‘Change or Die’ – Must Older People do Both?


So, how was the Budget for you? Regardless of how one is or isn’t affected, you won’t have to look too far in your family to find someone  who is.

My parents will be 50 years married next year. In this time they have;

  • Lived in the same house
  •  Banked with the same branch of the same bank
  • Had the same phone company, same electricity provider, same insurance company etc.
  • Shopped in the same branch of the same supermarket, on the same day of the week, at just about the same time
  • Gone on the same holiday, to the same place, at the same time of year, for as many years as they were physically able

The same. Just how they like it. Routine, familiar, comforting. I’m sure there are plenty of other elderly couples, singles, siblings etc who are just like them. And where’s the harm in that?

But of course that’s not good enough for our government and other authorities.

Amidst the raft of horrible cuts to older people in this year’s budget, the severance of the landline phone allowance generated much talk.

‘Change to another provider,’ they said.

‘Change to a mobile phone instead!’ they said.

Yes, that could be done. But why should it be done – why should they have to? Older people who like things just so, don’t want change.

My father would be a different case in point. He has dementia. His ability to use a landline is ingrained. He would forget where he left a mobile phone. Forget the unlocking code. Forget how to turn it on/off.

Change is not as wanted – or easy – as people can sometimes glibly think.

For years my mother like to travel directly to pay her own bills. Up to the ESB office, over to eircom, into the Insurance company. ‘ I know that they’re paid and it’s a job done’ she’d say. Then they gradually shut down these customer facing facilities. Streamlining, they said. Costcutting, we muttered. So, her bills were then all paid by cheque. Now, her bank informs her, cheques will cost €1.10 each (in advance of their getting rid of them) . Oh and while we’re at it, Mrs Customer, don’t be coming in queuing up with your lodgements, go over there and use our fancy machine. And don’t bring coins. Unless they’re bagged. And unless it’s a Tuesday…. Have you ever heard the like? Longstanding, loyal customers, being ordered what to do, or not do, with their own money. That the banks wouldn’t exist without.

My parents won’t be hit by the medical card changes – this time around. Between them both they have nearly a dozen different prescriptions. Mam asked her chemist once how much all of them would actually cost for a months supply. ‘I’d be afraid to tell you’ was the reply. Would YOU like a €125 per month pay cut? Because that’s the change possibly facing many older (and not so old) people who could end up paying for all medications without their long used and accustomed to medical cards.

‘Change or die’ the saying goes. Older people do not welcome the former. What is the other option again?

Their dignity, their routines, their creature comforts – why can’t they just leave our older people be.

On the (mis)use of the Exclamation Mark


Consider, if you will, the following sentence;

‘Oh no. The house is on fire.’

or perhaps;

‘Wow. I’ve won the Lotto.’

Are they perhaps lacking a little something? Let’s try again…

‘Oh no! The house is on fire!’

‘Wow! I’ve won the Lotto!’

Yes, it’s our friend the exclamation mark. Really adds punch and definition, don’t you think? Much loved and much used. But sadly much abused also.

It is an editor’s job to snuff out inappropriate exclaiming, so in the printed word this is not really an issue. But in the communication world of social media – is there any other kind these days – ie text, Twitter, Facebook, the poor exclamation mark gets thrown around senselessly and willy-nilly, losing its power and hard earned, lofty position along the way. Yes, it can be hard to emote in the written form, especially in only 140/160 characters, but that’s still no excuse for the following punctuation sins. I have divided them into three categories;


You know the type of text – we’ve all received them…

‘Hiya! Went to the cinema earlier! The film was fantastic. Really funny! Will we see you later on?!’

Now, unless this person is permanently hyper-excited/is on drugs/leads a life of continuous ecstasy, then this is just not on. Not to mention irritating to the reader on whom this exclamation fest is being foisted upon. Over on Twitter, people in your timeline who appear permanently giddy and delighted, are on their way to a big, fat unfollow. A certain Irish food blogger/tv chef I used to follow had exclamations in every sentence, of every single tweet. Are recipes constantly that exciting? He does comes across as positively effervescent on TV, so maybe it is appropriate for him. But not for my timeline. A quick flick through his cookbook at least confirmed editorial control, as mentioned earlier. Good.

