The new normal

It’s a beautiful day. The June bank holiday is upon us. The fourth bank holiday since the start of the first restrictions. We got through St Patricks Day, Easter Monday, and the May Bank holiday. We can get through this one. All we need to do is stay home and follow the guidelines.

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None of us knows what lies ahead. So far this has been a surreal year. But as we work through the stages to bring society back to normal, have we given any thought to what that normal should be. Do we really want to go back to the way we were?

Can we, as a nation, build a better society. One where home working is the norm, for those that want it. Where family is respected, where every child is cherished equally. A country where house prices are affordable for those who have the resources to buy and where rents are manageable for those who don’t. A country with good quality housing stock which every citizen can rent from the state, regardless of income, at a fair price, with security of tenure.

Imagine a country with a workable health service. One where waiting lists are short and everyone, regardless of income, is guaranteed treatment when they need it.

Imagine a society where our workers are valued. A society with full employment but on a living wage. Where the employer looks after their staff as well as their shareholders.

At the start of this pandemic, we proved, very quickly, that it is possible to live differently. The old normal has been thrown out. Can we make the new normal better?

The most important lesson for us all from this pandemic is that society cannot function without our nurses, cleaners, shop-workers, bin collectors, post persons, delivery drivers. The list is endless, but we all know who they are. We have been applauding them but now we need to value them.

It is well documented that Ireland has huge inequality in the distribution of wealth. Our so-called full employment (before this pandemic) is a joke. Jobs that don’t pay a living wage should not be classed as full-time employment. Jobs that require a subsidy from the government in the form of FIS or HAP or any other government assistance cannot seriously be regarded as proper employment.  And for any government employee to be eligible for income supplement from another government department is an absolute disgrace.

The most damming of all is the current argument about the Covid-19 payment of €350 per week. I would love to see some of its detractors give up their salary and expenses and try to live on that income level. The government were correct in bringing in the payment. It has saved many families from financial ruin, but they should be careful in how they phase it out. As a nation we bailed out our banks (and Europe’s), now it’s time to bail out our citizens.

As a nation, we should also consider some form of active protest or boycott of those businesses who do not value their staff. Companies making large profits but not paying their staff a living wage and even worse, making deductions from their minimum wage for food and uniforms. If an employer requires its employees to wear a uniform, then the employer should pay for it. Those at the top need to remember that they are kept in that position by the staff under them.

I am going to spend this weekend in my garden and in my friend’s garden, enjoying this beautiful weather. Whatever you do this weekend, stay safe, 2m apart and spare a thought for those who are grieving. 1,639 families in Ireland are missing their loved ones this weekend, 360,089 worldwide. Don’t become one of them. Stay Home, Stay Safe.

Inequality

The Irish Cancer Society tells us that

“Every 3 minutes in Ireland someone gets a cancer diagnosis…Incidence of cancer is growing and by 2020, 1 in 2 of us will get a cancer diagnosis in our lifetime.”

Yesterday the Irish Times and the Sunday Business Post informed us that VHI is allowing access to cancer drugs to their policyholders which are not available to uninsured cancer patients.  RTE have followed up today expressing ‘concern as only insured patients may access new cancer drugs.’

Mr John Crown, the renowned Medical Oncologist was quoted as saying,  “For the first time since I can ever recall, we have a difference in access to cancer drugs between public and private patients. It’s completely unfair. It’s going to be extraordinarily difficult now.”  “I’ll be seeing public and private patients this week and I will quite possibly be giving both of them different news about what treatment is available for them and I’m not comfortable with that.”

I do not know why VHI have written to oncologists informing them that they have extended access to these new drugs for certain cancers.

I do not know why the HSE does not already give access to these new drugs for cancer patients.

There may be a reason behind it.  Is it due to a lack of efficiency in HSE?  Have the HSE failed to keep up with the available drugs on the market?  Is it a ploy by VHI to gain a larger market share?  I have no idea.  Perhaps someone with the required knowledge could throw some light on that.

All I do know is that the HSE, the Health Minister, the government, the patient groups, the Irish Cancer Society and every person living in this country need to speak out immediately and put a stop to this further inequality in our Health Service.   It is imperative that those who have the power within the HSE act immediately to grant access to these drugs to cancer patients today, not next week, not next month or next year.  They need to act now.

