Post-referendum brain dump. Tl;dr: Ireland trusts women

When I went to San Francisco for my J1-visa summer in 1994, I would explain to people how backward Ireland was. “There’s no divorce, even, and certainly no abortion,” I would say.

The issue of gay rights wasn’t remotely on my radar, I confess, so I didn’t even know that gay sex had only been legalised in Ireland the year before, and nobody was thinking about gay marriage back then. It wasn’t relevant to me that contraception had been hard to come by before 1985, because by the time I wanted it, it was there, so I didn’t talk about that either.

Divorce was introduced after a 1995 referendum, gay marriage was legalised in 2015, the first country in the world to do so by national plebiscite, and as of yesterday, the Irish government is finally free to legislate for abortion, so that Irish women can have bodily autonomy even while pregnant. It doesn’t sound like a big thing to ask for. It has been so long coming, and so hard won.

It is such a big thing.

I could tell you about Ann Lovett, and the X case and the C case and the brain-dead pregnant woman and Savita, but you can Google them for yourselves. Those women paved the way, sometimes paying with their lives, for yesterday’s historic, overwhelming, patriarchy-smashing referendum result.

The women who campaigned, who canvassed, who (to quote my FB status, if you don’t mind the repetition) had difficult conversations, shared past experiences, put stickers on their houses and cars, wore badges and sweaters, contributed funds and time and emotional labour, had to endure the No campaign’s horrible posters and lies, wrote impassioned blog posts, and explained things to their small children in the right terms, so that the women and girls of Ireland can look forward to a brighter future where their bodies are more their own than ever before – this is thanks in no small part to their efforts. I am so proud of my friends who did all that and more.

I don’t have a vote in Ireland any more, because you have to be a resident as well as a citizen to vote in a referendum. Only diplomats get postal votes, unlike America. So many people are entitled to an Irish passport, but Irish laws only affect you if you live there, so it’s reasonable. But I’ve been thinking about this all week, I was on edge on Thursday, luckily distracted out of the house on Friday, and delighted with the time difference that let me see the exit polls before dinnertime yesterday.

The exit polls were good. Voting in Ireland is by paper ballot (yes, we are still backwards in some ways; also there’s a saga about voting machines and a lot of money wasted that you don’t want me to go into here) and the counting didn’t start till this (Saturday) morning, but the upside of such a small country is that the exit polls can cover every constituency and are expected to be accurate to within +/- 1.5%. The exit polls predicted a sweeping victory for the yes side – much more than would be affected by a piddling 1.5%. Some people still refused to believe it until everything was counted today.

This is how it looked when everything was counted:

Source: Irish Times online

That’s pretty decisive. It was the biggest voter turnout ever, and every constituency but one returned a yes result. Ireland has finally decided to trust women to make decisions regarding our own bodies. This is monumental. It’s tragic that it’s taken so long.

A special mention has to go to the In Her Shoes facebook page, which has been sharing the harrowing stories of Irish women who travelled for abortions over the past few months. I think those stories swayed a lot of voters – they showed that there but for the grace of accident go any of us who have a uterus. I personally have never been in the position of seeking an abortion, but not because I’m a better person than anyone else, or more careful or less promiscuous. I’m just luckier than women whose contraception failed, for whom the morning-after pill didn’t work, who were raped, molested, abused, who had pregnancies with fatal fetal anomalies, who were trapped in intolerable relationships, who were too young, who couldn’t tell, who couldn’t afford to travel to England, who couldn’t take the time off or find the childcare, whose pills were seized by customs, who bled in pain in taxis and aeroplanes and bathrooms and bedrooms because they were afraid to seek medical advice after a procedure that they weren’t allowed to talk about. Way luckier.

Finally, Ireland is going to stop making women with rotten luck suffer more for it.

Thank you, Ireland.

 

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Snapshot – a quick catch-up

Swear to god I’ve nearly forgotten how to log in here. Sorry and all that. Things are better, though, so it’s all good. I’ve just been busy. Maybe time for a quick listicle. Here’s what I’ve been up to.