Repeat use

Why use one exclamation mark when two or more are there for the taking. So, what are you trying to convey?

1 – I’m excited!

2 – I’m very excited!!

3 – I’m super excited!!!

4 – I’m unbelievably excited!!!!

5 – I can’t even explain how excited I am!!!!!

6 or more !!!!!!!!!! – I’m delirious/the keyboard is stuck/ I’m trying to use up my 140 characters.

Inappropriate use

Consider the following:

‘I can’t believe he’s dead.’


‘I can’t believe he’s dead!’

For me, the former sentence is the more appropriate, with a sense of gravitas. Does the latter almost indicate a sense of excitement? I’ve seen this type of exclamation being used with more frequency.

Comments on Twitter, calling some sad news item ‘a tragedy!’

Or regarding a death,

‘It’s so terrible that he’s gone!’

I’m not even on Facebook. I will drag myself kicking and screaming there when my now small children cross that inevitable Rubicon. But there is a very disturbing phenomenon that apparently abounds there. It regards posts young people put up when a friend dies tragically or by suicide…

U R a legend!

See you on the other side!!

Gone too soon, man. Miss you forever!!

It reads like a hero status is being conveyed, as well as a sense of excitement and enthusiasm about what has happened. It’s a whole world more disturbing than the mere use or misuse of an exclamation point. And is a subject for another day. But to illustrate, I think

‘Miss you forever.’

reads as altogether more appropriate.

And so that’s me. I was just so excited to make these points. She exclaimed.

One More Thing to Love about the GAA

I read a really heartwarming piece in today’s Irish Times, by Damien Cullen, about the little things that make the GAA so special. **

It reminded me of one extra GAA thing that (as a parent of under 12s) I also love. Namely the massive feat of organisation, co-ordination and enjoyment that is……Cúl Camps.

A week of training, fun and games, at your local club, with full kit and fine school bag (hey thanks!) - sorry, gear bag –  thrown in. For half the price of most summer camps. Open to members and non, locals or not, age 6 to 12.

As the advertisement says ‘ Over 1, 000 camps in 32 counties’ this summer. Think about that number….

‘Ah sure they have the club structure and a sponsor’,  would be an easy, throwaway comment to make.  Now I am guesstimating here, but it also means;

An average 100 children per camp equals 100, 000 kids. And 100,000 kits. And 100,000 medals. Ordered, supplied and distributed around the 4 corners of Ireland.  Our local club, Newport, wouldn’t turn a child away last year and even ran out of kits.  They ended up with over 200 under 12s, all raring to go. My young lad actually didn’t get his kit shorts ’til the Tuesday, and shorts on the Thursday (not that he cared, flying about in his previous year’s gear).  But get them he did. I heard of trips made to clubs in Carlow and Kilkenny to fetch up extra kit. And not one child went short.  (A tale of dedication no doubt replicated in clubs everywhere).

What a magnificent sight – 2012 Cúl Camp, Newport, Co Tipperary.

At an average of  5 to 10 mentors/trainers per camp also, that’s 10,000 volunteers.  Who have their own jobs/families/summer holidays to attend to. But they’ll all be there. And just like last year, if extra children turn up, then extra mentors will be sourced also.

Then there’s  inter-county player visits to organise, a myriad of mini matches to play, and probably and a bottle of orange  and crisps for everyone when it’s all over.

It’s all such a joy to observe. The smallies dragging their hurleys behind them like ball n’chains, all swarming round the moving football like bees, or stopping for little chats in the middle of a match. And they’re all having fun and getting exercise and fresh air.

But make no mistake about it. These Cúl Camps, for the GAA’s youngest – and largest – membership are about so much more. They are learning about being on a team, about respect and commitment. They are forging friendships that, through the GAA, may well last a lifetime.  It is the invaluable groundwork for a future that can hopefully involve sport. I see it as investment in their teenage years, and beyond.

Because I see the teenagers as I drive up to our club of an evening. Sitting in groups on walls, hanging around outside the chipper, walking up and down the quiet village streets. Then I turn in the gates of the GAA club and see more teenagers – pucking a ball with any age kid that will puck one back, putting out water bottles and flags for the imminent match, or just hanging out with the girls from the camogie club.

