Fantastic Beasts, Harry Potter & Me

A review of the new Fantastic Beasts movie including a consideration of the wider world of Harry Potter and my life throughout it

I can say honestly and openly that I was overwhelmed and bewildered by the latest production of the new Fantastic Beasts series (described as a spin-off to the Harry Potter books but which to devoted fans is much more than this, for whom the new stories are a back-extended, wonderfully recognisable corner of the beguiling creation of J.K. Rowling). And this is not necessarily to say that this was a bad thing. Fans be fans. But not enough to overlook the casting of Johnny Depp in it either. I remain gravely dismayed at that.

The wider world of Harry Potter and my life throughout

I’m personally far from being a cinema buff, in that I only attend bi-annually at most, but I certainly am a Harry Potter fan. (I have borrowed references from the books at least once elsewhere on this blog). I was past the age the books were intended for when they first came out (about 18), but my youngest brother Aaron was about eleven when my mother heard them being reviewed on the radio, and began to buy them for him. (I can point out right away that just like Dumbledore’s parents, my parents gave all their children names starting with A.)  My sister Alicia and I would read over his shoulder and argue over who got to read them first when he was finished with them. Until the fourth book, when we all just started buying our own sets. The books have a rare and marvelous appeal to children and adults alike, and I found many adult friends who were just as appreciative as me! (It was well-known that at 23, my friend and I had matching Harry Potter bedspreads in our flat in Ballsbridge.) (My son has mine now).

I was 28 and pregnant with my first child (Aoife, now nearly eleven herself) when the last book was published. I queued up to buy it at midnight with my sister at Hodges Figges (which sounds like a Harry Potter name in itself, I always thought) bookshop in Dublin. Four years later (2011), I watched Harry Potter & the Deathy Hallows Part 2, the final movie, at an almost empty matinée showing at the Savoy cinema in Dublin, with my new small baby son (Beineán) sleeping and breastfeeding in my arms.

The last movie is my favourite; though I did not love the movies. I deeply appreciated that people had taken the time and the enormous expense to make them, but they were not the endlessly intricate delights that the books are. I appreciate that the people who created them are Harry Potter fans too, and that it’s very hard to transpose book magic to big screen. We – me and Aoife and Beineán, who are now themselves great Harry Potter fans – keep replenishing our DVD collection of them each time one of them wears out, and no matter how recently we’ve watched them we still get excited when they come on the TV.  And much like my siblings and I read the books over each other shoulders, today (literally today, as I only got it out of the library yesterday), we are taking turns reading the screenplay to the stage-production-only story of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Aoife is pages ahead of me and we’re bursting to talk about what happens).

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“It’s fun to have a hobby!” I admonish my partner Colm, who presents me with a withering expression when he walks in to the kitchen to hear the family tree of a wizarding world character being discussed at length over our favourite Harry Potter podcast. He’s not a Harry Potter fan; he doesn’t tolerate having to hear to the copious CDs of audiobooks fabulously read by Stephen Fry (renewed again and again from Enniscorthy Library because they are days long) when he comes with us on our long car journeys between Wexford and Galway.

He did, however, deign to read the first book in its entirety in the burgeoning days of our relationship. Just for me #sigh (I have yet to read his recommended book as promised in return. This was 16 years ago). (Does that make me a bad girlfriend?)

He even indulged us by finding out his Hogwarts House. He’s Ravenclaw, like me! Aoife and Beineán are Hufflepuff. It will be some years before we find out what house our third child, Saoirse, belongs to: she is only one year old.  (You can register to the Pottermore website to find out yours).

I was newly pregnant with Saoirse in 2016 when we all went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them in Wexford. I was excited to find a new outlet for our Harry Potter love, and I’d seen that the trailers looked beautiful. I was not expecting to be so completely bowled over all over again! Rather than a semi-decent transposition of book to movie, as I felt the books had been, because this movie had been written by JK Rowling directly for the screen I felt it worked a million times better than the Harry Potter movies had ever done.

And there were new and fabulous new characters, all relatable in terms of the books. Including the beasts themselves, and the best one of all – a muggle! *(non-magic person). There were cute nifflers and bo-truckles and stunning chrome baby dragons. The story was intriguing – how unexpressed magic can fester and fatally impact the individual as an obscurial (I love so much the linguistics of the Wizarding World). The costumes were to die for and I adored the stunning 1920’s interiors and streetscapes. Even Colm half-shrugged his shoulders and agreed that he’d enjoyed it as we left the cinema that time. I handflapped about the aesthetic of it all for days and weeks after, and for my next birthday Colm bought me a beautiful leather-bound notebook with my initials inscribed on it as a nod to the delightful old-fashioned and magical chattels of Newt, the main character.

Needless to say we  – Aoife and Beineán and I – had been literally counting down to Fantastic Beasts 2 – The Crimes of Grindelwald. It’s certified 12A, and I know there is always the risk of dark and threatening aspects to the stories, but given that my kids are such devoted fans to the books and movies so far, I knew I couldn’t give much consideration to not bringing them.

Wise Colm did, though.

“Are you sure about bringing him?” he said, nodding in the direction of Beineán, whom I was gently reminding about the scary aspects of the stories.

“I’m nearly eight, mammy!” Beineán remonstrated. “There’s no WAY I’m not going.”

In fairness, he’s been listening to the podcast predictions for this in the car to school for the past two weeks and I’ve built this up so much for us all,  it would have been pretty hard to leave him behind.

My brother Alan phoned during the days leading up to the movie’s release to say he’d come to Wexford to Galway to visit us the day it was being released.

“I’ve pre-booked a family ticket! You have to come with us!” I squealed.

This brother is more in alignment with Colm in terms of how he views the JK Rowling series; not much (no) interest, though he did enjoy the first Fantastic Beasts movie, and unlike me, he’s a movie buff. He was happy to get caught up in my excitement of it too.

“That’s why I’m gonna come down on Friday,” he agreed. “I’ll be down in time for it.”

