23 December 2009

Let’s all stand up...

Levons nous tous...

... and shout:
...et disons bien fort:

“Happy Christmas!”
« Joyeux Noël ! »

18 December 2009

We will miss you Helane

My very good friend Helane passed away yesterday. She fought the insidious disease that is cancer for 7 months, won a major battle last October when all the tumours vanished, only to reappear within a few weeks and spread with incredible speed (I have already posted about her here).

I understand that last weekend Helane made a list of all the things she wanted to do “to put her affairs in order” before she went. She got time for only one of them, the most important: despite being wheelchair bound for the last few weeks, last Monday she travelled straight from the hospital in Waterford to the Four Courts in Dublin to hear the appeal against the lenient sentencing of the young man who was driving the vehicle when her daughter Catherine was killed in 2006. She wanted justice to be done, and Catherine’s life to be valued at more than 240 hours of community service. On Monday, Catherine’s life was considered by the Court of Criminal Appeal to be worth 15 months custodial sentence, starting that very day. As Helane and her family travelled back down to the hospital in Waterford on Monday evening, the young man headed for jail. Justice had been served, at last.

The last conversation I had with Helane was on the phone on Sunday evening. I remarked to her that I though she was a very strong woman, to have the courage to travel and face the next day in her condition. With her usual good humour, she burst laughing and said: “No, I am not a brave woman, I am a very determined woman!”

It is as if this determination carried her through the last few months. As if, once she felt justice had been shown to be done for Catherine, she could let go and allow the cancer to take hold of her. And it did, and won within 3 days.

Although I have not stopped crying since last Tuesday night when I heard she was in her last moments – and I am not the only one of her friends to do so! – the Helane I want to remember is the person I heard laughing on Sunday: she was talking to me while puffing on her cigarette, after telling me yet again, as a joke: “Well, the doc’s have said it won’t make a difference at this stage, so I might as well enjoy the poison while I can”.

The Helane I want to remember is the person who always showed concern for and interest in others, no matter how difficult life was for her. I particularly noticed this since her cancer diagnostic last May, as every time we talked, after quickly answering my questions about her health, she would always ask me about Cathal, and insisted on all the details of his progress, health and otherwise. Even last Sunday at least half of our conversation was about him! She followed this blog and Cathal’s Mammy’s one (indeed she followed my footsteps into blogland just a year ago and I know she made great friends through it) and often rung me or texted me after seeing some of his photos. When he was very sick after his open heart surgery, she kept telling me not to worry, that “her Catherine” was looking after him, making sure we would enjoy him for a very long time. So sweet of her, when her own daughter was no longer there to be “enjoyed”!

The Helane I want to remember is the person who gave me one of the biggest, longest hug I ever received, last time we met only a few weeks ago. The person whom I dreaded seeing weak and sick, and who passed on to me some much of her strength and peace that I left her with an incredible feeling of reassurance, acceptance and serenity.

And I am so glad that on that occasion I got to thank her for her friendship over the years...

But most of all, the Helane I want to remember is this woman who went through what I can safely say was a very tough life, from the very moment she was born, and yet always looked on the positive, and kept going with grace and humour, despite it all. I want to remember our long walks together along Tramore beach before I moved up to Dublin, when we talked about anything and everything, and where one Saturday afternoon she told me her full life story. I was humbled by her trust in me, but also amazed by her attitude to life despite all the adversity. Catherine’s death the following year only reinforced my admiration for her.

Determined woman, indeed!

Helane, I hope you have found peace. And wherever you are now, I also hope you have found Catherine again. But we will miss you.

PS: My thoughts are also with her two other children, barely adults themselves, who have not only buried their younger sister three years ago, but face another funeral in the same church, the same cemetery this weekend, only a few days before Christmas. A reminder that the “Festive Season” is not always festive for everyone...!

27 November 2009

Pre-Weekend Madness

Things have been quite depressing in Ireland these last few days.

The rain and the subsequent devastating floods in the West and South are beyond belief. Lush green rainy Ireland has surpassed itself this time – I heard earlier this week that the whole Shannon river system received in 3 weeks one third of the average annual rainfall. No wonder the rivers have spread themselves so far, wide and deep! It’s a national catastrophe. I am so grateful the little nest I call home is dry and warm…

Then the report yesterday on more child abuse at the end of the Catholic clergy, and this time the denunciation of systematic cover up by the so-called Princes of the Church, often aided by the Garda themselves. As with the Ryan report, I felt physically sick…

Do I need to mention the looming and dreaded Budget 2009, less than a couple of weeks away?

And I will not talk about this bloody French “handball” that denied Ireland a place in the Word Cup – and before you ask, Yes I ALWAYS cheer for Ireland, and Yes it was so, oh so unfair, and Yes I much prefer Rugby to Soccer ANY TIME, and NO I will not talk about it again. So there!

And we are getting into the heart of winter, getting up at night, leaving home in the (so- called) morning in the dark, getting home without having seen sunlight. I do not like winter.

Added to all this Doom and Gloom, I have a sinking feeling that my addictive remission is slowly but very surely slipping away from me: you see, I am “a bit” of a perfectionist, and over time this has turned into the very dangerous disease of Workaholism. I had been very good for the last few years, but for almost a year now, as I enjoy what I do more and more, and see more and more good results from it, I am allowing myself to be sucked in… Let’s just say that very long days, and fiddling with ideas, and documents, and spreadsheets on my work laptop over the weekend are becoming the norm. The ensuing stress signs are pocking their little spikes at my brain and they are not nice.

So this morning I was not happy about tearing myself from my warm bed. Why couldn’t it be Saturday instead of Friday? My body was doing all it could to fight it, my brain was not much better, a totally fuzz. Even the scolding hot shower did not jolt me – I take Very Hot, not cold showers, I HATE COLD! Even the taste of my Xtra Strong coffee in the Xtra size cup, the smell of which should be enough to shake anyone, could not do it.

So there I was, trying desperately to focus and apply my make-up, and to do it in the proper order (… I kid you not!) when a strange sound came from the radio. By the time the DJ had explained what it was, I had laughed so much my stomach hurt, and I was not only awake, but my natural optimism had been returned, the day ahead looked bright, indeed the whole weekend looked promising.

This “sound” came from a clip available on You Tube. I later found it and watched it several times…

And I am still laughing.


So, in the happy sharing spirit I now feel, here it is. Enjoy, and Happy Cheerful Weekend.

22 November 2009



It’s official. We are friends. And I am not the one saying it!

C’est officiel. Nous sommes amis. Et ce n’est pas moi qui le dis!

The younger we are, the easier it is to show our emotions. It is when we grow older that we learn to hide them (for all kinds of reasons) or to minimize them. However expressing our feelings at a young age can be a difficult task. Emotions are felt, where as feelings, to be expressed, imply conceptualisation. That is in itself a complex process.

Plus nous sommes jeunes, plus il nous est facile de montrer nos émotions. C’est quand nous grandissons que nous apprenons à les cacher (pour toutes sortes de raisons) ou à les minimiser. Par contre exprimer nos sentiments à un jeune age peut être difficile. Les émotions sont ressenties, alors que les sentiments, pour être exprimés, doivent être conceptualisés. Ceci est en soit un processus compliqué.

