Category Archives: Community

Life in a goldfish bowl

 

Living life in a goldfish bowl you are contained in a very small space. This can be a good thing as you can feel protected from influences outside the bowl. As a metaphor for life though, it’s a wakeup call (for me), as life in the goldfish bowl also inures you against the wonders and challenges that occur in the world outside the bowl.

If you were accustomed to living in the ocean for years, you developed strategies that protected you against predators and danger. Your survival skills were at the ready and you were always prepared to protect, react, and survive. Life outside the bowl also taught you how to communicate and help others who assisted you in being a member of the community of swimmers who were part of the greater ocean and who faced the daily challenge together and collectively.

By my own admission I retreated into a goldfish bowl. Loss and inertia overtook me and I retreated into a small and lovely goldfish bowl. I have inhabited it for five years now.

It’s easy to delude yourself into believing that you are living a life inside your gilded goldfish bowl, because there are no challenges. Life just goes on with the same beautiful plants and landscapes that are always lovely and unchanging, but I am slowly dying of boredom and stupor.

Terrifyingly I am attempting to crawl up the sides of my bowl and cast myself back into the ocean. I am older, slower, and not as vigorous as I once was, but I believe that with a bit of support from the greater swimmers out there, I will make it.

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The Irish Gaeltacht – Triple Bunk Beds and Fridge Freezers…..

“Going to the Gaeltacht” is a great Irish tradition. It is the first rite of passage for many teenagers in Ireland and it has been happily in existence since the early 1970’s. Leaving your parents for a month to go away as a boarding student to “Irish College” in the West of Ireland in the middle of the summer holidays in order to encourage a fluency of the Irish language is how the deal is sold….How it is perceived by the students who go there is entirely another matter. I was that teenager back in 1970 something, and the idea of getting away to a remote rural location, far away from my parents for a whole month was better than winning the modern day lottery. I think that I would have willingly taken on Japanese lessons if it meant that I could get away, unshackled from home for a four week period.

My older sister Bernice and I were willingly dispatched to County Cork during the summer of 1972. She was 14 years of age and I was 12. Already an experienced veteran, (as she had been there the summer before and loved it) the pair of us were packed off to Ballingeary, County Cork for the month of June. Although we were staying with a host family, and we attended Irish language classes during the day, there was a huge amount of independence and autonomy where adults were not looking over and monitoring us and our time. We were allowed to make our own choices about what to do and where to go.

This was rural Ireland back in a particular time, and to be honest there really was very little to do. We were in a village with a couple of shops, a river, and lots of fields. But freedom from parental shackles, and making decisions about how to spend ones time was a heady combination that made this experience very special. I remember the Céilís (Irish dances) with great affection. These gatherings took place every night in the local school and every student was obliged to go. Being an urban city child, this was my first ‘live’ interactive experience with traditional Irish music, where local people came to play their instruments and enjoy communal dancing with no fee expected. I absolutely loved it.

Part of the nightly experience was losing the teenaged self-consciousness that hung around me like a boulder, and (eventually) learning to abandon myself to the joy of the music and dance every night. There were set Irish dances, for two people, for four, and for more. We learned them and practiced during the days, so that we would be better again the following evening. There was an element of competition about it all, so it wasn’t unusual to see gangs of teenagers ‘dancing’ inanely together during the days on the local tennis courts and on the small roads of the village.

There were no mobile phones back in those days, and the house that my sister and I were staying in had no land line telephone either. We used to queue to phone home every Friday night from the local phone box on the street and assure our parents that we were well and happy (as we undeniably were). Our spending money was restricted, so we received “tuck boxes” and letters from home during our time there. The excitement of receiving a registered parcel from the postman, filled with goodies to be shared, ensured that you were the most popular person in your house that day…

Our “houses” were gendered back in those days. There were “girl” houses and “boy” houses and they were separated by geographical distance. The organisers obviously knew a thing or two about raging teenage hormones and kept a strict segregation rule. This may also have had something to do with the Catholic religious ethos that was a predominant feature in Ireland at the time.

I happily look back on that halcyon summer remembering it with vividness and colour. Nothing bad happened to me, although I experimented with cigarette smoking, seances and ouija boards in my naïve attempts to raise the spirits of the dead. I survived (with the subsequent occasional nightmare about dead people crawling all over me in the dark) and the end of the month came all too soon.