And he was. Colm was left at home to mind Saoirse. Alan and me picked up the kids from school and rocked into Wexford’s new arthouse cinema, The Ark, which wasn’t there when the first Fantastic Beasts movie was out (well, it was, but it was still an old closed down disused cinema at that time), in time for the first showing.

I was stoked to see other committed fans there; a little girl dressed head-to-toe in her Slytherin gear and cuddling a Niffler teddy! A young couple wearing Harry Potter t-shirts and jackets and – yes – brandishing a wand out of a special case. LOOOK Alan! I gestured, and he raised an eyebrow in semi-amusement, more at me than them. I tried to make conversation across the enormous luxuriant seats, but I think they were a bit startled at this freak who talks to strangers (and I not the one who brings a wand to the cinema) (I do own one, in case you’re wondering: specially crafted since, by Alan and Aoife and Beineán, inspired by our shy friends across the cinema aisle.)

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We were in our seats so early that our drinks and popcorn was all consumed before the lights finally went down.

Reviewing Fantastic Beasts 2: the Crimes of Grindelwald 

And, well: Alan fell asleep. (So, though yes he was tired and had been driving all day, I guess this movie isn’t going to be a pleaser for the cinema-goer who is not a die-hard Harry Potter fan). I spent the time whispering frantically with Aoife as we both tried to keep up with what was happening, in between comforting Beineán, who was so traumatised that he curled up in his seat and turned away from the screen.

There is horror in the movie, yes, and not to divulge too many spoilers here (I might do that in a separate blog post),  it was particularly close to the bone for us because it involves babies, with violence redolent of the attack on Harry when he was a baby, except even worse, because, well, as we know, Harry survived, and obviously all we could think of was our baby at home. Despite the shockingly convincing portrayal, I was able to convince Beineán of a possible alternative outcome to what we saw (maybe the baby survived, maybe he comes back in the next movie). Thus I find that yes, the movie is not suitable for Beineán at all. In fact, it didn’t feel suitable for me, the grown adult, either, as this scene left me sickened to my core myself.

It seems we are supposed to be shown just how evil the title character and his henchwoman are supposed to be. And my fun, escapist hobby begins to feel way too disturbing and real. (Do we have to?)

In fact, in this latest movie there were so many ambiguities throughout all of the complicated storylines, almost like those old Choose Your Own Adventures books, we were left at the end of the movie to follow a variety of our own envisioned trajectories, almost no better off to where we were in the story than before we went in.  And there wasn’t enough magic in this one. Not enough opportunities to mutter the spells we know so well before the characters open their mouths. Stupefy! Lumos! Expelliarmus!

I did take away with me the beauty of the costumes, I loved the French Ministry of Magic, I loved Newt’s House, and the house that Grindelwald takes in Paris is beautifully imagined. There were funny moments, if not as much as the first movie. There were endearing moments.  Nicolas Flammel makes a wondrous appearance, Jacob is a delight again, and the relationship between Nagini and Credence based on their mutual vulnerability is convincing and beautiful. Where will it go from here?

There was a quite an arresting moment where Leta Lestrange shows us her family tree, which names only the men whilst the women are symbolised as beautiful flowers.

As I intimated above, I came away fairly overwhelmed and bewildered (among many other twists and turns (SPOILER ALERT. Sorry!)  somehow, Professor McGonagle appears, as a teacher in the school in the 1910s; long before she’s supposed to be. I had reckoned: timeturner! and thought I was so clever, but was assured by another fan that timeturners can only go back for up to five hours at a time). (So now you know.) I can say that I was none-too-impressed by the lauded big twist in the end, though it does inspire some interesting theorising which I can’t fully explain in relation to the Harry Potter books. Unless the mysteries that Dumbledore knowingly carried to his grave were even greater than revealed.

I have to say, I don’t mind being unimpressed and even confused with this. I’m totally up for the clarifications that are to come in future revelations.

The casting of Johnny Depp 

I do mind that I did made the choice to attend the movie in spite of a boycott of the movie by other fans and cinema-goers due to the disagreeable casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. Other people had not heard about this at all, or have any idea why people would criticise Johnny Depp. It came as a surprise to some people this week when I told them that Johnny Depp had hit his wife.

I did struggle with his presence in the first movie, though I knew it was well in production when the photos of what he did to his wife emerged, and his appearance in that installment was less-than minimal then. For this second movie, as much as we were invested in it, I did go with a bad taste already in my mouth that he would feature much more significantly – indeed as the title character.

And so I rather wish that Warner Brothers would quietly give Johnny Depp his marching orders now; not least because his performance in this movie is less-than-moving. He doesn’t inspire me at all as the charismatic dude of Dumbledore’s affections, as per the original Harry Potter books (part of the joy of the Fantastic Beasts movies is how they tie in with the Harry Potter story). Almost any other good actor out there could have been given the same mad-hair treatment and funny eye.

And still can.

Not only did Johnny Depp not attempt to redeem himself or show ANY remorse for what he did to his wife, he had his lawyers claim that she was gold-digging. Amber Heard said that she had “ endured excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Johnny, which has included angry, hostile, humiliating and threatening assaults to me whenever I questioned his authority or disagreed with him.”

A video she recorded of Johnny Depp stomping around their kitchen shows disturbing insight to this. The photos of her bruised face are shocking.

In response, J.K. Rowling defended him: she seems to be saying that she’s taken her lead from Amber Heard, his now-ex-wife, who has said she wants them – she and Johnny – to get on with their lives now. I rather wish J.K. Rowling hadn’t gone that extra mile to say that she and Warner Brothers were “genuinely happy” to have Johnny Depp in the movie.

Many of her fans are not happy.

I am not happy.

And, worse than having to comfort my son about the violence in this movie, which though disturbing, is after all, fictional, and portrayed, naturally, as repugnant: I’m going to have to talk with my kids about my misgivings; worse, because this isn’t fiction.

This is real world.

And, disturbingly, this is Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling excusing repugnant, violent behaviour – because, Johnny Depp?

I don’t mind who he is. He hit his wife.

