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Life Without Santa

Another Christmas day has come and gone, and I am pleased to report that Santa did not make an appearance. He never has. There is no such thing as Santa, as you well know. In Ireland, however, as in much of the Western world, this imaginary creature is a bigger, more important fixture in the whole milieu than the infant Jesus.

My daughters were born in India and Singapore respectively, where I felt no compunction whatsoever to celebrate a Christian festival.  We joined in when we were asked – the same way we joined Eid, Lunar New Year and any other festivities we were invited to enjoy.

This year marked the third Christmas that my children and I have spent in Ireland – and the seventh (yikes!) that we have spent in Europe. Every year in December, conversations turn to ‘Santy’ and at some stage, I will mention that we don’t ‘do’ Christmas and, therefore, we don’t ‘do’ Santy.

Why we don’t do Christmas – we’re not Christian – is far more acceptable to most people than why we don’t ‘do’ Santy. What I have always found interesting is other people’s annoyance with me for my non-conformism with regard to Santa.  I am called upon to explain myself several times a year, and most often during the months of November and December.

I have a few friends who are proud, devout athiests. In keeping with their beliefs, they teach their children that there is no God. Yet, they also teach their children that there is a santa. While I consider it their right to tell their children what they like, I find it interesting that santa is ‘allowed’ but God isn’t.

My stance on Christmas and Santa was questioned again about a fortnight ago. Yet again, I explained that we are Hindu and, as such, our big celebration is Diwali. We celebrate it with much joy, feasting, visits, stories, prayer, new clothes, sweets, gifts….in fact, there is little difference between how we celebrate Diwali and how other people celebrate Christmas.

Yet, I am frequently struck by how other people are irritated by my refusal to celebrate Christmas and tell my children that a fat man with a beard will gain entry to our home when we’re asleep and give them all the things their little hearts desire.

The reason I have never told my children that Santa exists is simple; I don’t want to lie to them. In recent weeks I have been called to task by my assertion that telling children Santa Claus exists is lying to them. It’s not ‘lying’ I have been told, it’s ‘telling stories’. Lying is bad, telling stories is good. It’s helping kids’ imaginations grow.

I disagree. Santa sets up expectations. If you’re good, you’ll get what you want – if you’re bad, you won’t. What do you when you can’t afford what your child wants? Or, indeed, when you don’t even know what they want? It is conceivable that a child might be reluctant to share what they truly want from Santa with their parents (or anyone else) – or even commit to paper in their list to the mythical being: Yet because of the lies – sorry, stories – they have been told by their parents and other adults, they believe Santa knows what’s in their hearts and minds and so, will grant their wishes.  How disappointed will that child be on Christmas morning? I fail to see the ‘magic’ of Santy that I am often told I am depriving my children of.

I’ve also cringed when I’ve heard parents use ‘Santa’ as a stick to beat their children with ‘If you’re not good, Santy won’t come.’ ‘Stop that now, or Santy won’t come to you.’ Even – ‘Eat your peas if you want Santa to come.’

Of course my children are given gifts at Christmas time, but they know who the gift-givers are, and they know that gifts from me are, well, from me. I don’t see the need to buy into a lie perpetuated by the society I happen to live in. Because, of course, one lie begets another, begets another. Children don’t just think about ‘Santa’ at Christmastime, they will think – and ask questions about – him throughout the year.

The questions they ask need answering – inevitably with more lies. And what about the moment when the child realises or is told that there is no Santa? I know several people who were annoyed with their parents for duping them in their childhoods, and others who were devastated when they found out that something they had believed and held dear all their little lives was totally false.

I feel it important to note that my children are aware that other children believe in Santa Claus and they have been brought up to respect that and not spoil the ‘fun’ for other children. When asked, my two just say that Santa doesn’t come to them because they’re not Christian, but that they get plenty of presents at Diwali – which comes at least 6 weeks before Christmas. They like the fact that they get their celebration before everyone else!

Whatever you believe, whatever you celebrate, I would like to wish you and yours peace, love, joy and safety now and always.

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Would You Lie To Save A Life?

I could save a life. In fact, I could save several. It wouldn’t cost me anything. It wouldn’t hurt. It wouldn’t put me, or anyone else, in danger.  It wouldn’t take long. It wouldn’t involve breaking any law. But it would require me to lie.

I don’t smoke. I drink in moderation and I don’t take any drugs – prescription or otherwise. I am vegetarian and the picture of rude good health. And, like nearly half the world, I have bog-standard O+ blood. I’d love to share it – but I’m not allowed. At least, not in Ireland, where I currently reside.  I lived in England in the mid-1990s and and the Irish Transfusion Board has decided that because of the risk of  BSE, it cannot accept  my blood.

Even though I tried to persuade the Powers That Be that I just am a mad cow – I don’t have mad cow disease, they won’t budge.

I console myself  by reminding myself that I donated my spare breastmilk to the milkbank in Fermanagh for as long as I could, helping to save a number of lives over those months.

Like less than 1% of the world’s population, three of my four brothers have super-special AB- blood. They get ushered to the top of the queue whenever they go to donate.  Last year, one of them  – who lives in London – shared the story of a donation he had made a few months previously.

He noticed that, instead of one bag to collect his donation, he was attached to four little bags.

‘Out of curiosity,’ he asked the nurse. ‘Why the four bags?’

‘There’s a courier on the way,’ she explained. ‘To collect this once you’re finished and take it to Great Ormond Street. They’ve babies waiting for it.’

‘Take some from this arm, too,’ Barry offered, holding his other one up.

The nurse smiled and shook her head.

‘I can’t take any more than 470mls from you in one go,’ she said.

‘I’ve loads,’ Barry tried again. ‘Way more than I need.’

