The note came home yesterday that the GAA was starting back training for hurling this morning at 10am. The Littlest Little One got all excited. Then,
‘What’s hurling?’ she asked.

I could feel the ground under me shake as my grandfather spun in his grave. A Kilkenny hurler himself, when he moved to Kildare, he took his passion for the world’s fastest field game with him. He loved everything about it – the speed and the skill and the camaraderie. For years, he was an integral part of his local GAA club. I have an abiding memory of him, in his workshop fashioning hurlies from ash. I remember watching with awe his fluid skill in reaching in and extracting the hurl from the pale wood. It was pure sorcery.

Both my girls arrived at the pitch today to give it a bash (literally!). In conversation, I mentioned to the coach that my late grandfather had been a Kilkenny hurler, and that my uncle led his own team to county victory on more than one occasion.
‘Pedigree!’ the coach shouted. ‘Lock the gates!’
I’m pretty sure he was just kidding,

The girls had great fun, and can’t wait to play again next week.  I think the Biggest Little One, in particular, has found her sport. She seems to have a greater instinct for hurling than for (Gaelic) football.  When she heard that my eldest brother had also hurled in his day, her anticipation of his February visit doubled.
‘Great!’ she said. ‘I can play with him when he gets here.’

I smiled. There was something that just warmed the cockles of my heart seeing my half-Indian baby, with her plait swishing around her bottom, wielding a hurley and getting excited about displaying her skills to her uncle in a few weeks.

There was a tremendous sense of connectedness as I watched both my children clashing ash in pursuit of a sliotar. It was like there was a fine thread connecting them to the generations before them.  I remembered something Bishop Eamonn Walsh had said at my late grandfather’s funeral. Specifically addressing the grandchildren he told us:
“Remember this, in each of you there is a part of him.”
As I watched my children play my grandfather’s sport, I realised that there is a part of him in them, too.

Pedigree? Tradition? Culture? Just a bit of fun? Or a mix of all four? Whatever it is, I’m glad the note came home and I’m glad my girls can’t wait to get their helmets on and their hurlies back in their hands next week.


The Food Issue

A listener to Tom Dunne’s morning show yesterday got in touch to detail a problem. Her nine year old has decided to stop eating meat because meat comes from animals – which are God’s creatures.

A flurry of texts ensued, with many people giving their suggestions on how to cope. A problem is a problem if it is perceived as such, so I am not about to dismiss this parent’s situation as not being problematic – because it obviously is for her.

Most of the world is vegetarian and it’s not that hard. In Ireland, there is a perception of vegetarians as being ‘picky’, ‘difficult’ and ‘awkward’. There is also a misperception that a vegetarian diet is somehow lacking. Honestly, this is just ignorance, with a bit of laziness thrown in.

It is not my intention to convert anyone to vegetarianism, nor am I about to expound on my own reasons for being vegetarian. I have done my research and believe that a vegetarian diet is the healthiest option – and research is key. It is the only way to make an informed decision; indeed, it is the only way one can claim to have made a decision at all.

Choosing a vegetarian diet means learning about food. It means looking at the food purchases you make. It means reading the back of packets of food you buy. It means educating yourself and engaging with food. But wait a second! Shouldn’t you being doing that anyway? Shouldn’t you be aware of what goes into your body no matter what diet you choose?

A notion abounds in Ireland that only meat provides adequate protein. This is incorrect. How much protein do people think they need anyway? What makes  people think they can only get it from meat? There are many sources of protein. Apart from what my kids call ‘pretendy meat’ – like Quorn and other substitutes – lentils, tofu, dairy products (we’re not vegan) nuts, legumes, rice, wholegrain cereals and vegetables all provide protein. Eating more protein than you need is not ‘better’ for you than eating an adequate amount. Unlike fat, the body does not store excess protein – it excretes it.

