The President’s Choices

The President’s Choices

A Short Story.


The president is gliding his palm over a swathe of scarlet satin draped over Mario’s left arm. Mario hesitates, before tilting his head to the side. He arches his eyebrows, closes and opens his eyes in a forced, bored manner, before running his other arm underneath to cradle the fabric, shaking it out in a flamboyant fluttering movement.

“This would certainly be a marvellous choice, Mr President,” he lisps. He is looking straight at the president now, though he is conscious of the president’s wife; this was supposed to be about her, but she has hardly spoken.

“Yes, this feels right,” says the president. “I’d take something in this. Something low-cut. Yeah honey? ”

Her smile is restrained, line-free. She shifts a little, stretching rather awkwardly into a new position. She moves her legs, tucking her long feet underneath the stubby-legged Louis XIV chair chair. Mario recognises the piece. it’s a pretty enough little thing that has been a part of the house furniture for generations,  one of those historical props that photographers have positioned in discreet corners at important moments in history. He is a little surprised to see it in use. He has seen pictures of other first ladies in the vicinity of this chair, never actually sitting on it though.

“The scarlet is fabulous, don’t you think?” says Mario, stretching the fabric towards her. She shrugs.

““I like red,” says the president. “She likes red too.”

The first lady looks too big for the chair; she moves her long, beautiful legs again,  sweeping them to the side in another pose that might hurt her ankles were it not for the sumptuousness of the thick-pile deep-blue carpet. Mario twirls on one foot before gliding towards his assistant who is peeping around the dark oak doors that lead to one of the many side rooms. While the assistant is fumbling as he exchanges new samples of material, Mario conducts the hand-over with a balletic sort of pizazz. The president is watching as Mario twirls again, carrying a vibrant orange taffeta over one arm now, a chartreuse crushed velvet over the other. He turns to the first lady:

“If you like the scarlet, the red, I am certain you’ll just love these.”

The vibrant colours stand out against the dark panelling that lines the recessed area they are in. The other walls in this marvellous dressing room are lined in a mixture of floor to ceiling mirrors interspersed with marble pillars. From the open, communal space they are in now, another pair of ornate doors leads to the president and first lady’s private dressing rooms, which are located one at either end of the exiting corridor.

“Oh gosh,” says the president. “Isn’t that something, the way the orange sort of shimmers? It feels a little crinkly though, the colour is good, but maybe you’d have it in a softer material? Oh this one is very nice too, what a shade and it feels wonderful!” The president strokes the crushed velvet like he is petting a delicate dog’s head.

Mario turns back to the first lady:

“With your features, that skin tone?” He hesitates. Emboldened, hand on hip, he juts out his chin:

“That body? Honey, you could wear anything and look a million dollars!”

The president steps forward. He stares into Mario’s eyes. He looks stern. Mario tilts his head again, pouts a little as he folds his fabric-laden arms:

“Oh, Mr President, I’ve no doubt you’ve said the same thing yourself, sweetie!”

For a quivering moment the president seems nonplussed, then he breaks into hearty, tense laughter: “You’re a ballsy little fucker, but I like you. Isn’t he ballsy, honey?  I don’t usually like them, but I’ll make an exception. You got more like this, funny guy?”

“Oh I’ve got all you need, Sir,” says Mario.

The president picks samples of different fabrics. He doesn’t offer much by way of design suggestions, just low-cut, low-cut. He seems to lose interest after a while, says he has lots to do. He leaves his wife with Mario and the assistant.

“Pick whatever you want, you know what I like,” he says to his wife, sweeping a hand in his wake in what Mario takes to be a goodbye wave. Mario waves too, feeling rather foolish as the president departs without looking back.

The first lady decides what she wants, now that her husband has gone. She picks very different fabrics to her husband’s choices: a raw silk teal, an indigo chiffon. She is torn between an olive-burgundy brocade and a damson velvet.

“This might be too pushy?” she says, pointing to the velvet, but she decides to try both samples anyway. Mario suggests a bolero style waistcoat for the brocade, the damson, he says, would be perfect for a long pashmina to go with an evening dress.

“A little tasteful beading would really enhance it. I could have it sent to my woman in Gujarat? She’s marvellous, works out of Porbandar. That’s the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi!”

“Yes, that sounds perfect,” says the first lady. She pauses though, quickly changes her mind: “No. Isn’t there someone closer to home, with similar skills?”

“Oh. Oh yes. Of course, I’ll look into that,” says Mario.

The first lady has a lot to say about dresses. She is opinionated and articulate about the sort of style she thinks appropriate for a first lady.

