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

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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

Aoife and the sunflowers. This was taken two weeks ago and the crooked top tooth has since fallen out.

A post shared by Adrienne (@adriennecorless) on

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.

 

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A Workplace Fable

Once upon a time, I worked in a crumbling old archaic and beautiful institution*. Within its many walls, two worlds co-existed side by side, adjacent and sometimes overlapping, but utterly distinct and separate and unrecognisable from one another in character and experience.

One was the dazzling front-of-house public veneer, and one was the creaking, chokingly toxic, behind-the-scenes underbelly.

If you didn’t spend much time beyond the locked and pass-coded “Staff Only” doors, you might think it would be a wondrous place to work. You might even desire it and daydream about it! How wrong you would be. Within days or weeks or even just hours you would realise that all was not as it seemed. That this was a venue that you might describe as all fur coat and no knickers.

For behind the scenes was a carved up and disjointed landscape of independent fiefdoms. Multiple departments of highly stratified staff worked in isolation from one another, cloistered away in different offices or cubicles and even in different buildings. Which would be fine, except that nobody ever organised cohesive staff meetings. Introverted staff could be left alone in their corner from one end of the year to the other. You could work there for years and walk past corridors where there were hermit-like staff that never came out.  I used to think it all suited the nature of the academic’s psyche – that academics liked working alone, even in the window-less deepest reaches of old attics. I think there is a level of obsessiveness required to be a researcher.  Extreme focus is how you become an expert. The place was full of them.

But expertise will come at a price if you don’t go for some fresh air, have lunch and talk to other people every now and then.

Not that many staff didn’t meet up for tea and lunch and socialise together. Only for teabreaks did staff detach from their desks at all. Because there were no staff-wide meetings, it was only over scones that anything new ever happened. It was your own loss if you missed out what was happening by not attending teabreaks. Here, and only amongst the more extroverted characters, ideas formed and schemes hatched as to how to convince decision-makers that new initiatives were good.

But the extraordinarily hierarchical staffing structure meant that decision-making was a nightmare. The Hierarchy seemed to be held in great regard, especially by those who operated from  within its ranks. Relative to the amount of staff, there were loads of bosses, meaning that a single member of staff could answer to a Supervisor who answered to a Manager who answered to a Higher Manager who answered to a single overall manager – referred to here as The Great Boss – who seemingly answered to a Board, but truthfully everyone in the entire place was answerable to The Great Boss, including the Board who never set foot in the place anyway and nobody was sure whether they even existed at all.

The Higher Managers all had big important meetings together around mahogany tables and made big important decisions that got emailed out to the rest of the organisation every now and then, with no warning or explanation or consultation.

And that would seriously piss off everyone else in the entire place. If this was fed back to the Higher Managers, all they could do was shrug and say nothing because this was the entitlement of their role and in “time-honoured tradition” this is the way it had always been and always would be, and one day if other staff were promoted to Higher Management then they would also do it the way it had always had been done, because that was their entitlement now too and nothing would ever change.

In fact change was not welcomed at all. Vibrant new proposals may or may not be indulgently listened to, but almost never ever approved. A persistent young enthusiastic female like me was nothing but a bemusing nuisance.  Ideas from lower grades of staff (don’t forget how important the Hierarchy was here) were a repugnance. Really, only Higher Management got to think up ideas.

Most other junior staff knew not to provoke Higher Management with ideas. They knew to respect the tradition.  But not even with their mahogany tables and their decision-making and their big important emails out to “All Users” were the Higher Managers happy. Not even when they had the power to think up Ideas for new projects were they happy. The entire organisation lived in fear of The Great Boss, but nobody feared him as much as the Higher Managers. Higher Managers would pale before visitations of the Great Boss. He could never appear without warning, because a highly-stressed staff is always highly alert to its stressors and The Great Boss was the greatest stressor of all. His whereabouts was always vigilantly communicated by phone to everyone else in that corner of that building at that time.

Nobody had even to mention his name or his title, all they had to do was phone and say “HE”:

“he is here.”

“he is downstairs.”

“he is outside the door now.”

And without a hello or a goodbye, the phoneline would click off and go dead.

No matter how much preparation was laid before a visitation, that one overlooked impossible detail or that one tiny nonsensical transgression would put Higher Managers into spins of incoherent babbling before his wrath.