According to ‘USA today’, Ireland is the 10th richest country in the world.  That’s ahead of the USA at 11th, Germany at 17th, Sweden at 18th, France at 24th.  Google it!  type in worlds richest countries.  There we are at number 10.   Yet we don’t rate at all on healthcare, while France is generally acknowledged to have the best health service in the world.  But there again, France is a true republic, we only pay lip service to the ideals of a republic.  We do not cherish all our citizens equally, certainly not if you are ill and in need of help and support, or even a little payback for all those paye/prsi/usc contributions that you have made.

We, the people, need to think about the type of society we want to be a part of.  Is the Ireland of today, the country you want it to be?

523,000 of us are on a waiting list for an outpatient appointment in a public hospital.  208,757 of those have been waiting more than nine months.  Those figures include 46,300 children.

Remember, by next year, 1 in 2 of us will get a cancer diagnosis in our lifetime.

Only 46% can afford private health insurance.

 

Woman’s Best Friend

In last week’s writer’s group, we read a poem about a dog.  Everyone re-acted, even those who didn’t have dogs.  What is it about man’s (woman’s) best friend that brings out something in all of us?  Everyone had a story to tell and the mood of the meeting was upbeat as we swapped stories about our furry friends.

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Our dog, affectionately known as Louie the lips, is an elderly terrier half-breed.  Half-bred with what, we can only guess.  There have been times, when he took to chasing our car up the road, that we considered him part greyhound, other times when he climbed in through partially opened windows, we reckoned he was interbred with a cat.  He was certainly an escape artist and we lost track of the number of times he managed to get over fences, under gates and at times, we had no idea at all how he had escaped.  He never went far.  Well, maybe a good 2 miles, down a country road to a housing estate in the nearest town and always to a particular house.  It was as if he went on a little holiday, a town break, so to speak!  We used to think that maybe, in his little canine mind, he was thinking to himself, ‘I need a break from the routine.  I will visit my other family.  They will talk to me, pet me, allow me on the furniture,’ and off he would go.  He would stand at their door until he was let in, or sometimes climb in a partially open window uninvited but sure of his welcome.  They would ring us to let us know he was there, and we would collect him, and he would trot out to the car without a backward glance, hop in the back as if to say, ‘what kept ye?’

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As a young terrier, he spent most of his day racing around the garden, barking at the wind and everyone that came within ten yards of the front gate.  Now that he is older, he still tears around barking if he feels he must, but he prefers curling up in front of the fire or in his favourite place, my husband’s knee with a blanket covering him.  He knows the hand that feeds him, but he still knows his place.  He is not allowed in the bedrooms, although he also knows that my sons flaunt that rule and sneak him in when I’m not looking.  He is not allowed on the furniture, hence the blanket hiding him when he is on my husband’s knee on his armchair in front of the window.  Like most dogs and small children, he thinks if he can’t see me then I can’t see him.  We are all openly affectionate with him, he is part of the family after all and what better feeling is there than relaxing in front of the TV with your pet at your feet.  I mean, directly on your feet, asleep, so you can’t move for fear of disturbing him.

Having said that I am always amazed at the number of people, mainly women I should add, who treat their dogs like small babies.  Women who shower more affection on their dogs than they ever did on their own children.  Cuddling a child and showering a child with kisses I can understand, but a dog is a dog, do you realise where their snouts have been?

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No matter what your viewpoint, or your taste in our canine friends, every home should have a dog.  They hold your heart and soothe the soul.  They teach responsibility to your children and the joy of unconditional love to the entire household.

Dogs have a reputation for being ‘man’s best friend’ for a very good reason!

Do I know you?

Have you ever walked down the street or into a building and see someone walking towards you and have a momentary sense of panic?  What is her name?  Where do I know her from?  I know I’m not alone.  Mostly you can get by with a ‘Hello’ and a smile but if that person stops to talk to you, what do you do?

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Many years ago, I was in Penney’s, browsing the rails and I said hello to a woman I had met the previous weekend at a fundraiser.  She looked at me blankly and walked on.  Five minutes later I bumped into her again and gave her a half smile, you know the type, should I smile, should I say hello, should I pretend I don’t see her, does she remember me, so your smile is a half grimace, half apology type of smile.  She stopped, put her manicured hand on my arm and said, ‘do I know you?”

