Tackling Obesity – all Talk?

So today’s News informs us that obesity will be worse than cholera or AIDs for our health service.

Yesterday we were told we’re heading towards being the fattest country in Europe.

And previously we heard that 85% of all Irish schoolchildren take a lift bus/car to school every day. And all about the 50 inch waistbands for school uniforms.

Statistics, surveys, reports. Seems we’re great at talking about the crisis of obesity surrounding our children in Ireland – but what is actually being done about it?

Of course personal responsibility has a huge role to play.

And there is a separate case to make between Primary and Secondary school children. Under 12s as a general rule do not shop for or feed themselves. Barring a medical cause, isn’t the obese primary age child surely creation of the adult hands that feed it? Something for another day’s discussion.

But it’s different when children hit teenage years and secondary school. They have their own money, free will and ability to make good or bad choices when it comes to food. It is also a time of huge growth spurts and boundless energy requirements. Not to mention the fuelling of body and brain to cope with the State exam regime and thereby open the gates to college, career and all life’s opportunities.

My first child is starting secondary this year. I did a random, non scientific survey of local schools, and amongst friends and colleagues with teenagers. For this most vital stage of our children’s lives, the options seem to range from;

  • Canteen facilities (subsidised or not) providing healthy, hot and cold food options
  • Canteen facilities with less healthy choices
  • No canteen facilities, but pupils stay on the premises at lunchtime
  • No canteen facilities and pupils must leave the building at lunchtime (to buy lunch locally). One option here is the trip to the local ‘hot counter’ to purchase deep fried, brown food. I have counted queues of up to SIXTY uniformed kids at these so called delis, with the salad bar invariably far quieter.

It is just not good enough. Why such variation between schools? Why is this acceptable to the Departments of Health and Education?

  • Why can’t we have subsidized canteens in ALL secondary schools, providing healthy lunches and facilities to bring/heat your own food.

And while I’m ranting;

  • Why not roll out a National Healthy Eating Policy amongst all Primary and Secondary Schools
  • We’ve had ‘Bike to Work’ – how about a ‘Bike to School’ scheme?
  • Why not ban the sale of Sports drinks (all fizzy drinks?) directly to under 18s. Radical…but 12 teaspoons of sugar anyone? A professional and exhausted sportsperson might need that in 500 mls of liquid. But 9yr old Johnny coming home from half an hour of football does not.
  • Make Physical Fitness a recognised and assessable school subject.
  • Set up ‘Green Mile Zones’ around or within schools, highlighted like cycle lanes. Buses and cars drop off at these designated mile points and pupils walk the remaining mile to/from school, with frequency of use all going towards your ‘physical fitness’ grade at the end of the year. Green Miles could be painted inside school grounds/gyms also, to be similarly used on arrival at school early or during lunch time.

Now you can run a rule over some or all of the above and dismiss them as unrealistic/pie in the sky. So be it. But the obesity solution, we are always told, lies in physical activity. So, at least these are suggested physical actions and not just words.

And before you mention the Cost word – none of the above will cost as much as treating the tidal wave of obesity ill health that faces our population down the line.

So why not invest in Prevention instead of Cure.



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One Month On


We can know the end is coming – and still not ever be ready.

That one, short breath, between being with us. And not.


Not eating. Not sleeping. Yet don’t feel hungry. Or tired.

An automation of arranging, choosing, deciding, meeting.

Hugs. Strong handshakes. Kind words. Funny stories.

They buoy us up. Help an inner strength to muster.

A life that was long and happy. Pain that is ended.

For that we must be happy.

But to not hear that soft voice, not see that gentle smile

Again, ever, weighs crushingly right now.

We will see them in our dreams of course.

It is not enough.

But we will remember, be thankful, and make do.


Coladh sámh, Dad, go dtí go mbuailfimíd le chéile arís.

Maurice Boyle,  14th August 1933 to 5th April 2015.


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RTE’s Big Fat Autumn Schedule…


RTE revealed their new Autumn schedule today. One programme highlighted was called ‘Meet the McDonaghs’…

Source; RTE

Source; RTE


So our National Broadcaster is trotting down the ‘My Big Fat Gypsy….’ route. Only they’re dressing it up as a look at the ‘culture, morals, religion’ of travellers, via The McDonagh family. So why then, have they chosen the promotional photo above? I think we know why.

Cue the TV promo clips, with voluminous dresses, deportment lessons and model agent Celia Holman Lee dropping heavy hints about ‘make unders’.

