B(u)y the book!

Last week I made it into a book, a legal book, a proper non-fiction book about Electoral Law in Ireland. The author Jennifer Kavanagh is a lecturer in Law in Waterford IT and has just completed a PhD in law in Trinity College Dublin. Her book, Electoral Law in Ireland, is available from Bloomsbury Professional

It is quite an expensive book as paperbacks go, costing €150, but it is possible to write the cost against tax. I was advised that by the young barrister Ruadhán Mac Aodháin who was also purchasing the book just as I arrived at the book launch. Ruadhán was part of the legal team that made it possible for me to be mentioned in the book.

In 2014 when I became the first female bankrupt under the new Insolvency laws in Ireland, I was unable to run for public office. Those of you who know my story will remember that my own personal descent into financial ruin (divorce + home repossession + business failure + bailiffs) had created an accidental activist.

I became well known for ranting and raving on the airways domestically and abroad about the injustices facing ordinary people.

I was – and remain – very anti the stranglehold the banks have on the people.

I was – and remain – very anti the spin developed by the banks to say that people who fail financially have the moral integrity of Artful Dodger and then some.

I had had enough. I was tired of the system where being a good, law abiding, hard-working, honest citizen had resulted in one crushing defeat after another. I won’t bore you with my story here – there is plenty of that on my blog – but I wanted to stop being a victim.

So the law case, handled by the incorrigible Colm McGeehan and ably barristered by Dr Michael Forde, Richard Humphries and the aforementioned Ruadhán, led me to the High Court so that I could argue my constitutional rights were being infringed.

I blushed when I met Ruadhán again for I was a most awkward client. The sharing of reciprocal affidavits where nothing was ‘admitted’ by the Irish Government except that I might be the Artful Dodger in question reminded me too powerfully of my recent experience in the divorce courts.

However, the legal team sallied on undeterred by their emotional client. And as the government too decided that I was not for turning, the law was rushed through in time for me to run for the European Parliament in Ireland South in May 2014.

I am proud to say I left the electoral count centre in Cork with 11,500 votes under my belt build on nothing more than my character.

I had no money, no party behind me and only four weeks to run my campaign. So much for the Government ‘admitting’ that I was the Artful Dodger.

However, while my character may have passed the moral test, my financial status has not as yet recovered sufficiently for me to be in a position to purchase that rather nice book. So instead the kind lady at Bloomsbury scanned in page 71 and here I attach it proudly.

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I am proud to be Page 71

 

 

 

 

And I thank Ruadhán for his encouraging words to me as I entered the 2014 European race with all the experience of a church mouse. Ruadhán said that everybody should run in a political election at least once in their life. While at the time, that emotional, denying Artful Dodger cursed him for his enthusiasm, the post election, triumphant candidate is deeply grateful for his words.

Victories are more than votes.

I got to put my victimhood under the sword in the process. That, as the ad says, was priceless.

But you can buy the book here

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Twitter = The Modern Machine Gun

The speed at which moral outrage can circle the world can be measured in mouse clicks. Six degrees of separation is all that divides us from Cecil the Lion; that and a few million tweets. For a story that barely grazed the pages of the Zimbabwean newspapers, it had generated an angry online mob complete with death threats within hours. It had swiftly mutated out of social media and mobilised into an on-the-ground band of protestors complete with placards and news cameras. It had even become the source of Jimmy Kimmel’s normally comic opening to his show.

The dentist is in hiding with US police checking out the death threats. There are calls for him to be extradited to Zimbabwe to face criminal charges. He won’t be looking at too many dental cavities for the next little while. His five seconds of fame with Cecil might have put him out of a job permanently.

This is not the first time Man versus the Twitter machine loses. In fact, the solitary human being is no match for the thousands, nay millions, of bullets from self-righteous online activists.   I am reminded of world war one when the machine gun emerged as the deadly killing machine. Even the terrifying cavalry was rendered vulnerable as a single machine gun could take the place of 80 rifles.  Like Twitter the early machine guns often overheated, requiring water or air cooling to stop them from jamming. It was not unheard of for machine gun operators to resort to urinating on an overheating gun in the midst of battle to keep the gun running smoothly. Yet another similarity with mass social media mobs.