It is actually very easy to be vegetarian and it’s very easy to raise vegetarian children – you just have to make an effort and educate yourself about food, so you’re aware of what you’re putting into your mouth. Balance is key in any diet and is easily achieved on a vegetarian diet (our diet was reviewed six months ago by a dietician at Crumlin Children’s Hospital, who couldn’t find fault with it).

Feeding my kids well on a vegetarian diet is not hard. What is proving tricky is the learning curve I’m on since last Monday – when I learnt that my youngest is allergic to gluten and dairy and has other food intolerances. Excuse me while I go off now and educate myself some more.


Water and Kiasu-ism

In the estate where I live, we are into our third day of a waterless existence. That is to say, we have no mains water. Apparently, the water has not been shut down, but the pressure is so low that no water is coming into tanks – and, therefore, no water is coming out of our taps or into our showers or our toilet cisterns.

To my mind, this is an inconvenience, not a crisis.  For our household, it means that we are not able to shower, turn on the dishwasher, the washing machine or flush our toilets too frequently.  We have plenty of water to drink – courtesy of the supermarkets – and we can use bottled water to wash our hands and dishes when necessary. For certain tasks – like cleaning faces – there are baby wipes. For certain other tasks – like cleaning surfaces – there are household wipes.  For showers, we have gym membership and for washing clothes, we have friends who have water and washing machines.

Don’t get me wrong – I would not like this to be a permanent situation, but we have been told that we will have our water mains back to normal by the weekend. Today, to ease the discomfort of residents, the local council sent out a large water-tanker. This tanker came into the estate and stopped at the junction of the spine road and each cul-de-sac. Initially, we thought the truck would come into the cul-de-sacs, but it soon became clear that this was not going to happen.

After nearly 45 minutes of standing, waiting politely for the tanker to make its way to our junction, some of my neighbours decided to take matters into their own hands and make their way to the tanker instead. For some, it was a matter of practicality – they were wives and mothers who needed to get the dinner on, or they were shift workers who needed to hurry up in order to be at work on time. Others were motivated by the fear that the tanker would be empty by the time it got to our junction.

Looking at my watch, I decided that if I were to get the dinner made and make it to my 6.45pm meeting on time, I, too, needed to get a move on. So I picked up my assortment of bottles and lidded saucepans, and made my way to the tanker.

I was astonished to see the amount of people who had brought their wheelie bins to the tanker to be filled with water. Why? Why on earth would any sane person bring their rubbish bin to be filled with water? I mean, what can you do with water that has been in your bin? Even if it was filtered and boiled (twice!), I wouldn’t drink it, would you? Come to think of it, how would you get water out of a bin that deep? Wouldn’t you be at a serious risk of drowning leaning over trying to scoop it out? And what would you do with your rubbish while your bin was full of water?!  It’s not as if we’ll be without water forever – it’s not even as if the tanker won’t be around again in a day or two to fill our pots and pans and bottles and buckets again.

‘Kiasu’ was the word that came to mind. That’s Hokkien for the concept of  ‘being afraid to lose’. Now, ‘being afraid to lose’ is very different, linguistically and conceptually to ‘wanting to win’.  Kiasuism refers specifically wanting to have something so that you don’t have more than I do – not necessarily because I need it or want it, but because I don’t want to have less than you do.
Kiasuism is a national sport among Chinese Singaporeans. It’s one of their least attractive characteristics.  I really hope it’s not spreading. Kiasuism  would be harder to live with than no water.


Well Schooled

Ivana Bacik was on the radio yesterday. She feels that there should be more secular schools in Ireland and I have to say that I agree with her.

As I’ve mentioned here before, my children and I are not Christian. We’re what’s referred to as Hindu and, when the time came to put their names down for school, I was torn. I wanted to send them to an Irish-language school (a Gaelscoil), but I didn’t want to send them to a Christian school.

