Sunday, September 30, 2007

A wee post for Mandi...

Reminds me of listening to Highland Radio every Saturday afternoon in Eddie's shop and singing this drunkenly after Henry J's.
Those were the days.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Amnesty and the abortion issue

I SHOULD preface this week’s column by saying that as a general rule I’m not pro-abortion.
There are few circumstances where I believe it is right to extinguish the life of an unborn baby and in an ideal world we would not have abortion - unwanted pregnancies could lead to much wanted children for childless couples. I state in “an ideal world” because sadly the world we live in is far from ideal and because of that there are times when tough choices have to be made.
There are times when we really are faced with choosing the lesser of two evils and this is why the debate over Amnesty International’s decision to support abortion for rape or incest victims is not the black and white issue some would like to make us believe.
I’ve been incensed as Catholic schools have withdrawn their support for Amnesty over this issue and even more incensed to read social commentators tell us that we have to stop Amnesty killing “all the wee babies”. Life, sadly and cruelly, is not all huggy, happy, holy, Irish cute baby-tastic.
At times it is unbearably evil and there are times when, as painful as it might be to others, the rights of the mother have to come into consideration. I’ll admit that until quite recently I was largely ignorant of the goings on in Darfur. Since becoming a mother I’ve switched off from a lot of the nastiness of the world finding that it takes little more than an ad for baby formula, never mind genocide, to tip me off into floods of tears.
I didn’t switch off from American drama series ‘ER’ however, and about a year ago the programme makers portrayed two of its doctors going to Darfur as part of Medicine San Frontiers. I was shocked by what I saw and against my better judgement (and my fragile emotional state) I went online and researched the human rights violations in the heart of Sudan.
Thousands of women and children have been raped as a weapon of war. Children as young as six or seven have been gang-raped in front of their parents. Should anyone speak out against the Sudanese army, or the Janjaweed (the militia who work alongside them) they face rape, torture and death.
When these women are raped, their lives are destroyed entirely. In a large number of cases they are ostracised from their families and their communities and left to fend for themselves in a war-torn country. If they fall pregnant as a result of their rape, their children are often abandoned, disowned or taken from them. Both mother and child face destitution, starvation and death.
There have been reported cases of pregnant rape victims being arrested and jailed for having sex outside of marriage and for unlawful pregnancy.
Due to the violence of their attacks many of these women suffer severe internal damage. When giving birth, women who have been raped are prone to developing fistulas (internal tearing which does not heal) and lose control of their bladder or bowel functions.
They become further isolated as a result of their incontinence - and that’s only if the attack hasn’t left them subject to infections such as HIV or Hepatitis - for which treatment is rarely available in refugee camps. far from an ideal world For these women, life holds no hope. There is no way to hide their status as “victim” as their bellies grow.
In an ideal world there would be medical treatment available to help these women survive the physical and emotional trauma of what has happened to them.
In an ideal world there would be a sea-change of cultural thought so that their communities embraced them and helped in their recovery.
In an ideal world their babies would be loved and welcomed as new lives, separate from the crimes of their father.
But as I have said, this is far from an ideal world.
Kate Gilmore, spokesperson for Amnesty International cites the situation in Darfur when explaining her organisation’s decision to support abortion in cases of rape and incest. "Amnesty International's position is not for abortion as a right but for women's human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations," she said, adding: "Amnesty International stands alongside the victims and survivors of human rights violations.
"Our policy reflects our obligation of solidarity as a human rights movement with, for example, the rape survivor in Darfur who, because she is left pregnant as a result of the enemy, is further ostracised by her community. “Ours is a movement dedicated to upholding human rights, not specific theologies. Our purpose invokes the law and the state, not God."
It’s a very brave move by Amnesty - one they know will have lost them supporters, but there is nothing easy or black and white about the situation the women in Darfur are facing. It’s very easy, in our Western world with our peace-time morality to make blanket judgements about Amnesty and their decision but I for one applaud their bravery and until a time when women have the basic rights to life themselves we cannot that they too deserve consideration, help and support.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Teenage kicks and frizzy perms