That’s unless The Great Boss was in good form. These days were known as the days When the Great Boss had had his Weetabix.

Oh how charming and disarming he could be then!

He had enormous wit and knowledge and he could employ it lethally. Even Higher Managers who hated his guts because he made them stutter and lay awake at night with worry of him would laugh uproariously at his acerbic humour and fawn over his photographic memory that made him remember their great-aunt’s fondness for súgán chairs. On those days, the whole staff would bask in the temporary burn of his cheer, the deathly calm before the next storm of his more typically bad temper.

And so, morale in this place was not good. Too many variously dejected bosses under one nasty Great Boss under a faceless Board meant nobody felt supported, or heard, or valued.  In this environment isolation and and harassment and infighting was allowed to fester. Like I said, it was toxic.

For my part, when I started work there I felt excited and privileged to undertake my new job. I was getting to work on a staggeringly enormous and famous project. But my immediate supervisor sexually harassed me and in time the Great Boss bullied me directly.

The supervisor harassed me from the first day with utterly unwanted and inappropriate physical contact at every opportunity. It was insidious and persistent and I was expected to carry on a normal working relationship as if nothing was amiss.

I buried my head in my work and relished the satisfaction of it and of working in what I wanted to believe was the beautiful institution as was known from its public face, but I felt paralytically uncomfortable at sharing the office with my immediate boss. I grew to hate the office with its ivy green carpet and still can’t bear the tinny sound of a moped bustling up the street.  I was all but completely lost in the confusing hierarchic structure. It all made me uncharacteristically shy and retiring, and I developed a tickly cough and ulcers in my nose and in my mouth. The great privilege of working there was soured.

I confided in new friends in other departments and they told me sadly that it had happened before. I made an informal complaint to HR, as I heard others had done, and overnight the supervisor was removed to another office without him being told why. Just like the way the Catholic Church quietly transfers priests from one parish to another. I was left flying blind in my job, but I knew what to do and I can tell you I didn’t mind. I was so relieved he was away from me.

Unfortunately, I think that rather than feel empathy with previous recipients of this man’s harassment, I felt angry at them for not taking a stronger stance which might have protected me. HR told me that the only way they could really do anything was if I made a Formal Complaint. I felt responsible in ensuring it wouldn’t happen again to other women.

HR told me I was brave. I didn’t feel brave. I felt terrified.

I went through the strain of invoking a formal investigation. A specialist mediation company was called in and I was interviewed several times. He was interviewed. We were fed reports of each other’s words. He mostly admitted it, and even tried to justify some of it, by telling them that he was a “naturally touchy-feely person” and wanted to kiss me and hug me so much because I was such a capable assistant. He confessed he had unhealthy thoughts towards me. He explained that he’d pushed me against the door one day to measure my height because he’d seen some tall school girls visiting the public side of our workplace and he “wanted to prolong the fantasy” he had with tall women, by contrasting my short stature with the school girls he’d seen just prior.  He said I was a “foil for his fantasies.” Re-reading  the investigator’s report of his words makes me shudder.

The investigators told me that the whole thing was the most disturbing case they’d had to work on.

The organisation upheld my complaint. They created a new fixed term contract to give me the role he’d had. Somebody joked that I’d done well out of the situation: that I was the cuckoo that had pushed him out. I didn’t feel amused. So what if I had had pushed him out? I had suffered under his treatment of me and as such he wasn’t deserving of his role. My responsibility and my workload increased dramatically.

After that I didn’t speak to him again, and I hardly saw him: I had to engineer my movements to avoid his. I heard that he still worked alone with women: some as young as Transition Year. It made my blood boil. I felt my efforts had been a complete waste. I wished to goodness he’d been fired, but in the kind of organisation I worked in, someone with a permanent contract could only be gotten rid of through death.

Meanwhile, because the Great Boss specifically didn’t like the Manager left remaining above my grade, he cut the project I was working on off from him and thereby left me alone with no department to belong to. I worked quietly and independently and I seriously loved the nature of the work. I was glad I no longer had to work with the man who had harassed me.  I was told to report to a Higher Manager (instead of a Supervisor or a Manager now), but he knew that my work was a personal pet project of the Great Boss and who would therefore have nothing to do with itThus he offered me no support whatsoever, and referred everything upwards to The Great Boss.

