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Friday, 22 February 2013

Killing Mary Magdalene. Ghosts..

"I want to hear them say it! To know I am believed . I never mattered....didn't exist  No one ever said it happened. No one ever said the words. No one ever said it!  Sorry" We  have been  ambushed for weeks and weeks now, blown away by a great outpouring of stories from women.  The McAleese Government sponsored  report on the Magdalene Laundry women  has been released. . Despite its sad and sorry preoccupation with selectively reporting to limit the legal liability of the State,   there may be  a reckoning at last. The haunting whispers from enslaved  Irish woman, first heard  two decades ago, has this week become an unstoppable roar. .Silenced  women speak and, always, behind them, you can  hear the implacable clamour of the dead .

The invisible made visible. My husband describes to me the "Clatties",  girls and women in the Poor Clare  Convent in  Cavan town, so known by the people if  they  worked in the convent laundry, and were orphaned, destitute, or otherwise condemned as inmates there. They were ambiguous presences in his  school life,  hired out by the nuns,  serving meals, dressed  uniformly, sexless.  They didn't speak. They didn't  look you in the eye. He remembers a pretty young  girl with a mole sprouting hairs  on her face, whom he tried to speak to , to see her eyes, but she never  looked up. They moved about almost soundless, taking up scant space.

He saw them peripherally every day in the Convent garden on a short cut home; young and full grown women, always the same, drab shadowy  presences.  They moved in and out of his  world . Everyone knew what they were. A tacit  pervasive  knowing. They served.  They filled him with a sense of ambivalent  unease, of wrong doing. Wrong doers or wronged,  this was never clear. There were so many convents in Ireland.

One night in that convent years before, thirty five girls, children and teenagers, died..  They  burned, or  fell     from the convent windows. They could not get out. The Laundry went on fire. The nuns corralled them in a dormitory at the top of the building, and refused to open the doors. The building was consumed. It stood in the centre of the town.  Finally, two men broke in, climbed in, overrode the nuns will, but brought out only a handful. .The nuns, reluctant it seems  to allow the people see the girls in their night clothes,  never expected to be and never were held to account. The stench from the scorched timbers befouled the town for years after.

The townspeople found the girls'  blackened  bodies, piled high behind the ruined doors, next day. They lie mingled, unnamed, in a mass grave now. They could have got out. Fifty years later, one hundred and fifty five bodies were exhumed from a mass grave in a Dublin convent, some without record or death certificate, many without a given name. Unearthed, because the nuns sold some convent ground to a developer for a tidy sum. They applied for an exhumation licence to clear this fine asset. They didn't anticipate any difficulties. There was none from the state. But someone saw, as the body count mounted, and an action group was born. There were so many convents in Ireland.

A century of silence, of tacit savagery. And now the weasel words. Well may you weep Taoiseach Kenny. Apologise. To start. Then pay what we owe in money and blood. To Begin. Say it.  Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa..

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Love and Death and What.

                                                           WHAT?                                                                                              "What! what?  WHAT IS IT."  Oh how my temper, like a dog straining on a leash , is about to run away with me.  I started out well,  as I  enquired of my subdued and distant daughter,  if all was well. "Yes"..... well,.... no"., she offered before relapsing into silence. But what is it?....." It doesnt matter. And YOU wont like it",  her voices becomes fainter, colder all the while.. This is an old trick, a working stratagem  she employs when on shaky ground, when feeling wronged, pained  (think of the fairytale pea penetrating twenty matresses) . It drives me a little mad. And I'm driving the car. And I should know better. My husband tells me I should lower my own voice, follow suit.  I agree. I do. But it's just not in me  "WON"T LIKE IT? , why won't I? FOR GODS SAKES what IS it? Darling."