Did you enjoy being a teenager? Do you look back on those years with fondness or a certain cringing embarrassment?
Personally speaking I look back with mixed feelings. I don’t like seeing photographs of a teenage me with my spiral perms, teenage skin and questionable sense of style. There were times when I felt like an odd one out - a fairly swotty geeky weed in among the roses of the popular bunch at school.
But I have many happy memories as well. I was lucky in that I had a bunch of great - perhaps equally geeky in hindsight - friends who didn’t mind having a bit of craic and enjoying our earlier teenage years as some of sort of extended childhood. Yes, I’ll admit I was still playing with Barbies at 11 and 12. And yes, I was still making up dance routines at 14 or 15 and wearing sensible shoes at 17. (I wore my first pair of high heels - which were probably all of two inches high - to my sixth year formal and, trust me, I spent the whole night trying not to fall on my rear end).
I’ll also give my halo a wee polish as I admit that I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol until my 18th birthday and on that night sipped less than half a glass of West Coast Cooler terrified that any more would have me legless. So while I cringe at some of the memories and look at some of the stylish teenage girls wandering about up the town these days with a pang of jealousy, I’m still glad that life was relatively innocent.
This week a group of journalists got together at a fancy conference to discuss what young girls really think, and how what they think is influenced by the media. Coming in for criticism were teen mags Bliss, Sugar and Mizz for features which encourage young readers - some as young as 10 - to send in their pictures and ask fellow readers to rate them. Options including marks out of 10, and ratings of ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Minging’ are available and, in one case, if you don’t like your picture you can always airbrush it.
Now I say this knowing that if someone were to present me with a picture of a 13 year old me right now I would jump at the chance of airbrushing and retouching it - there is a particularly horrendous Brosette picture of me doing the rounds somewhere - but still it saddens me that this is the culture in which today’s teenage girls are being brought up. The emphasis of these magazine features is on appearance, something which many women feel vulnerable about, especially young women who’s bodies are changing and developing every day. To open a young person up for criticism in a magazine or online by their peers is irresponsible to a fault - and to then promote airbrushing as an answer to physical flaws is offensive.
Whatever happened to the school of thought that the media should be encouraging young people to be happy in their own skin? Shouldn’t we be putting the message out there that it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you are happy and content with yourself as a person? Should we really be encouraging a culture where appearance matters more than character or where young people can be subjected to online anonymous bullying from people who think it is funny to click the “minger” button? I was discussing this very issue yesterday afternoon with my VBF Vicki, who drew my attention to a new series on Channel 4 with the delightful title ‘How To Dump Your Mates?’
What this new programme does is take teenagers who are unhappy with their lives and give them a chance to turn themselves around. Well - it might all sound good and bit huggy-feely, but read a little deeper and it’s hard not to wonder how this programme could be more damaging than helpful. The programme takes five kids, gets them to tell their existing friends what they dislike about them and why they want to change - and then dump them for four days while they make new friends . (Are you following this? Gets a bit complicated I know).
Then at the end of the four days the original teenage guinea pig has to choose between their old friends and their new friends. I think there is a fatal flaw in this reasoning. First of all if one of my closest ‘friends’ took me to one side (on national TV) and told me all the things they disliked about me and my lifestyle and then dumped me in favour of new friends before coming crawling back I would tell them exactly what they could do with their friendship. (And trust me it would involve insertion into an orifice of their choosing).
I say that as an adult who can at least rationalise that some friendships are worth keeping while others simply are not, but if that happened to me as a teenager I would have been devastated. As I said my geeky band of friends (really hope that they know I’m calling them geeky with love in my heart) were everything to me back in those heady late 80s and I would have been lost without them.
So it angers me that along with looks being considered the be all and end all of life for teenage girls that they are now also being encouraged to think of their friends as dispensible commodoties to be picked up or dropped whenever it suits. There are times when I feel ancient as a 31 one year old, when I see a wrinkle and cringe, but I’d rather be me right here and right now than a teenager in a world where it is almost impossible to be considered good enough.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Headline of the week

