Thursday, September 14, 2017

Maybe Grandma Was Right.

The advice for a long life seems often to boil down to eating proper dinners 'like grandma used to make'.  That is, cook from scratch and eat food that remembers where it came from.  I read an article today by a cardiologist saying precisely this.  Our low fat, low carb, processed ready made diets are doing us more harm than good.  He suggests returning to eating the way we did in the past, with dinner beginning with a chopping knife...just like Grandma would have done.

Interestingly, what did our grandmothers have in common? They were by and large in the home caring for families. They had time and the esteem of society on their side.  By contrast we have an incessant drive to get women OUT of the home, to cast off the shackles of motherhood and into any old menial job so that they can have dignity and the stimulation which the 'mind numbing' tasks of home and family can NEVER provide.  We have a subliminal attitude that women at home are doing nothing, that they don't have a job, that they are bored, lacking stimulation and unfulfilled. Wasting brains and ability.  I've heard it a million times.  Mind-numbing and home are two words which have become inextricably linked, simply by repetition.  Personally, not once has my mind ever been numb while caring for my home...many's the time I felt my brain cells had rotted when I was in meaningful employment.

Can any of us remember our grandmothers as stressed, over scheduled, under appreciated and resentful?  Can we remember them as bored, unproductive and consider what they did as a waste of ability? I know I remember both my grandmothers and my own mother as amazing capable ladies whose cooking abilities I could only dream of imitating.  My mother and grandmother were master crafts women, my grandmother able to knit complex Aran Sweaters in a few days while holding conversation.  I have tried knitting Aran patterns and have barely managed a line or two without having to unpick my mistakes.

I'm not saying that women who don't engage in paid work are always considered unproductive.  Once we are involved in something else...something separate from the home.  In that case we may well be fulfilled.  Be it volunteering, study, a cottage business, writing, blogging...In those things lie our value as seen from the lofty ramparts of our society.  Women are encouraged to do something...anything  so that they can identify as that thing and not as the 'nothing' status of SAHM.  But the precise work of the home?  Nothing is considered more demeaning, more backward, more 'submissive', more  unfulfilling for a woman than making a bed, cleaning floors, hanging laundry in one's own home for one's own family.  So much so that rarely does a week go by as some article laments how women are still doing this stuff.   Mind you, were a woman to start a small business and receive money do for others what she freely does for her family, now that would be contributive to society, that  woman would now be a business lady with status and value even though she is doing exactly what she previously did.

Or perhaps we can still identify as the thing we did in a different life, in a distant memory.  I remember filling out a birth registration for my fourth child.  I had LONG given up my old job with zero intention or desire ever to return to it.  The lady taking the registration asked what was 'Mother's Employment'.  I replied Full Time Parent.  'Oh no...snigger...we can't have that!  What were you BEFORE?'   So against my will, my child's birth certificate falsely identifies me as something I wasn't and which I had no desire to be.  All to protect me from the shame of what I actually was.

I wonder if we look back at those home cooked dinners, breads and cakes, at the cosy clean homes we would return to daily and rejoice that those days are gone?  Are we delighted that all too often we are so busy and stressed and overworked that the best we can hope for at dinner time is something ripped from a printed box and shoved in an oven? Is that a big life improvement over that of the women who cooked and cleaned with babies in tow and who afterwards sat down to pick up their knitting and who always seemed to be calm and content and spread that to their families? Do we look back in dismay that children walked to schools and activities because the family had one car, if that, and women weren't tied to evening traffic leaving little to no time for chopping vegetables or stirring pots?  My memory of my mother strongly revolves around kitchens and the aroma of cooking food and chatting to her as she prepared meals or knitted cardigans and blankets for the next baby.  My memory of my mother, my grandmother and every other woman in my circle of experience is women who were highly valued, around whom life revolved, women whose worth was never questioned.  In a lot of ways they were the ideal.  As C.S. Lewis once put it: 'The homemaker has the ultimate career.  All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career'  Not so now, my dear, not so.

I'm not saying life was idyllic and rosy. Sure, they worked hard, sure times were tough but I think we know enough by now to realise that tough times and hard work aren't impediments to happiness and equally that prosperity doesn't necessarily equate contentment.

