Saturday, 26 September 2015

Refugees in Ireland? We've been here before.

A few years ago, I received a phone call. A friend asked me if I had any small jobs in the garden that needed doing. The answer to that one is always a firm ‘YES’The offer of help came with a moral dilemma attached. He had befriended a young asylum seeker, a man in his early twenties, who was living in the Eyre Powell Hotel in the town. 

The question was, would I give him money for a few hours work and not tell anyone. Asylum seekers are not permitted to work. They are forced to be dependant on the state. The allowance for asylum seekers at the time was, and still is, less than 20 a week. How anyone can live on that is beyond me.

I decided that would feed him and give him cash in return for a few hours in the garden. I did so because if one of my children was alone in a strange land, I would want someone to do the same. He arrived the next day. Kasim was the same age as my nephew. We got on immediately

Despite our languages being different, we shared the same sense of humour. That first day we met, I made him a sandwich for lunch. I took it out to him. He laughed when he saw it and made it clear that there was not enough food. Not used to feeding young men, I went back in and brought out a hearty bowl of soup, a packet of biscuits and a can of Red Bull.

I’d see him two, maybe three times a year. He would update me on things. Life here was a horrible waiting game. That it what it is like for asylum seekers in the Eyre Powell Hotel. A waiting game: waiting to see if the courts will give you refugee status. Over time, Kasim’s English got better and he settled. That was thanks to the support of the people of Newbridge who took him under their wing

It was hard not to like Kasim. He was such a nice guy to have around. Intelligent, kind, witty and great with my kids who were young at the time. I learned that he was an only child. There was one particular day that I shall remember forever. I’ll share it because I was reminded of it this morning. It was a sunny Autumnal day, just like today, when he arrived at my door.

I hadn’t seen our friend for the whole summer. We went into the garden and looked at the overgrown bushes and I left him to work his magic on the weeds. A few hours later, I did my usual Mrs Doyle thing of going out with a tray laden with a mountain of food. 

Normally we’d have a laugh about my portion sizes but this day was different. It was clear to see that he had been crying. “What’s the matter Kasim?” I asked him. He took the tray from me silently. We sat down together. “I dreamt of my mother last night” he said

I had never asked him about his family beforeHe was such a buoyant, life enhancing person, an open book. But his own family was something that he never discussed. “She comes to me in my dreams at night. I see her face”. With that, the tears fell freely. I put my arm around him as he sobbed. Then he told me his story.

His parents owned a shop and lived above itIt was the only one in their small village and it sold basic provisions that all families rely upon along with a small selection of alcoholic drinks. The Taliban, with their strict regime, had taken controlof many of the towns in the area and Kasim’s small village was next.

They came to the shop and ordered his father to stop selling alcohol. He didn’t. Kasim came home one day to find hisuncle standing in front of the building, trying to shield him from the horrific view. The small building had been burnt to the ground. The bodies of his mother and father were in sacks by the front door, tortured and brutally murdered by the Taliban.

Imagine this in your town. Imagine if this happened tomorrow. The guards would be called. The local community would be outraged, the media would spend days reporting from the scene for Sky News. But in Kasim’s homeland, thisbrutality happens every single day. For a whole generation of people young and old, it has become their ‘normal’. 

The Taliban took control of the tiny villageWith everythinggone, his family, his home, there was a grim future ahead ofhim. He did exactly what I would do in the same situation, he left his homeland to find somewhere safe to live and start again.

Kasim, still only a teenager, made the journey to Europe. With many other asylum seekers, he found himself in Belgium,there they were allocated a country. He was sent to Ireland. Despite living in the Eyre Powell hotel, sharing a room with a stranger, sharing a kitchen, not being allowed to work until he was granted legal status, Kasim never complained because he felt safe

Very soon, hundreds of Syrians will arrive in our county. LikeKasimmany of them will have experienced unimaginable suffering for the last few years. We have been told that 500 will arrive in Monasterevin, at the Hazel Hotel. As a community, we must reach out to them in whatever way we canWelcoming refugees should come easy to the Irish. You’ve done it before.

In the seventeenth century over 250,000 Protestants were forced out of France for their religious beliefs. Over 10,000 came to Ireland. They settled in Waterford, Cork, Dublin andPort Arlington, where the French church from 1696 still stands to day. 