I love reading trashy magazines. My husband often scoffs that I pick up a copy of both 'That's Life' and 'Take a Break' with my weekly shop but I do enjoy a good read.
I alos enjoy greatly choosing a headline of the week - you know the kind of story I wish as a journalist I'd written.
I may even make a scrapbook one of these days.
But anyway, this week's headline of the week, courtesy of page one of 'That's Life' magazine is "Bride's Amazing Rotating Breasts".
I only wish the story lived up to the headline, but it was only another botched boob job story. In a completely non-lesbian way I would have loved to have read about real rotating breasts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The things they say...

My little boy is obsessed and I mean OBSESSED with ham sandwiches at the moment.
If he could, he would eat them for breakfast, lunch AND dinner.
Yesterday as my aunt/childminder picked him up from nursery she asked what he would like for lunch.
His reply, as usual was "A ham sandwich".
"But Joseph," my aunt replied "If you keep eating so many ham sandwiches you will turn into one."

He burst into tears - sobbing his heart out - "But I don't want to be a ham sandwich. I just want to be Joseph."

Is it wrong that I laughed my head off when I heard that story?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Book MeMe!

ooooh, I've been tagged by Keris to share my book meme, and never one to resist a challenge here goes...

What have you just read?
Never Say Never by Melissa Hill- shameless escapism and a cracking good read apart from unrealistic book advance storyline which made me mad. Still - loving Ms. Hill she can do little wrong.

What are you reading now?
The Bad Bride's Tale by Polly Williams. Loved her first book - too early into this one to pass opinion.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
I will be devouring Crazy for You by fellow Northern Irish debut author Emma Heatherington which is out at the start of October. I am VERY excited about that one.

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?
It's a toss up between 'The Invisible Man' by Ralph W. Emerson or 'A Place Called Here' by Cecelia Ahern. Both very different books - both likely to make me want to kill myself with boredom.

What’s one book you always recommend to just about anyone?
Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes - funny, sad, uplifting, devastating and with a generous use of the word feck.

Admit it, sadly the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they?
Sadly no, but they know me in Eason

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?
Oooh, dunno. That's a tough one. Probably my own! ;)

Do you read books while you eat?

While you bathe?
As generally I shower it would be a bad move. Bed is my favourite reading spot.

While you watch movies or tv?
I do often have TV on in the background, down low.

While you listen to music?
No - but I rarely listen to music anymore unless nursery rhymes count.

While you’re on the computer?
Nope. Unless it's something from my Write Words girlies.

When you were little did other children tease you about your reading habits?
Yes, I was a total bookworm and always had my head in a Secret Seven book.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
I think My Best Friends Girl by Dorothy Koomson. I just wanted to know what was coming next.

Have any books made you cry?
See above. But books make me cry - very easily. Most Marian Keyes will have been wailing at some stage and Queen Mum by Kate Long broke my heart.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Why do we do it?

I'm not sure what it is about us Irish that we find it almost impossible to complain?
Even when service is absolutely shoddy we smile and nod and say thank you because, you know, we are supposed to be dead friendly and all.

Well today my window cleaner called round for his money. He is a nice man and I love that he cleans my windows as we live on a busy street and they are generally stinking.
BUT I happen to know for an absolute cast iron fact that he did not clean my windows this week. I know this because some dirty wee fecker threw a sweet at the windows last Sunday night and the stain is still there.
So I took the bull by the horns today - telling Mr Window Cleaner that I was very sorry but I didn't believe he can cleaned my windows this week.
"I did," he protested - just as I heard the front door slam shut behind me. I found myself on the street, child inside, no keys and with just a pissed off window cleaner for company.
Luckily I had been gutting the house and our living room window was open, so he offered to climb in and open the door.
Being that he was so kind, I handed over his money.
"I'm not taking money off you love," he said and the told me he wouldn't be cleaning my windows again because I didn't trust him.
(Well he had just openly fibbed.)
So did I tell him to stick his window cleaner route up his arse and leave him to his huff? No, I pleaded, nay begged him to reconsider even though HE HADN'T ACTUALLY CLEANED MY FECKING WINDOWS!!!
He said he will come back next week but I'm not holding my breath and I feel guilty and slightly bereft because in about two weeks I won't even be able to see out the blasted things.