I remember praying that the ground would open up and swallow me.  Not a new concept I know but one we are all familiar with.  Red-faced and stuttering I explained that we had met the week before at a function.  When I mentioned my husband’s name it suddenly clicked with her and we both laughed and passed it off.  Her embarrassment for not knowing me was matched by my embarrassment at once again being the face that no-one remembers.

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Photo by Ingo Joseph on Pexels.com

I walk down the street sometimes and I see faces I recognise and some I don’t!  I don’t have a head for faces or names.  My husband never forgets a face, names not so much.  I was going out with him three months before he remembered my surname.

Anyway, on a day when all is good with the world and I am feeling confident and sure of my place in the world and I see a face I know, I will smile and say hi or lovely day and walk on.  That greeting is nearly always returned, mainly because it’s a catch-all for everyone, the comment of the weather, the smile, but that one incident so many years ago left a wariness in me, a fear even, of stopping that person and starting a conversation just in case they don’t remember me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I did it to another person once, unintentionally but I did it all the same.  This familiar face stopped me in the street and chatted away about how she hadn’t seen me in years and how were the kids etc and I smiled and chatted back while racking my brain as to who this person was or where I had met her before.  I tried but eventually, she realised that I had no clue who she was, or where we had met, and the conversation tapered off into nothing but embarrassment.

With hindsight, I should have been upfront.  I should have said, ‘So sorry, I can’t remember your name, how bad am I?” People are always forthcoming with information.  They will give you their name, where they are from, where you met and suddenly you do remember them.  You can converse with them and enjoy their conversation.  At the end of the day, very few of us have photographic memories for every face and every name we encounter in our journey through life.  It’s nice to get a little reminder, a prompt to jolt the memory.

 

 

Writers Group

It’s nearly three months since my last post.  For a while, I found it difficult to find the right words so I wrote nothing.  To be fair, I concentrated on my novel instead.  ‘Riverdale House’ has now been dispatched to beta readers, who will either come back to me telling me it is complete drivel and not to embarrass myself by showing it to anyone else, or they will tell me that it is a great story and that I should seek publication or maybe that it’s good but needs more work on certain aspects.  More than likely it will be somewhere in between those scenarios, at least I hope so anyway.  My stomach will be in a permanent state of nerves until I hear something back.

I have been preoccupied of late with ‘Ink Tank’ a creative writing group based in Newbridge library.  We got together last November from a workshop facilitated by Niamh Boyce, author of ‘The Herbalist.’  She will be launching her new book ‘Her Kind’ in Athy Library on 12th April and it promises to be an interesting read.  Anyway, our newly formed creative writing group have named ourselves ‘Ink Tank’ and we meet once a fortnight to debate, practise, critique and generally discuss everything literary.  We are an eclectic bunch with a range of ages and backgrounds which makes for some interesting discussions.  I have had my eyes opened to the joys of poetry and the thrill of fantasy, always good to open your mind to new possibilities.  Writing, by its very nature, is a solitary occupation.  To meet and chat with other like-minded people is wonderful and I would highly recommend it.  If you are interested email us inktankwriters@gmail.com

We are working towards publishing an anthology of our work.  Exciting times!  It will contain a mixture of historical and contemporary short stories, poetry, memoir and essays.  We hope to launch it during the Readers Festival in October with any profits going to a local charity.  Further details as they come to hand.

So, I have a lot to work towards this year.  I will be scribbling (pounding the keyboard) on a regular basis, whilst downing copious amounts of coffee and chocolate (what about the diet!) to fulfil my commitment to Ink Tank, to keep writing short stories for competition and to start another manuscript.  Wish me luck!

 

Definition of Kindness

Just when you start to despair, a ray of hope shines through with simple stories of random acts of kindness.  I opened Facebook this evening and the first two posts I read were from people I knew who had experienced random acts of kindness from a stranger today.  How uplifting to know that there are still those in our midst whose first thought is to do good for others.

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I read recently a suggestion from someone that if you make an effort to perform an act of kindness for someone every day, just something small and random, then by the end of the year you will have brought a smile to 365 people.  Speaking of a smile brings to mind the lines of a poem attributed to Spike Milligan.

“Smiling is infectious. You catch it like the flu.

When someone smiled at me today I started to smile too.

I walked around the corner and someone saw me grin.