On behalf of my ancestors, thank you.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Shoe SHARE for UNICEF - as featured in the Leinster Leader August 2015

The Ruby Slippers, worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, are the most expensive pair of shoes ever sold, making $660,000 at an auction in 2000. My mother in law, who has a thing for footwear, once owned a pair of purple velvet Versace evening shoes with Louis heels, encrusted with real gems. My daughters have Granny’s passion too and the higher the better, like scaffolding rigs. I generally prefer more sensible footwear. Or so I thought.  

It was a pair of gold leather loafers with silver tassels that caught my eye in Clarks last week. They stood out from the rest, the light bouncing off them like a pair of shimmering golden galleons, calling “Buy me! Buy ME!” They were a size 5, that’s my size. It was a sign and if ever a pair had my name written all over the sole, it was these. 

I had gone into Whitewater, the local shopping centre, to take shelter from the rain when the glistening loafers distracted me. Never mind that I would get stick from the kids, or that I’d need a new wardrobe from God knows where to go with them, they had to be mine. The gold and silver spectaculars were marked down from €100 to €25. Bargain. My pulse was racing.

I do not have a fetish for shoes as such. What I do have is about five pairs that I wear most days and another five (or so) pairs of ridiculously glamorous heels that rarely leave the house. Included in the latter collection is a pair of dangerously high Jimmy Choos that my mother in law sent me for a significant birthday fifteen years ago.

The six-inch heels, that I have only worn once, come out when my teenagers are bored. I found my fifteen year old cleaning her bedroom in them recently. I didn’t moan, just quietly left her to it wishing that I had thought of the idea. But like many women, I do appreciate a good pair of shoes; show me a woman on the planet that doesn’t. It’s a girl thing.

A poll of 1300 women revealed that in her lifetime, the average woman owns a mind boggling 434 pairs. I have a friend who might be at that figure already.  Mrs X in Naas hides shoes all round the house.  Her husband has no idea of the boxes hidden in the hot press, under the bed and in the attic. Mr X has no clue that his wife has a shoe addiction. “I don’t need help,” she tells me. Some people collect stamps, others collect shoes. It’s the same part of the brain at work.

Back in Whitewater, the shop assistant took my card and stuck it into the machine. I stood in front of her with a goofy smile on my face. That happens when I buy shoes. It’s the same face that a child pulls when he or she gets a big ice cream. I was smiling because I knew that each time I wear the shiny golden loafers I will get a huge buzz. It’s exactly that feeling that Mrs X in Naas thrives upon. 

“Would you like leather protector?” the assistant asked. “Yes please”, I replied. I shall wear the metallic loafers til I am ninety and they’ll need all the protection that I can get. She put them in a bag and handed me a small blue leaflet along with my receipt. “If you are having a sort out and have any spare shoes…” Spare? Each child has a pair of summer sandals that they’ve hardly worn, and old school shoes too. I’ve at least eight pairs good to go. I read the leaflet and little bells went off in my head. That happens when I discover something brilliant.

‘ShoeSHARE’ has been around since 2008. Clarks stores in the UK and Ireland use their shops as collection points and members of the public are invited to drop in unwanted shoes. The style and size or the shoes is unimportant, likewise, the condition. The oldest pair of runners can be sent in along with old wellington boots and slippers.

There is immense satisfaction to be found in donating shoes. For every tonne of shoes, Clarks make a financial contribution to the United Nations Children's Fund. Clarks recycle the shoes and UNICEF  educates children in some of the most troubled countries on the planet. Over a million Euros has been raised to date.  In the world today, there are in the region of 57 million primary school aged children deprived of an education.

For many children in poverty or war torn countries, they are getting an education thanks to ShoeSHARE. Through the scheme, UNICEF provides basics like pens and pencils giving children the right tools to learn. They also train teachers and work with governments to ensure the standard of education remains high and children are leaving school able to read and write.

 Simply put, the more shoes Clarks collect, the more they donate. The more they donate, the more children in countries like Zambia, Ethiopia and the Philippines benefit. ‘Shoe Share’ is a great idea and like the best ideas in the world, is so simple. All it takes is a few moments of our time and a little de-cluttering. 

So here is the plan, it’s like the ice bucket challenge but with footwear. Let’s make Kildare the county that bombards Clarks with shoes over the next few weeks. If I ask all my neighbours to donate just one pair, and ask everyone on Facebook to do the same, I could get in a hundred pairs of shoes with very little effort.

If everyone who donates a pair passes on the ShoeSHARE request to their neighbours and friends too, a lorry load of shoes could be heading to Clarks. Are you up for the challenge? I’m starting my campaign this week so Mrs X in Naas, you had better get ready.

I’m putting on my new shoes and heading to your house first. You will definitely see me coming.