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire!” another commentator chuckled to me.

The Great Boss was largely suspicious and untrusting of me, as he was of everyone else, though he seemed to value my work in a twisted way. When I phoned to discuss maternity leave, he told me angrily that it wasn’t his problem that I’d got “up the pole”. At a social occasion, in front of horrified friends from outside the organisation, he told my partner in a seemingly jovial way that he’d better not get me pregnant again.

Because I had no Supervisor or Manager, and the Higher Manager I was supposed to answer to wouldn’t have anything to do with me because he was so terrified to touch a project that he saw as the Great Boss’s baby, I had to report directly to the Great Boss. And I had the audacity to propose Ideas. I suggested technological new solutions and creative approaches to raise funds and dynamic ideas to achieve tasks.

My attempts to upgrade time-honoured traditions made him apoplectic. He yelled at me, cursed at me, slammed down books in temper at me, spittled at me in rage, snarled at me that I was “not paid to think”. He referred to other staff that I spoke up for as “nobodies” and warned me not to let the “grubby paws” of people he didn’t like near the project that he saw as his.

In meetings, because my persistence and my challenges to his inaccuracies and his utter rudeness made everyone uncomfortable, I was frozen out by Managers, or I was told outright not to upset him: that he was, after all, The Great Boss.

Oh how totally they believed in the hierarchy.

Because to see through the illusion of his position would be to cast doubt on their own.

When the end of my Fixed Term Contract loomed in the new year, the Great Boss and the Higher Manager promised me they would move earth moon and stars to get it extended. They told me to plan the upcoming calendar year’s budget as if I would still be working there. But three months into that year I got a letter to my home thanking me for my service. It came with no forewarning, no meeting, no courtesy from anyone in management in phone or in person to confirm to me that actually, sorry, they’d done nothing to save my contract. The Great Boss himself had just retired with no warning and nobody in the Hierarchy wanted anything to do with his legacy. The project I worked on so devotedly was nothing but a poison chalice.

The dismay was sickening, better off and all as I knew I would be to get out of that toxic organisation.

This was all bad enough but the project was in full swing with its objectives for that year, because the Great Boss and Higher Manager had instructed me to go ahead with them. I had contractors appointed and interns newly in place. I had to sit them all down and tell them they their contracts couldn’t be honoured now and their positions had to be cancelled. I felt I was leaving the project like a veritable can of worms, not much better than how I’d found it.

And I was half way through a PhD research project based solely on my dayjob. I was going to have to give that up too.

The Union were very kind and told me I’d worked there long enough to make an application for a Contract of Indefinite Duration (in other words a permanent contract, but nobody was allowed to call it that). I should have been offered one in the first place. I told them eventually that I didn’t have the heart to fight anymore. I had given my all to my job and my family needed a better version of me. I needed a better version of me.

Near the end I had an email from my old supervisor. The man who had sexually harassed me. It was the first contact since the Formal Complaint. It was cheerful and friendly. He wanted to meet me – he’d heard I was leaving and felt he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t get to meet me and say sorry. He could spin over and meet me in my office, or we could go for tea he said. So chillingly lighthearted and breezy. I couldn’t accept there was any sincerity in it. I had been given to understand he was told not to approach me. Through the Investigation, I’d established I never wanted to speak to him and did not want to receive an apology. Clearly he felt absolved of all wrongdoing now that I was being let go.

I told him never to contact me again.

If his startling, uncalled-for and unexpected email was a knife in my back, the Higher Manager twisted it. Before I left, he called me to his office for a chat. Seeing as how the Great Boss had left, the project could be handed back to its former department now. As I was leaving, they had decided to put my former supervisor back in charge of it: as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

How would I feel about debriefing him?

The man who had sexually harassed me?

The man who’d been absolved of his duties because of his behaviour? They wanted to reinstate the perpetrator and they wanted me to debrief him?

I believe I said: “over my dead body”.

My cheeks thundered red for the rest of that day, at the shock that was piled on the shock of losing my job, at the reminder of what I’d been through and how pointless my Formal Complaint had been.

I knew then that despite all my hard work, my enthusiasm and devotion, nobody in the Hierarchy really gave a shit about my welfare or my contribution. They didn’t even care about the project; that, as I outlined, was a poison chalice. All that mattered was the Hierarchy and the entitlement it seemed to afford to some.

