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Back in the good old days we may not have had mobile phones but we managed without them. Social media was unheard of. We managed to communicate by other means. Mostly face to face or a phone call. This meant we didn’t have to read nasty comments, racial slurs, homophobic slurs or tweets written to stir up hate, incite violence or even war.
Back in the good old days we didn’t have central heating and didn’t miss it. We had open fires which we huddled around on a cold night. But we could afford the coal for the fire. Now we have a choice, heat or food, but in many houses not both.
We have become a dystopian society because of corruption and the ego of some powerful figures intent on world domination. Don’t think Putin will stop if he succeeds in his domination of Ukraine.
Back in the good old days, the local doctor visited and called at the house when you were ill and kept calling until you were better. Hospitals were well staffed and there was no queuing for a bed. No exhausted nurses and doctors. No ambulances lining up outside hospitals and we did have flu epidemics the past. The NHS was well funded and well run back in the day.
I’m not saying everything was wonderful and I’m not one of those who voted for Brexit who see the past as being halcyon days. We seem as a society to have taken 10 steps forward and 9 steps back. There are more homeless on the streets, more suicides, more hungry, more wars, more threats of wars, not sure about more corruption as it’s always been around. But this is 2022 not 1950 and we should have progressed as a society not regressed.
I accept it’s not all bad but I think we have reached a crossroads and we need to pick the right road if society is to survive. Climate change is a huge challenge. If we don’t act now it will be too late. More needs to be done about Covid and the variants which will inevitably contribute to the toll on the NHS.
I hate that I’m writing this as it’s not the way it should be. George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1949. I wonder what he would think if he were alive today and see that the dystopian world he envisaged is becoming a reality in 2022.
I was always a bright intelligent child even if I say so myself. Precocious might even be a more appropriate description. As the oldest of six children there was possibly more responsibility put on me and I became pretty good at looking after the children and helping out in the house. I also learned to cook and iron at an early age.
When I was eleven I became seriously ill and needed an emergency operation. An earlier operation had resulted in adhesions developing and it was now a life or death situation.
I was lucky and survived but I was advised not to take my eleven plus as I wasn’t sufficiently recovered. I was adamant that I would go ahead and refused to wait for the sick exam as I believe it was called in those days. I passed with flying colours. I know it was flying colours because I checked when I started working in the examinations branch of the Ministry of Education.
I started grammar school and my family had great plans for me. My dad was a university graduate and it was expected that I would follow in his footsteps.
However, it didn’t work out that way. I wasn’t a good scholar, got mediocre results in my exams and hated studying. Many nights saw me ‘studying ‘ at the kitchen table with Jackie ( a pop magazine ) under my books.
I was more interested in what was top of the pops or what novels I could read under the covers with a flashlight. Brighton Rock by Graham Green was the first adult novel I had ever read. Newspapers with all the scandals were sneaked into the bathroom and I read with awe what was happening in the outside world.
I scraped through my junior and senior certificates. My headmistresses
comment on my results were ‘Ah bien, ma chère’ ( Ah well , my dear. ) My geography teacher send me a picture of St.Jude, the patron of hopeless cases.
By this time I had met Gordon. This added a further complication to my education. I had gone back to do A levels and repeat some O levels but the romance was frowned upon by our families due to our religious backgrounds. He was one of them and I was one of us, so any further education was abandoned, I applied for a post as Clerk in the Civil Service and left home at 16 to live in Belfast.
You can read my exploits over the years in my memories on YouTube or in this blog under memories but fast forward to 1994 when I made the decision to do a degree. Gordon had finished his PH.D and I thought it’s my time now. If I’d don’t do it now it will be too late.
I remember my first day walking into the university for our induction day. I’m here after all these years , I thought, fulfilling what my dad wanted for me and he’s no longer here to see it. The grandeur of the great hall, the quadrangle, the common rooms, things I never thought I would be part of. Pictures of Educating Rita flashed in front of me. Although I never came across a Michael Caine I did meet some lovely lecturers. The late Rick Wilford was one of those.
