Last night I attended the opening night of the exhibition of William Crozier in IMMA, Dublin Ireland.
There was a lecture first with the curator Sean Kinsella – who gave a fascinating account of Crozier’s life and influences from post war, the cold war, Irish and UK landscapes, existentialism, and finally how he painted with ordinary paints – from his local hardware store.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Facing homelessness for the second time, Jillian Godsil explores how this social issue has become a middle-class problem
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.
I walked through the wreckage afterwards believing I had done some good; that my own personal woes had been for a reason and that I was walking back into the light.
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 unique free exhibition celebrating 1916 is open in the National Botanical Gardens from this week until April 24th. The exhibition, called the 1916Sackville Street project, was developed to celebrate the largely forgotten and ignored civilian deaths in 1916.
Until this year, little was known about the civilian dead – indeed few people realised that the number of civilian dead exceeded that of the total military casualties on both sides. In all, 262 innocent men, women and children were slaughtered on the streets of the capital during the first week of fighting.
The 1916Sackville Street Art Project invited students, individuals and organisations to build art homes for the dead – to provide a final resting place. Indeed since many of the civilian dead were amongst the very poorest of the city some bodies were never claimed and to this day they lie in unmarked graves.
Former High School Dublin student Jillian Godsil was invited to assist in the project and with Laois public relations consultant Dave Delaney they voluntarily provided the PR and marketing expertise. This weekend project has featured on RTE news and Nationwide as well as the national press.
However, as both Jillian and Dave worked on spreading the word and finding people to build homes they became increasing interested in the personal stories of the project. Dave decided to focus on a young man called Paul Reynolds and during this research discovered that he had been twenty years of age and a journalist.
‘What really upset me was the fact that his body lay unclaimed in the hospital morgue until August when a Rev Reynolds claimed and buried him,’ says Dave. A journalist and artist himself, Dave built a house covered in newspaper. His house is now part of the exhibition in the Botanic Gardens – a permanent memorial to the young journalist.
Jillian too became more involved. As the names were claimed she saw one persistent name not taken. It was an unusual name – Holden Stodart.
‘I looked at the name and tried to imagine the man. I too have a strange name and I was drawn to him,’ says Jillian. ‘I decided to claim Holden and make a house, indeed a home for him. Imagine my surprise then when it turned out Holden had attended my old school in Dublin, the High School. I felt an immediate connection.’
Further investigation turned up that Holden had been a St John Ambulance volunteer. Holden was in his 30s, and was married with a small child. As the Rising began, rumours of the fighting spread across the capital. In response more than 600 men and women of St John Ambulance turned up to volunteer for service. Holden was a senior officer in St John Ambulance service and he was responding to the terrible battle in Mount Street on Wednesday when he was shot dead trying to rescue the injured. He was the only St John Ambulance member to lose his life in the violence.
Padraig Allen, St John Ambulance volunteer and archivist, dressed in the same uniform as Holden Stodart would have worn with Jillian Godsil
‘I found it very sad that his sacrifice in saving the injured has largely been overlooked in the last 100 years,’ says Jillian. ‘I approached my old school, where I was a President of the Alumni, and a super bunch of young people in Transition Year agreed to make the actual house. It was finally modelled on the old school building in Harcourt Street and now lives in the exhibition as well.’
In total there are 262 art houses on display in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. Entrance to the exhibition is free and in time a book of the houses will be available for sale. The exhibition runs until April 24, 2016.
1916 Sackville Project: Holden Stodart – the Team behind the Project
We decided to base our project on Holden Stodart, who was born in 1883 and was a post pupil of The High School at no. 40 Harcourt Street. He worked as a clerk at Guinness before he volunteered with the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Holden became St. John Ambulance’s superintendent and was put in charge of Baggot Street Hospital to look after the wounded after the Easter week. Holden Stodart was shot near Northumberland road where he went with a stretcher party and other members of the brigade treated the soldier. Holden was killed instantly. Holden Stodart lost his life on April 26th 1916, aged 33.
We decided to base the house on no. 40 Harcourt Street as this was where Holden Stodart went to school. It also became a temporary hospital, used by St. Johns Ambulance to care for wounded soldiers during the 1916 rising.
The Manufacture of the Project
The class were split into four groups with four pupils and each group were given a different task.
First we spray painted the walls a red brick colour. We then cut out the windows using a Scroll saw after marking them out on a piece of paper. We then got a scalpel and carved lines to imitate the brick patterns. For the top of the gable wall, we cut and sanded it so that the roof would fit on top. We then cut the window sills from plywood, painted them white and glued them in. We also added a handle and a letter box to the door.
We decided to base the ground floor on the High School to represent the start of Holden’s life. We made desks to represent the school classroom. We were going to put carpet on the floor but then decided against it because we thought the school might not have carpet and only have floor boards during this time. We put posters and other pictures around the room to make it look like a school classroom.
We decided to base the first floor on St. Johns Ambulance to represent the next stage in Holden’s life. To decorate our floor we made stretchers and some miniature figures out of plywood and stuck them down with superglue. We also made a miniature ambulance and stuck that down. For the walls of our floor we got some pictures related to St. Johns Ambulance off the internet and stuck them on the walls.
