Thursday, October 28, 2010

one star

I had to wean myself off checking my book progress on Amazon this week. My latest novel Ellis Island has done well, generally garnered good reviews and had the accolade of being selected as a Channel 4 TV Bookclub Summer Read. But in the past couple of weeks a few nasty reviews have crept on to the web. I have always claimed to be immune to bad reviews – and for a writer, I know I am particularly thick skinned. I have never had a sense of entitlement around what I do, and as a result my writers ego is, I like to think, under control. I take criticism well, from both readers and editors, and almost every comment good and bad, is used to improve my work. I use every bit of feedback I can to progress my skills as a writer, but in any case, it is the creative endeavour that interests me more than the praise. I am pleased when people like my books, disappointed when they don’t, but I am my own harshest judge anyway – so can’t afford to take most of it to heart. Most importantly Ellis Island has sold well – which is the biggest statement of all. We writers like to be read, and we like people buying our books because – not wishing to denigrate or demystify the creative process – that is how most of us actually earn our living.
I love writing – it’s an inbuilt passion, and I have always, and will always hold onto the feeling of privilege I get from being published in a world where so many brilliant writers are still working away in private obscurity. But frankly, there are easier ways to make a living. There are harder ways too, (I started life as a hairdresser, ten hours six days a week, varicose veins, tennis elbow etc.), but there is something particularly exhausting about devoting years to producing a book, day after day, slogging away on the longest most difficult school essay you have ever written. It requires a level of commitment that a writer aunt of mine once described as – “play a game of chess in your head”, then having locked oneself away in this strangely private and often lonely pursuit – you have to prepare yourself to it being put out there in public, in the big wide world to sink or swim in a market already flooded with great books.
At first I found the bad reviews amusing. The expression “they are so bad – they’re good” occurred to me. Then I found that when I sat down to write, the nasty comments started to creep into my head. I know I am not a terrible writer. In fact according to the professionals I work with – editors and agents, I rate myself rather less than I should. In fact, the only way to write is to not rate myself at all – just get on with it and do the best I can – like most working people. So this whole “one star” – “five star” business on Amazon is something that I tally with at my peril. Of course, I don’t mind the five star reviewers - but this week I fantasised about giving the people who had written one stars about Ellis Island a taste of their own medicine. Standing behind them as they did their jobs and saying; “God – you can do better than that surely. Call that a good job? You are woefully inefficient and insufferably dull. Oh, and by the way, that shirt doesn’t go with those pants and you have a touch of halitosis.”
I was so enraged by one poisonous review that claimed I had written “a parody of romantic fiction” that I checked out their “other reviews” and was relieved to discover that they regularly bought a particular brand of sensible shoe (five stars) and was something of a gadget boffin. Social misfit – I said cruelly to myself – and undoubtedly falling into that category of person who secretly wishes they could write a novel but has neither the courage or talent to risk chancing it so they comfort themselves writing bad reviews for Amazon from their lonely bedsit.
Of course, that’s probably not the case. They are probably a perfectly nice, well-adjusted, bookish person who is simply expressing their opinion, which they are perfectly entitled to do.
If I choose to spend my life writing books and am fortunate enough to get them published, then I must lay myself open to public criticism and comment. There is something distastefully egocentric in a writer complaining about bad reviews, but at the end of the day, we are only human. Even if the weird nature of our solitary job, and the level of obsessive self-confidence it takes to do it, sometimes suggests otherwise.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

halloween

I love Halloween - it's an excuse to dress up and indulge in a bit of a party without the endless palaver of Christmas or the emotional blackmail of a birthday.
I also love it because it's a festival invented by kids, for kids. The idea of ghosts and ghouls and witches and green-slime and calling at the doors of complete strangers looking for sweets is so compelling and thrilling for a child that they have, over the past few years, pestered us adults into turning it into a major event.
Halloween has, of course, got its roots in religion - All Souls Day. And now the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales have issued a statement saying that Halloween has lost it’s true meaning and that it shouldn’t be about ‘occult’ celebrations of witchdoctors and zombies and green-face paint and sweets that turn your tongue black, but that our kids should all be dressing up as saints and we should leave the neighbours alone and instead be celebrating this important holiday by taking them to mass.
On behalf of the children I would just like to say to the Bishops – get stuffed!
Firstly, All Souls was a complete non-entity of a religious celebration until the kids got hold of the whole sweets/skeleton/wrapping each other up in toilet paper to make-the-best-egyptian-mummy angle. They invented that and made something out of it. Not you!
Secondly, haven’t the English Bishops little enough to worry about when they can issue miserable, boring, pronouncements about people taking religious holidays more seriously – trying to banish the bit of cheap fun out of our lives in the middle of a joyless recession?
And thirdly - oh thirdly. Do you not think that the world’s children have suffered enough at your hands, Holy Fathers, without drawing attention to yourselves by passing judgement on how they should and shouldn’t be interpreting “your” religious holidays? Generations of being taught to cow-tow to Rome has not proven a particularly healthy route for our children to take after all, resulting largely in endemic abuse and untold misery.
The Irish Bishops have stayed quiet on the subject. They have enough on their plates - keeping their heads down on the subject of anything to do with anything, especially children.
This latest pronouncement, although it seems archaic and laughable, is not merely a sign of how utterly detached the Catholic Church remains from the working of the real world. It can be easily interpreted in the more literal sense; the institution of the church doesn’t like children very much. The Pope giving out about Harry Potter is one thing. Rome’s complete inability to grasp the dark personal horror of institutional abuse is another.
“They just don’t get it,” a priest friend of me tried to explain to me once. “You can argue and talk all you like,” he says, “the institution of Rome would sacrifice every child in the world to stop one gay marriage. It’s a different world. A brick wall.”
Newsflash – you might say - the Catholic Church doesn’t like women and children? Didn’t you read the memo? But as a mother who is bringing her child up as catholic – it is a constant source of horror to me just how much the old boys club that is running the institution which runs parallel to my chosen belief system (I try to live by basic, good, Christian values – they purport to represent me as God’s homophobic, morally violent Military Wing and there is seemingly not a damn thing I can do about it!) is utterly detached from my life as an ordinary Catholic mother.
My son will dress as an African Witch Doctor and go the Halloween party at his school, which is Catholic, and the local priest Father Paddy will be there drinking tea and having the craic with the kids and NOT standing outside the school gates with a banner saying “Down with witches!” My son’s lovely school, and my kind, intelligent priest, make it possible for me to enjoy the benefits of being a practising Catholic in 2010. Outside of the individual religious that I defer to in the day to day practise of my a la carte Catholicism, the liberalism and tolerance and humanity that contradicts the bizarre belief systems of their supposedly appointed elders, I’d have to leave and become an atheist, or a protestant or perish the thought – a new age dingly-dangly “Buddhist” type which, frankly, all seems like a lot of hard work. I already know the Rosary and most of the Saints – even though I don’t encourage my son to dress up as Matt Talbot and wear a barbed-wire cillus belt at Halloween, (although, now they come to mention it….I’m sure there’s a few martyrs the Halloween tradition could suitably mimic. Perhaps they should put in an Opus Dei flagellation stand in the €2 shop?)
While the rest of the world remains open-mouthed at the archaic, detached statements emanating from the fossils in charge of what is still our biggest, wealthiest religious institution, ordinary Catholics will continue to let their children dress up as witches and dunk for apples and trick-and-treat their neighbours, because nothing makes us feel more alive than being part of a community, and seeing our children bring creative and enjoy themselves. Some of us, including me, will go the mass and light candles for our dead as well. Surely God – if not His Bishops - is big enough to accommodate both.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


/Users/moragkerrigan/Desktop/TOM (take two).mp3


This is a beautiful piece of music by my friend Lola wrote about my brother Tom who passed away last year. It's and extract from a suite of pieces called On The Gradient Road. Her stuff is stunning check it out on her website www.lolaperrin.com - with details of performances coming up in London.

Monday, September 20, 2010

hooray for the new fashion season

I was getting ready for a speaking engagement recently and instead of just admitting I was nervous, I got myself into a state decided that I had nothing to wear. I had a black trousers and jacket but what I had was no blouse. “I have no blouse,” I said to myself, whilst fingering and flicking aside at least six of them. What I meant was – “I have no blouse which will make me feel better about myself. No blouse that will lift my spirit and make my nerves go away and make me look to other people as if I am a serious person who is cleverer than I actually am. Yes, I have blouses, but I have no blouse that actually suits me.” The reason for this, (and you would think that having been dressing myself for forty odd years I might have spotted it by now), is that blouses do not suit me. However, this fact had not halted my ongoing graw for the sexy-secretary look, the pencil skirt with pussy-bow collar worn in a post-modern ironic way. Every season it comes back and every season, (despite the fact that I have abnormal feet and cannot wear high heels and therefore pencil skirts), I decide that blouses are ‘the thing’. However, blouses do not make me look like a sexy secretary. They make me look like a middle aged old woman in a blouse. For pussy bow blouses to be sexy they have to be worn by eighteen year old fashion models. Otherwise you’re in Angela Landsbury/Miss Marple territory.
None of this entered by conscious mind, unfortunately before I made it into a TopShop. Imagine my joy when I found not an ordinary blouse, but a “directional top”. It had cropped frilly sleeves, a high neck and a slit down the back. I could barely contain my excitement when I looked at myself in the dressing room mirror. This was ‘it’! Directional, great with jeans, “funky” – I had, at last, deservingly – found my blouse. So I bought four. One in every colour. It cost me 125 euro but as I said to my underwhelmed husband when I got home and ripped open the bag, “I won’t need to buy another thing this winter. “This,” I announced holding the frock/smock/blouse confection aloft, “is Morag – Autumn/Winter 2010. This will carry me day-into-evening, casual-to-smart. This is all I need.”
Two days later I decided I was ready to present “Morag – Autumn/Winter 2010” to the public. As you can imagine people were lining the streets. Not.
Except that when I actually put my miracle blouson on it turned out to be an absolute monstrosity. It looked beyond ridiculous. Instead of a looking like a middle aged woman in a blouse, I looked like a middle aged woman in a horrible blouse. Worse again I realised that where my fashion mistakes once were an unfortunate mishap one could overlook, they now look almost comical.
I did give my blouson top a single outing, to a business meeting with my writing partner who is so utterly disinterested in clothes that she wouldn’t notice if I turned up in a bikini.
“How do you like my blouse?” I asked on the way home.
“It’s very frilly,” she said – far, far to quickly.
When are they going to start putting security guards at the door of Top Shop to stop old people like me getting in and buying things which are too young for us. Is it wrong to grieve that I have moved a fashion season closer to the “smart-casual/tailored-seperates” phase of my life?