Where has contentment gone?  It took leave of us without us noticing.  We've been too busy to notice the stealth with which it departed.  In retrospect, it doesn't take much effort to see the effects of it's loss.  Remember homes were places of peace where we would recharge instead of centres of rushed coordination of activities where mothers are reduced to cart horse event managers who might love the idea of sitting down to knit or paint...or to cook a dinner from scratch, but just don't have time? Who exactly has benefited from the downgrading of the role of  women at home? It sure as hell ain't women! Or children, Or health, Or marriages, Or family life. Who has benefited?  That's what I'd like to know.  The processed food industry is the only thing I can think of.

No wonder our hearts and bodies are rebelling.

Could it be that Grandma had the right idea.  Could it be that the way things were done might possibly have been...better?  Just a question.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Young Teens And Fatima

This morning, 13th May, I was dropping our two younger middle children, now young teens,  to various places involving about 20 minutes in the car.  I told one who is singing in the choir for the school's 1st Communion to wait in the church for me to pick him up after the initial crowd has dispersed because the church and the parking area are both small. 

I suggested he spend those 10 minutes praying and maybe considering the children of Fatima and the lives they lived.  They asked me why I am talking about Fatima these days and I told them that today is the 100th Anniversary and asked them whether they knew anything about it or the children.  Being younger in the family, it's easy to fall through the stools as regards religious formation (Fatima coming under the category of things we would do well to believe but not necessary to the faith).  We sometimes put so much effort in giving the older children a strong moral, doctrinal, philosophical education that we forget to do the same for the younger ones.  It's something parents especially of large families need to constantly be aware of.  Osmosis has only a part to play, they must also be personally instructed (that's my theory anyway). 

Anyway, it turns out to my shame that they knew little to nothing about Fatima.  So in the space of the short drive I summarised what had happened and how it has fitted into European history.  How they have been praying the prayer the angel told the children to recite during the rosary.  About communism and it's rotten fruit, about angels and Pope Leo XIII.  They were absolutely fascinated, full of questions and dying to watch some of the programming which will surely be on EWTN today.

I dropped off the first child and had time alone with the other, the older of the two, as she needed to go to the other side of town.  That short conversation led to her opening her heart about her faith as regards her peers, how she can live it in a world in which religion, and especially Catholicism, is considered strange and how to stay joyful even when it's difficult. 

She was especially drawn to the explanation of how love frees us from laws with the example that it's not law which prevents her from killing her beloved little sister, it's love.  The law doesn't even apply to her because she doesn't want to do that thing anyway.  The more we fall in love with Jesus, the less we are bound by laws.  That is very freeing knowledge to have...that 'The Truth will set you free'.  Can you even imagine how liberating that is for any teenager who thinks, and whose friends think, that God is a party pooper and that religion is nothing but oppressive rules.  When she sees the 'rule' being her love of her sister there's no hint of coercion or oppression. 

On the other hand, I pointed out how Jesus was always so tender with sinners, especially sexual sinners such as the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well because he knew they were looking for him, just in the wrong place like so many young people are doing, even some she already knows.  God's little ones wandering precariously, objectively blameless, because who has ever told them? Just like the biblical sheep without a shepherd, and how she needs to be tender toward everyone, never thinking badly of them.  She was drinking it in!! As she got out of the car she turned and said "This is so INTERESTING!" 

Two things:

(1) Don't be afraid to talk to your children, all your children not just the first one or two, about faith.  They are dependent on you because nobody else is going to tell them. Don't underestimate their thirst.  Don't presume they'll find this not boring topic boring.  If you are still amazed they'll pick that up.  How can we not be amazed at all these things? 

(2) Time and again I have found the best conversations with my children have been in the car while I am driving.  It makes it easier for them to open their hearts.  I wonder if it's because there's no eye contact and it's a calm environment.  It reminds me of confession, where the priest leans in a listening pose as opposed to a conversational one.  It's easier for the penitent to offload what can at times be embarrassing.  

(3) It's still morning on 13th May and already I'm seeing fruits blossom. What a great day this is! 

(4) You cannot tell your children what you don't know yourself.