Writing
Today I sent my newest book off to a real editor to read. Full disclosure: she’s a friend, and she’s not going to edit it as such, but to give me a “reader’s report” – an inkling of whether the whole thing hangs together as a cohesive story, with a plot and all that necessary stuff. I hope it does, at least a little. Having self-published my first three books I’d like to try to go the traditional publishing route with this one and its successors, if possible. We shall see.

Playing
I am somewhat addicted to a game called I Love Hue on my phone. You have to move squares around until the colours all flow into each other. It’s immensely satisfying and I’m about to get to the end and then I don’t know what I’ll do with my life, honestly. I never got into Candy Crush or any of those other games other people were playing, so this is a new experience for me.

Reading
Harry Potter on a loop, pretty much, aloud, to Miss Mabel, who does sometimes deign to read some herself and is well able to. She took book 6 to school with her today, which is quite a step forward. She gets hung up on the odd new word, but it’s not beyond her ability.
Also, this book, which was recommended by Jessica of VeryMom and really helped me get unstuck with the book. Maybe next time I’ll even plot first instead of at the end.

Eating
I made an apple pie for pi day (3/14 if you do your dates the American way), which is a date I’d much rather celebrate appropriately than St Patrick’s Day, when I plan to order pizza as my traditional protest against all things Irish-American. (The supermarket is stocked with corned beef and chrysanthemums dressed up in leprechaun hats.) Anyway, I didn’t have enough pastry so I gave my pie a lattice top and it turned out very nicely. Also, I think I’ve eaten most of it.

Lattice-topped homemade apple pie
With vanilla ice cream on the side.

Watching
The Crown is the only thing I’ve got going at the moment, and I suspect I’m liking it much more than the husband, who tolerates it. But I tolerate all his superhero nonsense, so here we are. We enjoyed The Good Place and the second season of Stranger Things and when does Doctor Who start again?

Talking about
The campaign to Repeal the 8th is nothing I have to explain to anyone Irish, but readers elsewhere might not know about it. I follow the Facebook page called In Her Shoes, where women who’ve been affected by the eighth amendment to the Irish Constitution can tell their own stories. In my mind it’s all anyone should need to convince them to vote for repeal. I also came across this excellent list yesterday, the contents of which shocked some of my American friends. If you’re in Ireland, please vote for repeal.

 

How to sell your parents’ house, part 3 of 3, maybe

The estate agent rang me this morning to let me know that the For Sale sign will go up next week, probably Wednesday. So that’s a strange feeling, putting your family home on the market. Especially since my two parents are still living. It feels wrong to sell it out from under them, even though I’m not doing that at all: my father is selling his own house, I’m just doing the donkey work. He signs the cheques. I sign for my mother, because she can’t do that any more, when we get to the actual legal documents part, assuming that’ll happen in due course.

It all seems very sudden, even though it’s been on the cards since last May, when Dad looked at me and said “I suppose we’d better sell the house.”

I loved the estate agent. He looked around the house in wonder and awe and probably some internal consternation, and said “It’s really hard to value” but also appreciated all the work that had gone into it, from the very beginning, all by my dad himself.

He saw an old photo upstairs – actually, a photocopy of a photo, that my dad had framed – and audibly goggled at how cool it was – my father’s uncle in 1913 posing with his swim team. Like something from another world, really; one we can’t begin to imagine in spite of all the pictures and films and books we’ve seen. These were real people; a little bit of their DNA runs through my veins. I pulled the photocopy out of the frame and kept it with all the other old photos.

When I got back from Ireland I was very productive for a few days, writing thank-you cards and feverishly sorting through the loose photos, writing on the back, trying to put them in chronological order, despairing when a random wedding picture had no names, no faces I knew, not even an indication of which side of the family it had come from. I went to Ikea, made a lovely photo collage for the wall, hung it up, even. Such industry, in a house otherwise crumbling around me (crumbling at least in terms of undone housework and un-put-away toys, constantly on the brink of running out of milk and bread).