Monday, August 30, 2010

third bonniest baby in killala



“Who’s judging this year?” I had been interrodgating my fellow mums in the village shop about the Bonny Baby Comp at our local festival. “Outsiders,” was the word on the street. Damn - there was no political angle to exploit, no vicars to charm, no counsellors to lobby. Tommo’s wide reputation as a charming flirt among the customers of Lucy B’s hair salon, his sojourns being baby-sat behind the till as I whizzed round Centra would count for nothing. It was all about how he performed on the day.
I got to the festival early so we were there for hours before the competition started, and a shower of rain put pay to Tommo’s crawling explorations . By the time the judges got to him my gorgeous baby was as angsty as a bag of rats and, despite my best efforts, covered in snot and dribble and expensive Ella’s Organics Carrot and Sweet Potato mash . He tried to launch himself off my lap, wriggling himself out of his posh christening jeans onto the slippery marquee floor. Then he caught sight of a lifesize Barney, eyed it suspiciously for a few seconds, before howling. A giant Minnie Mouse tried to console him, and he went mad altogether.
“He’s normally very good humoured,” I said to the judges. “He’s tired – you know?” Then in a pathetic attempt to win favour I added; “We got here too early. He’s been sitting in the buggy since twelve.” All around clean, beautifully turned-out babies giggled, and gurgled adorably.
“Let’s go,” I said to Niall as we waited for the judges decision,“He’s not got a chance. There’s at least three bonnets in there. Maybe I should have got him a bonnet?”
“Hang on,” he said, “lets give it another half an hour.”
We stood and looked down at the pitch as the village kids slid around their primary coloured inflated wonderland in the school grounds. Friend and neighbours drifted about drinking tea, and doling out change to red faced running offspring for their umpteeth bag of popcorn and bars.
The school grounds are sheltered at the back by little green hills. The sun was shining and I said to Niall; “This is great isn’t it? This life – our set-up here?”
“Yeah,” he said non-committedly. ‘No complaints’ was the sub-text. We did the right thing moving here.
I had holidayed from London in this area every year as a child – hooking up with my Ballina gang of friends, going to discos in Ballina Rugby Club, swimming in the old Downhill pool, taking the bus out to Enniscrone. Although I have been living in Ireland for twenty years now, seven of them full time in Mayo, being here in the Summer months still brings me back to that feeling of holiday excitement I had as a child. The soft rain on an overall sunny day, the smell of burning turf reminds me of a time when we had no money, but still managed to get out at the weekends and have a bit of craic.
Tommo came third in his category. No overall place, but there’s next year – and I’ll be ready then. I’ll have him worn out and fed before we arrive- oh, and if the judges are reading this? Third bonniest baby in Killala? I don’t think so!

www.katekerrigan.ie

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

working too hard....

....and not getting the time to blog. Niall has been crippled with a bad back all week - in bed drugged up the eyeballs smoking fags and ringing down for cups of tea. Getting me back for the meals on wheels service I made him give me when I came home after my c-section last august; ("Where's my pudding?")
Had a good run at the new novel today. The sequel to Ellis Island - I've been fecking about with it for the best part of a year now - but hoping I cracked something today.
Promise to try and keep more up to date with the blog. Column in Femail section of Irish Daily Mail tomorrow - if you can bear to read anything more about my bloody boring life!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The TV Bookclub reviewed Ellis Island this week. THANK GOD THAT"S OVER. I held it together until about an hour before the show on Sunday - then fell apart. Mercifully, they seemed to like it - so now my life can get back to the normal business of writing. Putting the finishing touches to my memoir about our family's past traumatic year - then on with the sequel to Ellis Island - working title City of Hope.
If I am slow to blog it is because I am LOCKED in my mothers shed writing for the next six months.
Laid back life of a writer eh? Who would have thought that such a sit-down job could produce so much bloody adrenelin!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Since when did the human condition become a disease? Because it seems to me that low level hypochondria is all pervasive in our society. I think it’s because our expectations of life are too high. We expect that we should feel vital, and happy and full of energy and fun all the time, and when we don’t we think there is something ‘wrong’. I have seen too many people go half out of their minds with grief because they had a chest infection – and then take to the bed with depression because of the effects of the anti-biotics. I think I would have preferred it in the old days when people gave birth in fields and dropped dead from consumption cutting turf. Getting on with the business of keeping onseself alive until – BAM – time’s up. Imagine a world before you asked people “How are you” and they actually told you? The freedom of not having to listen to your whinging friend (we all have one) regaling you with the boring minutae of her daily ups and downs. The days when you didn’t have to worry about the shape of your thighs because (a) they were like moulded steel from walking backwards and forwards to the well and (b) nobody, probably now even your husband, ever got to see them. We are so bloody precious about ourselves these days. Going to homeopaths and spending twenty euro on 2ml of bottled water for some imagined ailment. “Stress” is what most of it seems to come down to. And yet, what really have most of us got to be stressed about? Nothing. Stress is a useless modern invention – more painful that the Brazilian wax and more pointless than the hostess trolley. People who are starving or dying don’t get stressed – they get sad. Perhaps we get stressed to stop ourselves feeling guilty about all the real sadness in the world. Because, after all, you might internalise other people sadness and that can lead to chest infections! Or depression. Another bandied about term. Depression is a misunderstood ailment – and that is partly because it has become so commonly used to describe how one feels when one is not on top of the world. For that reason, many ‘real’ depressives remain undiagnosed because they are afraid that their very real symptoms – lethargy, feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts etc. – are just them being self-indulgent. The reason for this is because so many of us are, now, self-indulgent about our feelings. We can’t cope with the stress of work, or world poverty, or not having been hugged enough as a child, so we get ‘depressed’. Not depressed enough to take medication, or book ourselves in for residential care, or kill ourselves (as friends of mine with real depression have done) but depressed enough to call is ‘depression’ and garner sympathy and comfort from indulgent friends and family. I just think this kind of emotional – and physical - hypochondria somehow takes from those people who are truly suffering. Selfish miserable attention seekers who used to be told to ‘get on with it’ are now able to take centre stage in our sympathetic, permissive society. Where does the line betweeen genuine hardship and indulgent neurosis end? If there is one thing in my life I would like to change it is my neurotic nature. My tendancy to get het up and hysterical over problems which do not exist. Panicking over posting letters, worrying about my pension, stressing over wrinkles and wobbly thighs. Modern malaises which were once the hilarious “does my bum look big in this” obsession of my Bridget Jones generation. But the joke is starting to wear a bit thin.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Memoir finished - sick with nerves.

Finished my memoir On The Gradient Road last week - and am sick with nerves as I have sent it out to my agent and she is reading it at the moment. Or rather - she not been able to get to it yet - I have to keep calling her to check that the silence doesn't mean that she is sitting in her office with her head in her hands going "this is crap - HOW am I going to tell her." This is the very worst thing about writing - waiting for the first bit of feedback. I never mind editing, or re-writing - or rather over the years I have become immune to it through experience- it is just the initial read by my agent that cripples me with nerves. She is the best agent in Ireland, and one of the best in the world - but what makes her special is the commitment and integrity with which she approaches her work. If she likes it - or rather if she LOVES it - she will sell it - regardless of how "commercial" or not it is. So her early opinion is the make or break for everything I write. She likes thing that are written from the heart, and this book is a memoir - heart? Don;t be talking! I plumbed the very depths of my psyche, heart, soul -as some eminent writer (whose name got robbed with Tom's birth along with all sorts of miscellaneous information that might suggest I have an actual brain in my head) said "I opened a vein and wrote it drop by drop."

On The Gradient Road is a memoir of the past year of my life. Those of you who know me already know that 2009 was a mad intense time for me and my family - Niall and I both lost our only brothers - then his father died in January, with baby Tom being born into the middle of it. The book is the most intensely personal thing I have ever written. It was written as therapy because as a writer I make sense of my life through words on a page, and I found myself unable to move forward with my new novel until I had got all the emotional confusion and upheaval of the last year out of my system. I have no idea if it is any good or not - certainly if it is compelling enough to be published. As my sister Claire says "That's enough about me - let's talk some more about ME." Weird to write a book entirely about oneself and expect people to be interested (hello? I do that in my Irish Mail column every thursday - and here!)
Anyway - in the meantime I am paralysed with nerves, sitting here in my living room, pottering through Facebook, and blogging and waiting - oh and pulling baby Tom away from climbing up on the fire grate which seems to be the only thing in the house that interests him at the moment.
Waiting.
Will keep you posted.