Yes, well spotted, that's four things. A girl can change her mind. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Will There Be Ballet In Heaven?

At the moment I am grieving.  My father died recently.  You think you'll be ready but you never are. Something is gone from my life, moments which can never be relived or re-enacted.  I wasn't ready and never could have been.  My mind is overwhelmed with memories.  Every minute of every day my father is on my mind.  That is not to say I feel sad all the time.  Sometimes I'm wondering whether I am a bad daughter because I feel normal today and then like a wave it hits again like yesterday as I was stopped at traffic lights up the town I 'saw' him in another man wearing the familiar sort of hat he'd wear on a sunny day.  Or like last week when I found myself stuck in traffic behind the car he'd sold last year when he'd gotten good test results and decided to change his car since he'd be here a bit longer.  Those moments I just want to get home.  Other moments I'm fine and 'normal'.  Grief is an unpredictable thing.

He's on my mind every minute of every day.

So I'm so sad but something else has swept me off my feet.  I'm happy!! Yes, I repeat that, I'm overwhelmed with this unexpected joy.  That's what this post is about, not the grief, that's mine and I'll stumble through.  Joy though was never designed for privacy.  Joy is something the mountaintops shout out.

Why am I happy my father is dead?

I'm not happy he's dead, I'm happy he's ALIVE!!

Since the day he died I've found myself drawn to two things.  One is Mass.  I've always gone to Mass every day apart from when I mistakenly thought I was too busy with little children and they were too naughty and noisy and that I may as well not be there at all since I was so distracted and if I was any further back in the church I'd be out the door and that I was distracting the other people.  Believe me, that was a mistake.  Mass benefits everyone even when we're distracted and stressed.  Sometimes the only prayer I've managed to mumble has been "Lord, give me peace". Prayer indeed.

I don't look for my father in the smell of his shirts still hanging in his wardrobe waiting for him to put them on.  I don't look for him at his graveside though I do like to go there.  I look longingly at the chair at my table he sat at when'd he'd call in around 11am and we'd have tea together and he'd bring me back to earth like the time I sat and complained about this child did this and the other one did that and they don't this and they mess up that... He listened to my long rant then laughed and said "So you're trying to say they're normal?  Oh how I miss that sort of wisdom. How I miss my friend.   But where I really look for, and find, my father...and my at Mass. I don't feel anything sentimental or feel a spiritual high, but that's where I find them.  That's what I look forward to each day...finding Daddy.  At Mass.  I wouldn't miss that daily encounter.  And beside him, the woman, my lovely mother, whom he grieved for 16 years and now I'm thinking...what was that but a flash?

If you're grieving and longing for a loved one, try Mass.

And what's the second thing I'm drawn to?


I've always had this idea and I've written about it before that beauty is not an optional extra and that somehow it points to something far above itself, a signpost so to speak. Now that with time I've become more 'learn-ed' (, just realising how much I don't know!) I'm realising that the desire for beauty is indeed one of the Transcendentals - the embedded insatiable longings within us which point to an existence more perfect than our own.  Let's call that existence Heaven.

What are these longings? You'll recognise them when you read them...I did.

The longing for perfect knowledge/truth

The longing for perfect justice/goodness

The longing for perfect love

The longing for perfect beauty

The longing for perfect home/being.

I'll give an example.  There's a road in Connemara, Ireland which is called The Sky Road.  Aptly named because there earth and sky seem to marry.  On a sunny day I think it must be one of the most beautiful sights known to man.  I was there recently very soon after my father died.  The day was perfect and though I'm posting a picture, no camera can capture the breath catching beauty unfolded in front of you.  It is truly magnificent.  However that day it particularly struck me that however beautiful it was and is, something was missing.  I cannot grasp that beauty and make it mine.  I cannot own it or embrace it, it can't unite itself to me.  It cannot satisfy, it leaves a pain of own and be owned by it.  What do we say to babies and little children? "I love you so much I could eat you!"  Nothing fully satisfies that longing which haunts us.  What beauty is is the signpost to something much the Beauty that will satiate, the Beauty which will own and be owned by me.

One rainy evening I was driving my 13 year old home from ballet class when a song came on the radio.  At the end of the song she asked me why we can feel some songs in our chest? I think it's because some songs touch that transcendental dissatisfaction, the longing for an untouchable and the hope that one day we will touch.