“Armani, Channel, Gucci, I do like them, but they’re everywhere don’t you think? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love them all, Giorgio especially, but I want to bring something different. I need to change my look. Be Classy, not too high street?”

“Yes Ma’am, I understand. I don’t do high street, so that’s not a problem.”

“I’m not saying everything needs to look like I’m going to a gala, but I want the cut to be flattering, sophisticated, more Hepburn than Westwood. Classical, well cut, chest but no cleavage, legs, but, nothing above the knee.”

“You’ll be needing day and evening wear?”

“Yes, this fabric here, the grey flannel, and that one. Oh, and that over there, the baby blue wool, they’re more daytime don’t you think?”

“Yes, absolutely. Nice choices, Ma’am.”

“These ones are for evening wear.”

“They’re suitable, though this gunmetal silk could be very elegant for, say, an informal luncheon?”

“Yes, I agree. So we’re good for now then?”

“Yes, Ma’am, we certainly are. Just one thing though. The fabrics that your husband picked out, will you still be requiring those?”

“Of course.”

“Only, they seem rather different to your own choices.”

“The president picked them, I’ll be keeping them.”

“His suggestions in terms of the makeup, the design of the dresses I mean, you’re happy with those?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Alright, Ma’am, your wish is my command.”

“Well, those are my husband’s wishes.”

“Yes, Ma’am. I understand. We will make the dresses the way your husband would like them made.”

“Not all of them. Only the ones in the fabrics he picked.”

“Of course.”

“Just one thing.”

“Yes Ma’am?”

“The dresses, from those fabrics?”

“Your husband’s choices?”

“Yes. Well. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if they weren’t quite the right fit. They may be a little looser. Just not quite sitting right?”

“But Ma’am, my work is highly respected. The clothes I make fit perfectly.”

“Well, some won’t. Don’t worry, I’ve seen your work. You’ll be getting plenty of commissions from me. But, when you are making so much, a few mistakes are bound to happen?”

“We’re all human, Ma’am.”




Over the coming weeks and months Mario presents the first lady with one after another outfit. Daywear, evening wear, his work is flawless. Except, that is, for those dresses, the president’s choices. Mario is apologetic as he hands her the scarlet satin:

“I have to say, Ma’am, I’m not entirely comfortable with this.”

“Thank you for your discretion, Mario.”

The first lady and Mario, who is now her official designer-dressmaker, are developing a comfortable, easy bond. Of course she wears many other designers, but Mario just seems to know what she wants, his clothing works for her, her body, the public image she is keen to foster.

“You’ve been getting very favourable coverage Ma’am,” says Mario one day, as he is running through some new sketches with her.

“What do you mean?”

“In the press. They like you. And they like your image, your elegance.”

“Don’t you mean they like you? Your work, the way I look in your creations?”

“Well yes. Yes I suppose I am saying that! We’re a good team Ma’am.”

“Do you know, I think you might be right.”

“Ma’am, I don’t mean to overstep the mark, but could I ask you a question?”

“You can ask.”

“Has the president, well, asked to see you wearing the scarlet dress?”

“That hasn’t been an issue. It won’t be a problem. Don’t worry.”

“Only, I do worry. What if he asks you to put it on? I don’t feel so happy to stand over that work. The chartreuse is almost ready. I’d rather like to burn it!”

“I said don’t worry. I’ve been married to the president for fourteen. Oh look, let’s not talk about the president. Everybody wants to talk about the president.”

“Honey, everybody wants to talk about you!”


When Mario gives the chartreuse dress to the first lady, he is equally uneasy at the thoughts of handing over deliberately inferior work. The first lady hushes him. She opens the shoulder bag she is carrying and pulls out the scarlet satin dress.

“I want you to make some adjustments to this please.”

“You’re going to wear it!”

“Oh no, gosh no. But I had an idea. If you would make it bigger, wider. And the neckline, maybe not quite so plunging? I’ll give it to my mother. The president loves my mother, he won’t mind.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Only I hate to see it go to waste. I may be the first lady, but I wasn’t always the first lady. I don’t see these as throwaway.”

“And the chartreuse?”

“Yes. You could do the same with the chartreuse. Another couple of inches would be good, I see you’ve double hemmed the seams, there’s enough fabric to let it all out. Actually, maybe more than a couple of inches, say, six inches? Is that possible? You could put in an extra panel if you need to. My mother is an elegant lady, but big. She would love to have some pieces tailored by the first lady’s personal designer.”




The public love her. While the president’s ratings shoot up and down like runaway fireworks, the first lady’s place in the people’s hearts is on a steady incline. Of course, unlike her husband, she is very photogenic, which helps. She has certainly become the iconic champion of style she had wished to be. She is hailed as a woman of class and good taste, a role model for young women, the epitome of simple, unadorned elegance with a sporty twist. Gone are the tacky adornments she once loved. Nowadays it is a bouncy Labrador named Luther (after Martin of course) who is her go-to accessory.