We decided to base the second floor on the 1916 Rising where Holden Stodart lost his life on April 26th 1926 aged 33. We cut out different figures and guns from plywood and painted them appropriate colours. We stuck a picture of Holden on the back wall as a memory of his life. The mirror on the top represents the fact that it could have been anybody, including you, that lost a life during the Rising.
The students, led by Leslie Middleton, are William Anderson,
Sittha Bailey, Ben Chaloner, Alexander Chambers, Andrew Cloughley, Gerard Colman, Luke Diggins, Daniel Fagan, Oscar Higgins, Adam Lalor, Nikolai Leake, Alex Lin, Jude Lysaght, Sarah Morley, Jason Mullen, Loris Nikolov, Peter O’Leary, Alex O’Regan and Adam O’Rourke
In February I was invited to speak at my alma mater in a competition debate. This was a bolt from the blue.
Thirty years ago I was an undergraduate in Trinity College Dublin. I read History and English, joint honours, and majored in the former. I joined various societies and clubs, but the one that possessed me the most was the College Historical Society, or the oldest college debating society in the world.
Prizes if you can spot me… 30 years ago
I joined the HIST as it is called and sat through many nights of debates, where the cut and thrust of speakers was thrilling. Parliamentary procedure was followed, with rules and bells and points of information from the floor. Imagine my subsequent disappointment when I first watched televised debates in the real parliamentary chamber in Dail Eireann – the speeches were nothing like the wonderful robust displays I remembered from my college days. Politicians can disappoint is so many ways.
I became a committee member and from there an officer. I debated a little but preferred to witness rather than contribute directly, so I was very surprised to be invited back to speak in a competition last week.
It was the occasion of the honorary members’ debate. I was indeed an honorary member, or hon mems as we are termed, but I had not set foot back in the chamber since I graduated. Even as an HIST officer I had never debated in an actual competition and now I could barely remember the correct way to open my paper. A quick run through the names speaking did nothing to allay my fears. Everyone else held a medal for debating, most of them were now professors or barristers and there was even a Supreme Court judge part of the adjudicators.
To make matters worse I was a TBC on the speaking order until the week of the debate.
I was allotted a debating partner, a former auditor, medallist and winner of several debating championships. I wondered what he had done to vex the committee to be paired with me. He did not know the answer to this either but was gracious enough to advise me on what to expect.
I had three days to figure out my speech. As part of my preparation, I had my hair cut and took extra care with my makeup. It was a black tie affair and I thought at least if I looked the part…such are the desperate stratagems of a middle-aged hon mem.
I was up second, presenting the opposition motion. I rose, I spoke and I died. I sadly did not debate. I finished too soon. I quietly gave up my arguments with all the vigour of a retired Sunday school teacher. When I finished there was polite applause. Then I had to sit through the next ten debaters, blushing as I compared my offering to the subsequent polished contributions.
Afterwards I considered my attempt. I knew I could do better. While not a debater, I was also not such a wall flower. I put my request to the Record Secretary, the person responsible for inviting me in the first place. There was a another debate planned before term was over, this time on women’s role in fiction, and as I had written erotica, he felt I might something worthwhile to say.
I wrote to the Auditor and expressed my interest in returning to the scene of the crime. Her reply was classic – She thought my contribution would be most interesting as I was an INTERSEX.
This stumped me. This threw me. I puzzled over her email for hours.
My first thought was my desperate stratagem of looking good had been too good and somehow I had managed to slip into drag queen territory.
My second thought was that I had a good friend who is indeed Intersex (and probably unique in Europe)and maybe they had confused us.
My third thought was that I really only going to be invited back if I was very different and I had struck out again.
I wrote sadly to the Auditor saying I was boringly female, mother to two children and not even lesbian. I waited for her reply.
When it came I laughed out loud for a long time. Predictive text was responsible and far from thinking I was an Intersex, she thought I was interesting. So now my only question is should I go for the drag queen look or au natural.
Presentation Arts Centre in Enniscorthy is the most perfect building. An old convent, the conversion to secular building retains the stained glass windows and ornate carved wooden beams arching overhead. When one walks into the hall it is breath-taking, literally, in its beauty. And, as with all ecclesiastical architecture, the acoustics are impeccable. This was the venue for the ‘Open Mic’ run by the Wexford Focal Literary Group and I had been very kindly invited to read. It was my first public reading (unless one counts a reading at EroticaUK of a slightly different nature) and I was relaxed as a newbie on their opening night which is not very much at all. Still a glass of red wine and a lovely welcome from guests already assembled soon calmed those incipient nerves.
