Saturday, July 22, 2006

Just a word of thanks...

AS regular readers will know I'm an aspiring writer. Well because of that I've been hanging out at Write Words a lot and have made some lovely new virtual friends- esp in the Chick Lit forum.
I have to say these enormously talented ladies have taught me so much about my craft and I want to thank them wholeheartedly.

And for the record I"m now 10,000 words into my second novel 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered'.

Enjoy this tiny taster:
After Jake had left me, swaggering out of my flat with his T-shirt inside out, I had tried to win him back.
I became, I can admit with the fullness of time, a little psychotic over the whole thing. I bombarded him with phonecalls and when he changed his number I started with letters and emails.
I wanted him to know that I was as shocked by the whole thing as he was and that I had reacted myself with the same anger and disbelief but that it would and could be ok and sure we hadn't planned it, but that didn't mean a baby would have to be a bad thing.
He didn't reply. I would have handled the whole thing better if he had repeatedly told me to feck off, but he didn't. He just ignored me and that allowed me to tell my pregnancy addled, hormone riddled brain that perhaps he never got the 36 letters or 49 emails and that his phone must have a fault.
Eventually, after sobbing like a mad woman all over Janice Grayson's new nursery, Beth sat me down on the luxury rocker and told me that I needed to let go. I needed to realise he didn't want me or our baby. I nodded, agreed- I mean I hadn't really wanted our baby myself. So I decided that I had to change my tactics. He might not have wanted us then, but surely that would change when he heard about his own daughter?

Disgusted with Derry

I'M ANGRY, and -to paraphrase that great philosopher of our time 'The Incredible Hulk'- you will not like me when I'm angry.

I have always been exceptionally proud to call Derry my home. I have been proud as punch of our sense of community spirit- our ability to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and get on with life when everyone and his granny seems to be conspiring against us.
Always a home-bird, I have never wanted to leave this city. I never wanted to be part of the 'brain-drain' and when I'd finished studying I returned to Derry to set up a home, start a family and settle down. I even managed to persuade my other half, an English man who had heard enough about the Troubles to put him off Northern Ireland for life, that Derry was different. I persuaded him that all that nasty business of the last 30 years was behind us and that this was actually a safe place to live. I was very smug in my praise of my hometown.
Last Saturday night Paul McCauley was kicked half to death. Two others were injured. My own brother had been at that party earlier in the evening and, by the grace of God, had gone home early. I cannot bear to think about the position our family may have been in now had he stayed.
I know the people who were at the party. I've met most of them at various times as they sauntered in and out of my mammy's house to see my brother. It seems trite to say it now, but there isn't a bad bone in any of them- but then no-one deserves to be jumped upon in their own garden and have their heads kicked in, bad bone or not.
The attack may or may not have been sectarian, but I think that in focusing on putting a label on the assault we are ignoring the most frightening aspect of this whole episode: There are people in this city who think it is perfectly acceptable to do as much physical damage to another human being as possible without thinking, for one second, about the consequences.
Those people include, but are by no means limited, to the scumbags who left Paul McCauley for dead. They prowl our city streets every weekend looking for people to batter to within an inch of their lives. They enjoy it. They thrive on seeing people scared, on hearing people beg them to stop. They are the worst kind of scum and they are dirtying the name of this city every time they lash out at someone for a bit of craic.

I find it hard not to get emotional when talking about this issue. Twelve years ago my brother was their target. He was pounced upon at 8.30 in the evening as he walked along the river with his friends. He was kicked in the head until he was battered and bruised and his teeth were smashed. His attackers kept on kicking him in the head until a passing car stopped and hauled him to safety.
I have emphasised the fact that he was kicked in the head because this shows how his attackers clearly didn't give a damn if they killed him. Every blow could have been fatal. Every blow knocked a little bit of confidence out of him that took many years to rebuild and yet we know that he was ultimately lucky.
If you are wondering, my brother's "crime" was that he dressed differently to his attackers. He didn't talk to them, didn't engage with them. He was just walking to a friend's house (in fact the same house where Sunday's attack occurred) when those responsible took a dislike to him.
My mother's best friend is a social worker attached to the Brain Injury unit. She admits she has been shocked at the increase in people needing support and treatment as a direct result of beatings they have sustained in this town we all love so well.
It is a shocking and sickening indictment of this city and how it is becoming a place that people no longer feel proud of.
At a time when we should be pulling tourists in by the thousands, when the City Council is doing all it can to make Derry as attractive as possible to residents and tourists alike, these animals think of nothing of destroying anything, or anyone, in their wake.
I think it is time that we got tough on our culture of street crime. I think it is time the people of Derry told everyone for once and for all that enough was enough and we aren't going to stand for this any more.
The fact is it could have been any of us who were beaten to a pulp in the early hours of Sunday morning. This wasn't a city centre street, it was a private back garden and any one of us could have been in it, enjoying a few drinks with friends while waiting for the sun to rise.
The attack on Paul McCauley shows once and for all and none of us are safe as long as these thugs are allowed to wander our streets and get away with attempted murder.
So yes, I'm angry. I want to be able to convince my husband that he lives in a city where we won't judged for our accents, our religions or what clothes we wear. I want to know that in 16 years time when our son goes out for the night I won't be pacing the floor worrying that he will be the latest victim of an unprovoked attack.
I want to feel proud to call Derry home again.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Boys and their toys