                                              THINGS NOT BEING HOW THEY USED TO  BE                                                                                                                                              
So she tells me. Its a well worn path. An often fingered list.  They boy is rude and and intrusive, the boss gets all the attention, she herself has simply given up trying to be heard...simply given up.   And also, we treat her like a child,  we don't pay her enough attention, we even planned last Saturday's movie  trip without her, and I myself am cursory, with my husband on a constant basis, and, well, things just aren't how they used to be . Before.  I splutter through the round of attentions paid her, the  taxi service provided, the money supply, my  exhaustive monitoring  of  things like internet use,  dodgy  diets, (tortured) hair die applications by her friends, her  iron intake,  and.....and  daily  making sure you  PUT YOUR COAT ON before  on before swan off  in the cold and the rain.

                                                       CIRCLES CLOSED
Later on my husband sniggers at this litany of mothering,  over a restorative glass of wine.  But  "oh you know" I tell him, "I remember this. You want to strike out for yourself and you want all the old supports to be in place, just in case. Also, its a profound and mysterous fact that coupledom, a love affair,  is excluding. It warms the two encircled lovers,  and is a line between you and the others. Troublesome then for a fledgling adult, who feels she can't fall back on ancient certainties as the mood takes her.

                                                     ON WEDNESDAY JOHNNY DIED
On Wednesday Johnny died.  Not a remote  or  distant grandfather he, his relation ship with the threesome was warm and generous. It is the first death for them. He is the first  person close to them to depart. They struggle to respond. The elder  agonises over a suitable black outfit, WHAT TO WEAR. The boy wants to be assured that  he can still  go to the Mid Term Disco falling  two days on.  The boss would rather wait until the morning  before embarking on the journey  west where the funeral will be.  They don't get it that he won't actually be coming back.

                                                       A FUNERAL                                                        
And still it all unfolded. The boy, unsure but willing, carried the coffin with the men, he being the tallest rawest man to assume it's weight.   His sister  walked straight backed  beside her grandmother,   draped in swathes of black chiffon.  The boss followed dry-eyed, because, as she later told me,   " Dad cried and everyone else a little, but I did not,  because he was like all waxy and I knew it wasn't...wasn't ... like  really him. I knew.  And anyway , when dad sent me in before he died, he like  squeezed my hand and winked and grinned me...when it was still him, and you could tell, his eyes were joking, you could tell he wasn't scared, and then like nor was I."

                                                   VALENTINE"S DAY

On Thursday my husband and I went out for an Un Valentine's day dinner. Well I was working late, starving, and persuaded him. He was outraged to be in a restaurant with all the other saps, on this day. It fulfilled all his expectations. Pink menus limited to a sort of mass produced offering, at a set Valentines day price. The restaurant crammed to capacity with couples, young and shiny, the food banged out and very much below the usual standard in this our favorite restaurant. He managed to ease the pain with a plenteous supply of wine, but couldn't refrain from telling a charming, giggling east european waitress to tell the chef he would be better off driving a bus, when she asked us if the meal had been "alright for you?".

I brought him for a soothing pint  of Guinness on the way home to our local, where all the other hardbitten grownups greeted us with raucous jeers when we told them where we had  been.  "Oh sure all that love stuff was burnt out of us all  years ago,  our deadpan barmaid assured us. "I mean if I went home now to find rose petals laid up the path into the house and up to   the bed room I"d say James Derrane (she always gives her husband his full title) I'd  say, FOR FXXXXK SAKE, WHAT DID I TELL YOU,  FOR FXXXK'S SAKE,  I  MEAN I ALREADY TOLD YOU ABOUT THIS KIND OF STUFF, I MEAN FOR FXXXKS SAKE." We walked home tittering helplessly at that one, a vision of her laconic farmer husband firmly in front of us. We held hands too as, after all,  we decided to marry a  year ago on Valentine's Day, " it being the best way, darling, to get away with sleeping together before the appalled gaze of  three teenagers" as I put to him. I guess you could say we are a couple of old frauds, after all.

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Friday, 8 February 2013

Tell me why. Heroines.