I had another practical reason to feel nervous. My youngest child had just begun college in Dublin and had, it seemed, emptied her bedroom lock stock and barrel to her digs in Dublin. The tidy bed at home did not look lived in, at least not the way it was normally strewn with clothes, books and electronic devices. She had taken other items from around the house, in a weekly drip drip loss of goods. On the last return to Dublin the printer had been the official casualty and now resided snug in her new digs. As a result I had to ring her and ask her to print out my reading. I am pleased to say my daughter has become parsimonious in her new student life to the extent that she managed to fit my 2000 or so words onto just three pages by using tiny fonts and carefully printing on both sides. I was less pleased that I would now have to read the tiny text on stage and had resorted to digging out a pair of random reading glasses – the thick, cheap kind you find at shop tills – with which to tackle my work.
I was up first which was, like the curate’s egg, good and bad in parts. I was glad to kick off the evening but I was also uncertain how to behave. I opted for standing at the mic rather than sitting as I was wearing my brand new shoes. They were bright red in colour and never worn before. I had driven the forty minutes to Enniscorthy in them so that they were settled in but I think I miscalculated. By two hours they were killing me with a passion. I reckon I should have waited until I arrived before wearing the murderous duo. I am familiar with the term ‘car to bar’ shoes but I am not sure how I managed to buy a ‘killer heels’ with the emphasis on killer.
The second thing that happened to me was on stage, mid reading. I was reaching a part of my narrative which talked about the bonehead banks and how they were responsible for my being bankrupt. I had received an offer on my house but they refused consent to sell, preferring to repossess my home and sell it for a tenth of the price. The escalating results were catastrophic and while they certainly resulted in the loss of my home, my income, my business, my belongs – they almost certainly resulted in the loss of my life. I know this part of my story, I have written and told it before, but as I reached these lines I found emotions wellsprung in me and I faltered, my voice broke and I almost cried and pulled up in my reading. But I found the courage and the voice to continue. I got through my emotion and carried on reading. What was funny was afterwards I spoke with another writer and she complimented me on my reading but it transpired she thought I had cried for effect. I am not sure whether this is a compliment or not.
Finally, yet another writer and speaker told me she had gone bankrupt too – at the early age of 21 in Australia. Afterwards I pondered was it better to go bankrupt early or late. I thought about this for a bit but I reckon early is better – it gives more time to recover, less hurt to be felt and less loss to be suffered. Young people know there are invulnerable, older folks are less sure.
Oops, it happened again. There I was, casually sauntering along through life, sending off job applications and foolishly expecting a reply but nothing happens. Not so much as a ‘Thank you’.
How had it come to this? When had I morphed from experienced professional to an unwanted ‘has-been’? Had it happened overnight? Well, it certainly feels as though I have become an overnight failure. Yesterday, my years on this earth promised experienced, talented, sought-after skills. Today, it appears those same years have somehow put me into a new, unemployable category.
I can’t even boast grey hair talent as I am not that old. Instead, I exist in a dark limbo-land of invisibility.
Welcome to the new 50. We are suckered into believing that 50 is the new 40; that because we still fit into our skinny jeans, still hang out in trendy cafés, still listen to cool music, that we are part of thriving culture, but when it comes to applying for jobs, that date of birth is the kiss of death.
I have to agree in part; when I look at the year I was born – 1965 – it does seem very last century. It is very last century, and it smacks of maidens at the crossroads, reeling in the years and cups of tea in the kitchen.
But we were sold a promise that age could be pushed out down the track and youth held firmly in hand.
So having done all that, it is a shock to discover that while we may think we are young and desirable, the job market has quite different ideas.
I first got an inkling of this new reality a couple of years ago, while still skirting on the right side of 50. I saw a number of interesting positions advertised on the Twitter #jobfairy feeds and, updating my CV, I sent off an application or two. Then I sat back and waited. And I waited.
Now, in fairness I did have some other pressing items requiring my attention; home repossession, divorce, business failure, changing the law and running for the European parliament, but none of those activities were ever going to bring in moolah.
I played my cards and waited to see what I could salvage from the fires of my career.
I should also add that I have a very fine corporate CV. I have worked for the most prestigious banks, PR companies, software houses and multinationals. I have held very senior positions and have excellent referees. Only no one has ever called.
Being busy at the aforementioned activities, this lack of attention went largely unmissed. I was busy fighting fires left, right and centre and did not notice immediately the silence. It was only after the elections last year, when I put my best foot forward and started in earnest to become gainfully employed that the empty space in my postbox became glaringly apparent.
For one role, I double-checked the requirements for the job against my skill sets. I ticked every box with honours. I sought advice from a friend who reviewed both and agreed that I was perfect for the job – on paper anyway.
So, thus emboldened, I wrote to the chairman of the organisation asking, in polite terms, why I was not even called for interview. We ended up in a needle exchange of emails, becoming increasingly more tense as they went, before he finally said he was not obliged to tell me anyway and terminated the communication.
So I was no better off than before, I was unable to say why I had not even warranted an interview and I had also effectively closed any chance of a job in that organisation ever again.
It happened again last week. Great job, interesting, fitting in with my newly minted Masters in Screenwriting, but nothing, not even an interview.
What does it take to get an interview in this town? I am upbeat, I am highly qualified and I have international experience.
Oh, but I forgot to say that I was born 50 years ago, I have been mostly self-employed and ran my own businesses and, yes, I’m a woman.