MY SON is a typical wee boy. He loves Bob the Builder, Noddy and Thomas the Tank Engine and gets terribly excited when he claps eyes on a 'PC Plum' (police man), fire engine, "ambliance" or airplane.

He looks every inch a boy- from his curly bap to his battered sneakers. He always has looked like a boy, to the point that he has never once in his entire life, even as a week old infant, been confused for anything other than a little boy. (I do remember one well meaning old dear peering the pram and saying: "That can't be anything other than a boy, can it?")
But love for cars, trains, planes, footballs and rough-and-tumble aside, the real love of his life at present is a TV character most certainly aimed at little girls- the wonderful Fifi ForgetMeNot.
He has not one but two talking Fifi dolls (he did have a third but she met a sorry end under the wheels of a passing car). Fifi must go everywhere. In her pink welly boots and denim dungarees, complete with flower motif, she must sit in his high chair with him at every meal time, must go to bed with him, to his Auntie Stella's with him, in the car with him and dare he wake in the middle of the night and she is not to be found there is all hell to pay.
I have taken to avoiding Foyleside because Joseph has renamed it "Fifi's House". He knows that Adams sell Fifi clothes and that the Early Learning Centre stocks a variety of Fifi toys- all of which he thinks he has an automatic right too just because he loves her so much.
Similarly I have lost count of the amount of times I have been woken during the night to Jane Horrocks' voice announcing "Hello, I'm Fifi ForgetMeNot, you're my best friend" as Joseph brings his cuddly best friend into the bed beside me. The added joy is that Fifi also has the power to automatically switch herself off after two minutes declaring loudly: "Don't forget to come back soon!".

Fifi's world...
As a doting mammy I don't really have any problems with my son's fascination for Fifi (who comes scented with a real flower smell). At times she is a welcome relief from the endless episodes of Fireman Sam or Noddy but other people are perhaps not so understanding of my son's love for a girl's toy. In fact I have received a few odd looks when people see my child cart his treasured pink and yellow doll around with him.
Earlier this week I bought a bright pink Fifi ForgetMeNot duvet cover for Joseph and some of my mammy friends were shocked. A few said that while their sons loved Fifi too, there is no way they could put a pink duvet on a boy's bed- and their husbands would go mad at the very notion.
It seemed strange to me. My friend's little girl, Amy, who is the same age as Joseph happily sports a pair of Bob the Builder pyjamas. They are dark blue and clearly designed with little boys in mind. No one has batted an eyelid. Amy loves "Bob De Da" (as she so very sweetly pronounces it) so why shouldn't she have pyjamas emblazoned with the Bob the Builder logo?
It would seem it is more acceptable for a little girl to cross the gender boundaries than it is for a boy. No one would be concerned if Amy had a Bob the Builder duvet cover. I doubt they would bat an eyelid if they saw her peddling around the streets on a Bob the Builder bike- but should you put your average Derry young fellah on a pink bike or in pink pyjamas and you would be asking for trouble.
Personally I've never had any problem at all with Joseph playing with toys for girls as well as boys. He owns a tea set (admittedly he is about as interested in it as he is in molecular biology), a pram and a rag doll. He has been known to dress up in a Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus costume and practice his Bella Ballerina dance steps in his granny's living room. I don't think any of this will have done him any harm. He is just as likely to spend three hours driving the same truck up and down the garden path or to run around the garden dressed as Superman shouting 'Super Joe' at the top of his lungs.
So I don't have a problem with letting him go to sleep at night under a pink duvet cover. I'm aware that as he grows older and spends more time with his peers he will more than likely die with embarrassment at the very notion he once took Fifi to bed every night, but for now, while there is still a touch of babyness about him, he can do whatever makes him happy. (That said I'll be vetoing his his repeated request for Fifi pants to go alongside his newly acquired set of big boy underwear- a mother has to draw the line somewhere and wearing girls' underwear is a bridge too far, even for me.)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Friday, July 07, 2006

Drum roll please!!!