It’s more than just image though, of course. The press and the public seem to have taken it upon themselves to frame their own, imagined narrative around her. Of course she works hard to keep them on the wrong track, referring, often, to her humble origins. Whilst it’s true to say her early days were spent in  modest circumstances compared with her life today, by most markers her family have always done just fine. The press doesn’t delve too deep, there’s no indication of anything sinister or morally corrupt in her background. They extol her every virtue: the dedication she shows as a mother to the twins; the causes she stands behind; her down-to-earth manner; the keen interest in the arts. A cursory search would show just how new this range of interests is to her. It’s not long since the first lady’s sense of style stretched about as far as fur coats and skimpy lingerie; it’s only recently that her taste in art has stepped beyond an obscenely large collection of particularly tacky pieces by De Rigaldo, the current target of every scoffing art critic this side of the equator. The fur coats did a sudden disappearance once she took up office, as did the De Rigaldos and a certain weakness for foie gras. She gets away with a lot, this first lady. For now, at least, the public are eating up all the Mom’s-apple-pie she can bake. There’s an unspoken agreement in press ranks not to let those finer details of the truth ruin the public’s enjoyment of a good old-fashioned fairy tale.

While the first lady slips into her roles – representing the office and country with pride and poise; her ease in the public arena seems in stark contrast to her husband’s growing persona as a walking, talking PR disaster.

At the rate the first lady’s star is rising, the president’s reputation seems to be sinking ever deeper into the mire. The president is a daily, ever-hurtling asteroid about to crash. He is hated; he is vilified; he is held in disdain by a vocal public at home and throughout the world. He is a national embarrassment, a political non-starter. If dinner party and barroom chatter is to be believed these days, there is not a single citizen who actually voted for this bullying buffoon. Far from Making My Land Magic, as his campaign slogan claimed he would, he has turned his country into the laughing stock of the world.

“You should do us all a favour, President Magic,” a well known witty talk show host says: “You should wave that wand of yours and make yourself disappear!” The clip goes viral, of course, reaches every corner of the globe. Savvy commentators are having a field day. If health, education, immigration and any other vaguely social policy is collapsing like a hacked down rainforest, the comedy and satire industries are flourishing with his constant feed of bluster and hyperbole. And for every note of criticism that comes his way – every negative observation, every step and banner-waving gesture of protest and objection, the president seems to sink further and further into petulant displays of irrational anger. His ferocity seems to grow alongside a catalogue of alarming political decisions.  It all sweeps along like a rolling snowball, seeming to gather momentum as it barrels down some ever-growing mountainside.




It is a relatively simple incident that triggers the catastrophe. The president is being his usual blustering self as a press briefing on climate change is at full tilt, when out of nowhere, an unknown reporter, who, in actual fact is not even a reporter yet, is invited by the president to ask the question which will lead to his own downfall. Dodging a heated exchange with some of the media heavyweights, the president points to a timid young woman amongst the gathered press, who is sitting without expectation of being addressed.

You,” says the president, pointing to her. “I’ll take a question from you.”

“Me?” says Leen Van Der Mark, whose name will soon be known the world over. “Well that’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?” he says, curtly.

“Oh. OK. Leen Van Der Mark here. Em. Mr President. I would like to ask. Em.

Well, it seems to me Mr President, that you are not behaving in a very respectful or loving manner towards the environment? Em. You don’t show much love, Mr President. I think the world would like to know: did your Mom and Dad love you?”

The president is, for once in his life, struck dumb. But not for long. Words fill his cheeks, building into a blushing rage which erupts in a fist-shaking onslaught:

“Who the fuck are you? Asking me a question like that? I am the president. The president of this country. How fucking dare you!”

The president stops, sways, is breathing deeply. His eyes seem to glow in rage. He hauls in a huge breath and reaches forward. As the assembled world press watch in disbelief, the president grabs a large crystal vase of flowers from a podium to his right. The camera bulbs flash. Salivating TV cameras roll into action like bears. He takes the vase, hoists it aloft like a football prize, then hurls it through the air at the young woman, who stares, unmoving.

TV stations will show an image of this woman in the days and weeks to come. It is a close-up of her face. Her mouth is slightly open, her eyes are wide and focussed on the airborne object before her. The image will feature on the front page of pretty much every newspaper the world over.