‘I really can’t,’ the nurse told him. ‘Just make sure you come back to us in 16 weeks.’

While I wouldn’t be quite as useful as my brothers, I am sure the Irish Blood Transfusion Board could find something to do with my blood. But they won’t get the chance. The part of me that is a ‘good girl’ – the part of me that hates to break rules refuses to lie.  Even though I find it frustrating every time I hear an ad on the radio appealing for blood. Like at this time of the year, when people are too busy and, statistically, more blood is usually needed.

This holiday season, I’d like to urge all of you who can, to make a blood donation. And, if 2011 brings me the one thing I’d really love – a new baby – I promise to donate all my spare milk again. Deal?

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Irony

Irony is writing a post about radio and how much I enjoy it – and, the following morning, losing my voice!

I am now on Day Six of Voicelessness and starting to feel like a representative of oppressed peoples everywhere. It is very frustrating not to have one’s voice heard. Every time I have something to say, I am unable to say it.

Like much related to our health and well-being, we tend to take for granted the fact that we can speak and only realise how much talking we do until we can no longer do it.

Periodically, my voice goes – and goes completely. The first time it happened was when I was in college. I was studying Theatre and it was two days before a show, in which I had rather a lot of lines. Thankfully, my voice was only MIA for about 24 hours, so the show went ahead as planned, instead of as a mime.

A few years later, when I was living in London, my voice went again. This time, it was gone for three days. At the time, I was working in Knightsbridge – as a receptionist! It tickled me that my situation would give people rise to thinking that mine was an extreme equal-opportunities employer. On the second day of voicelessness, I was sent home and told to pop by the doctor on my way.

The last time I lost my voice was about five years ago, and it was only gone for three days.  At the time, my children were only three and a half years and 18 months old respectively. It upset them that their mother wasn’t talking to them and it pained me to see the look of confusion on my youngest daughter’s face when her mum wouldn’t speak to her.

I have never been without my voice for this long. My children are older and taking it in their stride. My eldest is enjoying being my spokesperson; preceding me into shops and telling people on tills that ‘my mum’s not being rude, she just can’t speak’.  For my youngest, on the other hand, the shine has completely gone off my silence. She’d just like her mum back to normal.

Personally, I’m fed up of my own silence as well. I am restricted by it. When the phone rings – I have no choice but to let it ring, something which goes against my nature!

I am also quite stifled by the fact that quick replies and exchanging pleasantries with neighbours and parents at the school is beyond my ability at the moment. Popping in next-door for a coffee and a chat – something I did regularly – is another pleasure  denied me at the moment.

I have realised how much speaking I do normally. Comments, responses, suggestions, observations – and I’m well known for talking to the radio. (My children have given up telling me that the radio cannot hear me!)

Of course, I always have pen and paper within arm’s reach, so I am always able to write my words even if I can’t speak them. Having a conversation on paper, however, is very tiring. I find that I can’t write legibly quickly enough to have a fluid chat – and that I distill much of what I would have said if I could speak into as few words as possible in order to keep up the pace of the exchange.

I’m bored, now, of not being able to talk. I’d like my voice back.

(Photo Credit: Darren Robertson)

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Women On Air

The Huffington Post ran an article a few weeks ago about the dearth of women in media. Specifically, the few women in print. According to the Huff Post, only 10%-20% of opinions in newspapers are written by women.

Unfortunately, the figures are equally disheartening in other media; one Irish radio station has just two women broadcasters out of fifteen in total. Another – a national station – has just four women presenters out of a total of 21. None of these women broadcasts between the crucial listening hours of 7am and 7pm Monday-Friday.

Yet, women outnumber men in the ‘support’ areas of research and production. So why are so few of them making the transition from support to presentation?

Tackling this problem head-on is Margaret E. Ward, of Clear Ink. Mags has organised a number of ‘Women On Air’ seminars to which women who broadcast – or would like to – are welcome. The seminars have speakers from the industry who share their experiences and ideas with the assembled women. Afterwards, it’s across the road to Buswell’s for a bit of net-working.

While it’s a sad reflection on the state of the industry that ‘Women on Air’ seminars are necessary, their popularity proves their necessity.

Just so you know, we’re not a coven of mad witches sitting around moaning about the fact that the boys won’t give us jobs; we realise that most men in broadcasting are not misogynistic by nature. It’s just that men know other men more than they know women.

Think about it – they go to school with boys, they have male friends at university and they socialise with more men than with women. If you need someone for your programme, you’re most likely to ask someone you know – and if you’re a man, you’re more likely to know other men.

Personally, I have found the seminars very useful and would walk across hot coals scattered with broken glass to attend them. I love the comraderie of women who are in the same industry: Women who are open to the ideas and suggestions of other women, and women who want to help other women.

One man asked me why it was important to have women on air. He pointed out that Miriam O’Callaghan presents Prime Time – so, obviously, women are on air.  Yes, there are women on air, just as there are women in politics, but there are not enough.

Quite simply, women and men see things differently, react to things differently and are moved by different things. As women make up 50% of the population, excluding their voices from media means that we are only getting half the story.  It also means that a female perspective which is often – but not always – different to a male perspective, is never aired.

Since Margaret started her seminars, I’ve racked up over two hours of radio time,  made connections with women I’d never have been able to meet otherwise, and I’ve gained confidence.

I’ve had a piece on the financial state of Ireland published in the Singapore Business Times (which I would never have dreamt of doing a few months ago). I also pitched an idea – and later a regular column – to the editor of a new magazine. She was open to both ideas and commissioned pieces from me.  Oh! And invited me to appear on her radio show later in the month.

So, without wanting to appear evangelical, my message is that if you’re a woman with an interest in broadcasting, you need to contact Mags and get yourself an invitation to the next Women On Air seminar.

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