It is also interesting to note that the most modern machine gun available at the start of world war one was the Maxim. The inventor, Hiram Maxim, offered his design to the British Army but the British High Command rejected it; officers even felt it to be an inappropriate form of warfare. Sadly for the British Army, the German government had no such qualms and inflicted severe carnage on the British troops as a result.

Twitter can certainly be called an inappropriate form of social discourse.  Like the early machine guns that grouped together for maximum results in impregnable points on high ground, the Twitter crowd gathers together on its high moral ground before launching its deadly attack.

At the end of the day, Twitter relies on its moral superiority for it power. It dispenses with legal rights, principals of fair trial and even the basic rights of an individual caught in the cross hairs. It is akin to a bearded Old Testament warrior claiming an eye for an eye. There is no due process, only moral outrage, and carnage, plenty of carnage.

It can be argued that Twitter is a power for democratising society; it can take down monoliths, behemoths and corporates. Yet, increasingly it seems to reserve its ultimate anger for individuals who break the code. Individuals who are hunted for days without letup, punctured and wounded and if the more extreme edge of the crowd had their way, killed in an even more barbaric manner than Cecil died.

I am against Cecil’s death but I would not see Twitter do the same to the dentist. One is a lion and one is a human being and two wrongs do not make a right.

For where does the outrage stop? First for a lion, then for a giraffe, then for a fox, then for a salmon, then for a fly?  And why not for a human being – can we not reserve some emotion for the thousands of human beings dying in terrible conditions as the world witnesses more displaced people on the move than at any other time in our history.

Twitter as a machine gun is deadly. Twitter as an advocate of change can be even more powerful. It is all about the target.

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Travel writer, South Africa: Swimming with hippos and other adventures from the veld

In a series of reader submissions to the Irish Times Amateur Travel Writer competition, we meet Jillian Godsil, who finds herself in the midst of adventure on an equestrian safari

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Sometimes, oftentimes, the things you really should do never feature on the average bucket list. For example, it would take a random ideas generator to put hippos and swimming together. The category of ‘swimming with’ usually includes non-violent animals such as dolphins or whales, and maybe sharks but that typically includes a cage or two.

I was on an equestrian safari in South Africa in the Waterberg region when I met my hippos. We had done all sorts of activities on horseback; witnessed giraffes up close, viewed any number of gazelle take fancy and flight, watched pronking sprinkbok with our mouths open (and our mounts firmly on all four legs) and had even ridden in a cloud of wildebeest as they whirled in formation across a dusty plain. We once rode softly past a white rhino and her calf, the quieter of the African rhinos, and she barely looked at the horses and riders as we tiptoed past, trying to balance cameras and click pictures without attracting her attention.

On our last day, we went deep in the countryside on horses that were as dependable as the Bank of England, back in the day when banks could be depended upon. We stopped at a waterhole. My ride decided he needed a little swim himself and began pawing the ground. I jumped off just in time before he rolled in the water. One of my companions said that many horseriders died when they failed to dismount and were drowned under the horse. I’m not sure it was true especially when she continued to tell me about a couple crushed when a male elephant decided to mate with their tiny rental car. Safari myths when told at home are easily scotched; when told in the veld it quite another matter. I gulped my fear, remounted and we carried on.

When we reached the end of the game fence our guide turned back and informed us the unseasonal rains had resulted in higher than normal water levels. We needed to part-walk, part-swim to gain high ground and continue our trek. I looked around at the other members of the group expecting resistance but everyone was simply tying perishable items around their necks. I followed suit, fastening my camera under my chin strap. I must have gone white in fear for an octogenarian lady in our group patted my arm. ‘You’ll be fine.’ She said. ‘Follow me.’