The flying vase has suddenly shifted to slow motion. It tumbles towards her through a chaos of dodging heads and screams, suspended waterdrops held singly in the air, as sunflowers and baby’s breath, daisies, forsythias and who knows what cartwheel through the air towards her. The featherlight blossoms are cast aside as the hurtling glass vase barges through the air like an earthbound rocket.

The vase bounces off her astonished head before hitting the marble floor, where it shatters into the million tiny pieces that might reflect the status of the current, soon to be fired, President. Flowers scurry along in the wake of the broken vase. They rain down through the air, a burst of rebellious colour, landing on top of the crumbled glass like broken funeral wreaths.

Leen Van Der Mark, the uncertain young intern with Environmental News Weekly, will decide to pursue that journalistic career after all. Journalism is a competitive world, money couldn’t buy this start. Seventeen stitches along her hairline leave the lasting scar she will decide not to treat with plastic surgery; front page worldwide coverage; a certain lucky knack for asking the right question: these, along with some ability and tenacity, will see her on to her journey towards becoming BNN’s youngest ever Chief Political Correspondent.




The first lady’s phone is ringing as she makes her way along the corridor. Mario’s face comes up on the screen. She swipes his call aside, switches the phone off.

When she walks into the president’s dressing room, she is moved to see him sitting in front of the mirror with his back turned to her. It is a while since she has seen him like this, she had started to think that maybe, since becoming president, he had come to a decision. She likes to see him this way, it stirs something in her – a sort of poignancy. She likes to believe it is about trust, that the level of openness he displays at these times is something she should not take lightly.

“Darling,” she says, gliding towards him. He remains seated, keeps facing forwards. As she moves through the dark panelling of his dressing room, he lifts his head to the mirror before him, so that it is the reflection of his face which greets her. The theatre lights around the mirror illuminate his distorted features.

“I’ve cancelled our engagements for this evening,” he says quietly.

“Yes, I know. I asked the staff to leave us alone.”

“Selena and Marcus?”

“The nannies will make sure they don’t disturb us.”

The first lady reaches forward to massage the president’s shoulders. She kisses the top of his head, then continues massaging. His shoulders are tense. After a few moments she slips the straps, watches the red satin dress slide down to his waist. For a few minutes she moves her hands up and down along his back, before lifting the dress-straps back over his shoulders and turning his swivel chair to face her as she moves down onto her knees. She opens her arms and he tips forward, resting his forehead on her shoulder. She pats his back, rubs it, gently pushes him upright again. She picks up the pack of cleansing tissues. She plucks out a few and reaches forward to wipe his face, noticing that his mascara has already started to run.


Tremors Felt as Deise Heroes Miss the Target.

ben blackboard

A code yellow small craft weather warning was in place in Waterford on Saturday, but amateur sailor David Deegan pushed his little boat away from the shore and set sail with more optimism than sense. He didn’t get far. As the sopping wet, fully clothed man made his way up a nearby slip sometime later, he was heard to be saying “I don’t know what I was thinking. What came over me?”

It’s been a bit like that in this part of the world all week. We’ve been off-track, a little wonky in the head. Myself, I heard a cuckoo on Friday, first I’d heard in years. “You only hear the cuckoo song in Spring,” Ben Power, a Cheekpoint shopkeeper told me. “They’re off in hotter lands by now.” I paid for my blaas and luncheon. Told him he must be mistaken.

I keep one of those fold-up, multi-tool penknives in the glovebox of my car, but I crossed my fingers and ripped open a blaa by hand, remembering a superstition about the bad luck of cutting a blaa with a knife. I flung in the red lead and took a bite, saluting a lone magpie that was flying past. I’m not usually a superstitious person, but hunger and a monumental sporting event can do strange things to a mind.

I was starving as I tucked in. I wasn’t alone, though there’s no blaa that could quell the deeper hunger of the 58 years of hard famine this hurling county has lived through. We were hoping the team would sort that for us all yesterday.


As the clock ticked down to throw-in, a stocky mist was refusing to budge from over the east of the county. There was a stillness in the air, an oppressive quality to the atmosphere. Anticipation can be a weighty load and the streets of Waterford were crushed by it. In that way of the superstitious though, the Deise soul was reading good omens into everything. Waterford felt that this was their year. That belief and confidence was there in every flag that flew the white and blue over the past weeks. It was there in the bounce that seemed to have come back into the step of every man woman and child the county over. Waterford needed that win. It was etched in the dreams of every pair of Deise eyes. It was there on the day and gone and back and lost again as the scores ticktocked like a demented pendulum. Waterford people the city, county, country and world over were willing that win to the team who had worked so hard. On the day it was Galway’s famine that was to come to an end first. Continue reading

Historic Referendum for Humanity

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This feels so personal. It’s human nature, I suppose, to sometimes take what’s going on out there and experience it as it relates to you directly. This result relates very personally, very directly, to myself, to my immediate family, to my beautiful, beautiful son. I have a debt of gratitude to every single….every SINGLE person who voted yes in this historic referendum for humanity. I’m very teary now, tired and emotional, but filled with joy.

