying it. Outside in the car, I started to cry but my girls just laughed, not unkindly, at me. They loved getting a bargain, they said. I loved getting a bargain, they reminded me. But all I could think was while I loved getting a bargain, I hated being reliant on one.

The necessity continues with that other staple of country life, the car. I am now the proud possessor of a thirteen year old Opel Corsa which is very cheap to run. And the annual car tax is only €180 – so how come I could only afford to tax it for six months? It is the same with my petrol consumption. Do you realise that the optimum speed to run a car of that age and make is at 40 mph? Well, if you are ever stuck behind me on a country road or overtake me on the motorway, you’ll know the reason why.

Welcome to the brave new world!

Jillian Godsil

This article first ran in the Sunday Independent on Sunday 30 November, 2014