In the end, it wasn’t my decision. When my eldest was 4, there were no places available at any of the seven schools that accept girls in any of the three towns nearby.  Finally, when she was five years and two months old, the principal of the nearest Gaelscoil contacted me.  She told me that there was a place for my daughter at her school.  My relief was palpable – trying to ensure my daughter’s education had become almost a full-time job and I was starting to worry that she would never see the inside of a school building. (I had thought about homeschooling, but was in the middle of a degree myself, so that wasn’t a practical option).

In September of 2007, my Big One started school – a year after I had wanted her to.

Interestingly, the local Educate Together has always told me that they have no places for my children. This school is walking distance from our home – while the Gaelscoil is 5 miles away. I put my youngest daughter’s name down on their waiting list in 2004, before she was even six months old. Yet, in April of last year (2009), they wrote to tell me that there was still no place for her in Junior Infants. I have often wondered how this could be. There is no sibling rule in operation at that school; also, I know mothers of white, baptised Catholic children whose names were put on the list after my daughters’. Yet there was room for their children, but not mine. I’m just saying.

As it happens, the Gaelscoil my girls attend embraces diversity. Diwali is celebrated in my kids’ classes every year and, despite the school being run under the auspices of the Catholic bishop, they are not compelled to learn Catholic prayers or to be schooled in that faith. My Big One is in First Class and they have a religion book. When the rest of the class pulls their religion books out – she does, too. The only difference is that hers is for Hindu kids.

I don’t entirely think, however, that religion has no place in school.  If there were a Hindu school I could send my children to, believe me, I would. The nearest one is in London, so that’s not going to happen any time soon.  In the absence of that, however, I would like to see the Catholic Church bowing out of the majority of Irish schools. I wouldn’t advocate banning them altogether, but I do think that the amount of Catholic schools should be reflective of the percentage of people who are regular church-goers. Perhaps the best option is a school system which gives students an overview of a number of faiths, but doesn’t get mired in specific doctrine.  That, I know, was the idea of the Educate Together schools, but that isn’t the way they have turned out. Certainly not round my way, anyhow.


What Will Matter…

Tidying up my desk-top this morning, I came across the following poem. For some reason, I felt impelled to share it with you:

by Michael Josephson
Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear.
So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you came from or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end.
It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.
Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.
So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought but what you built,
not what you got but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched,
empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.
What will matter is not your competence but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew,
but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories but the memories of those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.
Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.


Singapore – The Bad….

Since Singapore is such a small country – and much of it is reclaimed from the sea – there is not much in the way of natural attractions, but the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is well worth a visit as a 164 hectare example of pristine rainforest. Singapore’s Botanic Gardens – at the top of Orchard Road, the main shopping drag – are spectacular and there are often free music recitals held there.

Apart from that, Singapore boasts one of the best zoos in the world – second only to the one in San Diego, apparently. I’m not a zoo person, but I really enjoyed Singapore Zoo – and the Night Safari there is a real treat.

Unfortunately, there is not much old architecture in Singapore. When Singapore got independence from Britain in the 1960s, many of the old buildings were torn down. Thankfully, many of them around Boon Tat and Amoy streets were not destroyed and have been lovingly restored. The famous Raffles Hotel, of course, is still standing as stately as ever. It provides the visitor with a lovely glimpse at the opulence enjoyed by the privileged of yesteryear who sojourned in Singapore. About six years ago, there was talk of tearing down the old Ford factory; where the Japanese surrendered to Lord Mountbatten. Thankfully, good sense prevailed, and the building is now a national monument and a World War II exhibition gallery.

There is no concept of free press or free speech in Singapore, either, but if you’re only going for a visit, that won’t bother you too much. I had to laugh when, years ago, the government gave into public clamouring for an area similar to ‘Speakers’ Corner’ in London’s Hyde Park. A small patch of a park was conceded to people wishing to air their views. There were, however, a few catches; Singapore’s Speakers’ Corner is beside a police station, a script of the proposed speech must be submitted to the police at least a week before it is due to be delivered and if the authorities don’t like what you’re planning to say, they will not allow you to say it. Further, if you deviate from your ‘approved’ script, you will be arrested.