I spent some time in Cathal’s home yesterday. At one stage he and I were taking a well deserved little break from all the playing and “messing around” we had been immersed in. Cathal was sitting on my lap facing me. We were both silent, just quietly looking at each other. And then, very gently, Cathal’s right hand took hold of his left and shook it firmly once – the Lámh sign for “friends”!

J’étais chez Cathal hier. A un certain moment lui et moi faisions une petite pause bien méritée après nous être immergés dans pleins de jeux et de chahutages. Cathal était assis sur mes genoux, tourné vers moi. Nous étions tous les deux silencieux, nous regardant calmement. Et alors, tout doucement, la main droite de Cathal a pris sa main gauche et l’a secouée une fois fermement - en langage par signes qu’il apprend c’est le signe pour «amis»!

The important thing for all communication to be effective is that the message must be received and understood as it is meant when it is transmitted. So I decided to carry out my own check on this. I asked Cathal, refraining from signing to ensure I did not influence him, “Are you and I friends? Are we friends?”

L’important pour que toute communication soit effective est que le message soit reçu et compris comme il est destiné l’être au moment de la transmission. Donc j’ai décidé de faire ma propre vérification. J’ai demandé à Cathal, en faisant bien attention de ne pas faire de gestes pour ne pas l’influencer, « Toi et moi sommes amis ? Nous sommes amis ? »

And there was the sign again, right hand holding left hand, shook firmly once, but this time accompanied with a beautiful wide smile…. We are friends! We are friends! And Cathal has shown me yesterday that he can not only give his opinion on our relationship, but he knows exactly what he is talking about, because it was perfectly in context, as a conclusion of a very nice time spent together.

Et re-voici le signe, main droite tenant main gauche, secouée une fois fermement, mais accompagné cette fois d’un radieux sourire… Nous sommes amis ! Nous sommes amis ! Et Cathal m’a démonté hier que non seulement il peut exprimer son opinion sur notre relation, mais il sait exactement de quoi il parle, parce que c’était parfaitement en contexte, à la fin d’un bon moment passé ensemble.

To come back to the subject of emotions, I am always struck by the speed at which Cathal’s face can change: within a few seconds, every emotion, everything he is thinking can show, and there is no half measure. Here are some examples taken recently, in the order the photos were taken, and all within 2 minutes:

Pour en revenir au sujet des émotions, je suis toujours étonnée de la rapidité avec laquelle les expressions de visage de Cathal peuvent changer : en quelques secondes, chaque émotion, chaque pensée s’y affiche, et il n’y a pas de demi-mesure. Voici quelques exemples pris récemment, dans l’ordre où les photos furent prisent, et tout cela en moins de deux minutes :

Pretending to sulk, yet finding it hard not to let out the fun side of things at the same time (I recognise another family member in this little face…) – Faisant semblant de bouder, mais ayant des difficultés à ne pas laisser échapper le côté drôle de la situation (je reconnais un autre membre de la famille dans ce petit visage…)

Protest – Protestation

Oh, I am so cute! – Oh, je suis si adorable !

Interest – Intérêt

Joy – Joie

Sulking again (When will you ever stop taking those photos?) – Boudant de nouveau (Quand vas-tu arrêter de prendre des photos ?)

My favourite of the series – Ma préférée de la série

Cathal has shown enormous progress in the last two weeks, and yesterday I could barely believe my eyes as I was watching him playing by himself or interacting with us. There is no doubt that lately a lot of things have suddenly clicked into place in his little head. Most importantly, I can see that the enormous work, time and energy spend by his Mammy daily (and the Dad) are really bearing fruit. Bravo!

Cathal fait démonstration d’un énorme progrès ces deux dernières semaines, et hier j’avais du mal à croire ce que je voyais en l’observant jouant seul ou communiquant avec nous. Il n’y a pas de doute que récemment beaucoup de choses se sont mises en place dans sa petite tête. Mais le plus important est que je peux constater que le travail énorme accompli, le temps passé et l’énergie dépensée tous les jours par la Maman (et le Papa) portent vraiment des fruits. Bravo !

01 November 2009

Precious Moments

Moments précieux

Every Wednesday night Cathal’s Mammy and the Dad go back to school (apparently all to do with Cathal, and communications, and all that…) so Cathal and I can spend some time together, without the parents around… Yeah!

Tous les mercredis soir, la Maman et le Papa de Cathal retournent à l’école (apparemment cela à pour sujet Cathal, la communication, et tout ça…) et Cathal et moi pouvons donc passer des moments ensembles, sans les parents… Youpi !

We take this opportunity to catch up on all the news of the last few days, on all the gossip, on all each other’s exploits. We continue chatting over diner, after which Cathal demonstrates to me his latest discoveries. Then it’s bath time, followed by a story read and commented upon, one or two lullabies (in French), a big hug, and bed… preferably before the parents come back, but this is not always the case! ;-)

Nous en profitons donc pour faire le point des nouvelles depuis les derniers jours, des racontars, des exploits de l’un et de l’autre. Nous continuons la conversation pendant le dîner, après quoi Cathal me fait démonstration de ses dernières découvertes. Puis c’est l’heure du bain, suivi d’une histoire lue et commentée, une berceuse ou deux (en français), un gros câlin, et le lit … de préférence avant que les parents ne reviennent, mais ce n’est pas toujours le cas ! ;-)

Pure pleasure!

Un vrai plaisir !

You talking to me? Tu me parles ?

Reading to Marvin, the cat. Lecture à Marvin, le chat.

So, you listening to me? Alors, tu m'écoutes ?

Pretend sleep. Faire semblant de dormir.

25 October 2009


I am indeed so angry that I have decided to take action. In conscience, I can no longer remain silent. My sense of injustice has reached it’s tolerable limit. I have cried at listening to some of the stories in the last few weeks, or reading about them in the media, or on the Down Syndrome Ireland Forum website.

So today I emailed our Minister for Health and Children, and then forwarded this to my three locally elected representatives (including the “chancer” who assured himself last year that I would never vote for him – click here and then here if you are interested in the details) asking them to acknowledge my correspondence and take action on the strength of it. I have also forwarded it to the editors of four newspapers: the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Irish Examiner, and the Harold (simply because this paper seems to have been at the forefront of the campaign against the budget cutbacks in Crumlin).

I am not very hopeful of any feedback, and even less of any action.

But DAM IT, my anger had to be expressed.

I know that different groups have taken and continue to take different types of action to raise awareness of this intolerable situation, and try to bring about change. At the end of the day, the more of us express our concerns, in whichever form suits us best, the more chances we may have to be heard.


I let you all decide for yourself what, if anything, you may wish to do on this topic. But if you can do something, thank you.

Here is an exact copy of my email to Ms Harney:

Dear Minister Harney,

I am writing to you today as a very concerned citizen, regarding the current waiting list for heart surgery in our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin.

I expect that you will at a minimum acknowledge receipt of this correspondence, and hopefully confirm to me your position in this regards.