One by one the front runners plunged into the waters and struck out for the far bank. The water was first still and green, then rushed and rippled as rider after rider pushed forward. In all too short a time my friend set off, but not before giving me a kindly glance. I didn’t wait around and kicked on my horse. Together we entered the water and for a period I could not tell if he was swimming or walking through the depths. I leaned forward, trying to take my weight out of the saddle as we moved slowly through the water. It seemed like an eternity but soon I could sense his hooves getting traction on the ground and we were clambering up the muddy bank the far side. I did not have time to reflect on our achievement as the front riders were now cantering along in hock-high water. My mount bucked and took off too. I clung for dear life to the saddle as water and green watery ferns slapped my face while all the time the basking hippos barked gently, only a few feet to our left. I had been swimming with hippos.

Want to feel invisible? Try hunting for a job at 50

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First printed in the Irish Independent, May 5, 2015

and featured on The John Murray Show on May 8, 2015 – invisible at 50 podcast.

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.

Pass the invisibility cloak, why don’t you.

Irish Independent

 

Fifty Shades started surge of Mammy Porn in Ireland

first printed in the Sunday Independent on February 2, 2016

Jillian Godsil, who wrote ‘The Cougar Diaries’, has interviewed people about the impact of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. With the film adaptation of the book about to hit our screens, she reckons men in the audiences could be in short supply

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PRIOR to the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey, what might be considered deviant sexual practices were not discussed at the dinner tables the length and breadth of Ireland, much less practised in the bedroom. But following on from the book’s publication, the conversation went mainstream and in between the sheets.

I started interviewing people and talking about the impact and found to my empirical knowledge that sex had mushroomed in Ireland. Taxi drivers, hotel porters and bartenders – the true barometers of Irish society – were having more sex than ever before and the women were driving the train.

Which is somewhat ironic since the protagonist in Fifty Shades is submissive and very passive. The very Irish women turned on by the book appeared to be tying up their men – and sales of rope in Woodies are going through the roof without a single shred of evidence of any DIY being done. So, the reason Irish men are smiling is less a case of ‘mommy porn’ and more a case of ‘mammy porn’, and you will do what you are told!

And now, the tale is coming to a cinema near you. Somehow, I don’t think this is going to be the ultimate romantic, first-date movie. In fact, I don’t think it will even mimic the Sex and the City experience where groups of women dressed up as their favourite character in the sitcom, drank cocktails and strode around town on impossibly tall heels.

We all know Fifty Shades has sold in huge numbers (about 100m and counting) but I am not sure how the transition from reading erotica to watching erotica on screen will play out. The former is normally a very intimate affair, the latter a public experience.

Then there is the question of appropriate fashion – will the ladies all bring their favourite piece of bondage equipment with them? And I say ‘ladies’ for I don’t think there will be that many brave male souls accompanying their partners to see the film. And for those guys, about to take that plunge, I salute you now gentlemen!

It is hard to believe that the novel was published only in 2011. The book, and the accompanying phenomenon, covered new ground, old ground and some very dodgy ground, but one thing is for sure, kinky went mainstream and there is no closing that particular drawer.

At the beginning of the Fifty Shades excitement, a number of elements were said to be behind its success. The first was the popularity of online book stores and electronic devices such as the Kindle. People no longer had to go into a book store and actually ask for a book – buying erotica or dirty books in the noughties was still like buying condoms in the last century, a shameful act that required much steeling of nerves. Now, the same purchase could be done seamlessly online. And even better, once purchased, no-one could tell what kind of book you were reading – it could be history, non-fiction or erotica.

But while the anonymous purchasing and reading may have propelled the initial interest, soon actual physical book sales were outstripping or at least equalling online sales. In the summer of 2012, it seemed impossible to fall over anyone on a beach not reading the same book. .

But then there were tales of the book being left behind in hotels. Travelodge published a report that said EL James’ book topped the list of most discarded books, which may not upset the millionaire author, but it does beg the question, will the audience react in the same way in the cinema?

For every one person I met who loved the book, I met one who hated it and was unable to finish reading. Will we see streams of people leaving halfway through, like a poor showing at an indie film festival?