I know, when the time comes, where I’ll want my teenage children to be.

So, whether it’s tearing yourself away from the fire to drive them to training, cheering them from the sidelines, drenched, or making more buns for the afters, it’s all an investment. And a very small one to make, compared to the massive investment of time, commitment and enthusiasm shown by the thousands of GAA volunteers in this little country, every week of the year.

So, GAA and Cúl Camps,  I salute you. (Via extreme bad planning we will very sadly miss this year’s local camp. Not a mistake we will be repeating).  See you next year.

** http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/some-random-things-that-make-the-gaa-special-1.1484364

RTE and Women (not) at the Races

Picture the following scene…

Galway race week. A TV presenter is conducting interviews between races. Here is one excerpt, with an on-course bookmaker;

So, do you find it an advantage being a young pretty girl, or do the punters take you seriously?’

Followed by ‘do you even like racing?

So – a ‘Reeling in the Years’ type clip from the 50s? Wrong.

Carried out by, say, John McCririck? Wrong again.

The above interaction took place TODAY (1st August 2013). Between, Maeve O’ Neill, bookmaker, and MAURA DERRANE, an RTE presenter.

Incredulous? I certainly was. And so was Maura in fact, with her gasping, breathy tones. Blown away she was, to discover a member of her own sex working on a racecourse.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just a silly comment. But it’s indicative of a greater malaise. Once upon a time, horseracing was a male preserve. But women as trainers, jockeys, bookies, stable staff, racecourse managers – they are no longer in short supply. Can we never get past this?! Unlike soccer, tennis etc with separate gender versions, men and women owners, trainers, jockeys etc all compete together – can we ever just drop the tokenism? Do Katy Walsh and Nina Carberry – to name but two – long to be simply recognised as the excellent, top of their game, sportspeople that they are?

At least Channel 4 offloaded aforementioned charm-school John McCririck in their recent reincarnation. With his annual ‘token woman’ interview of bookie Ellen Martin at Cheltenham, and constant referring to co presenter Tanya Stephenson as ‘the female’, he is not missed. In fact, Ch4’s current stable of male/female presenters is as balanced as it is knowledgeable.

Missing you already...

Missing you already…

But over here, RTE trundle to keep up. Tracy Piggott appears to be the token female. She thoroughly knows her stuff and has a relaxed, easy manner. (Sidebar: in a Paul O’ Connell interview once, a giddy Tracy admired his physique and actually asked to feel his muscles. Perhaps being accustomed to whippet jockeys she just got carried away…)

I digress. Apart from Tracy, RTE Racing only seem to draft in women for what we’ll call ‘the fashions’. Gráinne and Sile Seoige, Kathryn Thomas and today, Maura and her star turn. Apart from flitting around seeking out women to doorstep about their ‘outfits’, they will also interview celebs they trip across and, as we saw today, ‘token’ women. (Maura later interviewed rugby player Sean O’ Brien and gamely asked him ‘on behalf of all Irish women’ where he’d be socialising later tonight. Sigh….)

I don’t even necessarily blame these women – entirely – for this. All highly capable and talented in their own right – why the dumbing down? What is the brief they are given to do the job?

‘Racing knowledge isn’t necessary. Just look pretty, dress up, do the ‘fluff’ pieces’.

And if not as dire as that – then what is it exactly? Because the execution of it is frankly embarrassing.

'So, tell us about your hat'

‘So, tell us about your hat’

People who sit down to watch horseracing (me) don’t want to watch fashion. And anyone tuning in for fashion isn’t much bothered with the racing. Why always mix the two to such a huge degree? RTE not the only guilty party here. Why not just show one after the other.

And if talking women and RTE racing, we must mention Jennifer Walsh. Daughter of Ted, sister of Ruby (and also his agent). But she is curiously drafted in by RTE to ‘shepherd’ jockeys from the winners enclosure over to their post race interview. Sometimes she takes them by the arm as she chaperones. Sometimes she holds their helmet and crop as they weigh in. Why? Why? Why? Every jockey, everywhere else, seems to manage an interview unescorted. But not in RTE land. I am always just embarrassed for the girl.