Finally 

This real-world problem regarding the making of the movie weighs in heavily on the movie itself, because – and I did go to the cinema to see how this would play out  – I wasn’t able to unsee the disturbing video of Johnny Depp in his kitchen intimidating his wife, and the questionable yet convincing charisma of Gellert Grindelwald remains confined for me to the black and white print of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows.

I feel like I have enough to do with keeping up with the Wizarding World canon besides this effort of indulging this casting, who seems to be making zero effort to redeem himself to anyone, save for badmouthing the woman he hit.  It’s fairly basic to expect zero tolerance for that.

There are three more movies to go, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that someone else gets to bring Grindelwald to life.

Whose character is a complex one. We hear tell of him as an idealistic and deeply flawed teenager in the Harry Potter books, who made an enormous impression on Albus Dumbledore, later to be Headmaster of Hogwarts. Dumbledore himself has his deep flaws, which he goes on to learn from, the hard way, to become that wise and worldly old wizard we know so well.

Unlike Grindelwald, whom we know remained on his dubious path but does on to convince people to follow him – how, I still don’t know. Because Grindelwald in this movie wasn’t convincing me of anything.

Will I watch this movie again? Yes, in tune to a narrative in my head where Johnny Depp respectfully resigns his role, or where Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling respectfully let him go, and my kids might get to see that big movie corporations do listen to their paying public, that JK Rowling really truly does value her devoted fanbase even in their misgivings, and that together they don’t support staff who behave violently towards anyone.

Perhaps Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling will remember that “it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.

A wise and worldly old wizard said that.

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It’s time to excavate at at Tuam now

Saturday morning my Mam rings. I can hear the dismay in her voice straightaway.

I breathe in.

EXHALE:

The results of that weird and cumbersome and insulting Consultation process by Galway County Council for the Minister, in connection with the strange proposal by the multidisciplinary Expert Technical Group for the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes (are you with me so far?) (I don’t blame you if you’re not but bear with) was published on Friday (I breathe in again). The whole consultation process had been an elaborate and confusing waste of time and money and energy from the start and the report confirms it.

Mam says Teresa Mannion met her and some of the survivors at the Tuam site on Friday and that there was a little piece about it on the News. She’s says they spoke so well.

I noticed Teresa’s photo of them here

And then I see the Saturday Irish Times headline that Tuam residents are *divided* and my eyes roll so far back in my head I can see inside time itself: because they are NOT divided, and suddenly this whole process seems like big old ruse to fob hard decisions on NIMBYistic* controversy that’s far more limited than we ever thought it would be and is far from outspoken, DESPITE the best efforts of this consultation process to puff it up.

*NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard

You can take a look at the Report at the following link: go on please, I dare you.

dcya.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?Do…

I wrote a series of Tweets in response this morning, and someone collated them for me https://twitter.com/dec23k/status/1015959033176645632?s=. I absorb them in this blog post here.

Do continue to bear with and read on.

At best, this report is, as my mother calls it, “fluff”. It is also a sinister and elaborate exercise in amplifying a line of dissent. Sorry now if I have no time for any NIMBYism here. This is a CRIME SCENE we are talking about.

The whole idea of this consultation was an insult, and its process and findings are a sham. Ironically, that word #Sham is slang for a person from #Tuam, the very people this report purports to speak for. But it doesn’t. Locals are not so polarized as this report would insist.

It looked like the consultation process dug deep to find resistance to full excavation, which they seemed to think would be from people closest the site. They seemed to hyper focus on Dublin Road Estate, who have houses backing onto the estate or across the way from those houses.

In the consultation process, the turnout for the Local Residents closed session seemed not to be enough: they ran a SECOND day. Which had lower turnout. Then they went door to door in Dublin Road estate. They went to great lengths to get comment from people on this estate #WHY?

Why did they do this? Why were local residents even isolated as a target group in this? Yes it’s a curiosity at best in their neighbourhood. It’s also surely weird to have this type of focus on their area but it’s on a seldom-used, out-of-the-way PUBLIC space.

Mam attended the “Dialogue with Former Residents and Relatives of Former Residents of Tuam Mother and Baby Home and Supporters” meeting. All 29 in attendance voted for full excavation of the total available area. The attendees at this meeting gave their vote one-by-one. The facilitator stopped them half way through to suggest that not everyone had to vote the same: as if to skew or invalidate the unanimity!

Curiously the report enumerates the attendance for the survivors and supporters closed session (there were 29) but doesn’t enumerate attendance for the local residents closed sessionS (read: there were significantly less than 29).

At one of the sessions a resident from Dublin Road estate said that they shouldn’t even be asked about this, that it should be all up to the people who have family there and the survivors

My impression is that yes there are a handful of dissenters. And yes, some make themselves plain to my mother. It’s not pleasant for her I guess but she handles it with grace; and truth be told, before all this came out in 2014, we feared local criticism would be much worse: in June 2014, for a couple of weeks after the story broke my mother was afraid to go into SuperValu in Tuam. But what she wasn’t prepared for when she finally did slip in was the overwhelm of local support that she got, and still gets.

And in November 2016 we wondered if the candlelit vigil organised by artist Sadie Cramer at the site would meet resistance. But people turned up in droves in the cold and dark, and what’s more, locals lined the lane way in with candles. That teared me up! And what of the local residents who held a gathering at the site in March 2017, with candles and poetry and music and a big bouquet of flowers for my Mam, which she laid on the burial site. There was a minimum 50 local residents in support there.

My impression is that there are

1. A few local residents who would NIMBY

2. A LOT who care

3. Like anything else in life, a lot who are not involved in the politics or the activism of the story either way and who are going about their own lives not thinking about it at ALL.

Excavation here is not a new idea or experience for local residents. Don’t forget, there has already been a test excavation by archaeologists at the site, the results of which announced in March 2017 that there was a ‘significant’ number of human remains in evidence.