My own personal reaction to the book was frustration, and not the good kind. I am a sex-positive feminist and consumer of both erotica and its more edgy bedfellow porn. I am a devotee of Cindy Gallop and her MakeLoveNotPorn start-up, an admirer of Erika Lust and her women-centric porn and some very quirky stuff in between. I do, however, draw the line at reading Barbara Cartlandesque prose just to get to a post-modern, hardcore sex story stapled thinly within such a storyline.

The writing was inspired, as we know, by Twilight fan fiction and it shows: with every inner goddess, subconscious dance move and references to those jeans hanging off his hips. But my biggest criticism of the book is also my biggest compliment to it – the role of women and its impact on women.

Ana, as a character, I hated with a passion. I hated her for three major things. The first was that she travelled hundreds of miles to interview a businessman, but never did any research before stepping into his office – instead she relied on her friend’s notes to conduct the interview.

There is one question at the end of her friend’s notes which asks if Mr Grey is gay. Ana, this supposedly intelligent woman, cannot read the question in her head without blurting the three words out loud.

This was in the opening chapter, and I think this is where my frustration set in. Why do attractive female protagonists have to be so stupid?

The second was the fact that, as an unlikely virgin at 21, Ana proceeds to have effortless, countless, mind-blowing orgasms with Mr Grey. It would appear she has clitorises all over her body, which makes her a medical wonder.

The final nail in the coffin, for me, was her rejection of presents from her boyfriend. I have to say render unto Caesar and all that. If I am dating a mechanic, then a bunch of garage flowers is lovely; if I am dating a billionaire, then a first edition book is very thoughtful. Or maybe I should have watched Boy Next Door (2015) where JLo is given a first edition Illiad by the eponymous anti-hero. Who is the foolish one there?

So will the Mna of hEireann watch erotica on the big screen now that Fifty Shades is being painted on the big screen? Yes – if only to brush up on their knot-tying techniques. Gentlemen, you have been warned!

Jillian Godsil is a Master’s student in screenwriting in IADT, freelance journalist and author. She has published a quintessentially Irish trilogy of feminist, activist and comic erotica under the pen name of Aoife Brennan and entitled ‘The Cougar Diaries’, Parts I, II & III, which is available on all good electronic devices. She blogs on real world stuff at www.JillianGodsil.com

Sunday Independent

Cougar Diaries – purchase here

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
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  • Jillian Godsil 2. I didn’t buy a real tree because a good friend is allergic to the sap
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  • 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
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  • 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
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  • Jillian Godsil 5. I was also unable to locate the stand
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  • Jillian Godsil 6. A stable boot (a work boot), surrounding by bundles of election pamphlets makes a passable stand
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  • Jillian Godsil 7. but it is liable to movement with very little encouragement
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  • Jillian Godsil 8. So the application of lights was problematic – every time I tried to wind a strand around the tree, it fell over
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  • Jillian Godsil 9. I partially covered what branches remained outstanding with the lights with some effort
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  • 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
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  • Jillian Godsil 11. this I managed and turned on the lights to deliver the wonderful view that you can see
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  • Jillian Godsil 12. And then I blamed the cat!!!!

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

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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 

The Fighting Irish are taking over the world of MMA

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Never since the glory days of gladiators has there been so much interest in hand-to-hand combat. It hasn’t happened overnight, it is rare that an overnight sensation actually happens overnight, but Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has passed the point of being a niche sport and is now officially the fastest growing sport on the planet.  21 years ago the first ever UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fight was staged in Denver, US, on a limited pay-as-you-view channel.  The beauty of the new sport was its diversity, linking as it does the different disciplines of martial arts into a hotchpotch of a sport – a fascinating, visceral, ambitious, primeval spectacle.  Taking the highly structured moves from each martial art and then putting them together created an explosive combination. In the first televised competition in 1993, in which there 8 fighters, the expression was coined – two men enter, one man leaves – to hype up the fights. But as local MMA coach and legend John Kavanagh adds. ‘Followed by the other man leaving shortly afterwards.’ And that is why this sport is different.  Being a young sport it was humorous, cross culture, highly addictive and making up the rules as it went.