Here’s a list, in two parts.

Things that were easy to put in the skip: (That’s a dumpster, Americans.)

  • Garden waste.
  • Very old pillows.
  • My bank statements from 20 years ago.
  • A nasty rolled-up rug.
  • Used makeup, old hairspray, battered shoes without mates.

Things that were hard to put in the skip:

  • My mother’s cushions. (You can’t donate cushions. They’re like pillows, nobody will take them.)
  • The last bits and pieces from each room, the things I couldn’t decide about, the things I left for my friends to remove because I kept wanting to leave a little something, for character, to make it look at least a tiny bit personal.
  • The photo albums that weren’t old enough to be interesting – the ones of my parents’ trips or travels over the last twenty years or so, visiting people I don’t know, or people who have their own pictures of that day.
  • The Hummel figurine that someone knocked over on the way out to the garden; probably one of the very helpful people who were giving up their Saturday afternoon to help me out; they didn’t even notice. I shouldn’t have left it there, so close to the door. But it had survived so long, and now it was in three pieces. Poor little boy in the apple tree.

It’s weird being entrusted to get rid of other people’s stuff, even two people as uncaring about material goods as my parents. I kept the things I wanted. I kept a few things I thought other people would want. I gave away as much as I could to friends and family members who wanted them, who would take them and keep with them the memory of the place they came from – or even who would say “A lady gave it to me one day when my parents went to her house. I don’t know who she was, really. A friend of Mum and Dad’s who they hardly ever see, I think.”

My best friend told me I had no sentimentality, as I shot down her suggestions of things I might want to keep. I had two suitcases, mostly already full of photo albums, and a house full of junk over here already. I have no space for sentimentality. She left with a shelf that we unscrewed from the wall along with its curly brackets, and some of my mother’s jewellery, and the Dyson. Sentiment and practicality right there. I was happy about that.

A house story

And now I am here again, at my kitchen table, thinking about back-to-school nights and bringing in the washing, instead of there, thinking about the ends of things. It was an intense weekend-and-a-bit, but with a lot of help from a lot of great people I accomplished almost all I had hoped to.

It was very … elemental, maybe, is the word I want. Very much about life, the hard parts of it that are the most real. I met a friend who was coming from her father’s funeral, buying balloons for her son’s fifth birthday party. I gave small children things from my aged parents’ house, sent them back to their homes with the last of my childhood books, dominoes, pretty boxes, and my spare recorder (sorry).

But there was a story I wanted to tell. On Saturday afternoon, someone helping me put things in boxes pulled a string in the kitchen and it broke. It was fine, it didn’t matter. They noticed the string was attached to a little bell that rang when you pulled it. They wondered why. I explained.

My father’s office was downstairs in the basement, ever since the recession in 1987 or so caused him and his partner to downsize and move to working out of their respective homes. There was a phone down there, and a phone upstairs in the hall beside the kitchen, so if the phone rang during business hours my dad would answer it down there, professional-like. If it happened that the call was actually for my mother, rather than have to open his office door and shout loud enough to be heard through the door to the basement, or come all the way upstairs, he rigged up a little bell with a string that went straight down through the floor, so that he could ring the bell from right where he was to let her know it was for her. (Or for me, maybe, even.) No undignified yelling required.

It is a perfect example of how our house worked, and how the things in the house were exactly tailored to suit its inhabitants. A little thing, that nobody seeing that bell would know, once I’m not there to tell the story any more: not the person who shows the house to prospective buyers, not the one who looks at the house wondering how they will mould it to their needs, not the one who rips it off the kitchen wall after the house has been sold.

So now I’ve told the story, and the reason for the bell will always be here, not lost after all.

Table covered in vases and jugs
Right at the beginning of the ending

Casting off

This evening I sat on the floor for twenty minutes casting off.