This report then has sought to amplify **the few ** – so that Patsy McGarry’s article could be published in the Irish Times yesterday with a DRIVELOUS and misrepresentative headline, based on a DRIVELOUS and misrepresentative report: “Division in Tuam between residents and mother and baby home relatives

Many locals want only a memorial, while families favour total forensic excavation”

I’m sure “many locals” in Tuam would scratch their heads at that. It is after all the findings of an engineered consultation. This process has sought to fit a an insidious official narrative of downplaying the blindingly obvious need for IMMEDIATE full excavation – just as an example, the insistence that the remains would be commingled or somehow disintegrated. Even if they were, the excellence of the archaeological approach would go far to dissemble them.

Further – and I warn that this following is gruesome: we have reason to believe that there are complete bodies – in archaeological terms this is “articulated” bodies. Further, we also have reason to believe that there is flesh on bones and that there are bodies with leathery preservation.

My thoughts turn to my fellow archaeologists – I don’t know them – and I commend their bravery at undertaking a dig like this. I wonder if they had trauma training or decompression support for what they saw. It should absolutely be a factor for when full excavation does go ahead.

I’ve dug human remains myself. It can be weird and disconcerting but you get caught up in the work of the day and get on with it. There’s a moment of pause and respect when it comes time to “lift” them. And it’s always more emotional if it’s a child.

Of course Tuam is very different.

I personally wouldn’t be able to undertake an excavation like at Tuam. Because it’s not a proper archaeological site, for one thing – it’s too new. Of course there had to be preservation. Of course it would be gruesome. I commend them for going in there.

Where is the full picture of what my fellow archaeologists actually saw in Tuam? Which babies or children did they see? Were there any of the women in evidence? Where is their original archaeological report as submitted to the Commission of Investigation?

Why are we having at best a FLUFF and at worst a misleading consultation process to muse over what to do with the concealed dead in Tuam?

There was only ever one thing to do!

Excavate the site and DNA test the remains.

Why please downplay a situation where babies and children up to about the age of 3 mostly, with more up to the age of 9, and at least SIX WOMEN are either missing cos they are trafficked or because they are dead and concealed in a sewage tank?

WHY this elaborate and roundabout exercise in amplifying the most offensive “option” which is to suggest that they be left there?

Never mind that the consultation process doesn’t mention the #women at ALL

– NINE women died in the Tuam Home

– A tenth died in hospital

-We know the burial spots of four.

What happened to these ten women?

Where are the other missing SIX women? We HAVE to excavate the area – 1.4 hectares of Galway county council property currently left as a small public ground; left that way because Galway County Council knew officially in the 1970s that there were people interred here, which is why the estate was designed to avoid building here in the first place: look at the aerial maps. The location of the dead is a weirdly-shaped open area at the BACK of people’s houses.

I’m personally trying to stop calling it a “grave” or a “burial ground” myself. These children and women were never properly even buried here. The dead in the chambers here were carried in through tunnels and placed here for concealment.

That’s not burial.

These people are not resting in peace.

Please help to call out eye-wateringly obvious time-wasting exercises like consultation processes and tick-box menus of options that delay excavating this site. It’s time to find out if the women who died Tuam are lying here too and to get them out, along with every child, without delay.

https://www.dcya.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=4755

https://yogafootsteps.com/2018/05/30/remembering-the-women-of-tuam-we-wont-forget-you/

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The pattern and the system that enables

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Two women reached out to me after I wrote my blog posts about Andy Halpin’s sexual harassment of me at the National Museum of Ireland. Their accounts demonstrate the pattern of how this man preys on women in the workplace.

Caragh Smyth’s experience was 1998-1999, and Nina Vodstrup Andersen’s was in 2008. My experience was 2004-2005. It is also reported that a fourth woman, an intern at the time, complained as recently as 2016, and I know that there were others.

Caragh and Nina have since formally complained to the National Museum. Their stories are below.

Caragh’s Story

Caragh Smyth’s account tells me that Andy regularly used her computer on lunch break to look up soft porn sites about tall women and Valkyrie, at her quiet, basement lab desk at the Museum in Kildare Street.

Just as he did with my computer every day at my desk in Collins Barracks.

Disturbingly, Caragh also describes an incident that is chillingly reminiscent of what he did to me:

“I was working on a project to produce educational CDs of the Egyptian collection at the time, sometime around 98/99. I was standing in the middle of the shared office talking to my boss and an Egyptologist from the British museum. I was mid sentence, when Andy walked past, arms swinging, and brushed his fingertips across my ass. As usual, something that could be easily explained away as an accident. And of course, a situation where I felt like I couldn’t react or do anything, mid-sentence with a BM bigwig and my boss (who I have utmost regard for).

But what clarified it in my mind and made it so obvious that he knew exactly what he was doing, was that he did it again a few minutes later. The exact same brisk walk by, arms swinging, fingertips brushing off my ass while I was mid sentence. Hey, we’ve all accidentally brushed past someone at some point, but there’s no way it would happen a second time. You go SO far around them the next time that there isn’t a chance of it happening again!”

Caragh’s description of this incident made my skin crawl, and demonstrates a pattern that shows conscious and deliberate abuse of power and calculated physical harassment by Andy Halpin. Caragh also hit on a crucial element of Andy’s behaviour: that it made women doubt themselves, so much so that they mostly did not speak up:

“I have to admit, I do actually feel a bit silly writing this all down because it sounds so insignificant, particularly in comparison to others, but I guess that was the genius of Andy’s harassment — subtle, apparently insignificant, in the “you’re being melodramatic” realm. He knew we were young, fresh out of college, on internships or short-term contracts, and therefore vulnerable.

I eventually left the Museum when I was 25 and changed careers entirely. But one other thing I remember is someone from the Museum called me a while after I’d left. Apparently, an intern had reported a member of staff. The incident was described to me without naming any names and I was asked whether I knew who it might be. I immediately named Andy, correctly, and then described what had happened to me. I was asked why I’d never complained at the time, so I just explained what I said above. We were vulnerable, wanted to renew our contracts, and he was chillingly calculating in how subtle he was, so we felt we wouldn’t be believed.”

This last shows that Caragh did feedback to Museum staff what happened to her, even if it was after she’d left.