When he smiled I realised I had passed it on to him.

I thought about the smile and then realised its worth.

A single smile like mine could travel round the earth.

So if you feel a smile begin, don’t leave it undetected.

Start an epidemic and get the world infected.” 

That doesn’t mean we should all go around every day grinning like Cheshire cats but we can make the effort to smile at those we interact with.  Think of the dozens of people you interact with every day, your bus driver, the barista in the coffee shop, the guy behind the counter selling newspapers and bottled water, the receptionist in the office or the security guard on the door, your co-workers or your bosses.  It could be the girl who serves you lunch or the tired retail worker who checks out your purchases for dinner on the way home.  Think how much better you will feel if you greet them all with a smile.  Think of the knock-on effect on those you meet, for when you smile at them, they more than likely will smile back and be more inclined to pass on that smile to the next person they meet.

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So, today I have decided that in future I will make an effort to be more pleasant in my interaction with others, to be friendly and considerate in everything I do.  I think that effort will be rewarded with a more positive outlook for me and the knowledge that I may just have made someone smile and brought a little light into their day.

January

Now that New Year’s Eve is over and the month of January is underway, it might be a good time to think about the year ahead.  I love the idea that the year ahead has so many possibilities.  It may be good or bad but most likely it will bring a mixture of triumphs and tribulations.  We just need to figure out how we are going to deal with whatever 2019 has in store for us.

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I had a look back at my resolutions for 2018 and I managed to keep some of them, like spending more time with my father, like reading two new novels per month, like establishing a writing schedule.  Okay, I didn’t lose the weight or learn the language but maybe those tasks are for this year.  What I did learn to do is to look for the positives in life.  So this year once again my virgin diary sits in front of me and the possibilities of 2019 beckon.

I don’t expect 2019 to be the best year ever.  There are trials and tribulations ahead but there is also the anticipation of happiness and joy.  I wrote last year that you won’t find joy unless you open your heart to it.  It is found in the most unusual places.  In the smile of a loved one as you listen to them attentively, in the taste of good food lovingly prepared, in losing yourself in the imagination of others, in the taste and smell of sea air as it blows the cobwebs from your brain and energises your soul, in the satisfaction of a job well done.

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The old scouting motto springs to mind ‘be prepared’.  It is good advice, to be prepared for whatever life throws at you in the year ahead, prepare yourself to roll with the punches, prepare yourself to enjoy the here and now and above all to look for the positive aspects in life.

Happy New Year.

Halloween

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On October 31st we celebrate Halloween.  Our children dress up as witches and superheroes’ and go from door to door singing, ‘Trick or Treat’.  We eat barmbrack and apple tart and we bob for apples and eat our body weight in chocolate, ‘candy’ and monkey nuts.

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When I was a child we used to sing ‘Penny for the Púca’ although I didn’t know what a púca was or even how to spell the word.  I’ve since found out that the ‘púca’ was a mythical creature in Celtic Folklore, a shapeshifter, who could assume a variety of forms including human, although usually with a tail.  As an animal, it most commonly took on the shape of a black horse with a flowing mane and golden eyes.  Black Beauty, eat your heart out!  Legend tells us that Brian Boru, High King of Ireland was the only man ever to ride the púca.  The púca can be mischievous and enjoys frightening humans whenever it can but it also has been known to lead humans away from danger.  I still don’t know why we wanted pennies for him, or when we dropped our Irish customs in favour of the American ‘Trick or treat.’

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Halloween is an ancient celebration which stems back to the ancient Celts and was adopted by Christianity.  Our ancestors called it Samhain, and it marked the end of the harvest and the start of the dark days of winter.  The ancient Celts believed that on this night, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth   These ghosts caused all sorts of trouble so the Druids (Celtic priests) built sacred fires where the people gathered to sacrifice crops and animals.  Hence: the word bonfire, meaning ‘fire of bones’.  People dressed in costumes made from animal skins and heads as disguises to frighten away spirits.  They carved out turnips with scary faces to ward off evil spirits and used them as holders to carry home an ember from the bonfire to re-light their hearth fires.  The following day the ashes from the sacred bonfire would be spread over the fields to ward off the spirits from interfering with the following year’s crops.