This is my 100th post on this blog.

It should be something momentous I feel- sadly it's not.
It's just me, sitting here, smiling and feeling rather smug.

When you're smiling...

TWO YEARS ago when I was dealing with the 'joys' of sleepless nights and other new parenting gems I took to yamming down the phone on a regular basis to my VBF friend Vicki.

As a mother of three (well, she had two then- but she breeds fast) she was well versed in the stresses of dealing with family upheaval and she calmly told me that a good laugh beats a good cry any day of the week.
I thought about what she had said and realised she just may have been on to something. You see, when I phoned Vicki to off-load my woes, or vice versa, we inevitably managed to bring the conversation round to something light-hearted in an attempt to cheer up whichever one of us was standing on the proverbial window ledge.
At the end of each conversation we would have laughed until our sides hurt and gone away much less stressed and ready to take whatever renewed 'joys' the next 24 hours would throw at us.
I started to realise that when I needed a release of emotion, it was often more productive to stick on a Billy Connolly video and laugh until my pelvic floor muscles begged for mercy than to lie in a darkened room listening to Sarah McLachlan CDs and weeping like a Banshee.
I'll admit however that being a typical Derry woman my immediate reaction to almost every situation is to automatically think the worst, get myself into a state of blind panic about it and come to the conclusion that the world as we know it is set to fall in around my ears in a spectacular style.
I have always believed, you see, that if you prepare for the worst and expect it to happen you will be pleasantly surprised when things go right. I have always seen huge danger signs when it comes to anticipating that everything will run smoothly. It is in just these situations that someone on high will delight in switching on that great big celestial candid camera in the sky and then watch with glee as your life implodes around you.
I'm not sure where I got my extreme pessimism from. My parents are fairly normal, and my sister is positively Mary Poppins-like in her outlook. She lives life one day at a time, having developed a rather impressive"cross that bridge when she comes to it" attitude. I, on the other hand, have been building imaginary bridges to cross most of my adult life.
My husband is equally optimistic in his approach to life. The phrase "so laid back he is horizontal" was designed specifically with him in mind. So there I am, the lone merchant of doom in my family.
Unsurprisingly I have discovered that walking around under a black cloud of my own making does not make me happy so - with the help of Vicki and her wicked sense of humour - I've set about trying to make myself laugh when I'm more tempted to cry.
Billy Connolly is a good start. I have yet to watch a video of his without howling with laughter throughout. The jokes don't get tired. I find his impression of drunk man, be it walking or singing, hilarious.
Also guaranteed to raise a giggle is an evening spent with friends, be it the real ones who I know in person or the TV show of the same name. It is a great treat to lock the doors on the world and curl up on the sofa with a kingsize Galaxy and an hour of two of Ross, Rachel et al.
Vicki and I share many in jokes. All I need to do is call her Mabel and she returns the favour by calling me Betty and the laughter starts. Likewise, and back to the Billy Connolly theme here, there is one friend I only have to mention the phrase "A Roman and only one" to and we both convulse with laughter. (For those now looking at this page with a look of confusion on their face, I highly recommend the 'Billy and Albert' DVD)
I'm sure onlookers would think we are cracked, or as the lovely Rosie McCann who used to sit beside me in work would say, that we were on the glue, but nonetheless such simple expressions and jokes can lift you from the sourest of moods and make the rest of the day that little bit more bearable.
Of course there are situations when a good cry is necessary. It would be wholly inappropriate to hoot with laughter at a funeral, but in the majority of cases a smile can and does help.
So, I'm asking the people of Derry to cast aside our reputation as grumpy so and sos and to start smiling more. It won't be easy- old habits die hard- but go one give it a go, it can't do any harm!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Month 29- Behold the spawn of Satan

Dear Joseph,
I would like to start this month's letter by saying I love you dearly with all my heart and what may follow should not take away from the surge of positive emotions I feel about you on a daily basis.
You have turned into, what we in Derry like to call, a wee shite. It's not that you are bad as such. You haven't killed any puppies or thrown anyone out of a window (with the exception of your Tigger glove puppet)- you have just become, how can I put this, trying.
You have discovered the joy of tantrums and, much to my 'joy', the ability to do the full body slump whereby you collapse into a gelatenous heap on the floor and wriggle about so that even the most wily of mammies/ childminders/ daddies can't lift you up as you screech and shout "Me no want to".
I should, I guess, applaud your stand for your rights but when you take that stand in Tesco, while people tut and look on, it can be hard to deal with.
You have also discovered the 'excitement' which can be created by you running off in crowded shopping centres sending your mammy/childminder/daddy into a frenzy of panic as we search for you all the time imagining the worst.
And, you have also discovered just how much 'fun' it is draw blood from your own mother while you sink you teeth into her boob while giving her cuddle.