But getting back to blame. RTE Racing still has a lot of hurdles to get over. And Maura Derrane? You are a successful, professional woman. Can you not recognise that in others? Your line of questioning today was like something from the Dark Ages. Hang your head in shame, girl!

Women in Print – some (vital) statistics?

Last week, this tweet from Noirín Hegarty (formerly editor of Sunday Tribune and Independent.ie) piqued my interest;

“ Nine pix of men on front of @irishtimes plus all male pix on review, mag and sports fronts. What a message to women after Dail/Seanad week!”

So – how are women in Irish newsprint being represented? Is there balance? Are those working there ‘leaning in’, meeting/breaking glass ceilings, needing gender quotas? All topics du jour…

Well, I bought copies of the Irish Times and Irish Independent two days ago, 24th July 2013. I (manually, non scientifically) analysed them to see what the gender balance was, regarding

  • Photos used
  • Article writers used

Below are the results. I am not comparing the two papers directly, merely choosing them as the two I read/buy most often.

A tiny, one day snapshot is proof of nothing. I also don’t try to draw any conclusions. I just thought it might be an interesting exercise…

Irish Independent

Photos Used 24.07.13

Category                                                Men                           Women

News/Opinion/Comment                  48                              14

Social/Arts/Living                               13                              13

Business                                                   15                                8

Sport                                                         32                                2

Ads                                                            9                                  9

Writer photo                                        12                                5

Totals                                                     129                               51

Written content 24.07.2013

Gender                                              Men                             Women

Articles written by                                        66                                            47

Letters to Editor from                                   5                                              1

Irish Times

Photos Used 24.07.13

Category                                                     Men                      Women

News/Opinion/Comment                       31                                  19

Social/Arts/Living                                    4                                       9

Business                                                        10                                       1

Sport                                                              36                                       3

Ads                                                                     2                                       5

Writer photo                                              13                                        6

Totals                                                            96                                     43

Written content 24.07.2013

Gender                                            Men                         Women

Articles written by                                     64                                       29

Letters to Editor from                               15                                         4

Notes, Caveats, Disclaimers

  • I did this in front of the TV, so I can only promise 99.99% accuracy. After that, I’m blaming Vincent Browne…
  • ‘Men and Women’ photo categories include children and babies (one called George made a few appearances, given the date)
  • Photos of crowds – I only counted any person(s) named underneath ie who the photo was ostensibly about.
  • Where gender was unclear eg fancy dress, I didn’t include it
  • Article or letter writers are only counted where named ie lots of content is not credited, some letters are names with-held or initials only
  • I had all these stats presented in beautiful Bar Chart format in Word – frustratingly, I couldn’t get them to paste in here. Grrr!


Ok, I said I wouldn’t draw any. But the headlining facts are;

  • 225 photos of men, 94 of women
  • 130 articles written by men, 76 by women
  • 68 photos of men in sport, 5 of women.

Finally, although I didn’t subdivide the male/female written content by category, I couldn’t help noticing the following. Of 35 Sport articles credited, one was by a woman. Louise Taylor (Irish Times, soccer), take a bow.

I certainly did find it an interesting exercise. Thoughts, anyone?

Marion (and you and me) – Beautifully Normal

By accident rather than design, I managed to see no Wimbledon tennis this year. I knew Marion Bartoli only by name, and that she was the new Champion.

In the post-Inverdale furore (what a horrible little man), I researched Marion online. Google Images has a helpful – ahem – new feature that throws up the most popular searches associated with your own googled word. Thus I was supplied with a range of photos under the headings Marion Bartoli Fat/Hot/Sexy.

Indeed. At least there were two positive, popular searches verses one negative. She looked plenty of the latter two, and not the former at all.

But she is not tiny. She is Normal. And that is the sad, wearisome problem.

Western society’s obsession with the stereotypical model looks allows for very little deviation.

  • Size 6/8? Check.
  • Glowing tan? Check.
  • Long, lustrous straight hair? Check. Blonde preferably, or maybe brunette. Black hair is perhaps too hard to achieve without looking witchy. Red hair? Don’t even think about it.
  • And don’t forget the teeth. Nothing less than a mouth full of gleaming, straight china will do. Back in the day, hardly anyone had braces. Those who were prescribed them generally had serious prominence issues, and were probably the ‘Bugs Bunny’ of their cruel classmates. The rest of us still looked pretty Normal.