Returning home to Dublin via train I remember looking forward to seeing my family as I had missed them more than I thought I would. My dad had written to tell me of the changes that had occurred at home while I was away. There were a couple of new additions. A new fridge freezer had been installed as had new bunk beds for myself and my two sisters.

We were collected from the train station by a neighbour whose daughter was also with us in Cork and we all fell out of their car excitedly and into our respective houses. My mam opened the door to greet us, and my older sisters first words out of her mouth were to ‘snitch’ on me for smoking while we were away… Never mind that she had also smoked, I got a slap before I had time to defend myself. When I replied that “She had been smoking too” I got another slap and was told “not to tell lies about your sister” as she smugly stood by knowing that as the oldest and most precious child she would be believed regardless of what I said about her. Grrrrrrrr…….I never won that that war, and many years later my Mam still didn’t believe me when I told her that Bernice stitched me up as she was smoking too.

We eventually got into the kitchen and admired the brand new Fridge Freezer…. This was such a rare commodity that it still had a wonderful “exotic” feel to it. We opened and closed the door watching the internal light go on and off and felt the wonderfully cold milk bottles, and wondered at the frozen ice cubes in the freezer section. Our milk bottles had previously been stored on the “cold shelf” over the stone sink in the kitchen and frequently went sour in the summer heat.

My dad then excitedly carried our cases up the stairs to our bedroom so that we could view his newly built wooden bunk beds for his three daughters. Unlike traditional bunks, instead of two beds, this set had three. One box unit was at floor level for my two year old sister Annie, who up to then had been sleeping in a cot in my parent’s room. Another was in the middle about chest high for me, and the highest was at forehead height for my older sister Bernice.

I had never had a “WOW” moment like it before in my life. They were the most ‘avant-garde’ beds that I had ever seen, and I was so proud that my Dad had made them. (They were the talking point in our neighbourhood for years). I tumbled into my new bed that night and thought about how lucky I was to have been away having had the holiday of a lifetime, coming back to all these wonderful new changes. A new bed AND a new Fridge Freezer. Crikey – but I was easily pleased.

I remember many nights whispering to both Annie and Bernice as we lay in those triple bunks. We had great fun sharing as sisters although the room was cramped. I left that bunk bed eight short years later as I married and moved out, and Annie who was 10 at the time, moved into my bed. Bernice also left her top bunk to marry shortly afterwards.

Dad later carved them up and left the middle one (my one) as a single bed that Annie slept in until she too left number 33 to move to Mullingar with her husband Mark….

I was reminded of the bunks tonight by Joanne, Annie’s childhood pal as she posted on Facebook her memories of times past remembering the triple beds as being ‘soooo cool’. They were crafted by my dad in order to give his girl’s individual space to sleep and grow. As an experiment it worked, yet I have never seen triple bunks since. They may be gone, but they are certainly not forgotten. Memories of that particular summer include- Irish language, dancing, and music, being away from home, the wonder of refrigeration and three new beds for three sisters.

Destiny is shaped by experience, but it can also be complimented by outside influences and talents that make our lives better. Thanks Dad.

Living with Epilepsy…..

My son has Epilepsy. This is not the sum of all parts that make him as a person, but it is a huge factor in his life. He grew up healthy and happy, but he suffered a head trauma 10 years ago when he was a trainee Guard at 19 years of age. He banged his baby soft skull against a concrete wall when playing a joke on a colleague which resulted in a major seizure within 24 hours. The precious safety cap that surrounded his brain was chipped and damaged that day and can never be repaired.
 
This major brain injury has impacted in so many ways on my family that can often be inarticulate and without expression, but it has affected my darling son in ways that I am sometimes emotionally inept at dealing with.
 
He has had much more to deal with than I have.
 
His promising career with the Irish Police Force ended when another seizure occurred almost twelve months later. The Guards ‘let him go’. Epilepsy is a condition that prohibits so many life and career choices, and being a member of the police force was one of them.
 
He took all of this in his stride, and despite the desperate fallout, he took a side wards step to fulfill his ambition of working with marginalised youths and went to college and is now doing all that he ever wanted to do. He works full time with disadvantaged and vulnerable young people and he is dedicated to his profession and is well loved and respected by his peers. He is also a volunteer in the local football club and gives so much of his free time in the endless pursuit of community building through sport with young people.
 