My father was a very holy man.  By Holiness I don't mean piousity which is actually not holiness at all. His was a holiness with it's feet on the ground.  One time while holding one of his newborn grandchildren he said that he thought that babies are a glimpse of the Beatific close to pure beauty and goodness and being as we can hope. Which of us could tire of looking at our baby, or one close to us? Every eyelash and minute little hair follicle delights us.  The desire for beauty is completely superfluous to our survival, it fits uncomfortably with the survival of the fittest narrative which would favour only the functional and useful.  Why should we care whether the sky is golden or pink or colours we can't even name? Why should a waterfall delight us but a concrete wall leave us unmoved? Why do we long to be home or to have a home if we're lacking one? Yet when we sit down and the sun shines in we see the dust and the work we need to do.  We need to lock our doors and our windows, we need to guard against intruders and hazard.  We're home yet still dissatisfied no matter how lovely it may be.

Two Christmases ago my father's house burnt down.  He was home in the shower at the time but managed to escape wearing what his friend joked later to be a 'biblical' outfit...that which Adam wore before the fall. It's a long story but while the house was being rebuilt he and my sister and nephew moved from my home, to a house loaned by a friend, to a horrible brown 'rental' which reeked of stale cigarettes, before they could move home.  Such an upheaval would have finished off many octogenarians, not my father.  When asked how he coped so cheerfully with moving from temporary accommodation to temporary accommodation. He laughed and said "This life is temporary accommodation." He wasn't put out at all because even home is our temporary accommodation.

So why did I call this post ' Is There Ballet In Heaven?".  I've been thinking about all the above thoughts very very much in these last weeks and how they connect to my father's death, my own mortality and what lies beyond.  Oftentimes as Christians, as Catholics, we rattle off prayers without thinking at all about their content.  Sometimes they aren't prayers at all but mumblings rising to heaven with neither heart nor mind accompanying them.  We say The Creed...the list of all we believe...I believe in One God etc etc.  Do we even know what we're professing half the time. I think a lot of us forget this line.. "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come."  We believe that in Heaven we will be reunited with our body!! Hey! How cool is that? And...we'll be just lovely...perfect in fact.

I'd have loved to have learned ballet.  Sadly living in Ireland in the 1970s, neither opportunity nor funds were readily available.  I still love ballet and some of my girls have the bug.  It was during  their recent performance that this post came to me.  The human body is objectively God's most beautiful creation.  Pope John Paul 2 goes into this in great detail in his astonishing catechesis Theology of The Body.  We are the only creatures who experience all these non-survival-related longings. In my opinion, ballet is perhaps the most beautiful the human body can be. In it's classical element goodness wins...the desire for justice is vanquished...the evil witch fails.  The prince who rescues with nobility and goodness is not mocked as he is in our culture.  Dare I say it, marriage...the full 'knowing' of the other...true beauty, which sees beyond the face...happy ever after and home is still seen as a great good even if our culture has rejected it. All of the transcendental desires are embraced in classical ballet. So beautiful. (These are the thoughts I was having during a children's ballet show.) It made me remember the resurrection of the body.  If we'll have our bodies, we'll have things that bodies do, like laughter and singing...and dance.  If they delight us here, do you think God will exclude them from Heaven?  We don't change species, we don't become angels, we'll still love the things and the people we love...only in an unhindered way.

Oh YESI think there'll be ballet in Heaven.

And if there is, I hope they have lessons for beginners.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015

Is any year less than strange?  I can't remember a single year this last decade that I've said I'm sorry to see the back of it and yet I wonder whether that says more about me than it did about time gone by.  

I've been reading Dickens over Christmas and it's interesting what he has to say about the bah humbug folk.  Basically that no year is without ups, downs, tears and laughter.  In general those goods are dished out roughly in equal measure yet there are those of us who go out of our way to only remember the bad, to only remember the tears and the worries and deliberately whitewash over all the joys, the prayers answered, the unexpected surprises and the people we've shared them with.  

What is this need for self pity, this clinging on to illness almost as though we desired it? In Ireland we laugh that we're never happy unless we're miserable. Funny...and true. 