These days, come the 6th class check up , if not sooner, the Brace word will be invariably be mentioned. Is it medical advances or affluence that seems to have every second child in the country prescribed the orthodontist? Or is it the quest for the American import ‘perfect smile’.


Madonna – we like your teeth

Had a recent encounter with an Orthodontists waiting room myself. I stuck out like a sore thumb because

a) I wasn’t wearing a school uniform

b) I wasn’t accompanied by my mother

c) I wasn’t sulking.

The flow thru of teens was phenomenal. They really should just set up IN a large secondary school. No journey time, parking issues, ready made patient lists etc…

You have to admire the likes of Madonna (gap teeth), Kirsten Dunst (crooked) and Jim Carrey (large) for resisting the undoubted pressures and sticking with their smiles. Shane McGowan takes it to extremes, but he is nothing if not his own man.

No two of us are made the same. Do we have to aspire to look the same? Aspects of media, advertising, fashion etc certainly want us to.

I logged onto the ASOS clothing website lately. What a depressing exercise. Waspy models with 20inch waists and legs you’d see hanging out of a nest. Or there was the ‘curvy’ option, for sizes 20 to 26. Where is the Normal? Of course they sell all the sizes, but I want to imagine them on ME, not on a stick. Sizes 14-16 are the first to sell out in shops – for a reason.

What I also now love about Marion Bartoli is that she – refreshingly – proves as myth the idea that if you exercise like a maniac you’ll be thin as a whippet. Take that, all you celeb workout DVDs and ‘beach ready’ magazine pullouts. You’ll get in shape ok – your own Normal shape!


From the ASOS website – sigh…

As the brilliant Body Shop campaign said;

“There are over 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels, and only 8 who do.”

The rest of us? You, me, Marion etc? Are Normal looking. In all our curly haired/pale skinned/size 16/imperfect toothed ways. And still beautiful.

So let Normal Service resume. Without John Inverdale preferably…

Cruise Control in Oireland

So Tom Cruise, the megawatt star with the megawatt smile, was in town yesterday.

He had a new film to promote. So, the usual red carpet meet n’ greet outside the Savoy then….. But a Certificate of Irishness? Presented by the Deputy Prime Minister? And a Guinness photo op. Really?? The guy doesn’t need personal publicity. I smell a ‘Gathering’ notion……

I have no clue how these things work. Whose PR contacted who first? His, the Government’s, Diageo? Meetings, cosy chats about who, what, where, when – and how much?

Shure gazillions of people have Irish roots somewhere back the line, if you go far enough. American Presidents like to come here to explore their Irish heritage/schmooze the Irish votes back home. Or the Democrat ones at least. Amazing how Republican Presidents don’t have any Irish roots to mine. Apart from one who went down Ballyporeen way….

Will Ferrell, Beyonce, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael Jackson, and plenty of others most likely, have traversed our highways n’ byways in recent times, unfettered by a politician or a pint getting shoved in their faces. In fact, back when Tom was over here filming Far and Away, himself and Nicole popped up in lots of counties and lots of peoples snaps, casually and quietly. What has changed?

Graham Norton interviewed Tom Cruise recently. No couch-sharing banter with the other guests for him. Apart from with his female co star, of course. She dutifully wittered on about how amazing it was to star alongside, indeed sit alongside the Cruise-meister. Over the course of the interview, Tom’s hair actually goes from curiously tossed to smooth to tossed several times. It suggests a high level of editing room chopping and pasting before being aired….

And now of course we have Cruise Control’s Late Late interview to look forward to. Prerecorded, closed set. Wild guess – no Scientology, ex wives, divorces or children on the discussion sheet. But all about the fillum, the fame and the Oirishness. A schmooze to Cruise from start to finish.

Do you recall Ryan’s Tubridy’s very first Late Late Show? He eviscerated one Brian Cowen, about his governing style, his socializing, his drinking. And what a prescient interview it turned out to be, come that infamous (Morning After) Morning Ireland interview. God be with those Tubridy days…

Ryan will be on a Mission Impossible. While Tom Cruises. In Control.

Maybe I’ll be Far and Away.