Those pesky kids

A friend on Write Words brought the following Ebay linkage to my attention this week.
It looks like an ordinary Ebay listing but please, please read on for a very funny account of a mum of 6's trip to the supermarket with her brood.
I know how hard it is, and I only have one. Joseph seems to split into at least three versions of himself each time we go to Tesco and it is usually only once we are at home that I realise my weekly shop consists mostly of chocolate cake, chocolate milk and chocolate mousse. (He takes after his mum, obviously).
When shopping with a three year old, you don't only need eyes in the back of your head but in the front, side, top and bottom of your head.
Hey, but at least we can laugh about it.

The McCanns, the Media and Madeleine

LIKE many people I have spent the last week pouring over the press coverage of the McCann case trying to get my head around the latest developments in the search for missing Madeleine.
Four months ago it seemed so clear cut. We knew a little girl - a gorgeous wee thing not much older than my own child - had been taken from a holiday apartment and was missing. Everyone, from the Pope to pop singers backed the campaign to find her and bring her home safe and sound to the family who so clearly loved her.
Of course, in the background, there was a great discussion about whether or not the McCanns should have left Madeleine and her siblings alone while they went out for dinner, but given the hell the family were still going through at the time we were prepared to say they had suffered enough for that particular indiscretion.
As the days passed and our hopes were raised and dashed time and and time again, it did start to sink in that in all likelihood gorgeous little Madeleine was not coming home. I’d say most people have accepted that, chances are she is dead. Mny of us have formed our own opinions about what may have happened. We’ve all discussed it - at home, in work, online. We’ve all read the papers and watched the news - shaking our heads in disbelief.
Some have condemned the McCanns entirely. They “look a bit suss”. Something just “doesn’t add up”. And sure, remember all the times when those leading the campaigns for the return of loved ones actually turn out to be the people responsible for their disappearance?
I’ll admit that as I’ve watched Kate and Gerry McCann play out their campaign on the international stage I’ve been a little stunned by their apparant lack of emotion. If it were me, I can’t imagine being able to function never mind give calm and collected interviews to the media. But then again, I’m all too aware that those interviews are just glimpses of the McCanns. They want to get their message across and they are doing that.
None of us know what goes on behind the scenes. When the cameras stop rolling there is nothing to say that Kate and Gerry aren’t being engulfed in unbearable grief. And we tend to forget that they have to go on, trying to behave relatively normally, because they have two young children who need mummy and daddy to be there for them.
And just as none us knows what goes behind the scenes in the McCann house, all the speculating in the world will not give us a definitive answer as to what has become of their little girl. Each day a new rumour starts.
Each day that rumour changes until all we are getting are mixed messages. Madeleine’s blood was found in the boot of a car. Except it wasn’t her blood. It was her hair. And it wasn’t an exact match, so it could be from the twins, or from a hairbrush or from her cuddlecat. And Kate, well, she read a page in the Bible about a sick child so therefore she must clearly be a cold-blooded killer.
The latest rumour, as I write this column is that the Portugese police will use “evidence” in her diary that shows she killed Madeleine and would reveal her “allegedly volatile state of mind in the days after Madeleine's disappearance in May”. Now, let’s just think about that for a moment. Her three year old daughter had just gone missing - perhaps kidnapped by a paedophile - and it is somehow wrong for her to have a “volatile state of mind”? What would they expect to find? A calm recollection of a day at the beach? Witty anecdotes about what the twins did that day? It screams to me of clutching at straws.
The facts with this case - those who condemn the McCanns would say - are a bit suss and always have been. The “evidence” of the police - as I see it doesn’t exactly scream cast iron either. But again, I’m willing to accept that we don’t know it all. We, as observers, know next to nothing about this case in the grand scheme of things and yet we all seem too willing (myself included) to voice our opinions.
There is a kind of public ownership to this case which disturbs me. And while all this furore is growing, we are getting away from the point. Madeleine - arguably only the truly innocent victim in all this - is still missing.
No body has been found. No leads are being followed to her whereabouts She is simply gone without a trace. So moving away from the blame game for a while let’s all turn our attention again to finding her. As a parent - indeed as a human being - I can not imagine anything so cruel and horrendous as having a loved one suddenly vanish from my life. To not know her fate, whether she is alive, dead, happy, scared - what is or was going through her mind - is heartbreaking. We will probably never know the truth about what happened - all we know is that a little girl has been lost. We should not forget that.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The truth about writing