Fast forward again to the summer of 1999 and it was my turn to walk across the stage in my gown and receive the award of B .A.( Hons) in Humanities. I was so proud. My husband , my daughter and my son were there to witness it. It was also the last graduation where Senator George Mitchell presented the awards.
It wasn’t easy. My mother had a stroke, my mother in law developed dementia and I had to drop out for a term but I persevered and I got there and that moment walking across that stage made the late nights finishing essays worthwhile and made it one of my proudest moments.
In 1949 George Orwell published 1984. Over 73 years later I have survived to see this dystopian novel become a reality.
In 1949 society was emerging from the aftermath of the second world war and it was an austere world with food rationing being part of every day life. Coupons were needed to purchase everyday items like butter and sugar and this led to black marketing when goods were purchased in the Republic of Ireland and smuggled across the border.
My parents married in 1947. My mother had recently returned from London where she worked in the BBC. I’m including her account of her time in England during the war as it makes interesting reading.
My dad was a Civil Engineer graduating from University College Dublin and during the war he had worked on preparing air strips for the Americans landing in Northern Ireland.
I came into this world on Valentine’s Day 1949. I weighed only 5lbs 5ozs and probably my mother didn’t need to push too much to introduce me to the world. However, I can’t have looked too healthy, as to be on the safe side I was baptised the next day. I was called Ann Patricia Valerie and I was born under the sign of Aquarius, the water carrier. Well that’s not strictly true. I was baptised Anne Patricia Valerie but the kids in school used to call me Annie so I knocked of the ‘e’. Annoys me even when I see it on prescriptions etc.
The river Ghan ran along the side of Peacefield, the house in Rostrevor where I was born and then made its way out into the nearby Carlingford Lough. Ironic, as I have always had a fear of water. I had been under the illusion for many years that my birth place was a cottage called Rose Cottage. But on a recent visit my delusions were shattered when I found out it was not actually a cottage, was in a state of decay and going to wreck and ruin. A check on my birth certificate confirmed it was called Peacefield. Rose Cottage was I suppose more romantic.
The house is still standing but we moved from there when I was two, to a large Victorian terraced house which was rented from the local parish. It looked over a large estate which belonged to the Bowes- Lyon family. My aunt, who was a nurse, looked after Miss Marriane Lyon, a second cousin of the Queen, and so I accompanied her on many occasions to the house that stood in the park. Unfortunately it was knocked down as it had fallen into disrepair. I believe the Queen mother and the present Queen and her sister Margaret visited the house and played in the grounds. It is now Kilbrony Park having been taken over by the local council. When we were young many beautiful Arab horses roamed the huge expanse of meadow. In spring the ground was covered in daffodils. It became our private playground as we grew up.
Many happy hours were spent exploring Kilbroney Park. Along with many rare and beautiful trees ( Rostrevor is often called the Riviera of the North because of its mild climate) Rostrevor is also home to the evergreen Holm Oak. The oak also known as ‘Old Homer ‘was nominated as Northern Ireland’s tree of the year. C.S. Lewis was inspired by the view and it is believed Narnia was the result. Every year girl guides and boy scouts would pitch their tents in the meadow. In the evenings my brothers and I would stand at the windows for hours watching them playing round the campfires and listening to the campfire songs. We did however feel sorry for them when it rained and they were mud to the elbows.
We lived near the sea and to find out if the tide was in or out all I had to do was stand at my front door. On summer mornings we would head off to the beach for the day unaccompanied, and we wouldn’t come home until we were hungry. I never went out of my depth and despite all those hours splashing around in the water I still can’t swim.
The house we moved into had been a boarding house run by two elderly sisters and each upstairs room had a bell which had been used to summon the servants from ‘below stairs’. Great fun to play with but a nightmare for Mum down in the kitchen. They were taken out during renovations which was a pity. My first memory in my new house was of almost flooding us out. Left to my own devices at about aged three and after the arrival of a new baby brother, I decided to wash myself. I pulled a small chair over to the hand basin in my Mum’s room, put in the plug and turned on both taps. I guess the overflow didn’t work because I can remember my Mum running out of the kitchen as the water flooded through the ceiling. Her first reaction was to run to a neighbour who happened to be the local constable. I thought he was coming for me but he quickly found the source of the water and a scared little girl. The chair I stood on was made by my grandfather, who was a carpenter and I still have it.