First allow me to tell you a little story: I am the grandmother of Cathal, who was diagnosed at birth in March 2008 with three severe congenital heart defects. I remember thinking at the time that, had he been born in a less developed country, or in Ireland but 20 years earlier, he would not have had any chance to survive pass a few weeks. But this is Ireland in the 21st century, and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin boasts some of the finest paediatric cardiac surgeons in Europe. So he was lucky! Indeed, he had his first heart surgery in April 2008, but we quickly realised he was not so “lucky”: even though he was considered a high priority case, he had to be put on a waiting list as there was no room in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit for him to go post surgery. After two weeks of a wait, he deteriorated so much that he became critical, another child who was not as critical as him had to leave ICU, and he had his life saving surgery early one Sunday morning.

This is not the end of the story for Cathal: this surgery was only an intermediate measure, to allow him to grow stronger for his vital open heart surgery. He was finally called for it in March 2009, and until he was actually taken into theatre, there was no assurance the surgery would be carried out – again, a lack of ICU beds was the problem.

In the last few weeks, increasing reports have come into the media of so many children whose open heart surgery has been delayed because of a lack of ICU beds, that I realise, once again, that Cathal was indeed lucky earlier this year! Long term, he may require further surgery. Will his luck hold out then?

As Minister for Health and Children, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that every person in this country, including every child, has access to the care he or she needs. So how can you justify that life saving operations cannot be performed, when the staff is available and the equipment is in place and waiting?

How can you justify that “luck” decide whether a child lives or dies?

How can you justify that Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, being the only paediatric cardiac centre in the country and as such a Centre of Excellence – a concept you have been championing so vehemently – cannot do what it is designed to do because of a lack of ICU beds?

How can you justify that, although about 400 heart surgeries are performed there every year, and although every child in the country with a heart condition is referred to this hospital, there are only eight cardiac ICU beds?

I understand that the waiting list for heart surgery is currently over 100. How can you justify putting the life of these 100 or so children at risk? The decision to operate on someone’s heart is never taken lightly, and if the consultants decide on it, it must be done.

How can you justify the mental and emotional anguish this is causing parents and other family members?

And if you wish to bring it back to budgets and financials issues, how can you justify the mismanagement of public finances these delays in treatment are causing the state? Because, in the long term, the financial cost to the state of treating increasingly sick children is going to grow. My taxes are paying for this, and I much prefer them to be used for the funding of surgery of these children now, that the extra funding of additional treatment in the future, should the majority of these children be “lucky” enough to survive.

Minister, you have been in your current position for over five years. You have had the will to effect a lot of changes during this time. Do you now have the will to ensure that the lives of children are preserved? If you have, please communicate to me, as a very concerned citizen and to the country at large that, within the next few weeks, cardiac ICU beds will be made available in Crumlin. Space for these can be found within the hospital itself; Equipment and machinery can be purchased on a priority basis as soon as funds are made available, and the extra staff recruited by simply lifting the embargo on recruitment for this particular instance. If there is a will, there is a way.

I understand that more cardiac ICU beds will be available in 18 months time. This is 18 months too late! So please answer this: do you have the will to effect a change now? If not, your position as Minister for Health and Children is no longer tenable, and you are expected to step down and let someone else, who has the will and competence, take your place.

Finally, consider this: if your own child, or a niece or nephew, was on the waiting list, would you not do all in your power to ensure they live? I am asking nothing less here.

I am sending you a printed copy of this email by registered post. As an elected representative, it is your duty to acknowledge this correspondence and reply to it.

Yours respectfully,

Name and address.

Now let’s wait and see.

11 October 2009

UP with Hammie and Boo

Or Racism et al. (part 1)

I was very honoured this week to be asked to join Hammie and her son Boo to go and see the film UP with them yesterday. I love animation movies, I am quite a fan in fact, and have been for a long time. Truth be told, I probably not only never “grew” out of them, but enjoy them more as time goes by: the level of sophistication, on the technical side of course, but also in the way most of these films are so cleverly designed as to appeal to the whole population, irrespective of age, simply gets me.

Up is no different. No, actually, it is different. The 3D effects are simply brilliant, the graphics are superb, and the adult-viewer-destined nods and winks along the way are very subtly but very surely sprinkled throughout.

It was a very pleasurable afternoon, made all the more pleasurable by the hug I received from and gave back to Boo when we parted ways – Ok, hugs exchanged with Hammie as well, of course! I had started the day by shopping in Dundrum for a pair of blue shoes, to go with one of my “work” suits, had ended up finding them,… plus a pair of mauve shoes,… plus a mauve bag – mauve sounds so much posher than purple, doesn’t it? And I ended the day going back into the shops and buying a cream jacket… Oh my poor credit card was overactive on Saturday!

What has this got to do with Racism et al. as per the (sub) title above, I hear you ask. Well now, let me explain.

On Friday, I was having one of those coffee-break chitchats one has with colleagues on a regular basis. You know the type:
- So, anything planed for the weekend?
- Couple of things. But what I am really looking forward to is seeing UP.
- UP?
- Yeah, you know the film coming out this weekend.
- ????
- Look here (pointing to a newspaper on the table, open on the very page showing an ad for the film), it’s a new animation film, just out, and it’s supposed to be brilliant.
- …But, it’s a kids movie…?
- If you want to call it that. But I’m really looking forward to it!
- And you’re bringing a kid to it?
- Actually, I am accompanying a friend and her son.
- And you don’t mind going to a kids’ movie?
- Mind? What do you mean mind? I love them…
The look on my colleague’s face had gone from surprise, to scepticism, to pure and simple incomprehension. So I ploughed in:
- Animation films can truly be Art. Some of what comes out sometimes borders on pure genius. Take Wall-E…
- Wall-what?
- Wall-E. Surely you have heard of Wall-E!
- ???
- Well, I did not see Wall-E in the cinema, unfortunately. But I was given the DVD by my son…
- He is an adult, right?
- Right! And when he gave it to me, he said it contained the best non-dialogue 20 minutes to be shown on film in years… and he was right, it’s simply, simply, brilliant!

Look of total blankness on my colleague’s face. He just simply did not know what I was talking about. And I thought “Pity the kids he might have one day!”

So, to drive the final stake into the heart of the matter, I simply said before taking up my mug and going back into the office:
- UP is made by the same people who made Monster Inc. If it’s half as good, I will enjoy it. Because you don’t need to be a kid to enjoy animation films. They are just simply for everyone.

This conversation got me thinking, as it echoed several conversations I had in the last few months. And all have a common theme: Attitudes to labels.

In this first part of my reflection, three of these labels just up at me, Ageism, Racism, and Abilitism – I made up that last one, and quite like! ;-)

As I see it, putting forward the idea that, just because we are adults, we are not supposed to enjoy so called “kiddies” movies, is in my opinion a clear example of Ageism.

Here is another one: Only a few days before, I found myself drawn into a discussion where one person was arguing that some women should watch what they wear, because, let’s face it, they are ridiculous, like sheep trying to pass off as lamb. I listened patiently while (younger) women around me argued that age has nothing to do with what we wear, that the important thing is that the cloths we wear suit us and we feel comfortable in them. Notably, the only man at the table kept very, oh so very quite! I eventually had to butt in and asked exactly what she was referring to. She hesitated and eventually she said could not understand how someone who is a mother with teenage daughters could go in those “trendy” shops for cloths for herself, and dare to wear them! I answered that I am not sure what “trendy” shops she was referring to, but I am in my early 50’s, a mother AND grandmother, and I shop in River Island, Next, Sasha, etc… and somehow I don’t think I look like a sheep in lamb’s clothing. At least I would hope to be told if that was the case. As all eyes fixed on the poor woman (I felt for her then), she just shrugged her shoulders and kept chewing on her lunch. I wonder what she will make of my new mauve shoes?