The lovely Luisa sent me the following link to a blog about what life is is like once you have a book published.
As Shauna would say "I'll file this under, it's funny cos it's true!"

And before we get accused of being all ungrateful and all, the bottom bit is especially true - it does blow your mind to have people like your work.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Money. Money, Money

The misconception that we writers are all loaded is a particular pet peeve of mine.
Now, I wouldn't turn down some money, but I'm not actually in this to get rich. I enjoy what I do and any money I make from my endeavours is a bonus.

But just to put the record straight, last year (April 06-April 07) my career as an author made me the grand profit of £1.46.

I'm just about to file my first self assessment tax form, and the cost of posting it to the Inland Revenue and then having them post my bill back to me... and then me posting the cheque for the bill will exceed actual tax bill (which I guess will be about 43p).

Now... what will I do with my other £1.03??? hmmm, decisions, decisions.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Little boy, big school

The day has finally dawned.
In just over two hours I'll be taking my little man by the hand and walking him in the gates of his nursery school towards the exciting yet scary world of education.
So far, when I've been working, Joseph has been minded by my auntie Stella who has looked after him for just over three years.
She has given him bucketloads of one on one attention, brought him on in leaps and bounds and I couldn't ask for better.
But now, well it's time for her to share that care with the lovely people of his nursery school.
I'm excited because I know his school has a great reputation and the teaching staff seem wonderful. Their pastoral care so far has been wonderful (two induction sessions, a home visit and special storybook for him to read all about the school), but still a selfish part of me is overwhelmed with emotion.
So far I've been largely able to control who cares for him and what influences him. Now, it's over to someone else. And I can't make sure anymore that no one is mean to him or won't share their toys with him. (Even though it is likely he will be the one not wanting to share the toys.)
I'm also reminded of the anecdote in which a mother said her heart broke a little when she bought her child's first pair of shoes. She was proud, but sad because that was the start of her child walking away from her.
So as Joseph waves me off and lets me get on with my life, I know that mummy will have become just a little bit less important to him.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reason 1245 why Marian Keyes makes me laugh

It's always a happy day in the Allan household when the monthly email pings into my mailbox letting me know that Marian Keyes' latest newsletter is up.
It always has at least one thing which makes me laugh til my pelvic floor screams for mercy. This month the newsletter imparted not only the fabulous news that "This Charming Man" is finally complete, but also this keenly observed description of audiences from 'The Late Late Show'.
I have been known to clap along (I think they give you an extra dose of clapping gene when you give birth)... but still it made me snort.

(Quick note: The Late Late Show is an Irish chatshow and they seem to bus their studio audiences in from the 1950s. They always seem to be peopled by biddable eejits who will clap along like wind-up toys to anything - all they need to hear is the opening three notes of My Lovely Horse or indeed even the sound of a clock ticking and the next thing, there they all are, happy shiny-eyed gobshites, clapping obediently along, like time-warp automatons. Sometimes Himself makes me to go music things and even when the music is infectiously rhythmic, I resist the urge to get into it, just in case I start clapping like – exactly! – a member of The Late Late Show audience. It is one of my biggest fears.)

To read more, please visit MK's website!
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