Historic referendum for humanity? lofty words but that’s what this is I think. It’s beyond the very intimate experience of one mother wanting to get on her knees to say thank you, thank you, thank you. It is beyond my son, beyond the LGBT community in Ireland, beyond their families, their loved ones, their friends. This is beyond the voters who have never even met a gay person. Beyond, even, the bounds of our fair, FAIR, green isle. This is something which reaches out to the entire world. The ENTIRE world. Think about it. Ireland has just become the first country in the world to legalise same sex marriage by popular vote! Ireland!

We’re a small nation that has been known, at times, to punch above its weight on overseas humanitarian issues, but this time we’ve excelled ourselves on the home turf. This vote changes Ireland in so many ways. It transforms the image, the perceived attitude, the reputation of Ireland. This says something very very good about Ireland and the people who inhabit its land. I said in a recent blog that a no vote would have said that we, as a nation, don’t care. By god, a yes vote shouts it from the rooftops: Ireland is compassionate, Ireland embraces all of its citizens…Ireland IS LOOOOOOOVE!!!!

Today I LOVE you. YOU. You, the yes voter. You’ve smoothed the way just a little for my beloved son. You’ve made Ireland a better place for my son and countless others, living and yet to be born.

You, the voter, have SAVED LIVES. I believe this. I truly believe that the rejection of a no vote would have been very, very devastating to many people. And while this may or may not have led to actual loss of life, it would, most certainly, have led to a loss of quality of life. A loss of living a more free, a more joyful life. A no vote would have made so many people very, very sad. A yes vote has unleashed the party of all parties! I raise a glass, I raise my arms. I fist-pump the air….YES, YES, JOYFUL JOYFUL YES!!!

Vote. By vote. By vote.

1979754_586228518141597_2932882923938579436_nScan 151380001As anyone who looks at my Facebook page will notice, I’ve turned it into a bit of a campaigning platform in recent weeks. I have many reasons for doing this, but at the heart of it all is a belief that everyone should be entitled to a level playing field where love is concerned. I can’t assume that the campaigning of others will see that this referendum is successful. I may not have the time to be out knocking on the doors as much as I would like, but I do have a strong urge and sense of duty to get involved in this historic referendum, so here I am. I have particular personal reasons for wanting to be vocal about this issue, which I’ve never publicly commented on before. My reason for that is not because of any desire to hide anything, but out of simple respect for my son’s privacy. My son and I have made a joint decision to change tack on that for now, and today, shouting from the rooftops, I’m going proud and loud. Proud and gifted to be the mother of three amazing children. Humming with pride for one in particular over these days of change and revolution. Intent, for the cause that’s in it, on being loud. *** November 23rd, 1993. After a long, difficult labour with complications in the final stages, my first child, a great big boy, arrived. All 10lbs 1oz of him. He’d travelled the last bit of the journey uphill. The epidural had gone wrong, leaking fluid into somewhere it shouldn’t be. My lower half was raised, my head dropped, a move aimed at easing the mind-cracking headache that had come with the faulty epidural. It didn’t ease anything. They took away my boy, wheeled him back to me in a steel-barred cage on wheels. He was wrapped tight in a blanket, a cross-looking pupa on the verge of a new beginning. The headache persisted, I couldn’t lift my head, could barely turn to see him behind his bars. As soon as the nurses disappeared I made a deranged grab for him, hauling him into the bed beside me. The nurses reappeared, said they’d better put him back into his cage, said it would be safer, said I might smother him. He was going nowhere. I’m a pacifist. But if one of those nurses had tried to take my boy to put him back behind bars, my starting move would have been to bite them. I barely held back a growl when they again suggested taking him. At that moment, in my state of pain and joy and primal rawness, I understood how a person could kill for their child. I made a sort of vow to my boy then. Something along the lines of moving mountains to make the rest of his journey a little less uphill. Something along the lines of doing my best to make the road a little more smooth than it might be in this cruel and strange and often beautiful world. My beautiful boy is a man now. I asked him a question a couple of years ago, and when he answered: yes, I am gay, I asked why he hadn’t told me before. Well, did you ever have to announce to anyone that you were straight? And that was that, and all was good, and by then I’d lost some of that earlier compunction to smoothen the road. The groundwork had been done. Time and experience had taught me that parenting was more about preparing them for following their own chosen paths than trying to lay a golden carpet ahead of them. But I have my moments. Still. A maxim I’ve stuck with along the way is: choose your battles. I‘ve chosen one of late. A big one. An important one. A smooth the road one, with respect to my young man’s ability to go his own way. I’m back to the vow you see, all these years later, with that same growl hovering in the background. You see, if anyone thinks I’m going to lie still while they try to put my lad into any kind of cage – barred, metaphorical or otherwise – they would be mistaken. If they think I would see him there in that cage, rather than folded in whatever loving arms his own fate and nature have led him to, they would be getting it all wrong. That growl, the urges – the path-smoothing, mountain knocking ones – are not confined to the home turf either. It’s about more than just my own boy, you see. This is about a whole lot of other people too. People known to me, and people not known to me. It’s just me here, reaching out. One voice. One vote. At the moment I am moving through each day with a sense of trepidation. The misinformation and scare-mongering coming from the no camp is alarming. I am very worried that the skewed information it is putting out there is reaching a significant number of people. I believe that if the referendum fails, it will see emotional devastation in its wake. If the no campaign’s main focus, i.e. the well being of children, is genuine (I do believe it is, but misguided and ill thought out) I think theirs is a stance that will backfire disastrously if a no vote is carried, because the selective nature of the message means that the welfare of children will definitely be effected if the referendum fails. The welfare of the many children of gay parents in this country. And the welfare of the many many children who are travelling their personal journeys towards maturity and their own unfolding sexuality if that just happens to be gay. I worry for these children. I am deeply concerned for them, and for their welfare going forward, if this referendum fails. Because this is a very public issue now. And if a tight-lipped, behind-closed-doors Ireland left and continues to leave hurt, wounded, broken people in its wake…this more open, more vocal Ireland will, if it votes no, leave another sort of devastation. There can be no doubt when it’s all so upfront you see: A NO vote most definitely, most definitively says out loud to these children: WE DO NOT CARE ABOUT YOUR WELFARE, WE ONLY CARE ABOUT THE WELFARE OF CHILDREN BEING RAISED BY “CONVENTIONAL” STRAIGHT COUPLES. This is the message you will be sending if you vote no. Whether you’re building, or taking down a mountain, at the end of the day it can only be done one stone at a time. Stone. By stone. By stone. Vote. By vote. By vote. I don’t need to say which way I’ll be voting. I ask you to join me. For the future of my son James, a superb young man I love very, very much; for the future of others known and not known to me and you; for the future of our country as it continues its own faltering journey along a still new and barely hewn path, towards a more compassionate and open future, where all citizens will be treated equally whether they are gay or straight, or the children of gay or straight people.