Or the blue ones?

(Could not resist it, had to show them!)

Ageism, or the perception that age means dressing a particular way.

In the same vein, I have been at the receiving end of Racism during my time on Ireland. In fairness, the incidents in question were not numerous. But they each left a deep mark, mainly because they came in series, and from people I became close to, or had to work closely with. In the first one, I eventually had to threaten to involve the Managing Director and put through a formal complaint, as the remarks had gone too far. This was a long time ago, at a time when “immigration” was a fairly new concept in Ireland. But being called “froggy” and told on a daily basis to go back “home” was not pleasant. Arguments that over the years my taxes had paid for this young arrogant pup’s education and enabled him to become an engineer did not have any weight. The threat did, fortunately.

Another incident came from someone I had come to call a friend. I held this person’s opinion quite high, and as a result had increasingly started doubting my judgment on some things as, over time, she seemed to colour my views and how they were perceived by others in an increasingly negative light. My eyes opened, painfully, when one day she eventually said: “you know, people like X and Y say that they appreciate your view points and tell you that you have good ideas, but at the end of the day, what they really mean is that they are quite taken by the way you can express yourself so clearly in English. After all, it’s not your mother tongue!”… Needless to say, that was that of this “friendship”. Strangely, to this day, I am still on excellent terms with X and Y, and do consider them amongst my closest friends!...

What about Abilitism?

Let me give you two examples: during a conversation sometime ago, where someone was describing some new skill her baby had just discovered, and I was exchanging similar prowess about Cathal (as I do, so proudly, worst than any new parent with his or her new child! Grandparents can be fierce in this way), saying he does this but not that yet. The third person present piped in: “Ah but sure, that is to be expected, he is delayed!”

I felt myself getting very angry: what right has anyone, who has not met Cathal, who knows of him only what I tell them, to pass such judgment on his abilities, or lack of, just because of his diagnosis of DS?

But this person surprised me even more since: during a discussion centering on the lack of facilities for Speech and Language Therapy, the question was asked by the same person:
- Why does Cathal need Speech and Language Therapy? He is deaf?
- No, he is not.

Ok, to be honest, when I first heard of signing and Lámh, I did ask Cathal’s Mammy why it was necessary since we knew that he could hear – in my defence, it was only a few months after his birth and I was still catching up on basic information. So one could understand the reaction? Please read on. Because what came next is priceless:

- So, if he is not deaf, why does he need S&L therapy? Has he a cleft palate?

… And this from a trained nurse… who worked for years in Ireland’s leading paediatric hospital (in Crumlin)… in the Cardiac wards where half the patients have DS … in the cardiac ICU where a lot of the patients have DS!

Abilitism in full swing!

This is for part 1 of this post. Centering on what I have witnessed in others.

But what about what I witnessed in myself? See you in Part 2!

27 September 2009

Independent Living

We all take independent living for granted. At least where we ourselves are concerned. We grow up thinking that “when we are big” we will have our own home, a job, drive a car, have our own family. This is the natural order of things, and we usually do not see any other way for our lives to be.

Shortly after Cathal was born I became acutely aware that he might not achieve this independence of living. One part of me refused to think that he would not. But the other part of me was all too conscious that the odds were not favourably stacked towards full independence. To this effect, and after discussing it with both his mammy and his uncle, I took some measures so that, when eventually I depart (may it be in no less than half a century away…!) at least something will be there for Cathal to insure some kind of financial independence. But that is in the long term.

What about the shorter term? What about in say 15 or 20 years from now? Very honestly, I do not think much about this. I am too busy enjoying myself with him, soaking up the joys and the fun he is offering me every time I am with him. Yet there is this thing about Abilities and Potential, isn’t there? And how he can be helped along the way, every day, to reach those that are his, and his alone.

And the possible result? Two examples have crossed my path this week - thanks in part to Blogland, and Mel in NZ, and thanks in part to DS Ireland Forum.

Check out “The Specials”, an internet mini reality-TV series about 5 young people sharing a house in Brighton, UK. The fact that they all have a learning disability is only a by-the-way. It is funny, happy, sad, heart-warming, but above all else it is honest. I think my favourite is Sam, I love his energy and his sense of fun! He is my kind of person.

Be sure to watch all episodes in order – as of today, they are 4 of them, all about 10-12 minutes long. Grab yourself a cuppa of your favourite brew, sit back and enjoy.

If this is not independent living (even with their carers around them), what is?

And check out Kelly from New Zealand, a woman leading the kind of life we should expect for anyone. So simple!

I am slowly but very surely learning that Disability is very much a relative concept! And who said Independent Living was not for everyone?

13 September 2009

Hi hi hi!

Cathal’s Mammy and the Dad were very busy this Saturday, with a social occasion that required their absence from home until late that night. So Cathal and I decided to have some fun of our own.
La Maman et le Papa de Cathal étaient très occupés hier samedi, avec un évènement entre amis qui a signifié leur absence de chez eux jusqu’à tard dans la nuit. Alors Cathal et moi-même avons décidé de nous amuser aussi.

The best were the swings in the afternoon, Cathal tried them all. So cool!
Le mieux était les balançoires dans l’après-midi. Cathal les a toutes essayées. Trop cool !

But that was hard work, and Cathal fell asleep on the way back.
Mais c’était très fatiguant, et Cathal s’est endormi en revenant.

And when he woke up, his buggy had transformed into a “double-decker”, someone having found refuge in the basket under the seat.
Et quand il s’est réveillé sa poussette était devenue « à l’impériale », quelqu’un ayant trouvé refuge dans le panier sous le siège.

“Hey ! who’s that ?”
« Ben, c’est qui? »

“It’s Marvin my new cat!”
« C’est Marvin mon nouveau chat! »

Cathal must have had a great time, as he gave me one of his most beautiful smiles when I got him up this morning (the Mammy and the Dad where still asleep after a Long Night… !). That totally made up for the Very Early hour.
Cathal a du bien s’amuser, car il m’a donné un de ses plus beaux sourires quand je l’ai levé ce matin (la Maman et le Papa étaient encore endormis après une Longue Nuit … !). Cela a complètement compenser pour une heure Très Matinale.

And when I left to go home, Cathal did something he never did before : he was in his Mammy’s arms as I waved goodbye, but threw himself into mine, and gave me the biggest and strongest of all hugs. When I gave him back to his Mammy, he had a very sad little face, the bottom lip was pouting out as if about to cry. He refused to understand he would see me again in just a few days…. How much I love my Little Prince!
Et quand je l’ai quitté pour rentrer chez moi, Cathal a fait quelque chose qu’il n'avait jamais fait avant: il était dans les bras de sa Maman alors que je faisais au revoir de la main, mais il s’est jeté dans mes bras, et m’a donné le plus gros et le plus fort de tous les câlins. Quand je l’ai rendu à sa Maman, son petit visage était tout triste, la lèvre inférieure poussée en avant comme s’il allait pleurer. Il a refusé de comprendre qu’il va me revoir dans quelques jours… Comme j’aime mon Petit Prince !

