Oh, for the luxury of a scooch



I’ve had a lifetime of bad posture. Long, weak limbs combined with horrendously low self-esteem resulted in years of tightly curling myself up into as little space as possible. 

To sleep, I always lay on my right side in the foetal position. HImself often urged me to sleep on my back like he did, to which I’d pretend to listen while biting back comments on his propensity to snore when in that position. And an article saying sleeping on your right side was best for the body further bolstered my enthusiasm for the position. 

But then, when the news came that open heart surgery was necessary, my world went flat. Because the health problem runs in my family and I’d seen many relatives go through this,  I knew the surgery would also involve cutting open the sternum and rib cage, which would need a lot of lying flat on my back to recover. I was dreading going into hospital, convinced I wouldn’t sleep a wink if I couldn’t twist and turn. 

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May Day, May Day


t’s time once again to mark May Day, the international holiday for workers. And given that this decade is seeing the centenaries of many events that had a major impact on 20th century life, perhaps it’s also a good time to reflect on why the Worker’s Holiday was considered necessary. A century ago, manual labourers were expendable. Worksites were dangerous places, and an injury or illness meant no income. Company owners and managers cared little about their staff. It was the time that moved W. B. Yeats to pen the scathing lines:

What need you, being come to sense,

But fumble in a greasy till

And add the halfpence to the pence

And prayer to shivering prayer, until

You have dried the marrow from the bone.

The workers’ rights movements, and the establishment of unions, saw the end of child labour, the initiation of a two-day weekend, a 40-hour work week, minimum wage, holiday pay, paid sick leave, maternity leave.  A host of things we take for granted now, to the extent that many no longer see the need for unions.

But now a draft report by the World Bank is suggesting that all these measures be abandoned if they hinder a company from maximising its profits. It says “High minimum wages, undue restrictions on hiring and firing, strict contract forms, all make workers more expensive vis-à-vis technology.” The recommendations are part of the World Bank’s Development Report for 2019, which will focus on how automation and technology are impacting on jobs. 

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The Land of Saints and Scholars


One week ago, the Irish author Emma Hannigan died from cancer. She was only 45, but had been previously diagnosed with cancer ten times. She also wrote 14 books since her first diagnosis in 2007, mostly fiction with several best-sellers.

It was the middle of February when Emma’s doctors told her they could do no more for her. Her latest book, called “Letters from my Daughters”, was on release, but she had obviously been unable to do any publicity for it. So when Emma announced to her fans and the literary world that she had to say goodbye, her fellow Irish writers decided to promote the book for her. Names like Marion Keyes and Patricia Scanlon got involved, and some authors abandoned promoting their own novels to push Emma’s. The novel got to the top of the Irish fiction charts, with over twice the sales of the runner-up.

I wasn’t surprised that this was how the Irish author community and readers reacted. We are a nation that respects writers, storytellers, artists. Anybody that demonstrates their skills is accepted as such. Accent, addresses, education levels no longer matter if you can spin a tale or play a tune.

I remember having just returned to Ireland for a spell when Seamus Heaney died. When the news broke, it seemed the whole country stopped to pay tribute. Taxi drivers told about their brief encounters with the man, while office workers, shop attendants and the unemployed spoke about how they still remembered his poem they’d learned at age 10 or 11. He was the poet of the people, not just the academics and the privileged few. No wonder, in a land were ordinary folk speak of the everyday in the metre of a bard.

We are now fortunate that the censor board has been infused with common sense, and future Nobel prize winners will no longer feel obliged to emigrate to be able to produce their best. While other nations ban, jail or silence their talent, and their people don’t know of their own artists that are household names in “enemy” countries, we will continue to give our storytellers pride of place in our Kindles and in our hearts.

And may Emma’s family gain solace from knowing how much pleasure she had spread to other through her works.



What next for #MeToo?


We’ve been here before. Revelations emerge about a famous figure’s misdeeds and public condemnation and discussion about our misogynistic society grows, building up hopes that things will finally change. And maybe for a while it does. But soon the furore fades away and the status quo returns. Next month, Harvey Weinstein will be forgotten, only to be raised in end-of-year round-ups and when the Oscars roll around again.

I suspect there’s a man behind this excoriation of Weinstein. The producer’s projects have not had the same impact in recent years as before. His last Best Picture Oscar was in 2012 for The Artist. His crown was slipping. And some man hoping to grab it for himself decided to bury Weinstein in all those tales of rape and abuse known try everyone in the industry.

The complaints of a handful of women were publicised first, with the glorious Rose McGowan being perhaps the most active on social media. But the accusations had to be banded together to gain credence. McGowan’s account of how she was punished by the industry for speaking out led to a few other abuse perpetrators being outed. More and more of the big female names began to tell their experiences too. They knew it was now safe as they no longer had to fear the same reprisals McGowan did.