 

First a disclaimer. In the 21 years of UFC being played and fought, there have been two broken legs. Period. While comparisons are odious, it is worth noting despite the ferocity of the strikes, this is a relatively safe sport, as contact sports go. At professional level the risks are higher, as with all sports, but the danger is in direct inverse proportion to the visual excitement. It is, again as Kavanagh points out, a sport where defence is as important, if not more, than attack.

 

Kavanagh, owner of one of the fastest growing MMA gyms in Ireland and coach to Irish UFC hero Conor McGregor, didn’t watch the original competition. He had been involved in Karate from the age of four, experimented with different forms of martial arts and was intending heading off to college to become a teacher. He had signed up for mechanical engineering in Bolton Street and was in his first year when an act of unintentional larceny changed the course of his life.  In his local video rental store he took out a VHS video of that first UFC competition. In the course of the competition, the triumphant winner emerges as a skinny Brazilian called Royce Gracie. Using Brazilian Jujitsu, (BJJ) this insignificant looking man emerged victorious against the plethora of buff Americans and even sumo wrestlers.  In a single sitting, Kavanagh was hooked and the video never returned.

 

Throughout his four years in college, Kavanagh became obsessed with the sport. He and his friends started experimenting, throwing armlocks into traditional set pieces. There was no UFC in Ireland. There was no UFC in the UK. There was no UFC in Europe. It took him almost six years to learn by trial and error what his professional trainers can impart after six months now. On that journey Kavanagh earned his electrical engineer degree before going on to open his first gym. He worked security at night to pay the bills and during the day he worked with young fighters. His first inclination had been to teach, and if coaching had not worked out, then he would have become a maths teacher, which was his mother’s preferred choice.

 

‘I could not in all honesty turn my back on MMA,’ says Kavanagh. ‘Even though I knew my obsession and dream was similar to being an artist, or a rockstar with the same levels of job security, I had to pursue it. My fallback position was that I had my degree. I could do a hDip and teach if this did not work out.’

 

Kavanagh got his black belt in Brazilian Jujitsu and fought and won MMA fights at Irish and British levels. He is a believer in the coach having the experience of his subject. ‘I wouldn’t like to be the dry-land swimming coach,’ he says.  From the beginning, he was always the teacher and today fosters a spirit of comraderie in his gym. ‘Martial arts is as much about discipline as fighting,’ he says. ‘The young people learn to fight in a very structured way. There is respect and discipline in the gym. Sometimes the public gets confused with ‘trash talking’ before a professional fight. That is the entertainment side of things and bears little resemblance to actual sport.’

 

Just last weekend, Kavanagh returned from South Africa where it was almost a case of deja vu. His own professional career took off when he began competing abroad and thirteen years ago he made his way to Johannesburg to fight. It was a successful trip earning him a title, prizemoney and a friend in the form of Matt Thorton.  Thorton was to be very influential in Kavanagh’s fighting and business, fostering as he does the principle of ‘aliveness’ in the gym which also encourages athletes and non-athletes to train side by side. Thirteen years ago Kavanagh’s professional career was founded and he went onto hold various titles including a gold in the European Brazilian Jujitsu Championship in 2006; indeed he was the first Irishman to attain a black belt in BJJ as well as the first Irish MMA sportsman to compete in the Cage.

 

His friendship with Thorton continues today with Kavangh earning a glowing recommendation from the Oregon based innovator. Thorton says of Kavanagh:  “Anyone that has rolled with John knows that his own personal BJJ game is phenomenal. He is a world-class BJJ athlete, and his skill at the fundamentals of each position in BJJ, are top notch. In the dozen years or so I have had to Coach BJJ athletes I have yet to work with anyone that matched John’s level of technical finesse.”

 

Kavanagh travelled last weekend to Capetown where he cornered for one of his professional fighters Peter Queally. At 29 years of age, Queally is at his fittest. A dedicated athlete, Queally had been invited to take part in the ESC championship, which is the foremost MMA organisation in Africa. Queally was the first non-African to take part in this prestigious league. Appearing in front of a huge crowd and an undefeated opponent, the odds were not good. When asked who won, a nonchalant Kavanagh replied: ‘Peter of course.’  History was repeating itself in a good way. For the rest of the weekend, Queally was feted as a hero and he will most definitely be back. While the prizemoney may have been nominal, Queally is now well on his way to success and in time, Kavanagh hopes, an invitation to join the UFC.