What every woman wants on her birthday...

What do Will Smith, Marilyn Manson, Jay-Z, Helena Christiansen and I have in common? We are all 46. I turned last week and it’s hard to know how to celebrate 46 years. If I lit that many candles on a birthday cake all at once I’d set my chin hair alight.

“What do you want for your birthday?” my husband asked. I never know what to say. I’m not a handbag girl, rarely wear make up and am at that stage where I am lucky enough to have everything I need. I suggested a surprise and he went quiet because, let’s face it, a surprise can be anything. A pound of Jane Russell’s sausages could be a surprise, so could a whoopee cushion or a goat.

My birthday arrived and the kids handed me gifts. I was handed three bars of smelly soap, some hand cream, deodorant and bubble bath. I put them away in the bathroom. For for the next month or two, I will get immense pleasure from their gifts and reek of roses as I push the trolley round Aldi.

My husband went off to work early and left his present, the ‘surprise’ with our son to guard. “You mustn’t open it til Dad gets home” he told me. I sat looking at it all morning. The ‘surprise’ was such an odd shape. About the size of a tray but bigger one end than the other, was it a tray? That would be a ridiculous surprise; I’ve got two that I don’t use already. The only person I know who has three trays is Frances Brennan. That afternoon as I tried to watch Wimbledon, my eyes kept going back to the mystery in the corner.

I picked it up. It wasn’t heavy but it wasn’t light either. I was about to shake it when the youngest came in again and caught me, “PUT THAT DOWN”. I put it down. “What is it?” “Not telling you,” he replied, sitting down beside me to watch the tennis. “Give me a clue” “NO!” I headed into the kitchen to find my teenager peeling baby new potatoes with a bread knife.

She kindly offered to make the dinner, which was much appreciated by this birthday girl. I’ve made somewhere in the region of 20,000 family meals in last eighteen years, not bad for someone who failed home economics. I was ordered to go back to the tennis and leave her to it. That left me in the front room with Wimbledon, the surprise and my son.

“Go on, give me a clue,” I whispered. He got up and peered into the kitchen, and then tip toed back again. “OK. Ask me some questions”.  “Can you eat it?” “No”. “Can you wear it?” “Err, no”. “Have any of my friends got one?” “NO!” The last answer bothered me. It was a firm no. That meant that what ever it was 100% not a handbag. “Would you like one of what ever it is?” “Err, I might”. “Is it anything to do with Lego?” “No”. Phew. There was a chance that he might have got me something totally mad like a Titanic Lego kit.

It was soon four in the afternoon, well into my birthday. The surprise was right in front of me and I was not allowed to open it. The tennis was not enough of a distraction. My son got up, tiptoed into the kitchen and came back to the sofa with the phone. “Shall I phone Dad and ask him if you can open it?” I nodded and put my thumbs up. If the girls got wind of what was about to happen, they would put a stop to it immediately.

“Dad. Mum’s really sad because she wants to open the surprise. Can I let her open it or does she really have to wait til you come home?” Silence for a moment, Then the magic; he put his little thumb up. “Thanks. Bye”. With that I ran over to the surprise and without holding back, ripped it open like a three year old on Christmas morning.

Inside, I discovered a black fabric case, the sort of case that you would put a laptop in. But this was no laptop, it was bigger and it’s shape too irregular. “What is it?” I looked at my son. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. I carefully undid the zip that went all around case and discovered loads of plastic. Still totally flummoxed, I took the wrapping off and there it was, revealed in all its glory. The surprise.

I am not sure what Jay-Z got for his birthday. I am guessing Beyonce got him something like a gold knuckle-duster. Helena Christiansen might have received an elegant piece of jewelry, earrings or a bracelet. As for Marilyn Manson, eye liner. But I genuinely believe that Will Smith would have liked my surprise. He’s a musical man. I just wish that I were more of a musical woman and my 46th year is destined to be musical because my husband gave me a glockenspiel.

Back in the eighties, I used to watch legendary stargazer Patrick Moore play his glockenspiel. It was a large wooden instrument and he played daintily with super speed. It always amazed me. Some time, in the past eighteen years of marriage, I must have mentioned that to my husband. Fast forward to last week and he thought that it would be the perfect surprise.  It was, without doubt, the last thing on earth that I expected.  I was genuinely, 100% surprised.

With my son watching, I picked up the beaters and played the only tune I know how to play on any musical instrument. I banged out a plinky-plonky ‘Happy Birthday’ to myself on the metal keys.