                                      Soft Shoe Shuffle                                                                                                                                     On Sunday we do a sidestepping  soft shoe shuffle out of our house of looning adolescents for  a winter's walk. Don't think they noticed.   The bright warming sun shines at last,  January having been and gone under a grey and claustrophobic  hood. A spacious day of grace it is.  After christmas,  extravagance strained,  the festive cup emptied to the dregs,  January felt like swimming underwater, eyes closed, legs kicking stubbornly, in anticipation of being spat up at its end for spring and an actual new year.  "Yea its  over, January, no question"  I assure the spouse.   A row of  tall denuded trees stand dignified, intricate skeletal  branches  spread like carefully worked lace across the pink streaked bluegold  sky, as  I tell the dear man.  "Like filigree" he nods. On  the village green the bushes, seared, bare ribbed, are elegantly grey,  drifting to tawny red at the tips in winter's light.   "And oh, you know, tonight we have Borgen".  A glass full of blessings, then.

And we do . Though, sadly, the final two episodes. All of it,  the character of Birgitte Nyborg, the broad consoling cadences of the Danish tongue,  the humanity of  the story lines and and  the politicking is  irrisistable. The show got me through January.  Birgitte, neither  flinty ice queen or conniving siren, is  a real woman and a heroine in her way

                                                     Something different in the State of Denmark.
It's a rich tapestry, and her teenage daughter's mental breakdown and treatment became a major thread. . She sends her to a private facility dedicated to adolescent illness, there being a year's wait for the  public facility. The story of the girl's treatment with drugs and cognitive therapies, her subsequent recovery,  is  believable,  fully fleshed out. I am bemused,  struck . I think about  Ireland  where there is no dedicated facility whatsoever  to treat young people, and the only treatment easily accessible is prescribed medication. Or self prescribed booze. So it was when I was an adolescent and so it is today.

On Tuesday the boy is quite derailed by the suicide of a school mate.  He carefully recites what he knows  to us, his knowledge acquired from the Facebook network, full of bombastic, tragic and dramatic posts by his friends. "but.... I don't know why" he adds, a remark he finishes with each time he tries to line it up for us over the day. He asks us if we think it will be on the news. He tells us how many "likes" the postings get. "It make's no difference to that boy, and HE will never know" I tell him and I shut the broadband  down, wanting only to stem the unrelenting flow, short circuit the current of the cyber chant for him.

                                                             Grim Twins.
The thing I remember most starkly from my  own adolescent  experience of the grim twins, the double act  of anxiety/depression was the terror, the sickening sense that it would never go away, never let me go.  And no help then, my friends, you were very much on your own. Oh, now I know the labels, yes, I know what to call it,  but then I saw only a spiraling craziness. Teenagers are not us. They take life with a sort of heightened awareness, all feeling amplified as the hormones hack a highway through body and soul. When things go out of kilter the psychic pain, the fear, can be catastrophic.

It took me years, decades even to get back on track, and I have lived to hear more people than I would ever have imagined tell a similar tale.  I have listend to the halting confidences of the middle aged. And still, with all we know or ought to know, we give our children stones to get them through.  Facebook, alcohol, drugs and trash TV. Plus ca Change. Maybe in  Denmark.

                                                        I am Birgitte. Hear me Roar.
And in the final episode of Borgen, one  last satisfying  thing.  Birgette's assumed burden of guilt about her daughters breakdown  is neatly flipped,  as she understands that her nice kindly husband's  abrupt departure from the marriage at the vital point when she is appointed Prime Minister is  squarely in  the  frame.  Oh how she roars this truth at him, in a fabulouly guttural Danish  rage, as she throws off her womanly burden of blame.<a href="" title="women bloggers"><img

Friday, 1 February 2013

Separating the Men from the Boys. Francis Ledwidge.

Feeling bemused and cross both today, after last nights trip to Django Unchained with my husband. He is impressed at my new  tough mindedness in not, as is my habit,  burying my head in his shoulder at the visual onslaught of, surely, buckets of blood. "Oh it just became old hat after the first five exploding bodies " I assure him. " a side issue".  And it did.  I was engaged, intrigued  by  the movie until three quarters of the way through.  The last twenty minutes rendered  me incredulous. Firstly, I watched the heroine squeal,  squawk , cower and simper for the entire time, despite showing promise of being quite something, in earlier descriptions.  The  other  female on offer  was (monstrously) of the simpering kind also, mostly  at her brother Leo DiCaprio's character in some dodgy  incestuous/ oedipal melange..  The Older Back Man  was shown to be equally monstrous  and in cahoots with  the dark side. And I know,  I know,  its  a fantastical visitation from present day African American MAN  to the deep south  to exact a fantastical  revenge, but why oh why so clownishly one dimensional? . Its 2pac Unleashed.   Real   women,  older men,  are redundant in this fine  scenario.  Its laughable,  adolescent,  mysogenistic,  self indulgent  male fantasy..... unbound.