Friday, June 25, 2010

the complaints department

TRIBUNE: THE COMPLAINTS DEPARTMENT

“The complaints department is closed” is a phrase so over-used in our house that our son has started to use it as a retort. “Come on and eat your lovely dinner?” I plead. “The ‘COMPLAINTS department is CLOSED!” he says. I expect he’ll get the hang of ‘Eff off” like a normal eight year old anyday now.
Perhaps it because I am an ungracious reciever of complaints that I’m not a great complainer myself. I am a mutterer and so is my husband. We mutter over our lousy meals and our bad service, we sigh loudly in supermarket queues and splutter in quiet incredulity to ourselves over unavailable sundries. But actually forming our mouths around a public cricitism – well that’s just taking things a step to far. “Not worth it!” is the defence we non-complainers use and yet it is, usually, worth complaining. I know this because I have two English friends who are both magnificent complainers. One is mistress of the stiff letter to supermarkets in particular; “Imagine my disappointment when I drove an hour out of my way to your North London “Superstore” which purports to stock “everything” and discovered that there was no marscapone cheese. Not so “super” now eh?” For a number of years she managed to knock 30 per cent off her food bills by simply outwitting this well known superstore for not stocking culinary essentials such as anchovy paste and rocket pesto. The other friend goes more for the brute force of a hystrionic housewife. In Britain there are people trained to deal with people like her. Her proudest moment was in a well known chain where her failure to procure two jumbo packs of own-brand frozen cocktail sausages for an imminent barbeque send her into a furious frenzy drawing a well-mannered young man fresh from a Customer Services management course from out back. He foolishly suggested that she might buy fresh cocktail sausages.“Do I look as if I am MADE of money?” she shouted at him waving her brand new Nissan Jeep car keys gripped in fists made of expensively french manicured nails at him. ‘And,” not content to leave it at that she added, “You have a very poor selection of shortbreads!” Not ‘no shortbreads’, you understand, but a ‘poor selection’. That sort of detail seperates the men from the boys in the world of customer complaints.
This friend moved from London to Mayo a year ago and staff in her local supermarket have never seen her like. One day their customer services man tried to placate her over a “sub standard” bouquet with some free carnations. “Carnations!” she cried “Are you trying to insult me?” He returned with two bunchs of top-of-the-range lilies and was rewarded with the petulant shrug of a bad girlfriend.
Until relatively recently the complaining Brit was a rare abomination but my friend is spear heading something of a revolution. The area in which she lives is positively crawling with disillussioned English people who can’t afford to live in Surrey and have moved to Mayo instead. They complain about the weather and the smell of sileage and the fact that there is no Marks&Spencers – all of which is very, very annoying. But they also complain about the inflated price of things and there being no marscapone cheese and bad service. They ask for ‘skinny latte’s’ in café’s which are still struggling to come to terms with the concept of the cappuccino. And because they are so good at complaining it means the nice local people don’t have to. The other day I noticed my local café advertising chi-chi breakfast options. There is every possibilility that a Mayo café owner decided there was a market for organic porridge with fresh-fruit compote all by himself – but I like to think there is some repeatedly complaining Brit maurauding through Connaught towns demanding low-cal options for us all. Re-balancing the scales of history – one complaint at a time.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

saturday morning

Pancakes, piano lessons, Leo's choice of ghastly american TV kids comedy (Wizards of Waverly place.) Sun is bouncing off the sea, and thinking how powerful wriggler Tom is going to cope at his christening tomorrow (visions of him launching himself out of Father Paddy's arms into the font). Why do the days start with such a feeling of contentment then disintegrate into stress by lunchtime. Sometimes it's worth fostering the objective view of my life I have in the early mornings, before the engagement of busy-ness and responsibility kicks in and snatches my gratitude.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hi everyone - my brilliant husband Niall and his brilliant friend Jim Fleming have just got my web page up in time for my UK launch of Ellis Island on Monday. Check it out.....

http://www.katekerrigan.ie/
Hi - this is just for Ellen at Mcamillan - promo videos for Ellis Island. But anyone else can watch them too it you want!


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVGKx1lCD5k

Sunday, June 13, 2010

me ranting about art

I have always loved art. Like almost every child up to the age of 10, my Picasso-fan parents considered me something of an abstract finger-painting art prodigy – until my teens when my very modest talents gave way to hanging around art galleries wearing boho '80s blouses and lots of black eyeliner hoping to pick up an older art student boyfriend.

None of this led to a place at art school as I hoped it might and so I had to content myself with being an art consumer. For a long time this meant simply going to galleries. As a journalist, I hung about on the edges of the art world and went to countless exhibition openings looking at wonderful stuff produced by young Irish artists, drinking in work by the likes of David Godbold thinking, "Gosh that's fantastic." But never, for one moment, did I think of actually buying anything. For some reason, buying art just did not seem feasible. Occasionally I would go to a posh house and see wonderful paintings hanging, but I always just assumed that original, contemporary art was something that materialized miraculously in the homes of people with taste and money. Like heirloom antiques and couture. Covetable, sure, but not for me.

Then something happened which changed everything. One of my friends opened a gallery.

When the Paul Kane Gallery opened in 1997 we all trooped up the stairs of his South William Street space on opening night. I thought I was in seventh heaven. A white-walled haven, just around the corner from my apartment, and I could pop in there any time I wanted and take in real 'art'.

One day I called in and stood for ages looking at a copper and red heathery landscape by Margaret Deignan.

"I love that," I said.

"Why don't you buy it?" said Paul.

I blushed, and if it had been any other gallery in the world I would have run out and never gone back. But because it was Paul I said, "How much is it?"

"£185," he said. Then looking at my shell-shocked expression he added, "you can pay me in installments."

I bought it and hung it up in my apartment and felt very grown-up and pleased with myself. I still have the landscape and enjoy it every day. It has – I discovered only in writing this article – quadrupled in value in 10 years. Which is a lot more than can be said for my prize bonds, bank savings or properties.

In the past decade my husband and I have bought a lot of art. Not enough to fill a warehouse or a holiday villa in Cannes and we don't own a Louis Le Brocquy or a Damian Hirst. We're not rich. It's just that we have come to value art more than designer handbags or golfing holidays in the Algarve.

So that when I visit a lavishly decorated interior space, be it a hotel or private house, and there is something nasty and makey-up on the walls, I notice it – and it makes me mad. Why is it that when every county in Ireland is bursting at the seams with talented artists who could transform an interior space for the price of a three-seater sofa – that so many decorators choose instead to spend the money on elaborate light fittings and either skimp on the art, or encourage the owner to put up representative landscapes by his wife's friend, for which he will have paid a small fortune?

Bad art in hotels is a particular bugbear. The interior designers go to trouble and expense to procure plush furnishings and stain-friendly carpets, then go and buy a job lot of ghastly prints to put on the walls. Or worse, the TV designers' version ("get three blank canvasses and paint them different shades of blue, then hang them next to each other").

A notable exception to this is the Ice House in Ballina. It had been sold to me as having great food, state-of-the-art spa – so far so every other new hotel ? but the first thing I noticed when I walked through this extraordinary architectural space was the art. Carefully chosen and – gasp! – commissioned pieces by Charles Tyrrell and Mike Gale add an edge to the lobby and dining rooms. Elsewhere, lesser-known artists liven up darkest corners. There is no compromise in the beautifully furnished bedrooms, each of which contains a piece of contemporary, orginal art. The owners, architects and designers that worked on the Ice House are clearly committed to visual excellence and not afraid to put their money where their mouth is. Or perhaps they are canny enough to realise that compromising on art is not only crass, but unnecessary.

Because the truth is Ireland is falling down with really brilliant artists - 'proper' art is everywhere and affordable to anyone who can afford a sun holiday. Think about it people next time you reach for that €500 handbag! Rant over.......

Monday, May 31, 2010

On me being cool at the flatlake in 2008



The thing about being "cool" is that really cool people don't know they are "it". I always wanted to be cool, which is why, up until last weekend, coolness cruelly eluded me.

What has always stood between me and my cool self has been an abundance of enthusiasm. An unwillingness to hang back and let people come to me instead of waving my arms about and shouting "Hi! Come over here! This is where the cool stuff is!" It's a lack of confidence, a belief that if I don't signpost myself, people won't see me. Cool people sit in corners and wait for the world to come to them. I can't do that. I am too anxious and unsure of my talents. As a result, I am continuously jeopardising my cool rating by inappropriate boasting (caused by nerves) or chronic self-deprecation. I am actually somebody who is so self-sabotaging it's a good job I have, somehow, managed to employ the services of one of the best literary agents in the world. Otherwise I would be penniless as well as terminally gauche.

However, my low cool rating was in serious danger of being reversed at the Flat Lake Festival last weekend when, at the age of 44, I somehow successfully walked the tightrope of being both cool and yet also true to my squawky, self-announcing inner Morag. I set up a small marquee called The Good Room and decorated it with a sofa, dresser, holy pictures and vintage gewgaws. I put on a Joseph Locke CD and then, with the help of various friends and their adorable children, recruited an audience to come in and watch various impromptu performances. We invited people to Introduce Your Girlfriend to Meet My Mother in The Good Room, to play Getting The Messages for Mammy and meet the Child Who Can Be Seen and Not Heard.

I fed boxty to the menacing and bloody (actor) clowns who were wandering around the lawns of Hilton Park and, under the watchful eye of my beautiful niece Lauren, my six-year-old son and his beautiful red-haired friend Maeve, walked the grounds inviting people to guess how many marbles were in their jar and handing out barley sugars and Good Room badges. I read from Recipes for a Perfect Marriage in a big top in front of people sitting on bales of hay, then the next day took the stage in the Butty Barn with the brilliant Brian Leyden and read a Sunday Tribune piece about my friend's father's funeral, looking up to see that one of his other daughters was, coincidentally, in the audience.

