Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A sofa is for life

I AM the proud new owner of a sumptuous red sofa. It takes pride of place in our front room and is deliciously soft to the touch.

I love it more than I ever thought it possible to love a piece of furniture. My heart swells with a sense of pride and happiness each time I see it or sink into it's cosy cushions.
For me this red sofa represents so much. You see it's predecessor was a hand me down- a cast off from my sister in law who had moved on to bigger and better things.
It was, once, a gorgeous cream colour and my sister in law had bought it before she had her own family. Given that her daughter is now approaching 10 years of age, you can imagine it's vintage.
It has survived many spills, copious attacks by crayon toting toddlers, a fair smattering of assaults with baby sick and it remained comfy 'til its last hours. It was, however, bogging and no amount of steam cleaning or bleaching could restore it to it's former glory.
I would sit on it each evening, my heart sinking as I noticed another mark or stain that would refuse to budge and I would covet the fancy new sofas of friends and family.
Earlier this year we took the plunge and ordered our new creation. I was stupidly excited- not only because I knew I would be getting rid of the muck magnet that was making our 'good room' our 'dirty room', but also because we are one step closer to being proper adults and not owning a plethora of hand me down furniture.
When himself and I bought our house we relied strongly on the kindness of family and friends to furnish it. We had the basics- a bed, a TV and a couple of Argos' finest creations in MDF with a real wood veneer.
The sister-in-law donated the sofa and my friend's mammy sold me a table and chair set for tuppence ha'penny. My Godparents bought us a shiny new fridge freezer as a wedding present and we scraped together the money for a washing machine.
The rest of the house was bare. Two bedrooms were empty, a second living room held a bookcase (you know, one of the one's that was on offer with tokens from SuperValu- you all have one) and the house was more a shell than a home. There was a echo in almost every room.
According to my parents we were actually quite well off. When they first married and moved into their own (rented) home they sat on boxes until they could scrape enough together for their first sofa and there wasn't a luxury fridge freezer to be seen.
That was how life was then, you see. You didn't expect to have it all as soon as you signed your wedding certificate. People didn't move into show homes with the latest of everything as soon as they came back from honeymoon and I can't help but think that progression hasn't necessarily been a good thing.
A friend of mine married last week and has just bought her first home with her husband. Each time I've tried to get Gillian on the phone between last November and now I've been told she was down in the new house painting.
Chatting with her over a glass of wine at the festivities, I reminisced about my own home buying experience and how we had next to nothing. Gillian informed me her house was "just about done" and there was "only the New England room to finish".
My jaw dropped. The New England room? Whatever happened to newlyweds buying a bulkload of magnolia paint in the B&Q sale and slapping it up over crumbling plaster walls of a first time buyers' fixer-upper opportunity of a house? Now the in thing is, apparently, to choose a theme for each room and decorate it accordingly. And of course, it is very much the in-thing to have a shiny new house in a shiny new estate with lots of shiny new furniture to fill it.
I doubt very much my second-hand sofa would look the business against her classy New England colours and I bet her furniture is not the wooden veneer type from Argos. I'm guessing she won't be married five years before she buys her first brand new sofa either!
I know of couples who are getting married who feel totally overwhelmed by the expectations foisted upon them. It is expected now that you can't possibly get married without buying your own house at the same time. Viewing the marital home holds almost as much excitement as seeing the bride saunter down the aisle in her big frock.
I'm proud of the fact we held on to our beloved hand-me-down sofa for five years. It was comfy. It served us well. Our son loved it, especially colouring in between the lines with crayons (his new fascination).
More than that, the fact we've had to wait five years to be able to comfortably afford a shiny new suite, and cast off the last of our cast offs, means that we appreciate everything we have all the more.
Of course, the other theory is that I'm just horribly jealous of Gillian's New England room when mine are colour coded around the latest shades from Crayola.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


IT'S THE ultimate cliché to write a column about the battle of the sexes. I mean every female who has ever put pen to paper has at one stage knocked out a quick couple of hundred words on how and why women are so much more superior to their male counterparts.

It pains me to go over old ground. It makes me question whether or not I'm providing a decent level of service to my readers but there are some times, and ladies we all know what I'm talking about here, when all a woman can do is grip her head in her hands and sigh.
We all know the old adage. Men, can't live with 'em. Can't kill 'em. Much as I love my husband deeply, sometimes I genuinely feel as though I have not one, but two sons to look after. The second of my sons just happens to be 34, with a decent smattering of chest hair and an addiction to computer games and a couple of cans of lager on a Saturday night.
The wee man is no trouble in comparison. I can tell him what to do and generally with a bit of a foot stomp and the odd tantrum he will eventually realise that mammy rules the roost and he bows to my God given right to be the boss of him.
Himself (the big one) is a little harder to handle. He knows he doesn't have to agree to my every demand. He is aware that he is, in theory, a grown up but that doesn't change his need to have me there making sure everything around him runs as smoothly as possible.
I may well work full time. I may well have the lion share of the responsibility for making sure our two year survives another day without meeting some grisly end involving a mouldy yoghurt and a Bob the Builder friction vehicle. I may spent my evenings in a semi-comatose state loading and unloading the washing machine, setting out the clothes for the morning for the Messiest Toddler in History (Copyright, Joseph: 2006) and making sure we don't catch Bubonic Plague from the mildew in the shower- but apparently, and I didn't know this when I got married, none of these count as a excuse for not making sure himself has a clean, dry shirt for work the next day.
(Before I continue, I'm not saying himself turns into some wife battering maniac if the shirts aren't clean- he will happily wear one that stinks and show me up in front of the rest of Derry. I may be a modern woman of the noughties, but I'll not be shamed by anyone leaving my house in clothes reeking of body odour- no sirree!)
I'm sure some of you are wondering if my husband is okay with me revealing his inadequacies in the highest selling newspaper in the Derry area. The thing is, he is fine with it. He knows it is true- just as he knows deep down that he is not the only man with a woman behind him making sure his shirts are clean, he has new, sensible shoes and that his diet includes something a touch more nutritious than sausage sandwiches.