Cathal is now 18 months old since last Friday, and it is 6 months since his open heart surgery. Doesn’t he look well?
Cathal a maintenant 18 mois depuis vendredi dernier, et cela fait 6 mois depuis son opération à cœur ouvert. N’est-il pas en pleine forme


08 September 2009

Changing Attitudes

This post is more than anything a personal reflection as I take stock of yet another change in me. Putting emotions and reactions into words and sentences helps me make sense of things, and this is one of those instances. I need to be brutally honest, and look at “me” in all its non-glory to understand what has happened here. So if anyone reading this is into much lighter stuff, or does not feel like delving into Nan P’s self psycho-analysis (or what you may care to call it), I’ll understand if you skip to another blog right now.

And if my choice of words seems insensitive and offends anyone, please bear in mind that it is not intentional, as I am only trying to express very deep and complex feelings here.

I like being in control. In fact, I am a “little bit” of a control freak (and that is putting it mildly!). Just ask Cathal’s Mammy, or Cathal’s Uncle. Over the years I have learnt to let go of both my children, but it has not been easy, and sometimes it is very much still only on-the-surface behaviour. Hopefully, slowly but surely, I get there. I don’t know if it comes from growing up for the first 12 years of my life as an only child, and thus being at the controlling centre of my parents’ circle. I just know I hate not being in control. In any sense. For example, I have never taken drugs, simply because I am terrified of not being in the driving seat of my behaviour, my words, my thoughts. As I was growing up, and until my early teens, I used to suffer from fainting spells on a regular basis (I was finally diagnosed as being hypoglycaemic, e.g. low blood glucose levels, which I thankfully have learn to control very well; the last time I fainted was about 27 years ago, but I was pregnant at the time, so that does not count!). I vividly remember the feeling of loss of control of my body, my mind telling me “here we go again!” and not being able to do anything about it, to tell anyone. I had not learnt to recognise the tell-tale signs then, and being semi-conscious as I could feel my dad or my mum carrying me to the nearest couch or bed before the total darkness took over was truly frightening.

It turns out that as a result I have never been able to get drunk: one glass is fine, two and I am nicely tipsy, the third sends me straight to sleep thanks to the sudden overload of sugar in my body. I sound boring, don’t I? But because of this, I find it very hard to be in the presence of people who might be (even mildly) stoned or drunk. I am still in control, and they are not, and that frightens me.

Also I think I operate on two very strong levels: an emotional one (anyone who has met me face-to-face will probably attest that I easily wear my feelings on my sleeve) and a logical one. I like things to “make sense”. As a result, I find it hard dealing with people whose behaviour may be described as erratic, simply because I can’t make sense of it. I then get very uncomfortable, my frame of reference having vanished, and I become at a total loss as to what I should do next.

Now for the brutal honesty: I think I have looked upon “intellectual disability” in the same vein. Again in my teenage years, I used to help my dad every Sunday morning with a group of old people, some of them whose mind was not “all there”. I found myself very awkward around them. I have not had much experience of contact with people with learning difficulties until now, and I must say, deep down, it kind of scared me. The not understanding the other person, why they would behave in the illogical way they do, if they would understand what I’d say to them, what I can say to them, if they are “in control” and can’t show it, or are actually and truly not in control and what I am supposed to do with that. A raft of stupid questions, but they all crossed my mind at one stage or the other over the years. So, yes, “intellectual disability” unnerved me, even scared me.

Strangely, these thoughts did not in anyway cross my mind following Cathal’s diagnosis. It’s as if Cathal has never been in any way part of this picture. Cathal is Cathal, that’s it. I do worry about the future for him, of course, but that’s it. These feelings of awkwardness and discomfort, all these questions, never came in. And as I think of it now, neither when I met any of his little friends – and I have posted before how much I enjoy meeting them! Is it simply because they are so young, and we never expect any special type of behaviour from young children? It is that, with babies and toddlers, all behaviours are “normal”, are expected? I am not sure. The fact is, my issue with “intellectual disability behaviour” – I can’t find another, better, label to put on it – is non-existent as far as Cathal is concerned.

Yet – Brutal Honesty, step forward again please – going to the World DS Congress, I had some apprehensions, especially about my own reactions toward the people I was going to meet there. Actually, a lot of apprehension, which brought me to practice the Ostrich Strategy for the few weeks leading up to it. You know, stick your head in, ignore what is bothering you, and hope for the best.

Well, the best happened, as soon as I stepped inside the entrance to collect my badge and bits and pieces: these apprehensions totally disappeared. Gone! The rest, as they say, is history, as per a previous post.

So much happened over those few days of the Congress, and then I went off on a week’s holiday, so much so that I did not realise the extent of my journey and of my changed attitudes until last Friday. I have hinted a few times on this blog that my work takes me around various hospitals on a regular basis. Last Friday, I happened to be part of a group visiting Peamount Hospital, near Dublin. One of the areas that Peamount is known for is the number of long term patients (they call them “clients” which I think is nice) with intellectual disability. Some of them have lived there most of their lives. Thankfully it is an aging population, showing how things have improved and are improving over generations so that more and more people have a chance towards a community-integrated life. And these are not empty words, I do mean “thankfully” because I do believe this is the way forward.

I have been in Peamount several times before, but this was the first time I was taken around almost every nook and cranny of the place, and visited all the wards and supervised living bungalows. As a group, we were “warned” that some clients might be over friendly, but not to worry, the staff is always close by. I do not know if it is because I was so focussed on the purpose of the visit, but I just did not “think” ahead, no fear, no apprehension. In the first and second place we visited, some clients approached us, said hello, we all said hello back. All very natural. Then we entered the third ward.

At the door was this gentle looking little old lady who nodded as we went in, and then joined our group, taking her place next to me as we walked around. She followed us in various rooms without making a sound. And when we stopped to examine some equipment, I felt my left hand being gently taken in a silky soft and warm little hand. I looked at her. She was looking at me and smiling. Then she turned her attention to the person who was then speaking and ignored me totally for the rest of the visit, yet still holding my hand all along, as we continued moving through the building. The strange thing, what totally floored me, was how natural this felt, how utterly normal. So human to seek, to give and to receive this physical contact. I was also acutely aware at that time of a sense of peace and well-being which is hard to describe.

I am not too sure of the conversation exchanged during the visit of this particular ward, but it is so irrelevant. What this lovely lady gave me is far more valuable. When we made our way back toward the exit, she started to pull on my hand as if to take me in the other direction. One nurse who had been in the background all along (and had thankfully and tactfully not intervened before this) started to move towards me. But I told her it was ok. You see, this lady and myself were in control, together. I turned to her, told her I was sorry but I could not stay, I had to go away, but it was lovely having met her, and I hoped that she would have a very nice day. She looked at my face, released my hand, and took a step back. And as I moved towards the front door saying goodbye to her, she smiled.