Later that day, I gave tea and biscuits to legendary poets Paul Muldoon, Séamus Heaney and Canadian poet laureate George McWhirter, who turned into something of a Good Room regular with his charming wife Angela. Singing duo The Toblerones entertained us before Donegal storyteller and singer Little John Nee gatecrashed my Afternoon Tea With The Priest, at which Séamus, the actual Clones parish priest and a thoroughly good-natured sport, was the guest of honour. He also put up with (hilarious) abuse from Pat McCabe's alter ego Captain Butty.

On the last evening, playwright John Breen, an unscheduled guest, gave us the first 20 minutes of his new and completely brilliant play. The theme of it was, appropriately, magic, because it was a magical weekend for me and my family. And for the first time in my life, I felt as if I was thoroughly, indisputably cool. Of course I've spoiled it all now by drawing attention to it. Some things just can't be helped.

Sunday Tribune August 31, 2008

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Good Room Father Tony & Co.

Good Room at the flat lake



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This weekend folks - come and join us and JOIN IN! We need priests, and pinnies and party pieces. Don't leave me lonely!

FRIDAY
If the door is open pop in for a chat and a cup of cocoa and a knit a few lines of Captain Butty’s Christmas gaensai. If the nets are pulled it means that Kate is in her curlers and you’ll have to come back in the morning.

SATURDAY
12am – Angelus followed by Good Room Games. Silent Scrabble with the Child Who Can be Seen and Not Heard, Speed Knitting and Getting The Messages for Mammy. Refreshments available from the lovely ladies of Scone Central.

1pm – Boxty with special guest bestselling author Claudia Carroll - she’s really Nicola from Fair City – and she’s bringing her love rival Niamh with her!

1-2 – Bring Your Girlfriend to Meet My Mother. Good Marriage Material certificates and medals for all successful candidates. Clean under your nails lads – you have been warned!

Lunch: Hang Sangwiches and tea on sale from Scone Central as fundraiser for local Scotshouse community centre parish church.

3-4 – Entertainer extraordinare Little John Nee hosts our party pieces. How fast can you say the Our Father in Irish? Can you speed knit? Dance a jig? Sing a nice song? Or simply wiggle your ears or bend your fingers in an unnatural fashion? No matter how big or small, professionally learned, gifted or just plain infantile-but-very-funny- your party piece is – bring it along to The Good Room and add it to our Good Room YouTube Gift List.

6pm – 7pm Afternoon Tea with Mick McCormack and Anne Enright – well just who knows what these two literary heavyweights might end up talking about! Bukes we hope.

7-8pm – Supper and Bedtime Stories hosted by Kate and The Child Who Can Be Seen and Not Heard.


SUNDAY
12 Midday: The Angelus followed by mass and Good Room Games.

2-4pm: Sunday acoustic lunchtime jam with The Poetry Chicks, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Clara Rose, Mundy, Lily Allen, Shane McG – and whoever else is nice enough to get down with the “ordinary” people for a parlor sing-song in exchange for a slice of home-made tart and lots, and lots, and lots and lots of love.

5-6pm Priests Tea Party
Including: Folk Hymns with half-a-Toblerone, Johnny Ferguson.
Competitions: Guess The Saint and Spot The Real Priest PLUS Respectable Slow Dancing – Father Tony gets his ruler out and ladies, this is your chance to get up close and personal as the priests once-and-for-all ascertain the official “safe” dancing distance for a sin-free samba.

6-7pm – Supper Storytime with Kate Kerrigan. Kate will read from her latest novel Ellis Island and you can sit back and knit and chill in silence and stock up on Good Room piety before the last night of the Flat Lake goes mad altogether and you make a holy disgrace of yourself.

Friday, May 28, 2010

If women can't age gracefully, what chance have the poor 'aul men got?

I was watching a Marlon Brando tribute on the TV the other night when something really horrible happened. They were interviewing Al Pacino and he had a bad-ladies blow dry. Lifted at the roots. Thinning hair dyed light brown. For my money Al Pacino is, and has always been the ultimate hollywood pin-up. Dark, brooding, scarred, troubled – what’s not to love? I grew up in North West London pining after Italian boys who looked a bit like Elvis. (The Italian catholics only really turned up to mass when there was a party – confirmations and communions mostly, where they swept up the aisle looking fabulous, knocking the serious goody-goody English catholics out of the front pews and making us stand-at-the-back Irish cheer.) I was in love with my next-door-but-one neighbor Luciano Balducci (the name alone!) for years, so it is no surprise that the likes of Al does it for me more than say, a Brad or a Keanu. As far as I am concerned, Pacino is not time sensitive. As he gets older, I get older and he remains attractive to me. Ninety, bald, paunchy – it don’t matter to me. I harboured a small interest in Brando – yes – right up to the end. So imagine my shock when I see that my Godfather pin-up is currently sporting a tan coloured bouffant which, if my mother had come home with I might be polite enough to pretend was okay. Why do men try and look younger? Women do it, and while I mostly think it’s misguided, it is understandable. Older women are made to feel inadequate, unattractive. Grey hair and a failing figure make a woman disappear. It’s an appalling injustice and one which, I hope in the approaching years, I will have the courage to shout down. Men, on the other hand, improve with age. Every woman – and in fairness most men, knows that the majority of them don’t have much sense before they are forty. Richard Gere once said that he was fifty before he knew anything at all. Trying to look younger as a woman is risky. Most people will know you have had ‘work done’ and are therefore just ‘pretending’ which defeats the object surely. Short skirts, vest tops, injudicious use of animal print? It’s all a bit sad – but if it makes you feel better – then you can go for it and many will even respect you for trying. But a man trying to comb-himself-over to more hair or botox himself back to youth is nothing short of full-on madness. Women like grey hair, shaved balding heads and the rugged lines of experience on a man’s face. A man who is trying to look younger than his years is undignified – and lack of dignity is something that an older man cannot get away with. Ever. Dignity, the confidence to be who you are – these are essential attributes for an attractive older man, and are way more important than physical perfection. Which begs the question why is the same not true for women? Why do men not fancy Jane Fonda as a beautiful woman who acts her age over, say Heather Lockyear who looks freakishly younger than she did when she was thirty? In any case, I can only hope that, having shattered my fantasies of him, Pacino returns to form soon and loses the bouffant. Or perhaps, she said hopefully, the hair-do was temporary - for an acting part. Although Al Pacino as Mrs. Doubtfire? Cross-dressing, that’s another dignity-stripper lads. Chalk it down.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

beautiful sat morning in killala. on leo's flip camera which i have just discovered. expect loads more pointless vids.

http://upload.youtube.com/my_videos_upload

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cool podcast.....

Oh, and here is a link to a really cool interview I did with the gorgeous Jho Harris - Mayo Arts Radio Head extraordinaire. Cyt and paste folks. Cut and paste.

http://www.podcasts.ie/featured-writers/featured-prose-writers/kate-kerrigan/

Kate making brown bread

In an act of acute self-sacrifice I have videoed my precious brown bread recipe for others to copy and follow. So, my brown bread fans, too numerous to name - this is for you.
P.S. It's in two parts because I went on and on and on. "That's enough about me - lets talk some more about me."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsceZKxuLNE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HztzSDxb-_I

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

my mate helen the genius

I had a day out in Galway with my writing partner Helen this week. We were attending a screen-writing workshop. It was a beautiful sunny day, and immediately we arrived we went in search of breakfast. That’s the first thing we always do on these trips to any city – find food. We once got off the morning flight from Knock and bought a bag of groceries in Luton airport M&S to have for lunch when we arrived at my sisters house. We had the food finished before we got off the train. The journey was half an hour.
These screen-writing workshops are always full of young men. Gangs of them lounged outside the old theatre, in earnest conversation with each other, smoking. Groups of young men always irritate me. Partly because they think they know everything and partly because, as a forty five year old married mother-of-two I am utterly invisible to them. They represent something I have lost – the fresh, obvious sex appeal of youth, and something I will never have - egotistical male confidence in my own professional prowess. The guy leading our workshop was a seasoned Hollywood screenwriter. His technique was great, but he insisted on regaling us with anecdotes about Frances (Ford Copella) and Gary (Oldman) – both of whom, it seems are were geniuses. What seemed to identify them as such was inordinate emotional intensity, cavalier rudeness and erratic behavior. The film industry, like the publishing and art world, is simply brimming with genius. All of them men. Maybe it was my invisibility, or the overly large fried breakfast, or the fact of being inside on such a sunny day, but I started to get annoyed. In my experience genius is usually just a cover for a reasonably talented creative who is chronically badly behaved. “He’s a genius,” men are fond of saying about each other, “with all that that entails,” which generally means a drink problem, a propensity to be exceptionally rude, promiscuous and pathologically self-aggrandising.
We don’t have women geniuses. We have “Gifted Actresses” and “Greatest Living Female Novelist” (best of a bad bunch- in other words). If a brilliantly talented woman displays genius-type symptoms such as being a diabolical housekeeper or a bit tardy about her appearance or fond of a drink and a ride – she is labeled at best eccentric and at worst an amusing slut. Creative women, quite simply, don’t get to act up like men. We just can’t get away with it. I am often so involved in my work that I lose interest in blow-drying my hair or even, frankly washing myself. At such times of intense creativity I would happily leave my house to rot and my children unwashed and unkempt. My husband is supportive, he cooks the dinner and mind the kids and pulls his weight about the place when I have a lot on – but frankly, there is no way he would ever indulge me to the extent a woman married to a male-writer would. Much as I would like to, I can’t go about looking like a bag of washing for weeks on end without him pulling me up on it.
Helen is an exceptionally clever woman – I mean that scary combination of naturally being really, really, clever and highly educated. A first from Oxford followed by intensive, obsessive reading means she is quite terrifyingly well informed. She is also a brilliant, literary writer and poet. I have a pitifully small amount of knowledge in my head, and feel very privileged to having full working access to her brain. I bring other things to the working partnership – order, structure, biscuits – but if Helen was a man she would be most certainly be classified as a genius.
In which case she would be able to indulge her intense loathing of housework while some misguided young wife hung on her every word, brought her sandwiches and tea and shielded her from the front-line of parenthood as she sloathed about in her pyjamas writing seminal novels and poetry. As a perk of her brilliance she would also be allowed to drink copiously, insult publishers and drop the hand on aspiring young poets without fear of criticism or retribution. But because she is a woman, Helen must content herself with coming on screen-writing workshops with me with no more reward than her own bodyweight in biscuits. Oh plus – if she was a male genius? I would hate her and we couldn’t work together.
We went out for lunch and discussed all this (apart from the bit about her being a genius) over designer burgers and chips and having bonded over our annoyance with young men in general and male geniuses in particular, had a very pleasant afternoon. Except frustratingly, we couldn’t eat the bag of donuts we had bought back in with us because they made too much of a crinkling noise and everybody started looking. That’s what you have to do to get attention when you are an female genius – eat loudly - or kill yourself - like Sylvia Plath.
When we got home I collected Leo from my mothers house and she told me some anecdote about him that, being a bad mother, I now cannot remember.
“He’s very advanced,” she asserted in her I-know-everything-retired-schoolteacher voice, adding, “that boy’s a genius - I’m telling you….”
“Don’t be stupid,” I said.
Inwardly, of course, I was thrilled.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

