Tag Archives: the old man

preparation for student life

I lived in a small town in the west. We had fields behind, a lake in front, lakes all around. Far enough from the border for it not to loom, close enough for it to be an everyday reality. Regular life in Northern Ireland in 1982.

But changes were ahead. I was planning on going to university. I didn’t know any students. Past pupils from my school came home at Christmas, smug and worldly wise, too busy being grown up to discuss their new lives.

I’d intended to go to England, but wasn’t brave enough to head away into the world on my own. Belfast was far enough.  I’d never stayed there overnight. Belfast was scary, but at least my accent would be understood there, and I could go home anytime I wanted. Small steps.

We all prepared for my student life together: Herself, the Old Man, the Brother and I learned everything we needed to know from TV. We laughed and winced and cringed and learned a whole new vernacular.


Rik Mayall died yesterday. Thank you, Rik for all the family fun.*


*not “family friendly”


She chose the dress. She got the flowers. It was a special day.

For the first time in months she was going to visit her mum and dad.

There was hugging and food and giggling with the auntie, and then they all headed off. They wrapped up warm, and squashed into the car.

She touched up her lipstick on the way.

As if they were actually there.

As if she could hold them, or feel their warmth.

But they are long gone, and know nothing of the lipstick, the wintry wreath or the stones she has carried faithfully from the beach.

Back in the car, heat made its way back into their bones and they told tales of the parents. Gone too soon, but gone. Living on in us.

retiring to the Ritz- can you do it?

The old man wasn’t one to be conventional. He was proud to have been denounced from the pulpit for having the cheek to cause a local election rather than simply allow the nationalist and unionist cabals to nominate ‘their’ councillors. On being warned that this behaviour meant he’d never get a council house, he said that wasn’t a concern, he’d be buying his own house. The gall. A working class lad? Getting to the grammar school must have given him airs above his station. Buying his own house- whatever next?

Many years later, the patient in the next bed in the regional cancer centre (but originally from the same town) said to him “I haven’t met you before, but I know who you are. You’re the first person I ever heard of who bought a house.”

In the intervening years, he’d taken promotion and moved away from his home town- a short distance, but a big step. He refused further promotion- why would he move from the far edge of the region, to be closer to the bosses, 80 miles away? He loved his life and his family- the wee boat, a stray dog, the delights of Donegal. He stopped being politically active as the local situation became more, not less, sectarian, but he stayed a Labour supporter. I wonder how he’d have coped with Blair and ‘New Labour’?

My political education at home was anti Thatcher. As an adult, none of her policies was to change my mind. She was strong and driven, a commanding figure. A figure who did not believe in society. Everyone for themselves. Individual responsibilty; no social contract.

I don’t agree with that. I believe we are all better off in a society. We have a responsibilty to others, and they to us. We need housing, food, warmth, security, health provision, education. We all need support sometime.

Mrs Thatcher died yesterday. She was an enormously divisive character, and we’ll be seeing many more programmes about her ‘legacy’, her not-state-but-full-of-pomp-and-ceremony funeral. I’m avoiding most of it.

However, my head has been spinning at how the very wealthy insulate themselves from the real world. When the old man was dying, he was at home, with nurse vists. Herself’s needs were not small- she moved to a nursing home after a series of home adaptations failed to keep up with the pace of her degenerative illness. Mrs Thatcher, who hadn’t been a public figure for about 10 years- a frail, 87 year old with dementia, who’d had strokes- lived in a hotel rather than manage the stairs. By hotel, I don’t mean a cheap and functional chain. The woman lived at The Ritz.

I’m struggling with this, although I’m not surprised. If one can afford to live in such luxury, why not?

I just wish everyone struggling with stairs, dementia, or needing full time care had a choice; that they could access appropriate care in a timely manner, in a place that suits them and their family.

That’s not the case now, and it won’t be the case as long as there is no concept of society. Individual responsibilty and a social contract should not be exclusive. We do need to look after ourselves and each other as best we can.

We’ll never all be able to live at the Ritz, but we could reduce homelessness. We won’t be able to provide private nursing care for each individual, but quality nursing for everyone who needs it should not be beyond us. Not everyone will choose a wee boat on Lough Erne, but everyone should have an opportunity to nourish their soul, through access to libraries, museums, parks, leisure centres, decent public transport, events. A more equitable society would be good for all of us.

Unfortunately, Dave and his mates are part of Thatcher’s legacy. We have work to be doing.