Now! How is that for not being in control? How is that for illogical behaviour? How is that for unfounded apprehensions, fears, and stupid thinking based on ignorance? Unfortunately I do not know this lady’s name, but she has made a great impression on me, because she has enabled me to see the road I have travelled lately. And she has given my mind a sense of peace I still feel. I would even dare call this a spiritual encounter.

Loss or absence of “control” is so relative!

06 September 2009

Sardinia Unspoiled

Holidays are over, I came back very late last Monday night, full of heat, and sun, and nice food, smells and images to last me quite a while. Landing in Dublin to a temperature of 13 degrees (Celsius) after anything from 36 to 40 in the afternoon shade on the coast and just under 30 in the mountains was to be expected, but still a shock to the body! I do love heat, and I still think that, though I love living in Ireland, it could be hotter… But then it wouldn’t be Ireland, would it?

This is a quick post on Sardinia, a Mediterranean island that does deserve to be visited. My main impression is that, generally speaking, it is very unspoiled. The North West coast I travelled on and the Northern interior I explored boast some incredible scenery. Hard to do justice to such an intricate place in just one week (I did not have time to venture into what is supposed to be the most stunning mountainous parts according to the Lonely Planet guidebook), and then just a short post! I just want to state a few things here:

- We all have a responsibility to sustain and protect our planet, and the beauties it compasses. I have been privileged to witness a few in the last few years, and though I am all too aware that my carbon footprint goes quite high when I fly off to these places, I am so grateful to be allowed to experience such beauties.

- On my last day there, I made a last minute detour of about 80km to take what turned out to be the second most beautiful and scenic coastal drive I have ever been on, from Bosa to Alghero (my no. 1 favourite is the Great Ocean Road west of Melbourne, Australia).

- The sea so clear and warm. The countryside so burn in this late summer. The mountains so rugged and wild. Little lakes hidden away among the pine forests or the cork-oak forest (and I do mean cork tree, the bark stripped to make… corks!)

- I saw the famous and very unique wild Albino donkeys of the Parco Nazionale dell’Asinara (asinara is the Italian for donkey… dictionaries are great!) as well as eagles and pelegrine falcons in full flight, and met a wild boar who was quietly crossing the road as I was carefully driving down the top of a mountain – my driving skills pushed to the ultimate test on Monti Limbara, with a 10% incline over 9 km, hairpins all the way and no safety barrier for the last third of the climb… and back down! But what a view at the top! Breath-taking.
- The food, the food, the incredible food! I tried every thing, though I can say I do not particularly like baby octopus… but I tried. Roasted Suckling Pig is typical of Sardinia and is just delicious. So is Seadas, a dessert made of a light deep-fried pastry wrapped aroung some soft and mild cheese, served hot and totally covered with honey… aaaah….! As for fish and prawns, I gorged on them, and I am not ashamed to say it!

- The history of the island is so rich, and I was lucky enough to find and visit such sights as a 5,000 years old Necropolis (I was very moved by the carvings over the doors, evidence of faith and hope of a deeply religious people), two of the most subtential Nuraghe sites on the island, dating from about 3,500 years ago, one being the Nuraghe village of Palmavera, made up of the remains of a main tower, of an assembly hall, and of some 50 dwellings (near Alghero if you fly there); the other was inland near Tempio, the magnificent tower of Nuraghe Maiori, shouldering on a rock in the middle of a cork forest. Just to put things into perspective, there are still over 7,000 Nuraghe towers scattered around the island. Then they were the little churches and chapels dotting the countryside. I happened on one by chance, driving by slowing enough to see the door was opened: I stopped, went in, was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the simple architecture, only to realise as I was coming out that a date was inscribed in the stone over the door: MII. Yes this is over 1,000 years old! How many people stop and go in? I also spend an all too short evening walking the twisty streets of the old city of Alghero, ending with dinner on the old sea-walls while watching the sun setting over the bay.

As for my non existent Italian, a combination of English, French and the help of my dictionary got me by. Also I was fortunate to meet Paola during my day trip to the natural reserve of Isola Dell’Asinara. Paola is an English teacher and was a god-sent, she spent the day translating for me the guide’s information and gave me such an insight into this wonderful place.

God! How beautiful is our planet! Here is just but a taste if you are ever tempted to go there. And let me know, I would gladly join you there!

Cathal loves this photo. When I explained they were albino donkeys, he looked at me with a very serious face and said his famous "a dddd!" :-)

Taken by the side of a mountain road, in the heat of the afternoon. Even when the sun seems to burn everything, delicate beauty emerges...

2 views from the top of Monti Limbara:

A cork oak tree:

The interior of the 1,000 year old chapel called (according to the map) San Pietro di Ruda. It is at least 10km from any village!

A 12th century church, Nostra Signora di Castro, again in the middle of nowhere. I was so taken by the colour of the stones, each one is a different shade. The inside is equally beautiful.

One of the many views on the last coastal drive:

So, what do you think? Isn't it tempting?

23 August 2009


What an experience I have had in the last 3 days as I attended the World Down Syndrome Congress in Dublin! I will not be able to do it justice in one single post, but I wish to convey here the two foremost impressions I have taken home with me.

During the opening ceremony, May Gannon (who works with Down Syndrome Ireland, whom I have had the pleasure to meet several times, and who is the person who rung me and asked me to chair the Grandparents session last Thursday) highlighted a point which made a lot of sense to me. In essence she defined Abilities and Potential as follows:

- Ability is what I can do now
- Potential is what I will be able to do, given the right environment and circumstances

I know that this is true of everyone of us, DS and no DS. But this got me thinking about what is especially important where the extra chromosome 21 is involved, and in particular who has which responsibilities:

- It is Cathal’s responsibility to use his abilities to the full.
- However it is the responsibility of all around him, and in the first instance family members, to ensure that the environment around him, and the circumstances in which he lives his life give him the potential to discover and develop his abilities. This includes me.

Following on this, my second impression is that of a much deeper understanding of what having respect for someone means. Over the three days I have witnessed some very strong and emotionally charged moments, I have met some incredible people, and I found myself feeling very humbled by them. My sense of respect for others has deepened to a level that goes far beyond the appearance, far beyond the knowledge of what people might have done or achieved, but seems to touch on the very essence and beauty of what it is to be a human being. For once, words fail me, I cannot quite express the awareness within me, and the emotions that accompany it. However I know that there were several moments that may qualify as “defining”.

Of all the people I heard and met, I will talk of the family members and the professionals at another time. Those who touched me the most, and brought this new understanding in me, all have Down Syndrome. To mention but a few (and in no particular order):

Emmanuel Bishop, a 12 years old boy, who had the courage to stand on the stage of the Mahony Hall in the Helix, and play the violin in front of an audience of over 900 people.

A young woman (whose name I did not write down and can’t remember now, dam it!), who was one of the ambassadors. The main role of the ambassadors was to stand at the podium in front the same audience, during the plenary lectures every morning, and each would introduce a speaker. This young woman walked to the podium and said “before I do what I am supposed to do, I want to say something” – the last speaker had given an update on research into Hearing and the importance of correction, as well as an outline of the various methods currently available. She went on to state that she agreed with the last speaker, that hearing properly was critical in the life of people with DS, and that we should all remember that one cannot communicate properly if they don’t hear properly. She then thanked her parents for making sure she could hear. And, with an ease that made me very humble indeed, she said: “I thought it was important to say this. Now I’ll go back to what I have to do: my name is --- and I would like to introduce to you Prof ---”.