 

Kavanagh’s boy wonder and now seasoned UFC fighter, Conor McGregor, wandered through the doors of his gym a callow of youth of seventeen.  Although here Kavanagh pauses. ‘Actually Conor never moves without purpose. He didn’t wander in. He was young, loud, obnoxious and funny. And he worked bloody hard.’

 

When asked what differentiates Conor from other potential fighters, Kavanagh puts his finger on the point directly.  ‘Conor loves this sport. Other young men or women may join the gym keen as mustard but months and years of training can takes its toll. But Conor has never faltered. He has never seen training as a job or something to be done. He thrives on passion. He is a once off, a genius. He is the only other person with a key to my gym and sometimes he is there at 2am in the morning. That takes some passion; day after day passion.’

 

Other attributes which mark McGregor as different from his peers is his competitiveness – he’d want to win at tiddlewinks according to Kavanagh. He points to Conor’s cleverness, his savvy approach and his keen interest in marketing his own brand. Kavanagh does not mention the hair but it is an implicit part of the package.

 

But the beauty of Kavanagh is that he does not focus on one fighter. A true coach, his attention travels across a wide swathe of fighters and athletes. He is also ferocious in his desire to see the young fighters continue in their education. ‘It is not mutually exclusive,’ says Kavanagh. ‘Peter is a teacher, Cathal (Pendred) has a degree in analytic science and I have a degree in electrical engineering. I keep on telling the young kids they need something to fall back on.

 

‘There is nothing wrong in having a dream. Or hoping that Simon Cowell will pick you out of the casting audition, but everyone needs a fall back plan. For me, it is important the kids finish their education and it is something they can certainly balance.’

 

Kavangh recently opened a new gym, Straight Blast Gym, on the Naas road. His membership has jumped from 100 clients to more than 400 in the past six months. He acknowledges the fortunate combination of the success of his professional fighters and the new interest in the sport. He is finally making money from this business but it has been a long, hard slog. ‘Over the years I have had many young fighters sleeping on my coach,’ he says. With the forebearance of a tolerant fiancé, he has moved bunk beds into the spare room to continue this tradition. However, for every wannabe fighter, there are 99 people who just want to get fit or try a new sport.

 

‘I get messages from people who say training in MMA has literally changed their lives,’ says Kavanagh. ‘They get fit, they get confidence and they also find a supportive circle of friends.’ The Gym is more of a club with social activities on a regular basis – with an emphasis on family friendly fun. ‘More women are joining too,’ says Kavanagh. ‘For all new members we organise a private session so that people know what to expect. It can be daunting to try a new sport and we want to make it as painless as possible.’ With that in mind, Kavanagh is constantly challenging himself. Recently he togged out in a rugby club to try it out. He too felt the nerves that come with starting something new.

 

Kavanagh, despite his quiet spoken manner is passionate about more than just his fighters. He believes all kids should get an education – and often quotes Cathal’s degree in Analytical Science from DCU while training professionally. And he believes that kids (actually everyone) should do sport, it doesn’t matter what as long as they do it. ‘Some of the young seven year olds who start training here are puffed after ten minutes,’ says Kavanagh. ‘What is that all about? Kids need to get off their phones and into sport. Otherwise we are going to end up an obese nation.’

 

MMA is a funny sport. The original rules of engagement are predicated on respect, discipline and control. But the resulting mix in the ring can be frighteningly violent, leading journalists to sometimes question the sport and even link it, in one recent, well-documented interview, to bar room brawls. This is a quixotic jump to make, as front row rugby players are rarely asked if their scrum and ruck skills contribute to fracases in Temple Bar. And as if to further point up the absurdity of comparisons, Pendred made front page headlines in his native Clare when he rescued a baby dolphin at Doonbeg with his girlfriend before releasing it back into the sea. Not the obvious activity expected of a professional fighter.