having a good old moan




I hate hearing older people moaning. This is not an ageist comment because I adore old people, and most of the old people I know have a refreshing, upbeat outlook on life. But this is largely because I avoid the moany ones. It just seems acutely depressing to me that our outlook on life doesn’t get better as we get older. I cling to this idea that as I get older I will enjoy my life more because I will be wiser and more in harmony with myself. That the airy optimism we have when younger - that we will win Eurostar and then be the woman who will put manners on Russell Brand and settle down to live between homes in Paris, New York and Cong – will be gradually turned into solid rocks of realism and which will imbue me with a sense of deep acceptance. Moaning is in contravention of that. Moaning is evidence that as you get older you have more to moan about. In actual fact, that’s not true. Young people have far more to moan about than older people. They have hormonal surges, spots, no money, the media, and therefore everyone else hates them – their peers discourage them from wearing coats (boys) or tops (girls) so they are always frozen – and they don’t know how long and troublesome life is so every broken love affair or failed exam is an unmitigated disaster. While they get bored or outraged – depending on the person - but you rarely hear a young person moan about things like crowded buses or the weather. That kind of senseless giving out for the sake of it is something we do as we get older.
The thing about moaning is that you don’t hear it when you’re doing it. (Have I told you about my knees? They’re arthritic.) The hard truth is that I only know about the moaning I do when I catch myself doing it. I am as deluded about myself as the next person, which means that I am probably perpetually moaning every day, all day – and getting worse as time goes on. So that the only time I am not actually moaning is when I am being self-righteous around some other moaning person, shaming and annoying them by pointing out the ‘positive’ in being a sleep-deprived new mother/ a reluctant commuter/ a frustrated first-time home buyer – or the new epidemic in moaning - victim of an undiagnosable illness, (I have this crick in my neck, I can’t shake this virus, have I told you about my knee?) which almost always comes down to nothing except for the compulsion to moan about something. Which means that I need people to moan to me so that I can contradict them and be my “upbeat” self. In fact far from avoiding moaning people, I should be seeking them out because they make me less moany.
You see what I mean? It’s depressing.
Perhaps age then gives us the confidence to moan. The inner strength to be cantankerous, crabby old bastards without caring what other people think of us. Is that really the only thing to look forward to?
It would seem so – because undoubtedly the only thing more annoying than the moaner is the person that never moans. The perpetually sunny positive thinker. The Zen junkie who sees shafts of sunlight on a rainy day; the mother who zones out when you are all complaining about your kids – and that female anathema, the woman who cannot be drawn into moaning about her husband.
Is there a balance that can be struck? Like a Weightwatchers points system where you have to adhere to a balanced diet of positive and negative thoughts. In which case hasn’t it been a mild winter – have I told you about my knee?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wicked stepmothers DO exist

“Sometimes you have to do things you don’t feel like doing,” I say to my son at least once a day but apparantly I am steering him wrong. Because it seems in we live in a new feeling-led society where grinning and bearing has been marginalised into the outdated world of the right-wing religious maniac, and the goal of the modern person is to self-seek themselves into a state of eternal happiness. Big fat example was this week as a website was launched for stepmothers who don’t like their stepchildren. The bottom line is that these poor women are madly in love with daddy, but they just don’t love his offspring so it’s hard for them you know? Having to be nice to his children even though they don’t love them? Thousands if self-pitying women have already signed up to sympathize with each other over their hardship. They don’t like their men showing affection to their children, they are jealous of their shared experiences, hurt by mentions of the “ex” as mummy. The woman behind this initiative fell in love with a guy at work – who then left his wife and she has therefore inherited his two children on the ocassional weekend. The kids have been adjusting and haven’t been very nice to her in the process. Imagine! These kind of ‘love’ stories just make my blood boil. The people involved always think of themselves as centre stage in some great “follow your heart love story” but in fact they have got nothing to do with love at all – and everything to do with “feelings”. Here’s an idea lady - if you don’t like kids then don’t fall in love with a guy who has them! People fall in love with people they shouldn’t all the time, but some of us have the strength not to follow through on something just because we ‘feel’ like it.
I know great stepmothers who just get on with it. I don’t know if they really love their stepkids but they have the intelligence to say they do. Taking on someone else’s kids is a big deal and if you have a ditched wife to contend with too you should be so bloody busy trying to fix the damage you have done, that you won’t have TIME to think about how you are feeling. I have friends who don’t want kids – their own or anybody elses - because they say they are are too “selfish”. Great - that’s ok. What’s not okay is saying “I wish my step-kids had never been born, but that doesn’t make me a bad person”. Sorry ladies – yes it does. What’s appalling is this pseudo-psychology culture where expressing any kind of feeling is okay. This thinking-out-loud self-analysis that gives ultimate importance to personal emotions and minimises the needs of those around us. It’s all about being loved, about what we can get out of our relationships and how other people can make us feel fulfilled and happy all of the time. Because, of course we’re worth it. Are we though? What about the importance of giving love? The unconditional, grown-up process of loving that involves self-sacrifice and discipline. Like acting like you love a child, over and over and over again, until eventually – maybe after years and years, the feelings kick in. Because that’s the price you pay for falling in love with someone who already has children. Or at least, it should be.

Friday, April 2, 2010



It's my losing weight rant. It's easter, my fridge is full of emergency-visitor food and my larder is groaning with chocolate. My kitchen has become one big hotel buffet and I can't handle hotel buffets. The last time I moved over to the dark-side food-wise was after Kelly’s hotel a number of years ago. Three nights and four days we were there. Breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea – then the thing that finished me off altogether – “kids dinner buffet” at six. Two hours after a plethora of miniature cream cakes were sitting, struggling with my big lunch for digestive space – I am firing delicious home-made chicken goujons in on top of them begging my already stuffed son to go up again because ‘it’s free’. By day three I was waddling down to a gourmet dinner in my husband’s track suit bottoms like a scary trailer park American entering a bratwurst-eating contest.
Generally speaking, I can handle a breakfast buffet. There is an air of hearty optimism in eating early and everyone knows it’s not humanly possible to stay in an Irish hotel without eating one’s own bodyweight in fried meat before ten am. Otherwise what’s the point? If watching your weight you leave one rasher on the plate then replace it with fruit, yogurt and cereal to compensate your system and keep everything ‘moving’. On your way past the ‘breads’ table you spot a pain au chocolat, and grab one saying “I’ll have it instead of lunch”. You eat it in the lift on the way up to your room to put on something with a looser waistband but still, it’s early. The day is ahead of you and the good things is that you are so stuffed you could not possibly eat another bite all day long and you are going to go for a long, long walk and….. “Lunch? Are you mad?” I said to my sister when she said she had booked us into the Radisson Galway for lunch, after I had just finished inhaling a pile of creamy scrambled eggs, delicious, dark chocolaty wild mushrooms and half a sizzled pig, “I couldn’t possibly eat lunch!” My mother and sister looked at each other. “You’ll be hungry by two,” my mother said. “It’s a buffet,” Claire said, then her face clouded with the realisation of what she had done, “please don’t torture me.”
“With what?” I said, offended. “With the running commentary,” she said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, “I’m just going to have a small plate of light salad, and some cold meats is all.”
“Here we go,” she said.
When lunchtime came I took a small plate and heading towards the salad and cold meats section, “I am just going to have a starter and that’s it.”
By the time the others sat down with their starters I was up again “sampling” the smoked salmon and a cous-cous dish I had missed the first time around.
“Will I or won’t I have a main course,” I agonised for the next ten minutes. “I mean, it’s paid for – and I could not have potatoes …” My sister tried not to involve herself in my torturous decision-making process but blinked, silently, in irritation. I went up and had the full roast, and justified myself loudly and needlessly with every mouthful. Then because I had already indulged, I sampled every pudding until I found one I was happy with – and made myself feel so thoroughly miserable I had to sign up to Weightwatchers again.
Too much choice makes me greedy and neurotic. The hotel buffet as a metaphore for modern life.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