How many of us would have had the aplomb and the courage to interrupt such official proceedings and give a personal opinion, with as clear and concise language as she did? Respect, indeed!

Karen Gaffney, who was one of two speakers giving the Plenary Lecture dedicated to literacy, and spoke ad lib (yes, without notes, I could not have done that!) of her love for reading, of the enjoyment she gets from reading such diverse authors as JK Rowling, William Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing being her favourite play) and most of all her favourite author Jane Austin. As a conclusion to a very structured speech, her last message was to keep an open mind: “Who knows, your child might one day read Hamlet and love it!” (to learn more about her, click here).

I had the honour of meeting young Scottish man, whose name escapes me (my memory of names is very deficient, if I don’t write them down immediately, they are gone for ever!), and we had a great conversation about travelling. We ended up listing and comparing which countries we had visited, and he beat me hands down. It was so enjoyable, he made me dream, and my feet got all itchy. He reminded me that I often wish I had enough financial independence to quit work, hop on a plane, and go where ever the fancy would take me. But he also made me see that discovering the diversity of our planet starts at home, by discovering the diversity of humanity around us, something we often forget.

I also had the honour of meeting Dylan Kuehl, from Washington State in the US. Cheri had posted about him some months back, I had gone on his website before (click here) and loved his paintings, one in particular – and yes, I did purchase a print of it! Dylan claims to be unique, like every one of us, and indeed the conversation we had about his art proved that. Again, I was so humbled, as I cannot for the life of me draw or paint – my hand writing is so bad that I am the only one who can read it, and if I take notes for someone else, I type them to make sure they can be understood. So Major Respect here!

I was privileged to witness the very slick presentation of an extraordinary young man, Sujeet Desai - slides, videos, talk, and live examples of his talents. Sujeet is an accomplished and professional musician (violin, piano, clarinet, sax, and drums, as well as a composer), a Special Olympics medallist (he is involved in swimming, skiing, and Taekwon-do), he draws and writes poetry, he is about to do his driving test, he is married… listening to him, and meeting him later on, I wondered what the word “disability” actually meant??? Go on his website and see for yourself.

Last but not least, Luan (again, I can’t remember his surname. Sorry!) who addressed participants during the closing ceremony. Luan is a Self-Advocate. As a member of the Board of Down Syndrome South Africa, he invited all present to join him at the next World Congress in Cape Town in 2012. Considering his mother tongue is Afrikaans, his presentation in English was absolutely superb, and the event so tempting.

My birthday fell right in the middle of the Congress, and the people I mentioned above have given me a great gift to start another year: a better understanding of what true, unconditional Respect is all about.

Right now, I feel all “congressed” out, and am very glad I am flying off tomorrow for a week in the sun. If anything, I need to reflect on all I heard and saw.

PS: if you are wandering why I do not have any photos on this post, the reason is very basic: it would be very disrespectful of me to put on the net photos of people without their agreement, wouldn’t it?
See? Respect!

19 August 2009

D is for…

D is for Donkey,

and for Ducks,

and apparently for Chickens,

and for Tricks!

En anglais, D est pour « Donkey » = âne

Et pour « Ducks » = canards

Mais apparemment aussi pour poules, et pour performance !

And also for Hugs, of course!

Et aussi pour Câlins, bien sur !

Sorry for the sound: today was warm, but oh so windy!
Désolée pour le son, il faisait bon aujourd’hui, mais avec beaucoup de vent !

18 August 2009

Sleep Over

Cathal came over this weekend to spend a night, away from his Mammy and his Daddy who where otherwise occupied. It was the first time he had been away from them for more than a few hours, and he was very good. Need I say that we had fun? But he was very, very happy to see them again, 24 hours is a long time for a little one.

I am not sure if he thought he was going camping, but he had bought his portable seat, and his bubble bed.

Hummm! Rice cakes!

A good night sleep is all I need

Sunday morning, and after breakfast (a Very Early breakfast!) I got him to discover a very special set: a desk and chair that were used by his uncle when he was small,

and Cathal’s Mammy before that,

and Cathal’s Mammy’s aunt before that (e.g. my little sister),

... and

... me before that!

Yes, this desk and this chair were mine when I was very small, and I still have them. I brought them over from France years ago when my children were small, so they could use them.

And now it’s Cathal’s turn. How cool is that?

03 August 2009

August is here… and Dublin is It!

Apparently, August is here. Looking out, you would not think it. The summer seems to have been here for a few days in, when was it? May or early June, may be... and then truly gone. Where is the sun? And I mean lasting sun, not just a few minutes to tease you outdoors and then reward your courage with a magnificent and powerful rain shower. I mean, come on! Third rotten summer in a row... enough is enough!

Anyway, the calendar tells us that August is here, and Dublin is indeed it this month. A lot of people will experience our beautiful “Irish” weather the third week of this month, as they come from all over the world to the 10th World Down Syndrome Congress 2009.

I do believe that they are no coincidences, but rather “god incidences”. I do believe that things happen for a reason, though most of the time we, little humans, with our limited intelligence, cannot start to phantom the reasons why. I do believe that my agnostic god, whom I chose to call “Mother” (we all need a mother, and they have been times in my life when I needed a Mammy very, very badly...) guides me to what I need. So when I discovered last year, only a few months after Cathal’s birth and his diagnosis, that this world event was going to happen almost on my door step, I did feel Her power.

I decided earlier this year to attend this Congress. After all I felt as entitled as anyone touched by the grace of Down Syndrome to do so. I have been saying for years and years that I want to live to celebrate my 100th birthday, because life is so rich that I want to experience as much as possible. I have spend the first half going through childhood, teens, early adulthood with marriage and motherhood, studies, professional development. The second half started with the announcement of my promotion to grand-motherhood. And, as it turned out, to the world of Special Needs. The possibility of this had never entered my mind. Never ever! Shows how little I know of life! One way or the other, DS is going to colour my next 50 years or so. Better know more about it.

The other reason for my registering was that I need the contact with others who have been there, done that, and are wearing the T-shirt. As Cheri has put it in her most recent post, it’s being with people who “get it” that is important to me. Not only to gather information, but most importantly to share the feelings, the emotions, the reactions. Also I need the reassurance. Meeting other children with DS, meeting adults with DS, is something I know I need, deep down, to reinforce the feeling that Cathal will be “alright”. Because, of course, I do worry for him. And I do worry for his parents. It’s a normal reaction, but anything I can find to sustain my positive attitude, my hope for a rich and fulfilling life for him, anything at all is welcome. That is the reason I love meeting with Cathal’s friends, just to know that, like any other child of his age, he has that little circle around him. The theme of the Congress is Lifelong Living and Learning! It says it all.