So this year I'm not going to throw 2015 a boot in the rear as it slinks away...indeed there were low moments, and many, there are friends permanently lost over the cause of marriage and children's right to a father and mother, yes there were days my children and even more so my extended family suffered because of some weird notion that 'you're Catholic therefore you hate'.

There was the pathetic sight of a little girl so filled with fear they almost had to cancel her little operation.  There was crappy weather and ISIS and the mess that is the Middle East and the attacks on France which I love so much & which has done so much for my family.

And there was cancer...there's always cancer lurking waiting to ruin your year.

But hand in hand with all those sorrows...there were doctors.  Doctors who cure.  There are doctors who give hope for a future.
There were the heroes who stood up and were counted in the face of a totalitarian heave of intolerance of even debate.  There were heroes who took planes to help the suffering refugees.  

There was France, beautiful France who knew how to restore drooping morale with her vineyards and sunflowers and the smell of summer holidays and sun cream which means we are having golden time with our ever growing children.  There was the moment she learned to swim when we had been told she probably wouldn't walk.  There were numerous times we had movie nights with our children's little gang who are more like cousins than neighbours...and there are the real cousins and new babies and the new life which arrived only yesterday in the form of beautiful baby Elsie.

There was my big girl and being thankful for Skype so she could join us for family moments, and then she came home so happy and grown up. serve no purpose in life.

There were friends who shared funny times, meals and long chats, sometimes over a supermarket trolley, sometimes in the secret world of hidden Facebook groups. There were meet-ups with old friends in Rome and in our home and new ones in England. There were grandparents and Halloween costumes and starting school, ballet, Taekwon Do and the music of piano which sometimes reluctantly filled our house.  Teenage chats and discussions about the state of the world and the meaning of life, how I love discussions on the meaning of life.  There were weepy movies with my girls and the spectacle of Star Wars. 

And best of all there was PINK.  This was the year of pink. Right in the middle of 2015 on some unremarkable date, our little girl finally became pink.  And when Santa was considering a wooden fairy castle for Christmas then realised that this pink girl is not a playing fairies indoors sort of gal but an outdoors at every opportunity one, he changed track and gave her a go-Kart because girls who have been promised no quality of life tend to kick ass and expose those doom and gloom folk for what they are...wrong. Oh so wrong.

So 2015, thank you for your moments.  Thank you for your sufferings which made me so proud to be a member of my family.  Thank you for the tears which made me realise just how much I love them. And THANK YOU for the smiles.

And thank you for the one constant never flinching presence of John.  Thank you for him.

Goodbye 2015.  I close the door on you, but gently...and tiptoe away.  All I ask of you is one thing...please take your useless weather with you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On Grieving For Paris

I've been reading a lot of social media posts asking why people seem to be more concerned about the recent horrific terrorist murders in Paris than they are about similarly motivated atrocities elsewhere this week.  There is a suggestion that this is a disingenuous reaction, that we are unconcerned about the deaths in Lebanon and elsewhere and only interested in Paris because Facebook has told us to be.  Why has Facebook turned red, white and blue and not the other colours?

I don't think it's necessarily true that people care less about the terrorist victims in places other than Paris this weekend.  I think the overwhelming reaction to Paris is a very human phenomenon related to proximity.  When we hear of a road traffic fatality on the radio the first thing we all do is listen to hear where it happened.  If it is far from us we move on but if it has happened in our town we immediately turn up the sound to hear further details. The reason is because we now have something important in common with that victim.  The more we relate to the victim the more their death affects us.

Practically all Irish families have connections to France.  I know in our home texts were passed back and forth checking on the wellbeing of French friends and their families. We have visited France and her restaurants and concert halls.  The small
Metal concert is the sort of event my own husband could have been at. Last year my daughter did her Christmas shopping in the market village which saw the jihad motivated attack just a week later. These attacks relate directly to many of us.

I don't think our concern reflects a disdain for the others but the grief that comes from losing part of our own. And also the very real fear motivated not by hatred or racism or all the multiple 'phobias' we so love to accuse each other of, but by the realisation that that could have been me or mine and it may very well be me or mine next time.