Soccer Mom

There’s plenty of space for a few stragglers at Old Trafford. So long as it’s not a match day. Or Christmas day, when they close. There were 22 tours on Wednesday, when we visited. A very quiet day apparently. On busy days tours get going every 10 minutes. You get the sense of that as you walk through the taped off barriers leading you to the long row of cash registers in the megastore. You leave the shop through the bank of exit-only doors, this being something of an assembly line operation. But before you could be getting too cynical about the crass commercialism of it all the tour begins and as you step out onto the terraces to take in the sight of the pitch with all those ghostly stragglers along with you, you’re struggling with an unexpected sense of emotion. Something of the cheer of the crowd, something of the atmosphere and something of the big dreaming that goes into bringing a place and a concept like this into existence gets a hold of you.

Hugo stands there open mouthed. You can barely look at him, afraid that lump in your throat is going to erupt. He is 11 years and one day today and you and his sister are here for him, to give him this birthday present. In his bag is the new pair of football boots he got yesterday. They’re going to be his luckiest ones ever, he thinks, they would have to be…bought in Manchester, taken along on their trip to the epicentre of it all for him. I ask the tour guide if he can take them out of his bag, slip them on, try them out on the pitch. I’m not put out as she explains why he can’t. Looking at the rows of solar lights assembled on panels over the grass you get a sense of the magnitude of tender nurturing that goes into keeping this dream alive.

I was here before. In less than tender form. Conducting a voxpop in the wake of a very big match…So what’s the big deal about this soccer lark? I asked one after another fan, wondering as I progressed if I was going to survive the assignment intact. It stopped short of me being spat at, but there was a lot of snarling, a lot of neon dazzling language. I have a memory of a very red cheeked, red scarved, red everythinged man moving very close to my face. His fists were clenched if I recall. Only, he said, taking a deep breath…only a woman could ask that question. His rage was real, but bordered on something else as he shook his head and walked away. I’m only just starting to get it these days. Life teaches you unexpected things sometimes.