So I am looking forward to those three days from the 20th to the 22nd August. It is also important for me to know that, apart from the main programme, there is one for the medical people, those who, long term, can make a difference to the quality of Cathal’s life. And then there is, for the first time ever, the 1st International Synod of People with Down Syndrome. As the website puts it: “The purpose of the Synod is to give adults and young people with Down syndrome an opportunity to meet their peers from across the globe and to discuss issues that affect their daily lives”. I find this so encouraging!

But then, there is another aspect to the congress that is of particular interest to me. If you look carefully at the programme, you will see that on Thursday 20th, in the afternoon, there is a session specifically for... that’s right! Grandparents! And guess what...? I recently got a call from the “powers that be” (e.g. organisers in DSI) asking me if I would host this session… Me! Host it! I reminded the person who rung me that, by then, the height of my experience of DS will be all of, let’s see, just over 17 months! I was told that the length makes no difference, it’s what we feel that is important. As I understand it, my role will be more of a facilitator than a speaker. Good! Because I want to hear from others. I need to hear from others.

We have no idea how many will attend this session. If they are only 3 of us in the room, we will have plenty to talk about I am sure, and plenty of time to do so. And if they are more, all the better! But if you are reading this and you are a grandparent, or you know of a grandparent who would be interested in this particular session, spread the word around. As a matter of interest, Irish DSI members can register just for one day of the congress if they do not want to attend the full 3 days - details here.

I am so looking forward to this Congress! And I do not expect anything special from it, but to meet with people and talk, listen, talk some more, listen some more! Hope to see a lot of you there!
And let’s not worry about the weather. All those travelling to Ireland for the Congress can be assured of a very WARM welcome – aren’t the Irish most famous for it?

Months ago, I had booked my holidays with work for the last 2 weeks of August. I thought: “ a couple of days to laze around the house, the three intensive days of the Congress as the highlight of my holidays, and then the following week to laze some more and recover”. Hmmm... Then the “beautiful and warm” summer faded and I realised I need Heat, I need Sun. So I started looking for a cheap holiday for that last August week. I did find a good value flight, direct from Dublin to Alghero in Sardinia. I have completed all my bookings this weekend. It’s turning out not so cheap after all: I am not one for sitting in the sun on the beach or by the pool: I LOVE the sun, but it has a very stormy relationship with my skin, as I turn a magnificent bright crisp vermilion red after a short time, and even after thickly coating Factor 50 Sun Block! So I have opted for a week of discovery of some of this Mediterranean island: natural sights and wonders (sea and mountains), nature parks, a bit of culture and archaeological sites, and gastronomy sampling. All in all, 7 days and 7 nights, 3 different hotels, a hired car, a guide book (I swear by Lonely Planet, never let me down), a detailed map, and my own company… so not that cheap, but at least a total break from day to day life. Quality “me” time to recharge the batteries and face the winter...

28 July 2009

What a Night!

So last night I went to see the Boys since they were in town.

Anticipation was high, especially as I had never, ever, been able to see them live until now. Had heard a lot on the media, of course, and from some people who had seen them on the Friday and the Saturday night...

Everything I heard, everything I was told was so, so wrong. Because...




What a Night!

What a Concert!

What a Show!

It was so, oh so much better than anything I thought it would be.

The stage is amazing. Croke Park is no small stadium, but it was totally dwarfed by the Claw. And as night fell, the lights, the colours, the movements, turned it into a mesmerising experience. Some feat of engineering!

The interaction with the crowd had to be experienced. On more than one occasion 80,000 voices were leading the band as one, instead of the other way round. All the boys could do was keep playing until Bono could eventually regain control of the lyrics!

I think this is one of the best, if not the best I have been at. Good thing I had decided to take today as a day’s holiday, as I feel very hung over – and no alcohol consumed on my part yesterday... it was not needed to feel high! My head is still swimming with the music, the sounds, the sights.

I did not take many photos and only a couple of minutes of video. I was far too busy soaking up the experience, rocking like crazy, and singing my head off. But here are a very few shots - some not so great, but it was hard not to move when at maximum focus of my little camera, with so much around me!

Oh yes, and just to prove I WAS THERE...

For those of you who might be going to see them in the months to come – ain’t that right, Elbog? – Get On Your Boots. But also hold on to your hats! Because you ain’t got no idea what’s coming!


25 July 2009


Ireland. Land of Saints and Scholars.

I am not much into Saints. Scholars are more my thing. Actually more novelists and playwrights.

If I was playing the Word Association Game and asked to give the first name that came into my head for “Irish playwrights”, my answer would be Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde. In particular I would think of a powerful interpretation of Beckett’s En Attendant Godot (which Beckett himself translated, giving us “Waiting for Godot”) in a 100 seater theatre in the Latin Quarter in Paris (gosh, that was about 35 years ago! Before I moved to Ireland) that had me in a daze for ages afterwards. The first time I saw the Importance of Being Ernest – it was on TV, a BBC production if I remember right – introduced me to Wilde’s humour just as I had acquired enough English to understand all the words, sentences, repartees, double meanings. I was hooked.

Continuing this game, say “Irish novelist” and I answer James Joyce. I have been brave enough to make my way through most of Ulysses… not all, mind you, but I will get there, in time. Only a few months back I re(re-re)read Dubliners. And once again I was struck by how many people I currently know who could so easily have been the models of some the characters in these short stories. To me, the mark of a true artist is the ability to reveal the timeless core of the human psyche.

Strangely, both Joyce and Beckett left Ireland to set up life in France. Strangely both Wilde and Beckett died in France.

This brings me to my other side: French writers. There the choice is harder for me, because, instead of chancing on works and appreciating them for what they bring up in me, I was steeped into French literature from an early age. Hard to distinguish the tree from the forest. Yet if the game went along the lines of “favourite novel” I would shout Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. A master piece of construction, a web spun through letters going back and forth between the various characters, each presenting a very different interpretation of the events. And a master piece of exploration, dissecting and exposing the very best and the very worst of human motives. Still so real today!

Now say to me “French Playwright” and I answer: Molière. Of course! The one and only! Again what has always appealed to me is the seemingly simplistic universality of his characters. Some feat when we consider that all of his work is very firmly set in a specific period of time, the 17th century France of the Sun King Louis XIV.

I might be accused of playing it safe, coming up with such predictable giants. Sometimes the “giantness” is indeed justified. And I would not play the game with more recent or current writers. So many to choose from, the choice would be so influenced by my most recent reading!

Because I love reading. I love books. Always have, since I first learnt to read. And I have passed this on to my children. As tiny babies, a few months old, I would place books on their laps and read stories to them. Anything with colourful pictures and a bit of a plot, irrespective of the book not being for “that” age group. I have read to Cathal too, from early on. I find this is a special time for the two of us, quietly sitting side by side, close. I read and he listens, most of the time. He turns the pages, back and forth. It’s nice.

And then he takes matters into his own hands and does a critical review of today’s serving:

Genetically, Cathal is 75% Irish, 25% French (if there is such a thing). As you can see, I strongly encourage the scholarly side of his heritage! In particular I am keeping safe in my home a book I have salvaged from his mother and uncle’s childhood, a beautifully (and funnily) illustrated copy of Joyce’s letter to his grandson Stephen, The Cat and the Devil… can’t wait to read this one to him soon. The language is simply too truculent!

BBBBook! Indeed!