Caragh apologised to me for what I’d gone through: that made me cry. I felt so angry that another woman had to feel she should apologise to me for what I’d gone through, when she’d gone through it too. She wondered maybe if she had complained, would it have prevented it happening to me.

It makes me wring my hands to realise: what good would it have done if she had complained at the time, or if anyone else this happened to had complained? It was known. It wouldn’t have prevented it happening to me. Because I complained, and yet still it happened to Nina Vodstrup Andersen.

Nina’s Story

Nina’s Vodstrup Andersen’s story of her experience of working at the National Museum of Ireland as a whole makes for uncomfortable reading:

“At the age of 23, I moved from my native Denmark to Ireland to take up an unpaid internship in the National Museum of Ireland. At that time, I was finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in medieval archaeology and museology at the University of Aarhus, and this degree required that we students complete an internship in a museum to gain experience. The notion struck me that, rather than just applying at any of the small regional museum in Denmark, why not reach for the stars? So in a fit of youthful audacity, I sent off an application to the NMI. I never really expected to hear back.

When I got the invitation to take up an internship with the NMI from July 2007, I felt thunderstruck by the sheer amount of good luck that had come my way. I packed my bag and set off for Dublin. One my first day of work, I was awestruck by the collections, the building itself, its history, the sheer amount of learning and research centred there, and I had to pinch myself that I’d been given this opportunity to briefly enter such a world.

I was given a little desk in the basement, the storage area, and I loved it. I adored the work. Every day, I got to handle artefacts, to do work that no bachelor-student has any right to even dream of. My supervisor in the Antiquities Division was the best boss I’ve ever had, before or since. I’m still in awe of how much confidence and trust he placed in me, a hapless young immigrant. And I want to preface the following by saying that I worked with so many good people at the museum whose kindness, patience and good humour remain a fond memory for me to this day.

But I quickly sensed that there were dark and uncomfortable undercurrents within the museum. A fearful sense of hierarchy seemed to loom over everyone, and there was a stifling sense of rivalry and antipathy between some departments and others, none of which I could comprehend.

Tea breaks were an almost ritualistic part of the day in the museum. I never enjoyed sitting in the lofty cafeteria with all the staff in this sometimes strange, needling atmosphere. So I went outside to sit on the benches and drink take-away coffees and chat with the other young interns, or the attendants. One day, one of the attendants looked at me and said gravely that I shouldn’t be out there with them. ‘You’re hanging around with the wrong crowd,’ he said, ‘you should be in there with the higher-ups, and make sure to sit at the right table.’ My unnerving sense that I didn’t understand the workings of the place grew, and I felt bewildered and lost in the organisation as a whole, despite all the kindness of my supervisor.

More troublingly, there was a pervasive culture of what some might prefer to call ‘banter’, but which to me felt horrendously inappropriate and frankly perverse. Just a few examples. One attendant kept singing Nina, Pretty Ballerina every time I walked past. Another sidled up to me to muse about what he thought my preferred mode of sexual contact might be. ‘I bet you like to just lie there, being caressed,’ he said. A researcher from Collins Barracks told me, for some unknown reason, ‘you know, you’re just too pretty for your own good.’ Another time, the director himself, Patrick Wallace, cornered me in one of the dim, narrow passages deep in the storage basement. He was leering maliciously at me as he asked why I was spending so much time with my supervisor. ‘Are you having an affair with him,’ he asked, drawing out the word in a tone of voice laden with sexual glee. ‘I know you,’ he said, wagging his finger and winking, ‘you Scandinavians are all the same…’ And with that, he strode off.

But at least none of them ever touched me.

None, except Andy Halpin.

I worked with him only once, as I and a small group of other young interns were rearranging a skeleton on display in the Viking exhibition. He singled me out for inoffensive little jokes, and he kept laughing and repeating some of my words in a delighted sing-song voice and bumping into my shoulder a little. I thought it strange that such a senior member of staff would take delight in talking to a mere intern, and his manner was almost like that of a flirting adolescent. But I passed it off as friendliness and reminded myself that as a recent immigrant, I had to expect some cultural differences.

Sometimes, I’d have to pass through Andy Halpin’s office on my way elsewhere. He’d occasionally look up and exclaim “Nina!” with such exuberance. I found it a little odd, but amidst all the other occasional strange behaviour at the museum, didn’t give it much thought.

Then came the museum Christmas party of 2007. As an intern, I was delighted to be invited. The dinner party took place in a fancy restaurant in Merrion Row. We were all seated on benches along a long table. Suddenly, without having noticed, I found myself sitting next to Andy Halpin, with him on my right side. I thought that a bit strange, since we didn’t work together. It was a snug fit to seat everyone around the table. Not long into the dinner, Andy Halpin leaned forward, speaking to someone far on his right. At that moment, I felt his hand clasp my thigh under the table, squeezing, just over my knee. I sat there like a pillar of salt. This is a decade ago, and I can still so clearly recall his fingers pressing into my flesh. What really struck me was that he wasn’t even looking at me. He was turned away, speaking to someone else. It seemed to me like a practiced, calculated move.

I never told anyone about that incident. Frankly, it didn’t even occur to me to report it, just as it had never occurred to me to report how uncomfortable I’d been with the creepy remarks made by some of the attendants and by Patrick Wallace, whose stature in the museum seemed to me like that of a capricious, malevolent demigod. In the atmosphere of casual sexual ‘banter’ among some – but not all – museum staff, I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Besides, I was an unpaid volunteer, and Andy Halpin a senior and respected member of staff. And quite apart from that, I thought I would appear either insane or downright evil if I complained about someone who’d seemed so friendly towards me the whole time.

I continued working at the museum till May 2008. Some time later, I returned for a visit. In the lobby, by complete coincidence, was Andy Halpin. He came hurrying towards me with a big smile, hugged me quickly, clasped my face and planted a big wet kiss on my cheek. I felt invaded by this overly familiar way of greeting. But all I did was freeze and smile stiffly, like some ingrained reflex.