Kelly McDonagh is a very talented singer and good looking girl who didn’t get the breaks she deserved after appearing on RTE’s ‘The Voice’. She has now, not unreasonably, opted to try increasing her profile/earnings. But I think she and her family are naïve in the extreme if they think this programme will be viewed as a cultural look at their lives.

RTE of course are not naïve. This show will be gawped at and derided from a height, as people tune in to stare and pass comment on the dresses, make up and fake tan on show.

It will probably be a ratings winner.

Maybe I’ll be wrong, and it will in fact be a broadly based insight into traveller lives. Well then, shame on RTE for their own ‘trash’ promotion.


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A Public (In)Convenience


Question: If a Dad of little girls (3 to 6yrs approx) is out and about with them, as the sole adult, where does he take them to the toilet?

A woman brings little girls, or boys, into the Ladies with her. I came across a situation lately that really made me think – what does a Dad do?

We were on holidays, in Ireland, in a town where a festival was taking place. The streets, pubs etc were all packed. My 9yr old daughter and I went to a pub loo together.

I opened the Ladies door to be met by a man standing by the hand-basins. My initial thought was that one of us had taken a wrong turn, so much so that I starting backing out. Catching my reaction, the man quickly said that his wife was busy watching something at the festival so he had to bring his girls to the loo.  Two girls, age approx 4 and 6 then came out of a cublicle together and proceeded to wash their hands. We carried on using the facilities and that was that.

But thinking this over afterwards, a lot of things struck me;

  • If I was this man I would have insisted that his wife bring them to the toilet
  • I would also have waited outside the toilet for them to come out. They clearly did not need his assistance.
  • If another man in this situation ever asked me to ‘keep an eye’ on his girls while they went into the Ladies, that would be fine by me too.
  • If my daughter had gone to the loo on her own, as often happens, and had come back to say there was a man in the room, what would I have said/done?

But not to focus just on this one situation, there is a bigger picture here.

What does a Dad of little girls do? If they are young enough to need help, where do you bring them? And what about nappy changing of babies in general. I don’t remember my husband ever saying he saw a changing table in a men’s room. Some places have baby changing facilities as a standalone, but this is rare. 

Which is worse – Dad bringing his 3yr old girl into the Mens or the Ladies? He has to bring them somewhere.

One solution, which is more common abroad, is the unisex loo. ie a single cubicle just marked ‘toilet’ with handwashing etc outside in a communal area. I have seen them in petrol stations and shops, usually where space is at a premium. Modern public pay-per-loo, of the ‘Tardis-like’ variety, are also unisex. They both certainly solve the problem above.

Public toileting arrangements probably stem from the quainter days when Mammy did all the childcare, and kids would rarely if ever be out with just Dad. While Mens and Ladies are still a requirement, I think planners also need to drag themselves into the 21st century. Family friendly facilities please!

Thoughts anyone?



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If the Shoe Fits…

So, it’s that time of year again. When retailers lash ‘Back to School’ stickers on everything from food to underwear ( because we don’t buy them any other time of year).

I have most things got (she sez, weeping into the gaping hole in her bank balance) . Including my 9 yr old daughter’s school shoes.

New Shoes?

New Shoes?

Nice aren’t they? Leather upper and lining, sturdy, shiny. Except for one thing…

They are her last year’s shoes. From Sept to June. Near perfect condition ( I didn’t even polish them for the photo, just a rub of a cloth) . And sadly don’t fit any more. Where did I buy such magnificently hardwearing items? And did they cost a bomb?

I bought them in LIDL.

And they cost €7.

I think that merits repeating.

They cost €7.

Of course cheap shoes are not a new concept. Cheap shoes that don’t last six weeks? – ten a penny. Cheap shoes that last 3 months are a bonus. So these, they would have to be top of the class.

A couple of caveats. She wouldn’t really be a climber or play as much yard football as others. And didn’t take a massive growth spurt. ( Buy a slightly bigger size, add insoles for a full year’s wear. You’re welcome). The school doesn’t have a shoe policy  (so eminently sensible!) so she wore runners/winter boots maybe once a week. But mainly she hopped, skipped, jumped and ran (yes, permitted) in them for the full school year.

It’s certainly one in the eye for some ‘school costs a fortune’ list compilers. And for the purveyors of  ‘three width fittings/hand stitched/breathable/with free toy/ expensive ‘school shoes’.



Also a massive thank you and hats off to LIDL. Your brilliant shoes are now off to the charity shop for another whirl this September. I have of course bought my child another pair for this year. She is now up to the biggest size you stock. Maybe you will consider extending the range. Y’know, if the shoe fits?


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‘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.

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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.

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