Like many before me I walked away from there, helpless and alone and scarred from the experience.  I walked back through the public face of those achingly beautiful buildings, an outsider again, a member of the public, my privileged access revoked for good.

I was left to wonder what good any of it had done. I thought of the many beautiful people I had met and the gorgeous sense of purpose many of us had shared, even if the Hierarchy hadn’t. We truly made the best of a seething, sorry mess, even if it broke my heart to have to close the “Staff Only” door on what was to remain a sorry mess.

As if to keep the workplace a mess was the Hierarchy’s right.

*Postscript November 2017

At the time that I published this blog post, last February, I was miserable with morning sickness and weary of hearing my former employer, the National Museum of Ireland, come under fire with news reports of its toxic work environment. When I read an online comment that it surely couldn’t be THAT bad in there, I bristled. The news reports weren’t describing a fraction of how bad I knew it was in there.

I felt triggered.

So in an effort to come to terms with my experience of 8 years of working there, I sat down to write this story. Thinking of this place, reading anything associated with it, even relating to any of my friends who had worked there or still do triggers a sense of trauma I know I still haven’t fully dealt with, so I wrote it with a sense of distance. I veiled my story, if thinly. I wanted my story to be something of a cautionary tale, as I tried to outline the problems of hierarchical work structures and how they might contribute to such terrible work relations: so I called it a “fable”.

I did not – nay, could not – pepper my personal blog with names that are triggers for me. I would not have been able to write it in the cathartic way I needed to if I did.

I wrestle, at the same time, with the need for clarity, as is highlighted currently in the #MeToo campaign and the question of naming perpetrators is raised: I see my blog post get read and shared, and I notice that some have to try guess the name of the institution, and may find themselves speculating as to names, so I write this postscript to clarify.

The institution is the National Museum of Ireland.

The “great boss” is its former director, PF Wallace.

The “supervisor” who harassed me is a member of the Irish Antiquities division, named Andy Halpin

Update here: https://kettleontherange.com/2017/11/09/vomiting-slugs-to-tell-full-truths/

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There once was a woman who didn’t know what to do with all her iPhone photos

There was once a woman who lived …  on a hill…. she had so many photos she didn’t know what to do …

I have possibly upwards of 100,000 digital photographs. They’re stashed on cloud storage facilities like Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Images, that I don’t remember the passwords for. They’re stashed on breakable hard-drives. They’re suffocating my iPhone.

I am digitally drowning.

Worse than that (I think) are the several thousands of digital images that I’ve lost over the past few years. Stashes were vanquished when one of my hard-drives slid out of my hand onto the desk below and never worked again. I also lost all the digital files from my indefinitely-paused archaeology PhD research when it happened. (That was the end of that.)

One old iPhone fell heavily against the old stone walls of our house when I waved it a little too vigorously – as if to improve the hopeless phone signal where we live – and I lost all the thousands of photos on that.

Another old iPhone won’t charge and I can’t access the thousands of photographs on that.

A few months ago, all the recent-ish photos I’d stashed on my laptop to make space on my storage-choked current iPhone were lost when I closed the lid on said laptop a little too firmly –  because our useless WiFi kept dropping! and its hard drive packed it in.

I don’t seem to practice taking good care of my technology.

And despite an old job I used to have where I was responsible for unprecedented archives of archaeological collections, I have no practice of collating my own digital photographs.

Even though I love my iPhone photographs. My iPhone is really a camera to me, with a phone facility attached that I hardly ever use because hey, the signal in our house is so bad anyway. I use cool apps to edit my photos to make what are to me beautiful images of the life I live in. One of the last things I do at the end of every day is flick through the photos I took that day, as if to distil my day into an aesthetic of memory. It’s a rare day that I don’t take any. I don’t even go to the clothes line in our back yard without my phone in hand (or thrown on top of the basket of laundry) in case I miss a Fleeting Beautiful Sight. And it could happen!

I do use Instagram, on five different accounts, sporadically and agonisingly. I tend to only publish what I consider my loveliest images, or those that fit the narrative I like to portray. Then months as later I look back over the images “from the cutting-room floor”, as it were, I wonder – why did I not share those? These were good too. I share even less on Facebook (though I do use Facebook in inconsistent bouts of activity, depending on mood and WiFi.)