So just as we sympathise and objectively grieve the road death far from us, we connect with and subjectively grieve the particular teenager of our own town who we might not have known, but we know his grandma, we know the school he went to, he was best friend of my friend's son...we personally relate.

I think this is normal human behaviour because unless our grief is selective we would definitely all buckle under the burden of every atrocity everywhere in the world.  It would be shallow to post about Beirut if we are not also posting about North Korea, Thailand, Burma,...dozens of other places.

When I was in Africa and saw the most abject poverty and subsequently witnessed and was there when a corrupt government bulldozed the shantytown of up to a million people, my mind definitely went into protective mode by blocking me from really believing what I was seeing.  It was like we were watching it on television not really happening right in front of us and we were directly involved in the evacuation. I heard war photographers describe similar experiences. There is only so much horror any of us can process, we cannot take on every single burden but we take in some and that is not hateful.

One thing is certain these days, humanity weeps.

(photo ABC News)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bag-Packing, A Sociological Observation.

I have just spent the morning in a supermarket helping out at a fundraiser for my son's sports club by packing grocery bags for shoppers in the hope that they'll throw their spare change into the collection bucket. Easy enough money with no overhead costs, all you need is volunteers.

Now I am no stranger to either packing groceries or working with the public.  My teenage years were funded by this very activity as my weekend job, and that of practically every Irish teenager at the time, was a casual worker for the first Irish supermarket chain to introduce the service of packing groceries. The after school and weekend hours were often tedious and boring with every customer basically saying the same thing: "Lovely day we're having" or "Bad day we're having" over and over and over again.  However I didn't really mind too much as the allure of new clothes saved up for or a night at the local teenage disco made up for the repetitive work and the occasional unpleasantly over broken eggs or some such mishap. By and large though, people were generally friendly and appreciative.  By the time we were finished, a stint working for this particular supermarket was a bonus on any teen CV as the company was known for it's standard of excellence. We knew how to work and the founder and CEO instilled a work ethic in his teen brigade. Do the job and do it right and the customer will return.  Staff wore lapel pins of a boomerang depicting this ethos.

I went on to work with the public after I left college.  I worked in an environment quite opposite to that I had left.  Unless an employees work ethic came from within there was no incentive whatsoever to put in a good day's work.  In fact good workers were often ostracised because they showed up the others.  The Chiefs despised the Indians and indemic bullying was the norm. So babyish. However, one thing was so eye-opening was the public.  At the time, most people were neither here nor there, neither unpleasant not pleasant. Most still said please and thank you, apart from third level students that is.  Those words seemed pretty alien to them or maybe they felt they were too hip and cool for social niceties to cross their lips.  Since I was roughly the same age or just slightly older than most of them I wasn't backward at asking them right out for the Magic Word! Especially since they were often hoping I'd actually DO their tardy course work for them...the bits their Mammy hadn't already done, and it was usually due tomorrow or yesterday. I had the upper hand!

Then there was the folk who would just lift your day just by being themselves.  so friendly and warm.  My favourite in particular was a man who had Down Syndrome who always dressed in a suit and fedora hat and carried a black umbrella and briefcase.  He was so proud of his smart appearance and his research work. When he'd leave, he'd leave in his wake a feeling that life is good and it's good to be here.  Wonderful. I wonder where he is now.

Then there was the minority.  Oh deary me, the miserable minority.  Scowling, grumpy, fault-finding nasty minority.  I'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, back to my fundraising contribution this morning.  Now if I know anything, it's how to pack bags.  I have six grocery trolley is sizeable.  I'm always in a hurry and I like my groceries intact. So apart from my early 'training', I'm good and I'm speedy. No eggs will break on my watch.  I think I look capable enough. I think I look pretty much what I am...a mother well used to supermarket shopping.  I think I look like I can capably pack your shopping, saving you some time and effort in return for your contribution should you want to make one.  It was an interesting window through which to study people. I was reminded of things I'd noticed years ago and forgotten.  I was treated in ways I'd encountered before but which genuinely surprised me as a mature adult as opposed to a young person. It was a look at a part of life that is no longer mine and I am left less than comfortable with some of what I observed. Not because I personally was treated in any particular way but because anybody would be treated in that way.