There was this knitting thing, you see. Back in May I had opened the bottom drawer of the bureau in the hall and found a bag with knitting in it. In May I was busy looking at nursing homes. My brain can only cope with one thing at a time. I’d closed the drawer and gone back to whatever else I was doing at the time, just like I had closed cupboard doors on moulding jam and half-used lipsticks and left them for another day, another trip.

Now I can do it. I can open those drawers and I’m ready to consign much of their contents to the skip that’s handily outside the house (yes, I arranged for it to be there). In May I threw out the tissue paper that was everywhere, consolidated items, put all the lone gloves into one drawer and socks into another, found the jewellery that had been secreted away in odd shoes and cubbyholes and hinged tchotchkes. Now it’s September and I’m ready to put them in boxes and send them away: to donate them, to bag them up, to remove them from the spaces they were placed into and set them free.

So when I saw the knitting this evening, that I had pulled out of the drawer yesterday, I said to myself, I need to just do away with that so that I can put the needles and the wool with all the other knitting needles and donate them to the charity shop.

And then, because I had twenty minutes to spare before I had to be somewhere, I thought, No, wait. I don’t need to unravel it. I can just cast this off. And I sat on the floor where the kitchen meets the hall, and in the dimming light I put my basic knitting ability to use and I cast it off.

It was going to be something in baby blue. I don’t know what, though I think there was a pattern in the bag. I suspect it was for Dash, when he was a baby, that it was found too frustrating and stuffed away. My mother was never a great knitter. The biggest thing she ever knitted, to my knowledge, was a moss green waistcoat for my father some time in the 80s. I found it on his shelf yesterday when I went through his wardrobe, but I put it in the donation pile because I don’t think he needs it in the well-heated nursing home. I have no sentimentality, no soul, apparently. Also, I don’t think he ever wore it much, he just couldn’t throw it away.

So I cast it off, the blue knitting that was going to be a cardigan for my baby boy, or whatever, sitting there on the floor in the evening light. I’ll take it with me for the girlchild to use as a doll blanket. Knit one, pick it up, push it over the one before. Off she goes. My baby boy is eleven now, he’d never fit it. I saw my mother today and she was delighted to see me, disbelieving that I was really me, asking me how my exams had gone, moving on to generic questions about mum and dad or the boys, things she could ask anyone, because she wasn’t sure any more who it was but she couldn’t let on.

And then I cut the yarn, pulled the knot through, put the rest of the ball of wool in the bag with all the knitting needles and the patterns, ready to go to the charity shop tomorrow.

And as I sat there I thought how poignant it should be, and how metaphorical it was, and how I could write a great blog post about casting off the past and all that jazz. But really, I was just knitting, waiting, in a messy house, full of memories; it’s reached its time, it’s moving on, as all things have to. Finished off, undone, sent on, sent away. An end and a beginning. There’s always a beginning too.

Seafront at dawn
Ending/beginning

Important places

“I have lived in important places, times / When great events were decided”

Those are the opening lines of Patrick Kavanagh’s “Epic“, a poem that was used mostly to illustrate the form of a sonnet to my English class, early in second year (that’s 8th grade for Americans). No mention was made of the contrast of the title to the brevity of the poem, now I think about it, but our teacher had enough to do just trying to get the basics across to us, since this was our first encounter with such a high-falutin’ thing as a poetic form other than nursery rhyme or limerick.

Anyway. The reason those opening lines are running through my mind is that I’m trying to figure out what to do with my dad’s photo albums. In about two weeks’ time I have to go to Dublin (yes, again) and try to tidy up and get rid of as much as possible of the contents of my parents’ house as I can in roughly four days. They don’t live there any more.

(Mabel says I can’t go. She won’t let me. It’s too hard to go to sleep at night with only Daddy. I’m sorry, and all, but I’d love to not go, except I have to. There’s nobody else to do it. This is what happens. It’s what everything comes to in the end, someone clearing away your belongings, assigning importance to some and tossing others out. She doesn’t get that yet. Maybe I don’t get it yet myself, really.)