We no longer sacrifice animals on our bonfires and the turnip has been replaced by the pumpkin.  We no longer fear the spirits of our ancestors but pray for them the following day on All Souls Day, clever move on behalf of the Christian Church.  We no longer believe in ghouls and ghosts.  Or do we?

 

Make it a good one.

I started the year telling myself that one of my new year resolutions was to find a saying that lifted the spirits, print it out and read it every morning before I got out of bed.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well!  I did try.  I decided that what I needed to tell myself every morning was:

‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  Make it a good one.”

And I did keep to it for months.  And then I fell by the wayside.  Big mistake.

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It was good to have my first thoughts of the day life-affirming and uplifting.  Starting your day on a positive note is good for the soul.  I would recommend it.  Just repeating that positive affirmation makes you stand up straighter, lifts your heart and clears your head.  But then you face into your day and the rollercoaster that is life.  It is easy to maintain your positivity when your day is good.  When you don’t get held up in traffic; when the best parking spot is there waiting for you; when your offspring ring with good news or just for a chat or when your loved one brings you flowers for no reason other than to show you they love you.  Those are the good days.

But then you get the days when nothing goes right.  When you get caught in a traffic jam and your ten-minute journey turns into thirty.  When the tickets you wanted were sold out two minutes before you got to the top of the queue; when it lashed rain as you ran for the school gates without your coat and stopped the second you sat back into the driver’s seat, squelching and cold; when you got sidetracked trying to write something and forgot about the stew until the burnt smell permeated the house.  You get the idea.  A series of little irritations.  Not bad news.  Not life-threatening.  Just irritating.  It’s those days that threaten your positivity.

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I hold my hands up here and admit defeat.  I fall under pressure.  On those bad days, my positivity takes a battering and I can hear that saying ringing in my ears ‘if it wasn’t for bad luck I would have no luck at all.”

It can be so easy to roll over and allow those distractions to dictate your mood.  To bring you into a downward spiral that can be so difficult to shake off.  If you look around you to those who are always upbeat, they are the people who roll with the punches, so to speak; who take whatever life throws at them and deal with it.  They are in control of their own destiny.

I suppose what I am trying to say is, that life happens, it happens to you and your loves ones, but it’s not what life throws at you and yours that should dictate, it is how you deal with what life throws at you that dictates your frame of mind, and you can control that.  You have complete control over that.

Like I said, my life would be so much easier if I took my own advice!

Your own front door

This time of year is a favourite of mine.  I love the colours of the leaves as they gradually fade from green to gold and russet.  I love the sound as they crinkle underfoot and the way they flutter in the breeze until they find their resting place in mounds that grow in the nooks and crannies.  My other half loves the splendour of the autumn leaves as they change colour.  He would just prefer if they stayed on the trees and not into our gutters and pathways and walked into the house.  Every year he wages battle with them, brushing them off the driveway and sweeping them away from the front door, where, in fairness, they tend to gather in huge numbers overnight.  Then eventually he gives in and bows to Mother Nature.  He points out that the blanket of leaves on the lawn will die back into the ground and offer nutrients to the grass, ensuring a vibrant green come next Spring.  It’s all part of the cycle of life, he says.  And we soak up the autumn colours and the last of summer sun and prepare ourselves for winter.  The chimney is cleaned and ready for the cold weather and the curtains are drawn each evening once darkness falls.

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And my thoughts turn to those in our country who do not have their own front door to close.  Last week in our town we witnessed the allocation of newly built social housing to those that needed it.  It was a momentous occasion, a great day for the key holders and for the officials who oversaw the project.  Problem is, it just wasn’t enough.  The provision of these new units hardly made a dent in the numbers of people who are on the housing lists.

Last December the number of households on Kildare County Council’s housing list was 7,319.

Yet according to the Census 2016 figures, there are 4,650 vacant properties in Kildare.

Not all of these properties may be habitable and they may be a mix of private and public ownership but surely some of these vacant properties could be brought into use to alleviate the housing list.  What is wrong with us as a nation that we have allowed our politicians to continue to pursue a housing policy which has failed nearly 10,000 people with many more due to join their ranks in the coming months?  What is wrong with our politicians that they can stand over these policies and defend them when it has been pointed out to them time and time again that their housing policy has failed totally?  Why don’t they just build houses?  People need a home to call their own.  The workers of this country need homes.  Build social and affordable housing.

Simple.

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