Home truths
Get any group of women together and the stories will start flooding out, and trust me, there are a few common themes here. I'm not one to tar people with the same brush, in the words of the wonderful Jane Austen it is a truth universally acknowledged that:
A) Men, great explorers of the world, responsible for discovering new lands and widening our horizons to new cultures and experiences, cannot 'discover' the car keys that are two feet away from them.
Instead they will phone their wives or partners or (being Derry) their mammies and ask them where their lost treasure might be. Their looking involves a cursory glance in the direction of the sky or somewhere equally as useful before giving up and looking for help from their more sensible halves.
B) Men, responsible for running the country, and planning military battles- cannot remember that when taking a child under the age of two out for the day you might want to bring some nappies.
Oh, he'll remember his cigarettes, his mobile, his money, his golf clubs (just in case they pass a golf course) but nappies and wipes? Are you mad?
C) Men, icons of fashion who crave to look like David Beckham and covet Armani suits- cannot dress children for love nor money. Let your other half free to dress a child and he or she will end up looking like a poster child for the NSPCC.
D) Men- proud of being handy, of having logical and technical minds and who can wire a plug quicker than saying "Job's a good 'un"- cannot bring themselves to show off any of these skills in their own home. Hands up who has a wonky lightswitch or dodgy washing machine?
E) Men- business geniuses, responsible for the financial management of multi-million pound businesses- have no concept that the £30 in the bank has to last until pay-day and no, it's not just there for the purpose of buying the latest Playstation game- especially when there are no nappies in the house and your child has a dodgy tummy.
Now, as I've said, I love my husband. And my father. And my brother. Indeed I have a certain degree of affection for most of the men in my acquaintance but please, for the love of God please, don't try to tell me that they are the superior sex because, as I see it, the facts more than speak for themselves.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Confidence in confidence alone...

LIKE MARIA in 'The Sound of Music' I have confidence in sunshine. I have confidence in rain. I have confidence that spring will come again, but besides which, you see, I have no confidence in me.

I'm a great fan of that song. It brings back hugely happy childhood memories of curling up on the sofa , watching Maria dance towards the home of the Von Trapps swinging her guitar and getting ready to face the Captain and his seven children. (What's so fearsome about that?)
It also reminds me of pushing my clapped out, second hand, rust bucket of a bike up the hill towards Grianan Fort, my aunt and sister beside me.
The sweat lashing off us, our wee legs knackered from the exertion of the cycle run out from Rosemount, we would sing the words loudly and push ourselves to our limits to reach the Fort- where we would settle down to a picnic of custard creams and Kia Ora.
Those days, in the brilliant sunshine, as we looked down over Donegal and Derry, we really did feel on top of the world. We had confidence.
When someone told us we looked nice, we believed them. We didn't shrug our shoulders and reply that we looked like we had just been dragged through a hedge backwards.
If someone said we we could sing or act well, we rewarded them with an encore- performed with such over enthusiasm they would wish they had kept their mouths shut.
If someone commended our work, we boasted about it to everyone who would listen. We didn't care if we came across as a 'spoof'. We were taught it was perfectly acceptable to be proud of your achievements.
I wonder when that changed and we all stopped believing just how fabulous we really are?
Most days when I see my niece, Abby, I will ask her at some stage who the best girl in Derry is. With no hesitation whatsoever she will reply with her own name before skipping off not even giving the question a second thought. Of course she is the best girl in Derry. Everyone is always telling her that- why would she believe any different?
I know someday though, and it saddens me, that she will stop believing the hype. Someday (probably when she is a surly teenager and telling us all to "Shut up") she will question not only if she is the best girl in Derry but whether she is even the best girl in Shepherd's Glen?
The truth is that there comes a time when being boastful, confident and contented are no longer considered to be desirable qualities in the modern woman, and without the positive affirmations of our youth we start to question everything about ourselves.

It may sound melodramatic of me, but think about this. When was the last time you met a woman truly content and happy in herself? It amazes me to meet beautiful women who can't meet the gaze of others because they think they are ugly. It angers me to have conversations with women peppered with phrases like "Ignore me, I'm stupid anyway", and perhaps it angers me so much because I know I'm one of them.
A few weeks ago I was talking with a relatively new friend when I revealed my greatest secret. I'm actually quite shy. Painfully shy in fact. (It was, in hindsight, ridiculously stupid of me to have chosen a career in journalism given this personal affliction).
I'm constantly afraid of not sounding intelligent enough- of not making much sense. I'm afraid that if I say the wrong thing the powers that be that will strip me of my academic accolades realising that there was some dastardly mix up in the exams office. ("Sorry that was meant for the other Claire Allan. The one with her name spelled the uncomplicated way- Clare Allen".)
The better solution I believe is to do all we can to make sure young people, and young women in particular, never forget that sense of self belief we all had when we were wee. Someone should ask us all on a daily basis whether or not we are the best girls in Derry and we should force ourselves to reply that we are.
Maybe if we say it often enough, and loud enough, we will start to believe it ourselves.
Failing that, I'll hoke my old bike out, brush up on my Rodgers and Hammerstein and start singing as I clamber up the hill to Grianan Fort.
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