another church rant

There has been quite a lot of sin going on in our house recently. The eight year old has just done his First Confession, and at seven months our baby is still teaming with original sin – his christening having been put off until after the First Holy Communion – so as not to steal any thunder. Oh – and it’s Easter so we’re all atoning for Lent.
“You’re so lucky not have sin,” I texted to one my atheist friends, “it’s so much trouble.”
No text back.
Being Catholic is just not funny any more.
I used to enjoy joking about sin. But recently the religion I practice, the religion I am rearing my children in, has become so darkly associated with the very worst kind of sin imaginable. The word “Catholic” itself has become synonymous with the word ‘abuse’.
I want to continue being a Catholic. Although I grew up into a card-carrying skeptic, I got great comfort and security from religion when I was growing up and I want my children to have the same experience.
The older I get the more I enjoy all the pomp and ceremony – and I appreciate the weekly routine of my 8 year old child sitting, for forty minutes, in miraculous silence with me in mass once a week. People say “how can you put him through it?” and I say “It’s good for him! Kids never get the chance to get bored these days and mass is the only excuse I can find to not have him constantly entertained.” For me – it’s yoga. I say decades of the Hail Mary to myself. It might as well be a Buddhist chant. It’s the same thing. When life is tough, it works for me. Plus I’ve started with the kids now, the school, the ceremonies the whole “God” thing.
I don’t know if I’d be able to tolerate being a Catholic if it wasn’t for my priest Father Paddy Hoban. If God had a catalogue where you could order village priests, Paddy would be in the Gold membership version. He has curly, snow-white hair, and is a humble, mild mannered, deeply holy man – who is also fantastically clever, a brilliant liturgist and has something of a dry, measured wit. His sermons are always short, inspired, topical and on the button. His brother, Brendan, the parish priest in our neighboring town, a writer and historian - isn’t far off him. This is part of my problem (and being a practicing catholic certainly is a problem these days – if only a P.R. one). I know so many great priests and nuns. Ok – a few bores certainly, but in the main most of the ordinary clergy I have encountered, certainly in my local parish in Mayo, have been thoroughly decent people.
It is their misfortune to be trapped by and in an organization that has revealed itself as rotten to the core, which has a homophobic fossil as their C.E.O (their Boss being a Deity – and of course we all know how impractical and useless they can be!)
One wonders why more clergy don’t stand up and speak out – but then one only has to look at Father Brian D’Arcy – a natural leader who has “ Cardinal” written all over him or Father Kevin Hegarty – banished to the farthest west point of Mayo after consistently speaking out about clerical abuse long before the press got hold of it. Integrity is not a byword for success in the Catholic Church.




If I didn’t have such a great set up I’d certainly be joining the ranks of the outraged defectors - especially after the week that has been in it.
As an ordinary Catholic mother being outraged from within the cloistered conservatism of the church itself – I feel completely powerless and used.
I’m afraid to ask my priests “What are we going to do?” in case they say “pray.” I don’t want to pray. I want to march. I want to rebel and breakaway and start again. Apart from a handful of died-in-the-wool Holy Mary’s so does everybody. But then, if Catholics broke away from the corrupt evils of Rome we’d be – gasp! – protestants. And what would be the point of that?

It’s a line that the relics in charge are smartly wise to. What are you going to do about it? They are taunting us with their hollow apologies and obvious indifference. You would have thought that they would have considered recent events such as the Murphy and Ryan’s reports as seismic – but no. Thjat was left to the victim and the horrified Irish public. Rome seems inured to the fact that it has been exposed as protecting (and therefore encouraging) child abusers. They survived the Borgias. We are being run by Ancient Rome. Anything goes. The Pope blamed the whole thing on the Irish not training our priests properly. Oh – of course! We forgot to tell them not to beat, interfere with or terrorize children. Sure it was a part of our culture.
We all know child abuse was never part of Irish culture. It was part of church culture. And the church is run from Rome.
This week Brady has taken the biscuit altogether.
Some of his most vigilant defenders have been the leity. People whom I sit alongside in my Sunday pew. They plead for no change, but their arguments are underpinned with the desperate clang of denial. They feel responsible. As their Sunday congregation the church’s crimes are our crimes. We are guilty by association.
The website offering people the chance to formally defect from being counted among the church’s number worldwide (www.countmeout.ie) claims that 7,500 people have downloaded forms – I’m surprised it’s not a lot more. Church and State will continue to be intertwined in Ireland, until our school system stops being run by Bishops.
The truest and most relevant things said this week were by the courageous voices of Fathers Brian D’Arcy and Kevin Hegarty when they said – ‘the hierarchy just don’t get it’. No point in ranting and asking questions and raving on. You only have to look at how watery and terrified poor Diarmuid Martin went after he came home from Rome. The men at the top just don’t get the whole human consequences thing. In their own minds they have risen above us ordinary mortals in both their political and spiritual stature. The opinions and struggles of the ordinary clergy mean little to them. The needs of the laity – even less.
My loyalty towards my priests and my daily experience of the church has been strengthened by three deaths this year. The local priests know where my biscuits are kept. There is no doubt in my mind that the Catholic church has attracted good men. The evil pedophiles were able to exist because of a rotten system. The majority of the priests and nun’s doing God’s good work on the ground have nothing to do with the church hierarchy except for as a kind of laundering service for ordinary parishioners money. And if there is any kind of reform it will not happen by pleading to them on moral grounds, but by refusing to give them money.
If every (good) priest, in every church in Ireland stood up and told his parishioners that he was giving this years collection money to victims of clerical abuse and not sending one single penny of it over to the bosses in Rome – they’d soon perk up and listen!
At the end of Leo’s confession, Paddy invited the children and parents up onto the altar. We stood with one hand on our child’s shoulders as Paddy led us in a prayer of love and appreciation, a public acknowledgment of how precious our children are, how we will always protect and cherish them.
In the light of all that has happened, it would have easy to be cynical – but this is my child and I have promised him God and a big day out in May.

Love's Young Dream - NOT!




Is there a person alive who doesn’t know enough about the egocentric nature of celebrity to realize that it is completely contrary to the idea of marriage. Or more to the point, do we really understand what marriage is any more. Marriage – real, working, stick-it-out marriage has become, like the realities of childbirth, a dark secret nobody ever tells you about until it’s too late. Like meeting “The Perfect One” and pain-free natural childbirth, and working women who successfully “juggle their lives”– Happily Ever After is a fantasy we invented, that has backfired and serves only to make our lives more complicated and difficult than they already are.
While our grandparents groaned and got-on-with-it, taking the whole in-sickness and health thing to heart and staying together for lifetimes - what we have now is a culture where marriage is presented as the perfect ending to the perfect love story. The ultimate expression of love. You love somebody so much that you feel like you want to spend the rest of your life with them. And so you tie yourselves in with a ten grand day out and a legal contract and sit back to enjoy the endless-hot-date you have been promised. Like heaven – marriage is love that lasts forever. When the love goes, or you get bored or fed up – you end the marriage. Unless, of course, your husband is a really good looking footballer, in which case you might let them disrespect you with some topless dolly one more time. Because you love them. And that’s what marriage is all about isn’t it? Being in love.
Except of course, it isn’t. Actually, for most normal human beings, (the honest ones because loads of people lie about being madly in love because there is such pressure, even on oneself, to keep the dream of romantic love alive), marriage is the challenge of living with somebody after the love has gone. The sacrifice of oneself for the betterment and happiness of the other person even – especially – when you don’t feel like it. Marital love is the grown up stuff that happens when the feeling of love has faded and you have to be nice anyway so that the actual love – the results of the hard stuff like dealing with their ghastly relatives, tolerating their annoying little habits, biting your tongue when she gains three stone after the baby, eating the meal he cooked even when the meat was slightly underdone so as not to hurt his feelings, the not putting him down in front of the kids, or laughing cruelly at her attempts to look fashionable after forty – has the chance to grow and settle.
Marriage is hard work, and it takes time and commitment. Seemingly, being a celebrity is bloody hard work too. I mean, more work than the rest of us can ever know in that weird, unsettling way that young people now seem to aspire to. Two hours in hair and make-up for Cheryl, hours of training for Ashley – just enough recreation time to be photographed coming out of Nobu, or throwing a few shapes around China-White or a five minutes sofa-lounge with a lapdancer in Stringfellows. What about scrounging a couple of hours on a Saturday to watch the match at the pub, or trying to escape off with your girlfriends shopping for an afternoon because you’ve spent all week gawking at the telly in parallel partner mode and you’re sick of the sight of each other. Celebrities don’t have the luxury, or irritation of living on top of one another because they are too busy being celebrities.
Ashley Cole and his sleazy friend Terry ?????? are young men who are idolized and paid an enormous amounts of money for playing football. Cheryl has lovely hair and can sing and dance, and for this she has to spend a third of her working day getting all dolled up, and is held up as a role model for millions of young girls.
Our young men want to be rich footballers and our young women want to be married to them. Forever and ever – one long hot date for the rest of our lives. Does anyone else see the flaw in this picture?
What are we are telling kids about marriage and how to choose their life partners. Wait until you fall hopelessly, madly in love then get married and live happily ever after. Marriage is, after all, the reward for meeting Mr. Right. Once you’ve met a man who you are stone mad crazy about, then everything will fall into place. Surely, with all these famous Alpha men sowing their seed left right and centre, Beckam, Clinton, Woods – causing pain, and chaos and leaving their loyal, long-suffering wives reeling and gritting their teeth, we should be guiding our daughters towards settling for a nice ordinary lad with a decent job, even if he is a bit dull. But no. What we want, what we all want, is the man with an ego and a following the size of Wembley Stadium who, by some freakish turn of nature, will be satisfied with a kiss and a cuddle and a pizza in front of Emmerdale with the same woman for the rest of his life. Not going to happen. Is there any evidence, anywhere, that this man exists?
There is also the element of wanting what we want when we want it. Instant gratification. Cheryl seems like a lovely girl who, coming from a difficult background, doubtless craved the security of marriage. Society let her down by selling her the fib that marriage equals security, safety. Uh, oh.
Marriage offers more security to the faithless liar than the innocent trier. She is torn, because of that bit of paper, that fast, fecklessly made bit of legalize means that despite having been humiliated by a spoiled teenage boy, she can’t just walk away. She has to follow due procedure. He gets to beg her to stay, and to get the public to row in and persuade her to give him “one more chance”.
Of course, it’s nonsense. Men don’t filth about at that level by unhappy accident. Mucky men are mucky men. They don’t make good husbands. Ever. End of story.