More than any country I’ve been to – and I’ve been to a few – Singapore is concerned with image. So, there are no beggars on the streets of Singapore, either. They’re in Woodbridge – the mental asylum – to keep them off the streets and away from tourists and those going about their daily business.

A final word of warning, though, before you pack your bags to visit Singapore – be sure that you don’t break the law. “I’m foreign,” or “I didn’t know” are not acceptable responses.  You will be dealt with just as severely as someone who has been living there all their life.  No, you won’t be caned if you don’t flush a loo, but you will be fined. Obey the authorities, regard the rules live by the laws and you’ll have a wonderful time in the ‘Land of the Lion’.


Singapore – The Good….

A friend of a friend is off to Singapore soon and I thought I’d share some of my observations about that city-state:

“It’ll be lovely when it’s finished,” a friend of mine commented.  She was talking about Singapore. Not a particular building in Singapore – but the whole, entire city-state. Singapore feels like a building site. Apparently, it’s part of their economic strategy – tear down perfectly good structures and erect other, perfectly good structures in their place. It seems to be working – Singapore has avoided the brunt of the global recession that is enveloping the rest of us.

That aside, Singapore is probably the best place to start your Asian tour. It is familiar enough – everyone speaks a sort of English – that you don’t feel totally overwhelmed. Yet foreign enough to make you feel like you have travelled half-way around the world – which you have.

Its an excellent springboard to countries such as Malaysia – which is just a hop skip and a jump down the road (Bukit Timah Road) and over the Causeway.  The Indonesian islands of Bintan and Batam are just short boat rides away.

Singapore is a city that is constantly celebrating. The mix of cultures and religions means that there is always an excuse to get dressed up and overeat! All the major festivals of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm. Lunar New Year (known as ‘Chinese’ New Year in Singapore) falls in January or February, which is followed shortly afterwards by Valentine’s Day.  Since the early years of this century, St. Patrick’s Day, in March, has joined the calendar of events in Singapore.

Given that eating is a national past-time – with every cuisine in the world available in the city-state – it will come as no surprise that there is a ‘Food Festival’ in Singapore in July.  So no matter what time of the year you go, you can be sure that you will bear witness to a cultural celebration which will remain with you forever.

The climate of Singapore is tropical and humid – the country is just one degree north of the equator – so there will be no huge difference in the weather no matter what time of the year you visit. If the heat and being permanently damp from the humidity gets to you, it’s easy to nip into an air-conditioned shopping mall to cool down. Shopping is the other national past-time in Singapore, so there are malls littered all over. Conveniently, most MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) stations have shopping malls built over them.

Speaking of the MRT, it is a fantastic mode of transport.  Clean, efficient and ultra-modern, the MRT criss-crosses the island and is a very cheap way to get around.

Unlike most countries that have a predominately Chinese population, Singapore has a designated Chinatown. It is well worth a visit as a one-stop area for all things Chinese – including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is fully regulated in Singapore.

My favourite place in Singapore, however, is Little India. Turning the corner from Jalan Besar (literally ‘Big Road’ in Malay), is like being instantly transported to India. The sights, sounds, smells (and driving!) are just like you’d find in any town in Tamil Nadu! The Indians in Singapore are predominately Tamilian, which is why Tamil is one of the country’s four national languages.

The other ethnic enclave of Singapore is ‘Kampong Glam’ – where the Malay culture is on colourful display – while Holland Village was, historically, where the Europeans shopped. The best bakery in Singapore can be found here, just behind Cold Storage Jelita. It is called ‘Petit Provence’ and has the most amazing cinnamon rolls you will ever eat. In Singapore, such an item is called a ‘die, die, must try’ piece. So don’t be alarmed when you hear that phrase during your visit.

So that’s the good (or some of it). Watch out for my next post, when I’ll tell you a bit about some of the bad.