If you know anything about the glockenspiel, please contact me. I need to add to my repertoire. I’m giving myself five months to learn ‘Frosty The Snowman’.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Adventure Rooms Dublin

Shady Christian is back in town. ‘Grey’ has broken all records, selling millions in its first week alone. EL James missed the Derby last weekend, but she did come to the Curragh to present a trophy to the winner of an all grey horse race in 2012. Maybe next year the Curragh will entice her over again and I can ask the woman how on earth she came up with the idea. The ropes, the cable ties, the whole bondage thing; she looks so sensible too. Still, even I learnt last week that handcuffs can lead to some surprisingly good fun. 

It wasn’t my idea to visit Dublin, I had no clue where we were going; my husband arranged the whole thing as a surprise. It was a mystery trip, one that he had been planning for a while. On the way to our secret destination we passed noodle bars and sex shops on Capel Street. With the four kids in tow that last one wasn’t easy. Whilst the teenagers giggled, I distracted the younger two by pointing to the sky, pretending that I had just seen Spiderman and not a scantily clad woman beside a row of sex toys in the window.

We followed our leader to Little Britain Street. “We are HERE!” my husband said. I looked at the red door, the frosted windows and read the sign above, ‘The Adventure Rooms’ “Is this a joke?” I hissed, my mind was going into overdrive, “What about the kids?” Both teenagers reached for their phones and started to take photos. Whatever it was behind that door was about to be photographed and any minute now, would go live on Snap Chat.

I knocked on the door. Thankfully, Christian Grey didn’t answer; instead, a tall man named Keith greeted us and handed me a piece of paper, “Sign here”. We signed a waiver, handed over our phones and followed Keith into a very dark room. “Only 30% of people make it out of here. Good luck”. With that, he handcuffed each one of us to a wire fence and with a “You have one hour to escape,” left us to it. I watched the door close behind him and wondered what every other mother of four was doing at that moment in Ireland.

Regular readers will know that I am the first one to try out something new. Only last week I was in a canoe, the week before I was in the Japanese Gardens listening to the Mikado. But anything involving danger sends me into a mild panic. The game had begun and our leader started to shout instructions. “LOOK FOR CLUES! LOOK FOR CLUES!” My handcuffed eldest teenager stood beside me and rolled her eyes. “How long do we have to stay here?” she groaned. “55 minutes and 45 seconds” I replied looking up at a digital clock on the wall that had begun the countdown.

Being handcuffed to a fence was a first; it’s what protesters do. The rebel in me enjoyed it for the first few minutes. “I can’t get it off” the ten year old tugged and pulled at his wrists. “We have to get the KEY,” our leader shouted. In the dim light, clues were all around. All we had to do was calmly and logically work out what they all meant. Without my glasses, I was the weakest link. But with five other family members, all with 20/20 vision, we slowly started to find things and the fun began.

The Adventure Rooms is part of a new wave of entertainment taking the world by storm. It is a live escape game for up to six people, the object being to get out in less than sixty minutes. Fans of the show Crystal Maze will understand immediately. All around, in the sparsely furnished rooms, there are hints and puzzles. The fun is in finding and solving them. “Let’s GO” our leader and Crystal Maze enthusiast shouted. He’s been on cloud nine since he discovered that the show is making a return to our TV screens next year.

It took half an hour to find the clues and make our ‘escape’. I had been of no help whatsoever. Thoughts had drifted off to a noodle bar on Capel Street that we passed on the way in and a picture of a bowl of Chicken Chow Mein in the window. “THERE’S ANOTHER ROOM!” our leader yelled ahead of us. The next room was different, darker and with a blackboard on the wall. “LOOK FOR CLUES! LOOK FOR CLUES!” This time I was shouting, hunger was getting to me.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, my dysfunctional family did something remarkable. We started to work together. The ten year old spotted something that no one else did. He then did something with it that nobody else could do. The teenagers kicked into action when they found a torch. I stood back and watched as they all began screaming instructions to each other, running from one end of the room to the next. Then it happened. I saw something that everyone else had missed.

There might be a need for a spoiler alert here. I’ll try and describe it without ruining the day for anyone who might be thinking of going (and go you should). What I can say without getting into trouble is that if you have ever had smelly household problems, this tool sorts it out. In the Adventure Rooms last week, the same tool helped us escape.  It was have my only contribution in the 54 minutes but it proved an important piece of the jigsaw.

With a surprising amount of teamwork we did it. We were in the 30% to make it out of the Adventure Rooms. We were elated. Being in a locked room with the whole family was the highlight of my year so far. I might even try it at home.

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