While entertainers are generally weird, flawed, egocentric, often insecure people, the effect of celebrity on a young, impressionable male has to be ruinous.
When Ashley was caught out the first time, Cheryl’s mother in law moved in to their house. Part of his defense now is that the MIL moving in put a dampener on his and Cheryl’s thrilling sex life. Sorry son, if at your age and stage of fitness you can’t get it on in an enormous mock-tudor hacienda with your mother-in-law under the same roof – you’re problems are only just beginning. By the same token Cheryl did you honestly think a football hero was going to tolerate you persuing a career as an international popstar. Did nobody tell you the deal; when you marry a first division footballer, you put your life on hold and dedicate yourself entirely to them in the hope that they might possibly remain loyal and faithful to you – or at least, not disrespect you too publically.
And yet, at heart, our public interest in train wreck celebrity marriages surely just reflects our own broken hopes and dreams. We still want the fairy-tale. We want to believe in loyalty, and respect, and trust and true love lasting forever and marriage being one hot steamy date. But wanting something, as Cheryl and Ashley Cole have discovered recently, isn’t always enough.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mudders Day



Going to spend Muthers Day completely indulging myself by looking at boutique sites on the web and not buying anything because I won't admit how FAT I am and I don't have any money anyway. THEN hog the black blibber away from my cartoon and shed TV males so I can watch Columbo and Murder She Wrote etc. And waiting for my roast beef dinner ON MY LAP. And re-reading my We Love You Mum cards and feeling, for one day in the year, not taken for granted. Bliss.
here's a gorgeous picture of me and lovely husband looking - if not madly in love - then at least as if we still rather like each other - which is something after ten years of marriage. It's my version of those annoying couples who paw each other in public - or - as my grandmother used to call it - "showing off."

Friday, March 12, 2010

IRISH MAIL: KATE’S COLUMN

I am travelling back to Mayo after a day of meetings in Dublin. It is such a rare treat for me to have to get dressed up in “proper clothes” and have business lunches – driving in the dark to Ballina at six am, humming along to Maxi, tearing out my heated rollers in the train station car park – facing into a whole day away from my boys. A day when I am free from the wife/mother tag and get to be a bona-fide working woman, someone who wears jackets with lapels and proper shoes and lipstick – during the day! And not just Mammy in a track-suit littered with biscuit crumbs who happens to write books on the kitchen table in-between the ferrying and feeding and general floustering about that is our family life.
My solitaire trips to Dublin always start with such a sense of excitement. A posh restaurant for lunch! Vanity Fair on the train home! A sushi box from Aya which I’ll have guzzled before Athlone. Hell, the details don’t matter. It’s an uninterrupted day to myself. Bliss.
My husband wanted me to get the new three thirty train home.
“You’ll be back by seven,” he said hopefully, ”in time for dinner.”
Exactly, I thought. Walking straight into baby-mash and bathtime and three grumpy, expectant faces.
“I’ll try,” I said, “but I can’t promise anything.”
“Just say,” he argued, “just say it’s really important you get the three thirty. Put your foot down.”
Put your foot down you mean, I thought.
“It’s an important meeting,” I said, “It’s work.”
So I loitered over lunch and rang to say I’d be back on the later train.
“How’s the baby?” I said.
“He won’t settle.”
Once, just once, I thought, why can’t you say, “We’re all fine. You go relax and enjoy yourself.” Even if it’s not true. Like I do when you go away.
I went and spent too much money on a tracksuit top, as a reward for getting more work but more as an act of indulgent self-destruction as we are on an agreed economy drive. I dropped in on a friend in their office and moaned at them for an hour then got to the station an hour too early. One whole hour, and no platform announced yet. I went and loitered about in Eason’s, spending far too long deciding on which magazines I could ‘afford’ after splurging on the top.
As I was noting miserably that I had already read most of them in the hairdressers the week before, I stepped back and bumped into a woman and her enormous double buggy. “Sorry,” I said, then instinctively, unable to stop myself, I leaned in for a look. Beautiful twin girls. Perfect, smooth brown skin and pink pouting mouths.
“They’re beautiful,” I said. She smiled back, vaguely, still fingering her magazine. Doubtless unimpressed by the patronizing approval of some nice middle-class white stranger. My hands hovered over the nearest one’s chubby cheek, and I remember my sister, back in my broody years, reprimanding me murderously for touching the newborns of strangers in café’s.
“Parents don’t like that,” she said. “It’s invasive – you’ll give them germs!”
I went back out into the concourse and downed a Butlers Hot Chocolate and had a little petulant cry. I texted my husband. “I miss you. I love you. I’m sorry I’m late. I hate being away.” I didn’t send it because I knew he’d get cross. Every time I go away on business trip there is always a tearful phone call soon after I arrive. Whenever I feel lonely I get angry with him for not being there, even when it is me who has gone away. I take a break from my children to stay sane, but the moment they are not within touching distance, I feel bereft. It is the irrational nature of familial love. Fishfingers for dinner, arguments over Lewis or Top Gear, moaning over homework, running out of baby-wipes during the most spectacular poo of the week - the everyday familiarity of the same small challenges, living with the same people’s habits. Family life can be wearing – something I feel I need to escape. Then I see a stranger’s baby in a buggy and I remember the longing I had through my twenties and much of my thirties for an ordinary family life. And I want to rush home to my husband, and my two sons to fight and feed and slinge about trying to write books while my husband tuts over my spilled biscuit crumbs and not worry about high heels or lipstick or spending money on nice tops that won’t make an difference.
So next time some lady looks into my buggy and coos over my magnificent baby I will remind myself that I am living my dream. And I will ask her if she would like to touch his cheek.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


It is horrific that the Pope appears to have blamed the Irish "problem" on poor training. As a practicing Catholic, I just don't know what to do with myself these days. I want to continue to practice my religion - and for my children to "enjoy" the benefits of ritual and (my a-la-carte- non papist) spiritual code that they get from being in the Church - but I am so ASHAMED of being in any way a part of such an immoral, corrupt organization. I wish some decent members of the clergy would just have the courage to break themselves off entirely. Perhaps those of us still going to mass, at least partly because we are trapped in a school culture of religion, need to really stand up and make a big stand. Ordinary catholic people - and most priests are horrified by all of this. But as they say, it only takes for good men to do nothing for evil to take hold. Someone need to organize a Mass Protest. One Sunday when, instead of going to mass, we all stand outside - catholics, priests, all the people of all the religions - or no religion, - all the people of Ireland stand outside the catholic churches in silence for the shame and sorrow we feel for the victims of clerical abuse. All money donated goes to victim support. not one single penny, from one single church in Ireland goes to Rome that Sunday. That would wake the bastard up - and you can be sure it will be the only thing that will.

Monday, February 22, 2010

bred to work


Bred to work

“Any fool can get married and have a baby,” I remember my mother saying to me as a teenager. “Work” was the mantra of my mother’s generation as they drove the ideal of independence into our skulls from birth. Their daughter’s career was our mothers holy grail. Proof that generations of oppression was over, the women’s revolution complete and women were finally “free”.

Well that didn’t last long. In a recent survey it was revealed that young mothers between the ages of 18 and 34 are fuelling a switch towards homemaking as an aspirational lifestyle choice. Put bluntly, the next generation doesn’t want to go out to work anymore. They want to stay home like our grandmothers, decorating cupcakes, potting up jam for the farmer’s market and spending quality time with their children. The lifespan of the “Amazing Juggling Woman” is over. We made it look too hard.

And it is hard. Our mothers wanted us to be independent from men – but they equated independence entirely with money. So while we no longer rely on men for cash, now that we are working, we need them more than ever in so many more ways than before. The monthly wage packet no longer buys them their slippers by the fire. We need them to empty the dishwasher, and forgo their Saturday sports to take the kids off our hands so we can scrub the kitchen. Men have gone from being the petrol that fuelled the household machine, to being an essential cog in the wheel. Except now it only works when it is prodded and pushed and we have to provide half the petrol ourselves. Did our mothers honestly think that men were going to step up to the plate and take fifty percent of the fall out from a battle that was, frankly, not theirs?

My parents were both teachers. My mother worked locally, my father in the city. So every morning he would leave the house an hour earlier than my mother with his paper tucked under his arm and get the tube to work. My mother had to wash, dress, and feed and transport three of us to school, leaving the baby at home with her mother. After school she had to take us all home, feed us and do our homework and by the time my father got home, exhausted, less one hour after she did, have a hot meal ready on the table and his slippers by the fire.