In anticipation, I’m mentally going through the house, listing items of furniture and categories of things, deciding what could be kept, what should be given away, what’s just irredeemable rubbish. My father has been trying to empty the house for years; my parents weren’t hoarders (though in her later years my mother had taken to squirreling away tiny bits of tissue paper and scraps of cellophane, but those are very easy to throw away, after making sure there’s no tiny treasure balled up in the middle).

I’m trying to simultaneously think of everything there so that I can plan what to do with it, so I can spend more time doing and less wondering, and also so that I can be mentally bolstered against the whole thing, the whole dismantling of my past, my parents’ pasts, my home, my history. I’m very practical, but I’m also practical enough to know that it’ll be hard. It’ll hit me in the guts, so I need to be prepared.

Anyway, as I think I already said. I was thinking about my dad’s photo albums. He has about 15 of them hidden away in a piece of antique office furniture in the spare room. As befits him, they are meticulous records of days past and travels in interesting places. He has lived in England and Ireland, spent two years in the US, and a year in Guatemala, and these albums record those places, and others he travelled to, probably mostly in the 50s and 60s. When I’d asked him about them he’d shrugged and supposed that they’d have to be thrown out. Who would be interested in such things, he asked rhetorically, assuming the answer was nobody.

I wasn’t so sure. The idea of just throwing out his carefully recorded memories didn’t sit right with me, even if I didn’t think I could mail them to myself in the States to go through at my leisure, even if I wasn’t sure I would be all that interested in unknown people and places. But it occurred to me that he was in a couple of clubs that are still active, that might have people interested in their history and their founding members. And then I asked a lot of random strangers in an Irish Facebook group what they thought and the response was overwhelming: don’t throw them out! Find an archivist! Find a library! Someone wants these!

I emailed the two clubs in question and at least one is definitely interested. I had a correspondence with someone from the National Library, who said they might be interested depending on how much of Ireland is in it. I am pretty sure, based on all that, that there would be someone out there – or maybe out here – who would love to see the American and Guatemalan parts of his travels and records. I won’t toss anything. I’ll ask someone to keep them for me, or see if I can find someone to scan them for me, or maybe I will just post them to myself, but I will not trash them.

I think my dad will be happy about it. Bemused that his old snaps might now be considered archivable, important bits of history, even if the times he lived in were not important-seeming, if no great events were apparently being decided there and then. Sometimes ordinary lives are the most important. Patrick Kavanagh taught me that.

Man posing on skis in late 60s
Just call him Bond

 

Zoom zoom

Big screen at the concert with Paul Simon playing the guitar on itI got back from Ireland on the Tuesday evening of that week. On the Friday, B and I did something we haven’t done for years and years – we went to a concert. A real proper concert, not just a gig. We saw Paul Simon, and it was amazing.

There were moments during the evening when the long relationship I’ve had with Paul Simon’s music, and how it’s been intertwined with that other long relationship in my life – the one with my husband – made my brain do that expand-and-contract thing (imagine, if you will, a slidy trombone noise) as it tried to take in the expanse of time from my first experience of Paul Simon to where I am now. Timey wimey, wibbly wobbly indeed.

Sometimes all the points in my life seem to be laid out on a flat surface rather than along a timeline. The distance from any one to another might be near or far but bears no connection to such two-dimensional things as years and decades. I can vividly remember a moment when I was 20, but not necessarily last week.

The older I get, the more this will happen, I bet. It’s unnerving, this living in the world business, if you look at it from a height.

Though maybe it was the jetlag too. It was a very whiplashy week, going from filial responsibilities and reminders of inescapable mortality to pure selfish entertainment with a side of romantic nostalgia with little but a transatlantic flight and the graduation from elementary school of my elder child to buffer the two extremes.

That sort of enforced perspective can really mess with your mind. Maybe just as well we don’t manage to do it very often.View of the stage (from way back) with teeny tiny Paul Simon and his band