Which leaves me, at the end of 2016, with 3,351 images on my iPhone and no space to take any more, unless I delete Shazam again as a temporary measure, and that’s just inconvenient.

And what to do then? Try to painstaking upload a few hundred to cloud storage, if I remember the passwords, where they will languish unseen and effectively lost?

No.

Time to publish, and be damned.

In new blog posts I stash, via the WordPress app on my phone (whilst there is still space for it), images I clear from my iPhone. Some are already on Instagram, or Facebook. Most are not. As I share them I delete them from my phone, reward it some well-deserved digital space and consider myself absolved of a responsibility towards curating them.

I also endeavor to do this in the interests of giving this sorely neglected blog some visual narrative in a new theme of Kettle PicturesClick the link to see, and the new category of the same name is in the tabs above.

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Kettle Pictures – When Spring Crept in 

An installment of Kettle Pictures – a gallery of the sporadic pretty moments as seen by my iPhone and me.

These images below are from early 2016, when Spring crept in.

On our new gigantic blue beanbag

Pregnant sheep waiting for breakfast

John the farm cat loves the sheep shed (cos it’s warm in there)

The sheep maternity hotel

Newborn lambs let out to the field for the first time

Aoife lets the hens out in the morning

John the farm cat likes to knock over the Buddha so that HE can sit on the manhole cover

Movie afternoon on the Gigantic Blue Beanbag

We get a visit from a special visitor – new baby Eoghan

Lamb birthing in all its glory

Brand new Mamma Sheep

On the Victorian red rocking chair until they break it again

Eating at the edge of the room where they can see the TV in the other room

Spring sunrise at The Hill

Our three farmcats: Puffin, John and Whiskers

Sunrise triplet lambs

Sheep family No 7

Mamma Sheep in the frosty morning

Sheep Family No 2 – triplets

Bringing in kindling for the fire

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Aoife delivers her first lamb

They spent the money they got from my second cousin in Ken Blacks in Carlow

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We notice a beautiful stained glass window in Arro Smyths in Enniscorthy

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Reading a poem in the window of Toffee & Thyme cafe, Enniscorthy

Posting orders from Colm’s online shop Irish Archaeology Shop

Spot the cat?

We visit Wells House with our friends

I love this photo. Quinn and the staff goat at Well House

They took their wishing very seriously at Wells House

Pensive rest in the forest at Wells House

Wagon spins in the back yard

The hens love the sheep shed too

Feeding the pet lambs with friends

Taking special care of Andy

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Aoife Day: opting out of first Holy Communion for her own kind of Special Day

Saturday 14th May 2016 was my 37th birthday (yes, THIRTY-SEVEN), but this day was not about me.

It was all about my daughter, Aoife (8).

It was: “AOIFE DAY.”

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The idea for ‘Aoife Day’ came about when Aoife and I spoke about her not partaking in the First Holy Communion event with her school, and she decided she wanted to have a special kind of day for herself, in her own way. (I write about the background to that decision below).

It turned out to be a beautifully special day for us all: we rather spontaneously made it a significant coming of age kind of day. As I look back on that day, now as she moves into third class in her school, she does seem to have grown up a lot and left what we called “early childhood” ways behind.

It was also very wonderful and fun and totally freeform.

This is what we did on Aoife Day:

We had no real plans until a few days before. Aoife came up with  a list of ideas of what she wanted to do:

  • Get Up Real Early (to make the most of the day)
  • Go to the Heritage Park
  • Get Presents

She wanted the theme of the day to be “Nature-ly” as she put it – that is, she wanted us to do lots of Outside Things.

She basically wore her wellies all day!

She also wore a perfect and adorable fairy dress made out of unspeakably soft fleece, which Colm spotted on Facebook just the week before. He bought it to support a fellow archaeologist and thought maybe it would be suitable for her to wear on Aoife Day. How unbelievably perfect it turned out to be! (The dress was made by Bee Free Kids Clothing).

SO, in photos, this is what Aoife did.

PART 1: A MORNING WALK

We got up Real Early (she was up and bustling about excitedly at 6AM), we had a quick breakfast and went for a walk to the nearby stream. One of those simple things we’d been promising to do for the last two years.