That's not to say you aren't a joy. You make me roar with laughter each day. Just yesterday you sang "Don't you wish your mammy was fun like me, don't you, don't you" in the car and I almost choked. You tell me I'm "so handsome" on an almost daily basis now and you love me, entirely and totally.
And I do love you back baby boy. But, if you can help it all, please stop with the mammy abuse.
Love you squillions.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A friend for every season

YOU'LL FORGIVE me for sounding exceptionally smug this week when I say that I really have been blessed with some of the nicest friends on the planet.

My birthday has been and gone and I now, as a woman in my 30s, reserve the right to be exceptionally self indulgent and quite publicly say a huge thank you to everyone who made my transition from a young thing to an official grown up lady so smooth and enjoyable.
I think we women rely on our friends much more than our male counterparts. There is a many a crisis I could not have survived without my friends around me. Himself has a role to play, of course he does, but he doesn't understand my need for chocolate, wine and a good cry or giggle in the same way as 'the girls'.
Now usually us women have a group of friends from every era of our lives and never the twain shall meet. You know, you have the school friends, the uni friends, the work friends and the mammy friends. Then, of course, you have the family friends, those who are bound to get on with due to blood ties but who you do actually quite like when you think about it.
Each of them knows a different you. Your school friends know the gawky, silly you who wanted to be Teri Hatcher in 'Lois and Clarke' and who cried herself silly for a whole day when Bros broke up.
Your uni friends know how you were madly in love with the class mate who didn't ever look at you twice. They may even have driven you past the object of your affection's house as you did your best 'Fatal Attraction' impression.
Your 'mammy' friends can sympathise about the sleepless nights and could recount your labour story to you as if were their own. They even know the appropriate moments to cross their legs and grimace while telling the tale.
Your work friends know the you that is both at times the consummate professional, but who at other times is prone to a snottery big cry in the toilets when you have a bad day. They know what bun you take with your morning cup of tea and when to leave you alone as deadline approaches and steam rises from your keyboard.

Do you do voodoo?
As for family, well they know everything about you. Nothing escapes them and when everything goes horribly wrong with your non-related friends you know there is at least one person who will be nice to you and help you make the voodoo doll.
As a general rule, you don't want them to mix. Your work colleagues could do without knowing that you used to make up dance routines to Bananarama songs in your family friends' living room.
Likewise your Mammy friends, who think you are exceptionally grounded and responsible, do not need to know how your uni friend also brought you to the shop where your unrequited love's mother worked just so you could check out the prospective mother in law.
For my birthday, however, they all got together and, better than that, they all got along wonderfully with each other.
I was spoiled rotten. My sister booked me and my VBF (very best friend) into the City Hotel for the night. My school friend brought enough pink champagne to sink a small ship. My work friend showed up with a voucher for a fancy pampering session at a local hairdressers. My VBF (who is also a mammy friend) travelled over from Scotland just for the occasion and jointly they paid for a trip around town in a fancy stretch Mercedes limo, where all my friends had put together a collection of my favourite songs for us to sing to.
Each song, just like each friend in the Limo, represented a different stage of my life, but funnily enough each friend sang along loudly to every song and we roared with laughter together as we shared our individual memories.
As we sat together in Pitchers for our meal, I looked around and couldn't help but feel emotion choke me. It's a wonderful experience to realise people care for you and genuinely want to spend time in your company. Each of them gave me a thoughtful gift, from some gorgeous jewellery to a bound copy of my novel (perhaps the only time I will ever see it in print).
More than that, these girlies, many of whom had never met and only knew about each other through me, had been scheming, plotting and saving for weeks before the big day to make it special for me. They had formed their own friendships through email and phone calls.
Ever since that night each of them have contacted me to tell me how lovely the rest of them were. They have vowed to keep in contact and we all plan to meet up again next year when my sister gets married (exactly one year today- woohoo!).
Self indulgence aside (before this gets too tedious), I think this is a perfect example of just how supportive, open and welcoming women can be. Friendships can be the most nurturing and inspiring relationships in our lives and as far as I'm concerned every woman should have her own set of 'the girls' to call her own.
So to 'the girls' I'm proud to call my friends, Lisa, Vicki, Erin, and Nora- thank you all from the very bottom of my heart and remember, a friendship is for life- not just for a 30th birthday.
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