The truth is she was so thrilled to be allowed to work (her own mother was a trained teacher who had to, by law, give up work in Ireland after she got married) that she didn’t take all the other ‘work’ into account. The unpaid, thankless work that women had been doing since time began, so low was the self-worth of our mother’s generation that they barely noticed that they were now bringing home the bacon and cooking it.

The drudgery of cleaning and cooking and child-rearing that had trapped women in their houses until the 1960’s it has now transpired was actually very important, and very skilled labor. So skilled, in fact, that we now need television programs to show us how to clean our toilets, and rear our children and cook our dinners. The most basic housekeeping skills, like working out how much money you have to spend each week and sticking to it, seem to have completely eluded us. Debt? Our grandmothers did not know what that meant. For them it meant your children must have been starving with the hunger and some evil landlord was trying to “come to an arrangement.” Could they have ever imagined their granddaughters would be stupid enough to spend half a month’s wages on a handbag and the other on Marks & Spencer’s ready meals? Or throw a perfectly good blouse out because of a missing button, or not know how to bake a batch of buns without looking up a lavishly illustrated cookbook. Or how about this - having to leave the house on a wet night to join fellow women in a “knitting” club – because if you try and sty at home and do it your attention craved kids are hanging out of you so much you feel like poking them with the needle.

Our mothers wanted to go out to work for all sorts of reasons. Independence, freedom, fulfillment – but mainly they wanted to do it because men did it and their work was more valued in society.In actual fact, men were not valued because of the work they did outside the home, but simply because they were men. And you have to value and respect men because they have ridiculous egos and if you don’t value them and thank them and tell them they are marvelous – they won’t do anything. They set the rules, but in reality, if men don’t feel valued and important, they won’t do anything.

So we set a new rule saying, we’ll go out to work too (if you do fifty percent of the house and kids stuff. Ok – do thirty and I’ll pretend it’s fifty. Hell – I’ll pretend it’s eighty!) and in one generation we have reversed the situation so that a man who allows his wife to stay at home and keep house is doing her a favor. Economically, the woman who has time to stay home and cook her kids a dinner from scratch is not down-trodden but privileged. Menu-planning and having the time to steam clean your upholstery is a luxury ladies. I remember my poor, emancipated mother looking on aghast one Saturday afternoon as I modeled my new Anthropologie apron and my sisters and I discussed brownie recipes and Good Housekeeping tips. (Keep your bin liners in the bottom of your bin – oh, oh – a bowl of lemon juice and water to freshen the microwave.) “ I made sure you were educated so you’d discuss Proust – or at least current affairs!” We reminded her that as full time working mothers, we barely have time to read the newspapers never mind discuss them. Our homes and children have become our recreation. Our aspiration is not longer to be more intelligent, or accomplished but to become more “homey”. Money has outlived its promise as a means towards independence or even a designer handbag. What we want money to buy us now is time, the time to sit around our perfectly managed kitchens discussing current affairs. The time to not feel guilty about the amount of time we’re not spending with our kids. The time to give our cutlery drawer a right good clear out without eating into a precious Sunday afternoon. Enough time to feel that being a good mother and earning and income is not an either/or decision. Our mother’s told us we would need to learn to “juggle our lives”. Not that hard. You’ve got dishwashers now, the men are great nowadays – they’ll help out, cook a dinner with one hand tied behind your back, microwave some chips – that’ll do them. After a generation of trying to hold it all together frankly, we’ve already dropped a few balls and now we’ve discovered they were the one’s marked “cup cakes” and “cuddle baby all day”. Balls marked “2 Hour Commute” and “Midnight empty-dishwasher” we’re still endlessly throwing round, and round, and round.

We’re not fighting for our right to work any more, we’re fighting for our right to knit.

Our grandmothers thought going to work was important because men did it and that staying at home was rubbish because it was what women did. Our mother’s told us working was great. What they neglected to tell us was that women had been keeping the show on the road for centuries. That our skills as homemakers were important. That the gentle crafts of sewing and knitting – quietly embroidering tray-cloths with our family initials, pickling our summer fruits were worth something. That they were not simply things we had to do, but creative occupations that added as much value to family life as they money the men bought it. Or, as we are discovering now, more.

It seems we have screwed up the fight so much that the next generation of women want to take us back in time. The pressure of the modern working mother is turning them into Stepford Wives.

Maybe instead of passing the values of working independence to our daughters, our mother’s would have been better placed in validating the importance of being good homemakers to their sons.

With a growing macho TV chef-culture of men’s competitive cooking it looks hopeful that, before long, men will be convinced that at home growing vegetables and pottering around the kitchen, baby in one arm, roulade mould in the other is truly where they belong.

The question for us women now is – can we get back in there first before men discover the joys of knitting?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentines Day


“True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed. It is a committed, thoughtful decision”

That quote from The Road Less travelled by M. Scott Peck is one of the most accurate, and helpful, depictions of long-term love. It demystifies the myth of romantic love, and reminds those of us who are engaged in the hard but ultimately rewarding business of marriage that you have to “work at love.”

Of the ways in which we “work at love” the half dozen forced garage red roses and the ubiquitous struggle to find a last-minute table for two for Valentines night seems like the hardest.

For men especially, pushing the boat out on this “special” day is surely something of a trial. In the early days of a relationship when romance is at its height it is used as little more than a test. Girlfriends who were quite happy sitting propped up at a bar on date-night expect their boyfriend to transmogrify into Sex and The City scriptwriters inventing original ways to express their romantic feelings. For the uninitiated, untrained male Valentines Day is a minefield. Guessing the cup size for your girlfriend on the Agent Provacteur website and knowing that picking too big is better than too small, knowing not to buy smalzy red roses when her favorite flowers are lilies, taking a day off work and going for a picnic in Wicklow picking up a pre-booked hamper from Donnybrook Foods en route, understanding why a slim volume of poetry trumps trashy jewellery, knowing joke cards are a no-no, (there’s a few tips for you lads!) – are well outside the boundaries of most men’s understanding – or, indeed, interest. I remember a recently betrothed work collegue coming into work furious after her fiancé has bought her a magnificent bouquet the night before. “Every man should know to send his girlfriend flowers at work,” she confessed tearfully, “ so everyone can see.”

For married men, who have been terrorized and trained over many years, it’s tantamount to little more than emotional blackmail. This is the day when your wife expects you to appreciate her via a rota of annual restaurant/hotel trips, frustratingly acquiring a collection of sexy underwear which, although it is now the right size, your wife seldom has the energy, or motivation to wear.

After ten years of marriage, we finally called a halt on celebrating Valentines three years ago.

“Where will we go for dinner?” I asked, testily.

“I don’t mind,” he said, meaning of course, “I don’t care.” Knowing enough not to say “let’s stay in this year”, (took me five years of hard-core tutting to train him out of that plea) he finally booked a restaurant (I gave him a list – with phone numbers) where I made him sit with a single red rose in a small cheap vase between us, nodding in mournful solidarity with the other men sitting in silent couples longing to be in the pub. We endured the purgatory of an average meal, talking about the same mundane parenting, domestic subjects that we would have talked about at home, except without the blessed interruption of television to keep us distracted. After dessert he looked at me and said, tentatively, “What would you like to do now?”

“I would like to go to a disco,” I said, “and dance salsa ‘til dawn, then walk home along the river and watch the sunrise.”

He looked gratifyingly horrified until I added, “What do I look like I want to do? I want to go home, put on a tracksuit and watch the last of that Curb Your Enthusiam box set ‘til we fall asleep.

“Will we pop into the Village Inn for a quick one on the way home?” he said hopefully. And there were all our friends making the most of their babysitters having put each other through the same ordeal.

When we got home I said, “Lets never do that again,” and, I swear, I think that was the most romantic thing I think I had ever said to him.

I am lucky insofar as my husband is a great gift chooser and giver. But while I enjoy and love every piece – it is the memories of the times that they represent more than the jewelery itself that I am attached to. His face when our son was born, his stoicism and strength at my brother’s funeral – the mystery of how our feelings of love have changed, and yet through celebrating births and enduring grief, something has held us together. That thing is romantic love, but it is stronger, and grittier and more visceral than merely sitting in a restaurant, or flying to Paris for the weekend, or picking out underwear from a catalogue.

Like all women, I wish I was told I was pretty more often, or bought more cups of tea in bed, or told I was loved every hour of every day and endlessly thanked for the work I do for our family.

But underneath the nagging, needy insecurity of being a female in a world where romantic desire is depicted as the be-all-and-end-all over the duller and more everyday realities of love such as trust and loyalty and respect, I believe that

romance, real romance, is so much more complex and beautiful and mysterious than the ridiculous and commercialized hype we have turned it into. It’s in the everyday, often so well hidden that you have search to find it. An unexpected “I love you” that you are too often busy to hear. That sneaky and inappropriately timed offer of sex when you bending over the vegetables in your gardening gloves. It’s noticing how beautiful your husband’s eyes are when he takes off his glasses, and allowing yourself to revel in that moment of desire instead of nagging him about going for laser eye surgery. While open expressions of desire and love are great, for some of us romance is much more subtle thing. Of course, perfect love is when love and romance merge together.

On Liveline this week there was the ultimate Valentines success story when an older man, Don Mahon told the touching story about how, on the day of his wife’s funeral in 1998, he received a Valentines card that she had posted to him 18 months beforehand.

Proving that romance is not something you can force any more than you can force a good red rose. It’s nature and fate colliding. It’s the mysterious shadow of love, and sometimes it works better when it is left where it is and not dragged into the limelight.