Four boys arrived over the next eleven years and I began to wonder if they were coming from somewhere in my mother’s bedroom. Every time she disappeared into that room with the local midwife another baby appeared. I was thirteen when my sister arrived and this was the first time I worked out where babies came from. Men were barred from the births in those days and were called in when the baby was delivered and was alive and kicking. Mothers were confined to bed for two weeks, unlike today when new mothers are discharged from hospital only 24 hours after giving birth. I also remember that after a birth my mother had to be churched. Until this archaic ceremony took place shortly after the birth, mothers were considered unclean. A sort of purification. It was done away with in the late sixties by the Catholic Church. When I look back on it now, the cheek of it, making women feel unclean because they were giving birth.
My father was a a favourite with the local children as we were one of the few houses with a fridge. Every weekend he would fill the ice maker with orange juice and then add sticks, resulting in home made lollipops after a couple of hours. A steady stream of youngsters would appear on the doorstep looking for a lolly. We were also subjected to National Health orange juice which was extremely sweet and that together with a daily spoonful of Virol ( a vitamin preparation based on malt extract), it’s no wonder dental decay was a big problem.
I remember at about the age of five getting our first television. It was an ugly-looking box, with a tiny screen and watching it was an ordeal. TVs in those days had a vertical hold and a horizontal hold. The horizontal hold was to control the picture from continual lilting to the side and the vertical hold was to stop the picture continually dropping off the screen. We got used to watching every programme through a snow storm. Reception was awful and for many years there was only one station. We sat in awe watching Muffin the Mule, a puppet horse on strings and a mad woman who played the piano and talked to said Muffin. Goodness! We were easily entertained. Muffin was followed by Bill and Ben, the Wooden Tops and Andy Pandy.
Nevertheless we had TV nights when the neighbours came in to see something special, had something to eat and money was raised for the local church. As I said the reception was terrible but TV was a new phenomenon in Rostrevor and the neighbours were enthralled.
We had a happy childhood. We didn’t need xboxes or Playsations. We built pretend houses, we skipped, roller skated, explored and read comics. We attended the matinee in the local cinema on a Saturday afternoon. Saturday was Bunty and Judy for me and the Victor and the Hotspur for the boys. Comics in case you haven’t heard of them. Food was wholesome but adventurous. Meals out at an hotel were a treat. There was no central heating in most houses in the fifties. Many winter mornings I woke up to find ice had formed on the bedroom window. When we were sick, a coal fire was lit in our bedroom. Getting dressed was an ordeal. We tried to do it while still under the blankets. No duvets in those days.
Living in a terrace of eight houses we had an eclectic mix of neighbours. Next door was the local headmaster of the boys primary school and his wife who was the headmistress of a local country primary school in a town land called Drumreagh.
On the other side was the district nurse and midwife. Extremely handy for delivering my four brothers. Further down was the local Methodist minister’s Manse and next door to him the local policeman. In a detached house on the same road was the local doctor. In those days the local doctor knew you and your family and all the family history. Home visits were normal and happened without even a request. No appointments were necessary at the surgery you just sat in a queue and waited your turn. Many occasions saw me running with one of the younger ones, blood dripping from somewhere in order for the doctor to do a quick stitch. My mother couldn’t stand the sight of blood .
I attended the local school. We were taught by nuns. I can still remember my first day when I sat beside a boy called George Cahill. I loved being at school. We wrote on boards with chalk as we hadn’t graduated to ink pens. When we graduated to ink pens, fingers were constantly inky and blots on exercise books were common. Outside toilets with half doors were the order of the day. Can you imagine it in the middle of winter? The water in the toilet was frozen, the toilet paper was Izal, that’s the shiny sort. There was central heating in the school but why were those crates of milk always set beside the radiators? I can still taste that warm milk. Ugh.