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We brought some light snacks for a makeshift picnic, at the stream, and collected some freshwater in a flask. They spotted tiny invisible fish (I couldn’t see any! I never believe them when they say they can see fish) and they played Pooh Sticks over the bridge.

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Colm showed them an old neighbouring mill ruin and explained how it would have worked, and pointed out tree species and plants and basically nerded about archaeology and nature to them in the way that they know and love.

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Colm carried her back through the long grass to mind her dress – I love this photo so much, because they are wearing the same expression: both refusing to look at the camera, and waiting wearily for me to get out of their way 😉

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Here she and her brother Beineán (5) are holding buttercups under their chins (you know that old trick of checking whether the buttercup reflects a yellow glow under the chin? If it does, you like butter. They found out that they both, do, in fact, like butter.)

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On the way back they looked for feathers.  She found two, which she is holding here. (I am holding cow parsley for display in our home).

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We came home from our walk and had our second breakfast – she requested chips. For breakfast. And it being Aoife Day, she got chips for breakfast. (I somehow did not photograph that.)

Before we would leave for the National Heritage Park, for Part 2 of her special day, we had to tend to some farm jobs of course. Aoife fed her three pet lambs, same as every other day.

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PART 2: GO TO THE NATIONAL HERITAGE PARK

If you’ve never been to the Irish National Heritage Park, you should go. We are fortunate to live just 15 minutes away. It’s beautifully thought out and fabulously built – all of the buildings got painstakingly renovated or rebuilt recently, so for all its ancientness, it’s all wonderfully fresh and new. It really brings archaeology to life, and is set in a natural wonderland.  Aoife and Beineán love so much just to run there.

First things, first, Aoife wanted ice-cream. So on Aoife Day, she got ice-cream.

Here she is eating her ice-cream in 8000BC, the Mesolithic:

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Still eating her ice-cream 4000 years later at the Neolithic House:

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Ice-cream was long-since consumed, along with a feed of more chips in the restaurant (it was Aoife Day, after all), by the time the Vikings came:

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And then there was time for another picnic, inside the actual (not replica) Anglo-Norman promontory fort overlooking Slaney Harbour.

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Here they are watching baby moorhens:

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On the raised walkway through the wetlands, she found another feather.

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The Heritage Park offers archery, and we usually scurry them along to the next thing away from it (thinking them too young) but on Aoife Day, she was not missing out. Getting to do archery was a dream come true for her (really, it was one of those things she tended to pester us about). The attendant there was so helpful and encouraging to them both. They loved it, and instead of skipping the Gift Shop like we usually do afterwards, because it was Aoife Day we let them both choose something and Aoife selected her own bow and arrow to take home.

Just look at this cool archer chick on her sunshiney “Aoife Day”.

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PART 3 – GET PRESENTS

Well, part 3 was invoked already at the Heritage Park when they were allowed to choose something at the Gift Shop, but this was not to take the place of the thrill and rareness (actually, never-ness) of also going to Ken Black’s massive toy shop to pick out something “just cos”. (How much better can this day get?!) I decided not to be seen to impose any limits on them whilst they were choosing, instead waiting to see if they would focus on something expensive, and as it turned out they both selected toys that were within reason anyway.

She got lego, and he got a transformer.

And they were so happy! Can you tell?

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(IMPROMPTU) PART 4: AOIFE GROWS UP A LITTLE

Back home that evening, Aoife wanted to have supper outside by a campfire. On the spur of the moment, I had the idea for Aoife to pick a special tree somewhere near the house, that would be “her” tree from that day on. She chose this Laurel tree in the back yard, and I hung the pink canopy I found in a charity shop from it, for her to relax in. Colm made the campfire nearby and we had another picnic (with wine for Colm and me) whilst the sun went down.

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To close the day, we decided to make up a little “nature-ly” magic for our wild little fairy girl.

Colm had the spontaneous idea of marking the day as a kind of growing-up milestone where she leaves her first phase of childhood behind and grows into her new phase (from now until she is a teenager). Near the campfire, before it got dark, we brought together some things we’d gathered that day, in a circle: the water from the stream in the morning, the feathers they’d found, a rose quartz stone she’d picked up for her collection (she loves rose quartz and keeps a stash in a fence outside the back door) and we lit a candle in a new candle holder we picked up at the garden centre that week because it was so orange, her favourite colour.