I filed all of this away for years – the grab, the uninvited kiss, the gross comments made by others at the museum. Just part of the ugliness you have to deal with in life, I told myself. I wanted to think of myself as a young researcher, not a ‘pretty ballerina’ who was ‘having an affair with her boss’ and ‘just liked to lie there and be caressed,’ and who was there for a little casual grab or kiss. But when news broke of the horrific treatment meted out against Adrienne Corless, I decided to finally tell my story in support of her.

One detail in the reporting that struck me was that Halpin may have some particular fascination with tall girls and women. I’m 5”9.

My story is hardly the most harrowing account ever given of workplace harassment. But it is one example of the many, many, many small ways that a certain type of man, unchecked by conscience or fear of sanctions, can casually strangle the self-esteem and ambition of women just starting out in the workplace.”

Violating the dignity of women as a game

Nina’s account made me feel sick. This horrible, predatory, and so-called senior man groped her thigh under the table, at a Department Christmas dinner, whilst talking to someone the other side of her. So subtle, and yet so devastating: this repulsive man who knowingly abuses his little bit of seniority in such a way that made her feel she couldn’t speak up. Just like that time Mr Halpin jabbed his left thumb in my right buttock, twice in quick succession, even though I very dramatically moved away from him the first time (he shuffled along the radiator he was sitting on so he could still reach me the second time) he kept talking animatedly as if nothing had happened.

It’s what he did every time he appropriated unwanted physical contact towards me: he would keep on talking, whilst looking in the other direction. That time, I glared at him and made no interaction with his chattering, about organizing the Viking excavations stores. I was too stunned to find the words to protest, and this man was carrying on as if everything was as normal.

Maybe I was too embarrassed to use the words about touching my ass. In fact, it appalls me right now to write it: the violation of my dignity. I remember so clearly that it was about 3PM: not yet time to go home, but I went home anyway rather than suffer the rest of the afternoon in a small shared office with him. Rather in shellshock, I gathered up my things. He watched me and asked me aggressively: “are you all right?” “No,” and I signed off, sickened for the day.

I examine this to emphasise how hard it was to speak up: and how this man knows to play to that. He did the very same thing to Caragh: arms swinging, brushed his fingertips off her, that time in company, where he knew she wouldn’t speak up.

And though I’m glad I complained about Halpin, for the record at least, I am beyond dismayed that my complaint did nothing to protect other women: as Nina’s account testifies, and as does the account of a FOURTH woman, as recently as 2016 according to this report. I am in no doubt that the systems in place by the Museum, with their Civil Service disciplinary code, are not worth the paper they are written on, and are much more about pen-pushing tickboxing than they are about protecting staff from predatory men and other abusers of power.

I went through the channels, I did what was right.  Anyone I had confided in an official sense had sympathized with me, told me this happened before, and that people had complained informally, but that nothing could be done about him until somebody made a formal complaint.

So I did. And for what?

I genuinely thought he at least stood  a chance of being fired: he was not fired.

He received the softest possible reprimand. A veritable slap on the wrist that I can tell you knocked no wind out of Mr Halpin’s sails: those two years came and went, and throughout it and beyond he continued to sexually harass women just as he always had. Belatedly, the National Museum of Ireland suspended him on foot of my blog post in 2017, and he is now suing them.  It seems possible that he will be paid off handsomely for what he did to me and to other women. I’ll wrestle with having to make peace with that.

In spite of repeated reportings, formal and informal, the workplace systems in place have enabled this man’s predatory behaviours towards women to continue and to flourish.

The systems must be completely torn down.

 

This blog post is based on a long post published originally by Grace Dyas on her blog in January.  

 

 

 

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Silver pins and lamp posts

I remember the little anti-abortion pins on school uniforms. I remember the earrings, the same design, the two little footprints. I gushed to a girl in my class:

WHERE did you get that! That’s ADORABLE!

She looked at me quizzically. A hint of derision.

They’re against abortion, she told me. My face must have betrayed my mortification. She went on: “it’s the size a baby’s feet are when the baby is aborted in the womb.”

13-year-old me tried to make sense of this. The disembodied silver feet. It all seemed macabre and controversial.

When I was 16, I heard the gossip that other girls my age had abortions. I was scandalized: not because they’d had abortions, but because they’d had sex with a boy in the first place. At that age, I was mildly terrified of boys. Somehow, I think since going to an all-girls school, they had become a species apart. (Incidentally, one of the nuns called them “undesirables” and barred the gate in case they tried to take a shortcut through our grounds.)

Looking back I know I completely judged those girls, for knowing what I shouldn’t have known about them, their secret abortions. Part of me ignorantly thought maybe abortion was like contraception. Quite apart from how personal and intimate the information was, no wonder it was secret with judging eyes like mine. In my ignorance I didn’t even know that abortion was not accessible in Ireland, that they’d have had to travel.

All that those little silver pins had signified for me, was that, accessible or not, abortion was reality.

Just like the sudden assault of pink “NO” posters signified for my daughter, on our drive between Dublin and Wexford last weekend. Lamppost after lamppost on every street we drove through. Inevitably she asked me about them. Thanks to those posters, my daughter is hearing the word abortion and is being treated to a meaningful discussion about it now, at the age of ten.

We explore it. I tell her that sometimes a woman does not want to be pregnant. We talk a little about this as a scenario. She didn’t know the word “abortion” until she saw it on those posters, but we’d already touched on the topic for International Women’s Day,  when we painted slogans on vest tops together:

“Trust Women”

“I Trust Myself”

She and I both know that pregnancy as a condition, as a process, as an experience, is enormous. She watched me go through it last year.

It’s all very fascinating and interesting to her, and to me, the amazing inner workings and energies of the woman’s cycle. We talk about monthly cycles. I tell her that women’s periods should be honoured as a restful, mindful time when it’s OK to take a back seat, to retreat: instead of teaching girls and women to hide and ignore their periods and to try to and get on with their lives as if it’s not happening. I suggest that we should also be talking about ovulation, and what that is, because that’s just as important a part of the cycle and what’s more, it’s crucial that women know when about ovulating – for many reasons, not least that that’s the time of their cycle that women can get pregnant.