 

And as for the Irish in UFC, Kavanagh likes to quote his prodigy McGregor. ‘We are not taking part in UFC, we are taking over.’

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s Inspire Network (WIN) kicks off with first conference

For immediate release:  Friday 24 October, 2011

The inaugural Women’s Inspire Network (WIN) formed by Twitter-Goddess  Samantha Kelly kicks off its 2014 programme with a conference to inspire women in Wexford. The lineup includes Victoria Mary Clarke, Carmel Harrington and Jillian Godsil. The venue is The Talbot Hotel, Wexford, on Wednesday 29th October from 9am until 1pm, when lunch and networking will take place. The theme is Surviving in a Recession.

Samantha Kelly, better known as @TweetingGoddess, is well known for her successful appearance on Dragon’s Den, the online group IrishBizParty and Goddess Hour on RadioActive. She formed IrishBizParty as a networking group and that has now grown to more than 2000 active members.  She formed the WIN group this year in response to her experience at formal networking groups. As she explains: ‘I found most traditional networking groups to be intimidating. They tend to be suit-dominated and very male in their orientation. Often, the timing too was geared towards people who either do not have children or who have a spouse at home to mind them.  I felt we needed a fresh channel where women in particular could come together to share experiences, link up and network in a non-threatening fashion – especially where women have multiple roles of mother, worker, wife, carer as well as business person.  This forum is intended to inspire women and we have some amazing women gathered to share their stories and insights.’  Samantha recently was nominated for The Bank of Ireland Startupawards – in the Hero Startup category for her work in helping fellow startup businesses and SMEs.

Leading the charge is Victoria Mary Clarke who is a bestselling author, (‘A Drink With Shane Mac Gowan’ and ‘Angel In Disguise’) internationally successful journalist, television presenter, radio broadcaster, motivational speaker, yoga teacher and angel channeller.   She has spent more than 20 years studying meditation, yoga and different holistic therapies, with a particular interest in energy healing techniques and nutrition.

Victoria Mary says: ‘I am fascinated by exploring the different ways in which we can help ourselves to feel amazing….to feel full of enthusiasm and energy, magnetic, creative and charismatic, and in this talk I will be sharing my top ten tricks for optimising your energy for success!’

Carmel Harrington is an award winning and bestselling author who sprang to fame last year when her self-published debut novel, Beyond Grace’s Rainbow secured her a three-book deal with publishing giants Harper Collins. She then went on to win both Kindle Book of the Year and Romantic eBook of the year in 2013. Her second bestselling novel, The Life You Left was published in July 2014. Carmel lives in Wexford, where she juggles being a wife and mother with writing her third book – The Road Back Home. She is generous in sharing her time supporting aspiring writers through her online writing group Imagine, Write, Inspire and is also one of the founding members of Focal – Wexford’s Literary Festival.

She says, ‘There is no doubt that writing in the current market is both tough and daunting as you try to compete with established authors. But it’s not impossible. By working hard and at all times maintaining a positive attitude, I believe that anything is possible. Three years ago I decided to follow a lifelong ambition to be a writer. I’ve never worked as hard or been as scared. But you know what? I’ve never been as happy either.’

The final speaker on the day is Jillian Godsil, whose claim to fame is to be the brokest woman in Ireland – which is some feat given the state of the nation. Her business failed, her home was repossessed and she was forced into bankruptcy, and is indeed the first female bankrupt under the new insolvency laws. However, she did not take these crushing failures lying down. As a bankrupt she was not allowed run for public office, so she took the Irish government to the High Court for the infringement of her constitutional rights. She won and subsequently ran for Europe, winning 11,500 votes in four weeks, on a null budget and with no party. She is now reinventing herself as writer, speaker and student. She says: ‘Surviving is not enough. We have to live even as we survive. And then we aspire to thrive.’

 

For tickets for the event, please visit http://www.eventbrite.ie/e/the-womens-inspire-network-be-inspired-tickets-12429728653