She stood inside the circle and the rest of us held hands, also in circle around her. We walked around her three times, ring-a-ring-a-rosie style: one… two… three!

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After three times round, we decided she could hop out of the circle and into her new phase of life. We gave her an idea of some new responsibilities this meant for her, and I swear her cheeks were beaming pink and rosy when she hopped back out of the circle and into her Daddy’s arms and mine. (Her little brother, who was starting to get a antsy about being left out of all this growing up stuff, was given an honourary title of FireBoy whereby he has responsibility to help gather firewood and, under supervision, he gets to throw the wood into the fire sometimes too. That made him very happy.)

We all beamed, and still bask in the glow of spending an entire day of totally honouring this child in our own simple, freeform way: celebrating her, in her own individuality.

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Opting out of The Communion

Colm and I come from backgrounds steeped in Catholic culture, like most people we know, but as a family we don’t “practise:” we don’t go to Mass. I grew up loving the rituals of going every week, to light candles, to visit family graves, to see and be seen. We did baptise our children, without thinking too much about it. In no way did we have courage or energy to consider not doing it at the time, and the days were significant and memorable in certain ways. (The priest in a Dublin church where our daughter was Christened did – very sweetly and kindly – point out that we ought to be married, and gently encouraged me to prioritise making plans for that.) (We are still unmarried.) 

But now in adulthood, I reject it as an organisation that is more interested in protecting itself than anything or anyone it is supposed to represent. The church’s nigh-on-hostile engagement with the Tuam Babies situation was the final straw for me.

My small daughter already knows in simple, broad terms about how the church treated women throughout the Mother and Baby Home years: she traipsed around the Tuam Babies burial site with us many times, she asked a hundred questions and I answered her as honestly and as simply as I could.

Whether or not I approve of the Catholic Church, my children certainly do live among its cultural framework.  Like the majority of schools in the country, their schooling, by its very design, is flavoured with prayer and holy pictures. As archaeologists and as admirers of beautiful buildings with stories to tell, Colm and I actually happen to visit churches a lot with them. It amuses me that both my children know the story of the pictures “Stations of the Cross” that hang in every Catholic Church, better than I ever did, from the many times they’ve hung around waiting for me and Colm to take photographs. We spend even more time in graveyards, photographing old headstones and researching family history.

Catholic symbolism is everywhere. I grew up so deeply with it I can explain it and discuss it when my children when they ask. I teach them the archaeology of it, and that churches and priests and Mass and Communion bread are important to people. 

One day when she was seven, Aoife and I discussed our church involvement, as I was hanging clothes on the washing line in the back yard.  

I told her my simplest bottom line: “they don’t let women be priests or make any decisions about anything. I just don’t support that.”

I told her I couldn’t, therefore, support the Communion ceremony preparations. She nodded. “I’ll have my own kind of special day.” It would be ‘Aoife Day’. And that was all.

Together we all began to feel our way through our decision to opt out. I had no idea what to expect. 

I felt nervous of offending other people, for whom the Communion seems to mean so much: as if our not doing might be perceived as was some kind of repudiation of their values. I mostly said nothing about any of it. 

For her part she had to explain herself a lot throughout the year, and still does in the aftermath, as many people obviously assume that a little girl her age, in a typical country National School, would have little else on her mind other than “The Communion.”

She wasn’t fazed. She told anyone who asked, crystal clear, “I’m not doing that”.

She got some confused silences, and I would hold my breath whilst she simply waited for her response to sink in. Most people didn’t ask any further, not even of me, standing there quavering, in utter contrast to the confident little girl beside me.

I did get some quizzical looks, and was even asked (out of Aoife’s earshot) about my own morality, and about the impact on Aoife’s life as an adult, but was able to reassure that I had no concerns about either.

My daughter took it all completely in her stride. Her school was very accommodating and considerate towards us. Aoife studied an extra maths book whilst the others prepared for Communion, and is now fully opted out of religious education in third class; I prepare some work for her to do at religion time. I will speak with my son, who is now in Senior Infants, about opting out when he is a little older, though he is already familiar with the idea through his big sister.

Our little family trundled on in our own world as usual.

Until “Aoife Day” 🙂 

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