He is on prescribed epilepsy medication for life and it keeps him safe (most of the time) but he has had infrequent seizures since.
He is my precious child and I adore him.
 

I admire his refusal to be categorised by his Epilepsy although the mammy in me wants to protect him and keep him in bubble wrap.
I admire his dedication in trying to make life better for other people, but I get frustrated when he puts his own health on the back burner and doesn’t place himself first.
I admire the way that he will not let this condition rule his life as he gets on with it.

But….

I wish I could wave a magic wand and go back to that day and put a pillow on that concrete wall.
I wish that he didn’t have to hide this terrible stigma that he carries 24/7
I wish that Epilepsy was understood and talked about more.
I love him for all the parts that he is and I wish that life didn’t deal him such a shitty hand of cards.

Destiny is not all that and a bag o’ chips sometimes…..

The flip side of the coin…

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family”. The opening words of the iconic monologue from the 1996 movie ‘Trainspotting’.

But what choices do we really have when it comes to living?

I believe that life can be a series of accidents and opportunities that are constantly dependent on outside factors that we have absolutely no control over at all.

Take that great job interview that you recently did. You know that you ticked all the boxes. You know that you are qualified for the job. You have the expertise. You presented well on the day and you answered all the questions correctly.

You didn’t get the job.

Outside influences may have played a major part. The Interviewer may not have liked the colour of your hair, or she may have had her best friend’s daughter interviewing later that day. You will never know the reason.

You will go over and over what it was that you did wrong, and never find the answer because it was nothing to do with you, it was to do with someone else making a decision that might affect the rest of your life.

You had decided on a particular path assured in the belief that if you completed A you would progress to B and then on to C. Mapping out our lives is something that we all do. We have goals and aspirations to aim for, and we hope that they will be realised as we all work toward personal fulfilment.

Achievements are celebrated and greater goals are set as we attempt to pilot our way through our lives, providing for our families, setting example by our standards and generally expecting that things will work out the way we want them to because we have worked so hard to make it happen. It’s what we have been taught to do. I cannot visualise my world without order, hope, expectations and dreams.

But life is actually so arbitrary. I realise this now, and it has taken me so long to understand it.

I realise that no matter how qualified I am for a particular job, it’s someone else’s decision as to whether I get it or not.

I realise that being an obedient citizen guarantees me nothing.

I realise that actions and decisions take place that impact on my life all the time and that I have no hand in them.

I realise that most of life is chaotic and unplanned, despite our belief that there is an order to the events that affect us.

I realise that no matter how much I try to protect the people that I love, I cannot keep them safe from harm.

I realise that I have to let go my feelings of desolation because life didn’t work out quite as I had planned it would.

I realise that life can be explained by the simple metaphor of a coin toss.

Heads you live – Tails….

Destiny can just be about flipping the coin of life and accepting where it lands.

Language and how we speak.

I have thousands of words dressed up in a carnival of colour regularly riding the carousel of my mind…. Like James Joyce writing Ulysses I live in a constant stream of consciousness. There are a myriad of thoughts, actions, voices, and images that surround me in every minute of every day although I don’t record or write them as they happen.

I have no aspiration or talent to be a writer and I accept this and can smile about it. I am much more mundane. I like being articulate when saying what I want to say and I have no great desire to make it to the best seller list. I generally just want to be understood. I want to verbally connect in the best way that I can.

Language is the universal way that we communicate and we all do it differently. I recognise this and I am a lover of listening to the spoken word as much as I love writing it. Language is powerful and how we articulate and use it can sadly set us apart.

I only have to listen to the voice of a news reader and compare it to a voice in my local community. Somehow the passion and spirit of a community speaker can be lost when their words are taken, relayed or broadcasted. By the time the message is conveyed through mainstream media these words have been altered and may not reflect the feeling of the original speaker. Passion becomes diluted, and voices and words are mixed and broken up into sound bites that are acceptable. This is all so wrong. I believe that in this way language has been sabotaged. Sometimes if you can’t be fluent and say what you have to in three minutes, you don’t get a shot.