Here are some of my observations.

One...a smile costs nothing.  Do you realise how few smiles people who work in retail receive? Very few.

Please and thank you also cost nothing.

Old people who shop as a couple are maybe the nicest people you could meet.

People who bought the most possible with the least amount of money and had carefully counted coupons and small change tended to be very generous and appreciative of the help offered with packing their purchases.

People buying most luxury items were least likely to acknowledge that their bags had been magically and perfectly packed and walk off without contributing.  Some had no coins to offer but apologised and were thankful anyway. I certainly didn't mind in the slightest.

Teenagers stuffing bottles of vodka into handbags in anticipation of the upcoming evening...not cool.

People with clearly tight budgets were often making very poor food choices.  Very few fresh foods or vegetables.  A lot of the bulk of shopping was highly processed very cheap foods with little nutritional value. This should be addressed.  A lot of these families are headed by single parent early school-leavers.  The short time spent in education would be well served by a robust home management/food programme.  So easy and obvious when you know but not so obvious when one is in the cycle of poverty.

The words thank you came mostly out of those who appeared poorer.

It can take very little effort to strike up an interesting conversation with some people.  I heard quite a few reminisces and life's anecdotes.

Some people are delightful.  Old people are mostly delightful.

Some people are just not nice.

I remember why when I was working, staff far far preferred to be appointed to the poorest parts of the inner city or working class estates than to wealthy affluent postal districts.  Honestly, just because someone is doing you a job of service does not mean that that person is less that you.

Just because your income is higher than the girl at the check-out does not entitle you to speak down to her.  I have been watching her, she goes to a lot of effort to be friendly to you who does not return the common manners

If you prefer to pack your own bags, there's no need to rudely announce it's because only you knows how to pack bags properly.  Believe me Ma'am, you did not pack your bags properly.  Cooked and raw meats should NOT be in the same bag, rude lady.

If you prefer to pack your own bag don't act as though the person offering to help is the dirt off your shoes.

It's a sad indictment that the better dressed you are, Lady, the ruder you are because you think someone else is less than you.  They're not. That someone's job may seem menial to you does not justify your lack of common manners to them.

Being rude to kids fundraising is NOT ON. Yuk!

Dear vegan with a wan child dressed in unbleached knits...that your groceries are so so expensive does not necessarily mean they are good nutritional choices, alternative and unappetising and all as they may be.

Dear woman who rudely shoved me aside so you could pack your bags in a superior fashion,  I hope that bottle of shampoo you shoved upside-down on top of perishable foods didn't actually do that thing I wished it would.

But most people are lovely.

Especially old people.

Especially old people who are poor.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cinderella Movie Review

I have just been to see Disney's newest production, Cinderella. I'm writing a review simply because I have heard opposite opinions about the message the movie presents. So just as an extra voice here's my initial analysis of the movie.

Whenever I watch a children's or family movie I try to see it from a values point of view so that I can use both good and bad points afterwards in trying to teach our children discernment.  I know they will always come upon values that aren't those of our home and that's perfectly ok.  I have no intention of mollycoddling them in a false protected world which will leave them disarmed when they enter the fray. Overprotection is not a wise parenting method in my opinion.
Neither is allowing all and everything with the attitude that "Oh you can't protect them from the world". Rather I try to see teaching moments as I go along. I can't protect them from the world, nor do I want to.  I want them to get stuck right in there as active participants in this great world of ours but armoured with the art of discernment.

What I try to see is what's beyond the surface. Sometimes the surface is all there is but in general I feel no artist applies his or her trade in a neutral fashion, all art displays some of our personal ideals. It wasn't till the ending credits that I realised that Kenneth Branagh was the director of this Cinderella tale. I'd have looked forward to it more had I known. The movie has the historic elegance that I would associate with his movies.  It captures the atmosphere of the fairy stories I read when I was small, large thin papered tomes bound in navy cloth covers. The kingdoms I conjured up in my head were world's apart to some of the shoddily drawn illustrations so common in children's literature today. In Cinderella , the house, the animals, the castle all make the seamless connection with the original fairy story.  I think Branagh makes a huge effort to capture those classic qualities in this movie. The panoramic scenes of the kingdom are perfect. The choice of Lavender's Blue as a background theme evokes babyhood and early childhood for me anyway. I have dreamy memories of being soothed to sleep by both my mother and my father to this tune gently hummed.