She was with me every step of the way throughout my last pregnancy, my little shadow: though she viewed it through the lense of her mounting excitement about the prospect a new baby in the house, she was privy to my exhaustion, my sickness, my pain and discomfort. She stayed in touch with me during my labour, demanding to know every detail. She has been exposed to pregnancy and birth and its insights, and has her own personal fascination with both, like I did as a kid. I appreciate that she has awareness of the gravity and rawness of these experiences, in tandem with the celebration and honour of them.

Unlike those who would run a campaign to outright dismiss pregnancy as just the means to an end, and dismiss the earth-shattering, life-changing, body- and mind-altering experience of birth (because, adoption). A simple obvious fact is thus completely maligned: there is no “unborn” without us, the women.

We talk about some of the stories of the women who have had to leave Ireland for the care they should get here at home. There are so many stories, shared with courage and rawness on the In Her Shoes Facebook page every day. Their realness and their insights to how women are objectified, persecuted, abandoned, strike me to the core:

…. the woman who was told her pregnancy was not viable, and that her wanted baby would die in the womb: and because of no other reason other than the 8th Amendment, they turfed her out and told her to go home and Google it.

… the woman who says she wanted to pull her skin off, because she did not want to have a baby with a man who was abusive towards her.

… the girl who could not access life-saving medication until she took a pregnancy test: even though she said she knew she couldn’t be pregnant, rules under the 8th Amendment made a liar of her, and forced her to be tested anyway. She was not even actually pregnant, but in the medical system here we are basically always treated as “pre-pregnant” no matter what our circumstances.

That last is how keenly and deeply the 8th Amendment affects us all. You don’t know this until it comes to your door. Don’t forget the women who have had High Court cases threatened by the HSE when they didn’t consent to caesarean section surgery. I confess – and Colm will tell you too – that I cried angry tears for these women , the hijacking of control of their bodies, the outright dismissal of their own knowledge, their own wisdom, their own research.

Like how the posters sideline the woman to the extent that all there is left of her is her swollen abdomen, or an ultrasound of her abdomen: the disembodied womb, the only aspect of her worth talking about anymore, now that she is pregnant.

“Don’t do that,” our instructor at my doula training course told us. “Don’t do that thing of advertising with pictures of disembodied bumps. Put the woman in the picture.”

Put the woman in the picture. That stays with me.

I think of those silver pins, and acknowledge what I now know, that an embryo at the size depicted on the pins doesn’t have formed feet like that. And it is my daughter in her knowledge of pregnancy scans and stages who points out that a poster proclaiming to depict a 9-week-pregnancy is clearly much further along.

After a while, as we near home on our journey between Dublin and Enniscorthy, my daughter says “Mammy, I don’t think I’d ever like to stop a pregnancy. But I won’t know.”

I look at at her in the rear view mirror, and I agree: we just don’t know.

That’s the point of repealing as far as I’m concerned: allowing for the unknown. Please, help us to give individual women the credit to know what is right. Please, put the woman in the picture.

Please, trust women.

Please, help us to repeal the 8th Amendment.

Check the register to make sure you are registered and on May 25th, please, vote yes to repeal.

 

Trust WOMEN

Posted in Kettle Thoughts | Leave a comment

Vomiting slugs to tell full truths

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I’d rather vomit slugs than name the truths of my experience of working at the National Museum of Ireland, but if I don’t do it I spend the rest of my life living with slug-like lodgers of my work-life past, eating me up from inside.

Such is the way of secrecy and shame.

Difficult and all as this is to do, in direct parallel to the feelings of fear and discomfort in doing it, is the simple knowledge that all I am doing is relating a story of some things that happened to me.

That’s it, I coach myself. Keep it simple: tell my story.

It’s not that I haven’t done this before. I’ve written about my experience, in a dreamy, arm’s length kind of way, without naming names. Before that, I told my story, again and again with friends and colleagues in my profession at the time, and over dinner with friends. It was almost a party piece to relay the outrageousness of what was a kind of open secret of the reality of working in the place I worked in for almost eight years.  I could deliver the shock factor with aplomb. It was one way of coping with how bad it was.

And not only that, I went on to tell my story formally, “through the channels” by making a Formal Complaint of sexual harassment. It took all my reserves of courage at the time, and what fuelled me was my conviction that I was doing the right thing. Perhaps I was. I never felt that it did me much good though, in the long run.

For here I am, still, not feeling that sense of closure I thought speaking up would give.

Ever since I wrote my blog post A Workplace Fable, I wrestled with the question of whether I should have named names. I hadn’t, because of fear, and because at the time I needed to approach it for myself with a sense of detachment. Which is the same thing I guess: fear, and shame. I shared it on my own Facebook page, and people who had known were horrified all over again: more so, now maybe, when it was being shared in cold black and white. Some people said, it happened to them too.

My post got shared on, a bit, not far  but the farther it went I could tell that some readers  didn’t know which institution I was writing about (though it was easy to find out), and that for those who knew the institution but didn’t know exactly which individuals I was talking about, they could be left second-guessing about other staff.

I probably need to name names, was my dawning realisation.

I parked that realisation as far at the back of my mind as I could, along with the slugs. Then #MeToo happened. All over Twitter and Facebook, women began to speak out. Cautiously I “liked” or shared, without comment.

I’ve already shared my own #MeToo, I shrugged.

And I continued to observe.

Colm showed me what was happening  at the Gate Theatre, and nodded as my jaw dropped.

Another cultural institution where obnoxious work relations ruled supreme. I caught up with everything Grace Dyas had to say, wrung my hands at wanting to reach out and say well done, well done, well done.  I read Justine McCarthy’s piece in the Sunday Times, and thought of all the facts, times and dates I had accumulated in my Formal Complaint.

On Monday I sat down with the baby in my arms and quietly updated my blog post. I did what I’d been wanting to do all along. I named the names in my story.