For me, how we speak and communicate defines the narrative of our lives. Our memory bank of words is personally relevant to each and every one of us and is a reflection of how we have arrived where we are through our lived experiences, our families, our education and the people that we associate with. We listen and we mimic. We read and hear words all the time and we store them. We make them our own and use them distinctively. Everyone has the right to speak, to engage, to converse. To be heard and to be listened to regardless of how incoherent mixed up or inarticulate they are.

I communicate though my language. I use my own stored words. Most of them are like old friends, familiar and comforting. But I sometimes dip into my suitcase of words to root out the unexpected, to explain or to describe something that needs stretching out like elastic. For me, embellishing a word is my way of creating something beautiful in a sentence in the same way that an artist may add extra colour to a work in progress. If I strip the sentence back to its basic form it will still be understood, but it is missing the beauty and colour that I believe language contains.

Through my education and my lifetime love of words I am now more articulate in my life that I have ever been. I was that person who’s passionate voice was unheard because I wasn’t fluent or eloquent enough but not anymore. I can now say what I want to, but I add the colour and texture that language produces. This can make me sound like a right windbag sometimes, but as long as the sentence flows beautifully, sounds good to my ears and is clearly understood then I am ok with that 🙂

Destiny can be about looking at the things we take for granted and viewing them in a new light.

Friendship.

My close friends are jewels, full of colour, joy and happiness. They are like emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Precious gems that cascade through my life with a brilliance, beauty and special individual quality that makes each and every one of them exceptional. They are like a treasure trove that lift me up and add sparkle when I need it, and I am never disappointed by the quality that they bring to my life.

Destiny can be like being a pirate and finding that special pearl.

What a difference a year makes……..

It is a year (approx.) since my two adult children left home.
One year- 12 months- 52 weeks- 365 days- 8,670 hours – 525,600 minutes.

Time has unglued us from being one complete unit into becoming separate people living apart. This has led to many changes in our individual lives.

Learning to live without the constant ebb and flow of my children coming and going has been difficult. It has brought a new quieter rhythm to the house and one that has not always been welcome. I miss the noise although I appreciate the quiet. I miss the mess although I love the tidiness. I miss the gangs of pals although I relish the choice of seats in the sitting room in the evenings. I miss their late nights out although I realise that I can relax and sleep soundly and not have to wait to hear a key in the door. I miss waking up during the night although I don’t worry now if the house is in darkness as I realise that I turned the last light out and there is no one else coming home.

This is the melancholy side of things….
On the flip side there is a whole new order.

Being able to come and go without having to be there for formal meals is a huge freedom. Our family tradition had us all at the dinner table every night at a particular time having dinner and discussing the daily national and political news. While I always loved that part of the day, it is far less interesting when there are only two voices in the foray. It can descend into a major disagreement in no time.

My dinner time routine has changed.

Sometimes my hubby and I don’t even have dinner! We have the freedom to up and go to mountains, lakes and seaside destinations and we do so regularly. We go to restaurants, pack picnics and are generally less rigid in our evening routine than we have been in the past. We absolutely love this new independence although I am usually the driver of moving beyond the kitchen table.

I particularly love weekends. I am a volunteer with a national charity and my chosen slot is an early shift in Dublin City Centre on Sunday mornings. I finish around midday and my hubby usually collects me afterwards and we take this opportunity to make the most of the day and to enjoy the freedom of not having to be home for dinner. We go wherever the fancy takes us, and we stay out as late as we like. We have no one to please except each other and this adds a fun element and unpredictability to our lives. We are learning how to be a couple again after being parents for such a long time.

Our children still live close by and are welcome visitors all the time. They pop in unexpectedly for chats and impromptu meals that are conjured up in minutes by their Dad. They also come by for more formal ‘invited‘ dinners where the traditions are observed and the topical arguments continue. These dinners are special and very precious. Time tick tocks in the background as our lives move on independently but with habits and rhythms that bind us to each other.

I arranged to meet my daughter today and we spent two leisurely hours bantering and chatting over a delicious lunch in a local restaurant. If she was still living at home I don’t think that this coming together would have held the anticipation and ultimate pleasure of her company that I enjoyed for that short space of time.

Who knew what changes a year would bring.

Destiny can be about rearranging the jigsaw of life and seeing a different picture.