I've said numerous times on this blog about my strong belief that children should be educated in beauty. I read an interview recently with Irish sculptor Dony MacManus who spoke about this very concept. That beauty points to God and that the function of art, even if not overtly is to capture beauty and therefore reflect a glimpse of Divine. Art works best with that aim, look at the art of the great masters of paint, architecture and sculpture...all aimed to achieve something higher than the artist. McManus tells of how European art colleges have moved away from art reaching higher and toward being used only to portray self and how the concept of beauty is oftentimes laughed at and rejected as immature and passée.  Mr McManus has gone so far as to found his own Fine Arts College in Italy which focuses on beauty leading to God and precisely the human body and it's creative power as the highest form of beauty.

I'm delighted that the story wasn't ruined by any attempt to 'modernise' it by making the female and male characters somehow at odds with each other in a struggle of power. In this movie, neither character is vying to be superior or more powerful.  The prince acknowledges time and again that he is an apprentice to the trade of being a good man. He is neither portrayed as arrogant or, as is more usual in movies, an endearing idiot. Humility, as in acknowledgement of our inabilities is perhaps the most manly of virtues because without it which man can become great as he is caught in the snare of believing he already is.  Although it is not an indepth character study, he is nevertheless a refreshing movie role model.  Not loud, not a fool needing to be saved by alpha-princess, neither is he chauvinistic. He just seems to be a good man.

Neither is Cinderella seemingly made strong by being warrior-like or crass or shouty. Her power is in her femininity. She isn't obsessed with beauty but wants to look beautiful for the ball to honour her mother who she loved. She is transformed into beauty most feminine...just that dress...I want one. So beautiful. She sticks with her efforts of courage and kindness, neither of these are easy feats and neither are signs of subservience or weakness. I love that femininity is finally portrayed as a quality and not as some sort of 'betrayal' of the sisterhood.

The deathbed redemption of the King, triggered by the honesty of Cinderella and the steadfast refusal of the prince to go against his decision reminded me a little of the death of Lord Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited. (I told you I see things in movies that aren't there at all!) And the following scene of the prince and king embracing was a powerful testimony to fatherhood/son-hood, again, both men humbled but not weakened.

The wicked stepmother was a masterpiece. I'll be very surprised if Kate Blanchett doesn't win an award or two for her role. Her and whoever designed her costumes, just perfect.

The only downside was that maybe the movie was a little slow moving for smaller children. Setting the scene took quite some time and my 5 year old nodded off missing some of the more spectacular scenes closer to the end of the movie.

Also, perhaps the movie could have gone a little deeper into the consequences to Cinderella of the cruelty to which she was exposed. For most of the film it seems to flow off her. She smiles a bit too much which inadvertently superficialises her suffering.  Probably a bit more character study of the prince too would have added to the story. However, that's just me and maybe not for a children's movie.
All in all, I liked the movie.  My children aged 17-5 all enjoyed it.  It probably isn't the most memorable movie in the history of mankind but it is a refreshing good old fashioned tale of good people making a go of it.  The wedding reminded me of that of Archduke Imre and Archduchess Kathleen of Austria in 2012. Two good people hoping to do good together as a married couple, a team of equals.

Yes, it's a fairy story. Yes it's probably sugar coated, but fairy stories are good. Wiping them from our children's bookshelves in the name of modernity, or even worse...rewriting them to suit ideology, is doing our children a great disservice. They show us we are not our sufferings, they show us we can be more than how we are treated.  C.S.Lewis wrote extensively on the value of fairy stories and I tend to trust his judgement.

So I say, go to the movie, bring your teens. Enjoy it and don't feel guilty, you are not returning anyone to the dark ages just because a woman is feminine and a man is noble. Did you ever think that perhaps this is the Dark Age and that perhaps we need to reclaim the light?  Perhaps we need to reclaim both womanhood and manhood and marriage between the two as something better than the sum of the parts?

You might not see all those things but I did.

My favourite character?

The lizard footman.