I’m new to the soccer mom thing. Soccer mom, athletics mom, swimming mom, hockey mom, cycle mom. All of my children are competitive and active in their various ways. Abigail blows me away with her staying power, her ability to keep coming back to a thing, to stick with it until she quietly conquers. James would think nothing of cycling 50 miles to get a can of beans, just for the joy of being on the bike. He was never into the more conventional sports though. We sometimes recall an early training session on those gatherings where these sorts of things come up. He was about five. He disappeared. Was found afterwards by a panicked coach, curled up in a hollow of a tree. He’d decided to have a rest, didn’t get what the fuss was about…all that running around after a ball? Later his sporting confidence saw him volunteer to represent the school in swimming when no other candidates were forthcoming, a move which says something about his character. His character was certainly in evidence when the race started. The ghosts of that precious memory come to me at old Trafford. The race was two lengths of the pool. At this stage in his swimming career he had barely swam one length. He was halfway through his first length when the other competitors had finished the race. The spectators started to talk amongst themselves, thinking the race had finished, then noticed him, struggling to finish his first length. There was silence as he faced into his second length. The second length was torture. Slow. Slow. Stroke after sloppy, exhausted stroke. A lifeguard approached him with a lasso on a stick, offering to rescue him. James shook his head. Continued splashing along. A slow clap started. He finished the race, staggered over to me at the sideline. I did it, he said. I did it Mum.

I’ve always espoused the do your best mantra. I’ve always believed it’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part. I still believe that. Hugo has put me through the wringer on this philosophy though. He’s the most conventionally sporty of my three, and for him it’s not just about the taking part. I’ve had to change my parenting tack, hone my philosophical musings and learn to respect his opinion. My children are the best teachers I’ve ever had. We are all different, they have taught me, and my notions of how things should be can’t be one size fits all in a household that strives to be open. Hugo wants to win, you see. It’s not about just taking part to me, he has had to rather forcefully explain. It’s about the winning. Of course, when you have a child who burns with the desire to win, who works hard at his various sports, is sometimes in the medals, sometimes not, there’s a lot of nurturing, supporting, taxiing and comforting needed. It has been, and continues to be, a steep learning curve. You want to do the right thing. You want to be encouraging. You want to be supportive. You want to meet his needs. But you also want to be able to recognise when you have to step in as a parent and make adult decisions about what you think is best for him, even when he might sometimes feel otherwise. Those are the times when you cross your fingers, hope you’re on the right track.

My Granddad Tim was one of the ghostly stragglers along with us at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Another wave of emotion rose as he came into my thoughts there at the dugout. He left Ireland in the 40s, along with his then girlfriend Peg. They had to leave. But behind him, in his pursuit of the practicalities of forging a new life, earning a wage, rearing a family, I reckon he left some dreams. I can only assume this. He wasn’t one to feel sorry for himself. Bits of information gleaned over the years, a precious few surviving medals. We had always heard he was a great sportsman in his community, but possibly didn’t quite appreciate just how good he was. A few years ago some of my London family came over to celebrate the 80th birthday of his sister. It was several years after he had passed away himself, and over 60 years since he had left Ireland. We were in a pub in Bantry, on our way to the home village of Kealkill, when we were approached by a stranger. Ye’re obviously Tim Hourihan’s crew, the man announced. He didn’t know anyone there, but recognised the strong family resemblance that Grandad Tim’s distinctive looks have stamped on the generations. He went on to talk in wonder at Grandad’s sporting achievements. It was a pity he left, he said, he had a great sporting career ahead of him. Over the next few days, one after another person approached my aunts and uncles, congratulating them on having such a great sportsman, mourning his loss, reminiscing. Great sporting careers are a rarity and a privilege. My grandfather had no regrets I think. He was a roguish, beloved father and grandfather. He had a good life, and left many happy memories behind.