I confirmed the institution as the National Museum of Ireland, and the man who sexually harassed me as Andy Halpin.

I claimed the simple truth of my experience.

I remember that the first time this man kissed me, unwanted, on my cheek, was the day he interviewed me for the job.  The feelings of shame and the degradation of what happened to me are unearthed from where I bury them, all over again.

Grace Dyas said that she felt it was she who had to leave a room when she had done nothing wrong. In the latter six years of my job, I engineered all my movements so that I wouldn’t cross paths with my harasser. Since losing my job, I have not much felt able to return, even as a researcher or a visitor,  partly because of the embarrassment of washing my dirty linen in the open, through my blog post, even though I know it’s what I had to do. I do it again now through this post. I bleed myself dry here once again in an effort to purge myself of the shame.

It was not that my time at the Museum was all bad: in fact I had absolutely loved the nature of my work. Remember, I had been devastated to lose my job. But the power bubble that was, and likely still is, has never been more apparent to me than it is now. I reflect on the time I made my formal complaint, when a senior manager and Pat Wallace met with me in my office, informally, to check on me. I felt like they cared: but Pat Wallace elbowed the other man in a chummy way, and chuckled “HO HO, I’d never have thought Halpin had it in him”.  (The other man blanked this.) It was like he hadn’t thought him man enough before now. How’s that for ‘locker-room talk’, with me right there? I ask myself, what hope did I have if the boss behaved like he was impressed at the capability of another man in his staff to sexually harass a woman?

And then, some years later in a meeting with Pat Wallace, one of those times where snarling, desk-thumping and shouting was the order of the day, he berated me for not attending a book launch the prior evening. The book was by Andy Halpin. He demanded to know whether this was some kind of “statement” and reprimanded me for not supporting a “fellow researcher.”

My harassment assumed long forgotten, water under a bridge.  I tried to remind him, shocked, that I would never support that individual. Perhaps I should thus not have been surprised, then, when in the dying days of my contract, I was asked to debrief my harasser and hand my project back to him. I did refuse, in no uncertain terms.

My time came to leave, and I became another forgettable casualty, because hierarchies favour power, not people.  I left Dublin, moved to Wexford with Colm and our children and found a whole new profession by training as a yoga teacher. I can live my life behaving as if those eight years of working in the National Museum never happened, except that of course they did.

I see that Minister Heather Humphries and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht plan to introduce “measures” to address problems of harassment: which is nice. But until power bubbles are deflated, measures just won’t cut it. The entire culture has to be renewed, completely. Maybe sometime , I’ll walk back through the gates of the National Museum of Ireland with my head held high.

https://kettleontherange.com/2017/02/12/a-workplace-fable/

https://kettleontherange.com/2012/07/02/recombobulating-after-redundancy/

http://gracedyas.tumblr.com

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/16/me-too-victims-perpetrators-sexual-assault

Posted in National Museum | 13 Comments

On wings of song

I discovered some words I threw down in a notebook, exactly two years ago this week: a vignette of my daughter Aoife in a nonsuch moment I wanted to preserve for ever and ever and ever

On Wings of Song: A soundtrack playing that moment on RTÉ Lyric FM, to me standing at the sink, watching through the window as Aoife sat on the gravel pile outside.

She was seven years old, gap-toothed (I couldn’t see from where I stood, but I knew). She cuddled a kitten (Puffin). She held the kitten at arms length, spoke to her, then draped her over her shoulder. The daft little kitten was such a peata that she simply complied with whatever Aoife wanted to do with her. Aoife fluttered with her to the sand table, drooped the kitten over it to entice her to drink the (surely rank) water. Then she flitted on again.

She was seven years old, and I could envisage the “big girl” she would become. Already I noticed her stretching somewhat taller, yet still I saw the tiny fairy toddler. She teetered a dainty bridge between two worlds

Tuesday 15th September 2015

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xR__BPNfsBk

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Peace for whom in Tuam?

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I was confused to read on the front page of the Tuam Herald Wednesday 22nd February that Tuam’s Garden of Peace, the last remaining aspect of the town’s Mother and Baby Home, is being added to the Record of Protected Structures.”

This site has recently been declassified as a recorded monument from the Record of Monuments and Places, where it had previously erroneously designated as a cillín (a burial ground for unbaptised babies, which this site is not). And now Galway County Council wish to list it as a “protected structure?” What are they thinking?

For families of unaccounted-for bodies of children, this place is a crime scene: not a Garden of Peace. For whom is the intended peace? Peace for the families who anguish for answers in that ground? Or peace for those who wish their whole situation would just go away?

Why do Galway County Council add confusion to a situation that is already an utter mess for anyone involved?

protected structure: “is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view.”

So what happens at this site depends on point of view – instead of justice? The proposal to designate the site as being of “special interest” is presumably for those who do not have unaccounted-for bodies and missing family.

Part of the wall that currently delimits the burial site, possibly the only part of the enclosure that marks any kind of actual boundary – the modern walls are completely arbitrary – is associated with the workhouse. This is the only above-ground structure that fits the criteria of “special interest” from architectural, historical and archaeological points of view. The burial ground of unaccounted-for children from the Mother and Baby Home does not fit this criteria.

Further, it makes no sense that Galway County Council propose to stamp a “protected” label on a site that they own and have responsibly for, and which is already the subject of forensic investigation by the Commission appointed to investigate Mother and Baby Homes.

According to the Tuam Herald, “the matter will be considered by members of Galway County Council at a forthcoming meeting”.  Councillors ought reach out to those affected by this decision. No family members of unaccounted-for children, and no survivors of Tuam Mother and Baby Home were consulted about the proposal to “protect” a ground where the children are supposed to be buried. Information about the proposal posted in County Hall and Tuam local area office in January and February was not seen by those affected.

Galway County Council did not publicly acknowledge children’s bodies there during works, but quietly built around them and left the site to become an overgrown wilderness. Galway County Council would also do well to come out and apologise to former residents of the Home and their families for their part in cover-up of the burials during building works.

 

Posted in Tuam Babies | 3 Comments