The stories started to spread outside the movie industry, as women across the workforce instantly recognised the scenario and matched it up with their own memories and realities. A hashtag was born. But are men listening any more or has the sheer number of corroborating accounts forced them back on the defensive? Are women by now just talking to themselves again, if out loud instead of sotte voce this time? Will everyone else who comes forward be accused of jumping on a bandwagon?

Of course I can say #metoo. I can say I know how a company lets its senior males stick their hands and tongue wherever they want, while the women are expected to learn ways to avoid him. I know how long-term staff watch to see whether the new intern will fall into the sleazebag’s trap. I’ve argued with other women that they don’t need to put up with behaviour like that, or on whether it’s really necessary to have so many rape scenes in our movies and our TV programmes. Most of which are written, created and produced by the same men that are abusing women like Rose McGowan.

I don’t expect things to change much. We are not on the cusp of the Age of Equality. The White House is occupied by a man who boasted of the exact same behaviours as Weinstein. Advertising firms will still use female bodies to sell everything under the sun. And women will continue to dodge the perverts. As for equal pay, equal opportunities, or just not having to see your work passed on to your male colleagues to sign off on, don’t hold your breath.

10 grams of gold



It’s not something to take lightly,

These 10 grams of gold

Encircling my third finger on my left hand.

One gram for each digit.

It’s a weight that feels solid,

Grown-ups’ jewellery.

It’s no trinket picked up on a side-street

Meant to declare a persona.


It’s no charmed gilded cage,

Suffocating, restricting, controlling.

it’s a reminder of you,

Every minute of every day,

Of a love that’s secure,

Without artifice, threats or lies.

It’s our treasure to share,

Our investment to protect.

Rust, don’t you settle here.

Why a magnet?


The broken radio lay discarded on the junk heap. Its still-shiny chrome and black plastic casing stood out against the dark red of the rusted anvils and old machinery. It was strange to see it there instead of on its customary place on the dresser.

We grabbed it,  and began twisting the dials, raising the antenna and pushing it back down, pressing buttons. But nothing happened. The radio was truly broken. Then one of the speakers came loose, giving a glimpse at the inner workings of the device. My brother began to pry it open further. I was the hesitant ninny. I knew how vital the radio was to everyday life, how valuable electrical goods were. But my brother said they didn’t need it, wasn’t the replacement in there in the kitchen already?

I was curious too to see inside the radio, so my protests didn’’t last long. I wanted to know how this little box brought us music from America and beyond, and let us attend sports events taking place a hundred miles away.

But when I saw the magnet in the centre of the speaker, I was stumped. What could it possibly have to do with radio broadcasting? A magnet was a magical thing of itself to us children, our concept of it highly influenced by cartoons, where the bad guy was lifted up and held tight by a massive red and silver U-shaped specimen, betrayed by his belt buckle. But I knew this black circle that looked like a piece of rubber was a magnet, because it looked exactly like the fragments we’d played with before. They must also have come from obsolete radios, taken apart by either someone curious or someone thrifty. And knowing my dad, I’m going with curious.

My brother and I split the magnet in two. I took my half into school, and it was a sensation for a day.

Thirty years later, I listen to music and radio programmes on my laptop. I can’t even see the speakers, and have no idea if they need magnets or not. But the excitement and wonder of that afternoon pulling a radio apart is as fond a memory of a time gone past as the sound of crackling voices coming over the airwaves as a station bursts out of the white noise and into life. Beat that, iTunes podcasts.


Inspired by Daily Prompt: Magnet




A seemingly innocuous word. Yet, like all utterances, it depends on how it’s said.

When men bellow it across the street, it’s not so welcoming. When they whisper it at you in a dark street or corridor, it’s the verbal equivalent of an opportunistic grope.

As a foreign female, the word is thrown at you like a javelin. It tells you that you have been seen, your otherness will not go unnoticed, unremarked here. It slices through the air at you, dragging the attention of everyone around with it. It punctures any daydream you may have been having, any illusion that you can have a normal life here, be an ordinary person.

Then there’s the mothers/grandmothers who point their toddler at you and tell it over and over: “Say ‘Hello’”. Teaching the child from a young age that people with different skin colours are something to stare at, to point out, to treat as exotic spectacles. So the concept will prevail for yet another generation that people of other ethnicities are tourist attractions, so it’s okay to gawp slack jawed at them and discuss their appearance like you would an exhibit in a museum. That a photograph of them is a prize to show off on social media. Or a sneaky selfie beside them on a plane or in the metro. Ignore their discomfort, their annoyance; sure, it’s not like they’re human beings like yourself, is it?