I wonder about my own young competitor. There is, statistically, little chance that sport will become his chosen, or fated career. But that doesn’t take from or diminish the current dreams or aspirations or hopes he might have. In the here and now he is living the dream, dealing with the highs and lows, learning to cope with winning and with losing. At Old Trafford the tour guide told him to take out his soccer boots in the dressing rooms. She told him to sit beneath his favourite Man U player’s jersey and we all sang happy birthday. Then we all went into the tunnel. She switched on a recording of the roaring crowd, and what could have been a slightly tacky moment produced another wave of emotion as she told Hugo to stand on one side of the tunnel, where he was going to lead the team out. She called on the other birthday boy in the group to stand on the other side of the tunnel. The beaming 80-year-old looked over at Hugo. They led their teams from the tunnel, to the edge of the pitch. The tour-guide again reminded me that Hugo couldn’t actually go onto the pitch, but he could stand so close to it that in a photograph he would look like he was standing on it. Hugo pushed back as close to the barrier as he could get. As I snapped away he moved one of his legs behind him, gently brushing the pitch with his new lucky boots. As we moved towards the exit from the pitch he picked up a tiny little tuft of stray pitch grass that had blown onto the path. This is for Milo, he explained, referring to his best friend, a super-talented young footballer who might just be one of the rare ones that goes all the way. For me it was one of those job-well-done moments, that reminded me of what it’s all about. Milo certainly deserved to be in Hugo’s thoughts at his own special moment. When Hugo was devastated after not being able to run a race a couple of years ago, Milo, who had won a coveted medal in the race, immediately came to Hugo, lifting the medal over his head as he approached and offering it to Hugo. Hugo turned it down of course, but the gesture was incredibly moving and appreciated by us all. I may be correct in saying it’s not about the winning… but sometimes it most certainly is about the winning. But it’s never that simple of course. Sometimes it’s about losing, sometimes it’s about winning, and sometimes it’s about winning with real grace, and an instinctive knowledge that things like friendship and loyalty and kindness matter even in our most triumphant moments.

My Friend Jenna

Jan 4 2015

2015! Four days into it even? The pressure is building. I’ve got that New Years change my life thing going on. Doing nothing particularly constructive with that thought. Using the excuse of a tummy, head, pukey, bottomy thing yesterday. Must have been coming on for the couple of days beforehand. To expand on my excuse-making. But I’m feeling much better today.

Now the problem is, it being January 4th, I’m watching the date. Found myself on one of those wandering sessions around the internet a few days ago, one of the ones where you veer off to do a quiz to see how good your grammar or geography is, and next thing find yourself drawn to the latest news on Kym Kardasian (sic perhaps)…you’re not even sure how to spell her name and not even sure who she is…something about an ample bottom you think. And anyway, you find yourself in the company of Jenna. Online company that is. Still out there on your cyber trip. Jenna is someone who tells people how it’s gonna be…astrologically, psychically, something like that. So like an eejit, a bit high on the cyber gases, you sign up and in teenage boy with a horn excitement you sign David up too. Let me tell you he’s really thrilled with that. So Jenna writes you a very long, personable, you’re my new best friend email telling how in all her years she’s never had flashes like it. And of course, your slightly intelligent brain is telling you don’t mind that nonsense. But the other brain, the slightly a lot less than intelligent one is telling you you’re so special she must be right. I think my man was feeling a bit the same way. Took us a few days to tell each other Jenna had picked me as the chosen one. No me. No me. Yada yada. Both slightly embarrassed I think. So yes, it’s all makey uppy sign up here for the second reading which will really tell you what it’s all about for the special price of… so yes, I’m over my short-lived flirtation with Jenna. Except for January 4th. You see, she mentioned something about a flash on the number 4 early in the year. And the other brain has been slightly whispering in my ear. And I’m ever so just a tiny bit waiting for something to happen. She did also mention something about having to make it happen myself. So here I am. Finally starting the blog I’ve been threatening to foist on the world at small. So Jenna is right. It’s a momentous occasion. I’d advise everyone to sign up to my friend Jenna.

I wondered what I would put in the blog. I don’t think I have a very exciting life by public standards. The most exciting thing that’s happened in days is my rooster baby Lux said his first words. They went something along the lines of A-A-A-A (very broken voice) OOOOH (rooster cough, rooster cough, rooster cough). Note, I have been genteel enough to refer to Lux as a rooster. But I’m in Ireland not the deep south. So henceforth it’s my cock Lux.

Cock. Sometimes it’s enough just to say it. A friend of mine was talking about the liberation of saying the other c word out loud. I’m going to go out into the garden now and shout it (not too loudly). Oh my GOD, how liberating. God. Now there’s another word I might shout out for the laugh. I’ve found myself using the phrase thank God over the Christmas. I’m not really a thank God sort of person. Except sometimes when I’m speaking to a particular generation and then, genuinely, I’m just trying to be nice. The way you might attempt a few lines of a conversation with someone who was madly keen on golf. Now how did we get to those slummy levels of depravity. Golf? Must watch my tongue.

I’ll bring my phone with me to the garden. I want to get a video of Lux doing his new party trick, not me doing mine. I had another cock before (quiet down the back). Thought she was a hen. Little black minorcan, very pretty. She climbed a tree (climbed?) on Valentines day to let me know she wasn’t a she. She climbed back down that tree as a man. Well, a male at least. Can’t remember the original name but he was Valentine from that day forth. Happy Valentines day. Getting in with my greetings early this year.

IMG_2103Couldn’t get him to talk on cue, but here’s the handsome boy, posing for the camera.