 Basically,  Django splattered. He splattered  everyone; figuratively  father and  mother,  literally all the  bad white folk,  watched admiringly by the enslaved, being  themselves incapable. You might say the movie is an insult to the suffering of those people. It may even have managed, unwittingly, to be an indictment on a kind of gun toting  macho black male culture, current in America . But I don't want to give it too much credit.  Not for the grown ups then. Not for the men  One  for the boys.

On Monday,  my husband asks the boy if he would like to learn how to shoot., in a proper shooting range. The boy is stunned to silence and then offers that he WOULD  in  breathless tones. He had been talking at length and most  knowledgeably about tanks, weaponry,  panzer divisions?  in the Second World  War  with my quite as interested spouse. The spouse  did  a  stint in the army when he was a young man,  and is  pretty positive about it. The outdoors,  the courses, the discipline and sense of control it gave him. And he  discovered that he was a crack shot.

The boy has  recently joined Facebook  and finds,  I think, that  his horizons expand on a daily basis.   Well,  you know, GIRLS, who I am not going to mention.  But also  touching  base with new people,  like ,  for instance a  German youth, who told him about his older  brothers having  served in the  Army when  national service was obligatory, and how he may himself do likewise. "Oh and you know they (the Germans) have an army in reserve if they ever need one". Hmm   My husband  is interested in the  idea of training, of  learning to  handle  oneself , the acquisition of  basic self  control as a  man. A sort of  rite of passage, if you like. Me,  I  think of hours on the  X Box,  obesity,  eternal boys who never  leave home and  assume a man's estate. The twin horrors of  young male suicide and homicide. And  I wonder.

Later the boy, six foot one in his stocking feet,  roars into his sisters face as he snatches the Laptop from her. I ponder, as I gird my loins to squash him good, whether the Army visits schools on career/ future planning /day, these days? Now that would be a cunning plan, a brilliant wheeze. Yep, that  might work. I'm guessing not.

OH I know that solders have a function, go to war. I know that. I am calculating enough to think this an unlikely outcome in Ireland just now, and  see a limited learning curve only.  But still  I think of Francis Ledwidge the poet and nationalist, who fought and lost his life   in the First World War,  twenty nine years old,  because, he said, he would not stay to enjoy freedoms that other men had fought  and died for. Son of a labourer, he became a poet, and before he was blown  to pieces and put in the ground at Passchendaele, wrote this;

Broom out the floor now, lay the fender by,
                  and plant this bee-sucked bough of woodbine there,
And let the window down. The butterfly
                  floats in upon the sunbeam, and the fair,
 Tanned face of June, the nomad gypsy.
above her widespread wares, the while she
the farmers fortunes in the fields,
                       and quaffs
the water from the spider peopled wells.

The hedges are all drowned in green grass
and bobbing poppies flare like elmo's light
       while siren like the pollen-stained bees
drone in the clover depths. And up the
The cockoo's voice is hoarse and broke with
And on the lowland crops the crows make
Nor fear the clappers of the farmer's boy,
Who sleeps, like drunken Noah in the
And loop this red rose in that hazel ring
         that snares your little ear, for June is short.
And we must joy in it and dance and sing
        And from her bounty draw her rosy worth.
Ay, soon the swallows will be flying south
     The wind wheel north to gather in the snow,
Even the roses split on youth's red mouth
      will soon blow down the road all roses go.

Mothers log, tween to teens, weird and wonderful days.: Faithful Departed. Waking the Dead,

Mothers log, tween to teens, weird and wonderful days.: Faithful Departed. Waking the Dead,