My Dad had a Ford or an Austin, not sure which, and many times we travelled with him to Dundalk to smuggle home sugar and butter which were still rationed in the North. We thought it was a great game and I’m sure the customs officer who asked ‘Anything to declare?’ knew we were sitting on something. On one occasion while on our foray for food, my brother leaned on the back door of the car. There were no safety locks in those days. He must have flipped the handle because he suddenly disappeared out the door. Luckily the car wasn’t going to fast. ‘Dad, Dad,’ I shouted, as I looked out the back window to see my brother lying on the road. Seems hysterically funny now but not so then. After the once over in Daisy Hill hospital he was released with a slight concussion.
On a final note bearing in mind what is happening in 2017 the twelfth ( Orange Order Parade) was held in Rostrevor on one occasion. Shopkeepers of every denomination had their stalls out selling Smyth’s lemonade and homemade sandwiches to those marching and those watching the parade. Our local milkman, an Orangeman, delivered the milk the night before, apologising profusely for the early delivery. We were too young to know what the Orange Order was and what it stood for. In those days most people seemed to come out to just to watch the bands. No bonfires and very little, if any, trouble. My lovely granny who owned a pub in Camlough was visiting on that occasion. As the parade passed our garden she waved and was acknowledged by a lot of the marchers as many were her customers. I remember thinking she was like the Queen. I loved my Granny and I used to visit her often and stay with her in Camlough. She would also come and stay with us in Rostrevor. I was devastated when she died.
The fifties were a quiet time but we did have a taste of what was to come. One night a loud explosion shook our house. A bomb had blown up a U.T.A bus in the nearby depot.
Kilbroney Park, Rostrevor
I listened to a high achiever ( don’t remember her name) talk to a audience of children recently. She told them that they could achieve anything they wanted just like she had done.
Is this right? Does it give expectation and hope to those who for whatever reason will never attain their goals.
What a sense of disappointment and failure when little Jonney works hard to be an astronaut only to find out that this is for the elite few and he is not one. Or Mary who wants to be a model like the beautifully digitised models she sees on social media. Mary is gorgeous but she’s not model material as you need to be 5ft 8 inches and Mary is nowhere near that.
But she has been given expectations that she can be whatever she wants and in this world where only a few actually achieve what they want to be is this false hope?
Why not be honest. Explain that we are all destined for different paths in our future. We should try to do our best, study, have an open mind and pursue your dream but with the realisation that you may not make it and that’s ok.
Most of us settle for a happy family, a decent job with a decent salary and even that is not always possible and that is life. That is not to say that some will attain that goal and achieve what they wanted to be.
No wonder we have depression and anxiety and suicide. Being told you can be anything you want to be and it doesn’t happen. The sense of failure, the self loathing.
We need to be careful when talking to our young people. I was sitting with my 17 year old granddaughter watching the piece on TV . ‘That’s rubbish ‘ she said. ‘Not everyone can be whatever they want to be’ So glad she is self aware!
Over the last nine months I was aware that things weren’t right and I knew I needed to see a doctor. However the virus was everywhere and I kept putting it off.
It was a difficult decision but I finally realised I needed to find out what was going on. It took a lot of phone calls but I persisted and eventually got through to the clinic. The doctor agreed that I needed to be seen and an appointment was made.
Blood tests were taken and I was asked to take an FOBT (fecal occult blood test), a very sophisticated test that can detect occult blood in the bowel.
A few days later I was walking along the seafront at Seapark when my doctor phoned. First the good news , the blood tests were all normal but the FOBT showed that there was a problem and further tests were necessary.
This included a second FBOT which also came back positive. This was very quickly followed up by a phone call from a consultant at the Ulster hospital who described what would happen next.
First a colonoscopy, followed by a CT scan and then an MRI. I have to say that I couldn’t have been treated better. Everyone I came across, and there were three hospitals involved : Downe hospital, Lagan Valley hospital and finally the Ulster hospital were understanding, efficient and caring. Despite all that was going on with the virus, normal day to day life saving procedures were going on.
I won’t go into details but the colonoscopy and the prep for it weren’t pleasant. I was able to watch on the screen as I didn’t take a sedative and so I realised something wasn’t right when I heard the doctors asking for a biopsy. This took place at Downe Hospital.
A discussion after with the doctor revealed that they had found a tumour / polyp 3mm ( 1 inch long) It was not possible to say whether or not it was cancer until a biopsy had been performed. The wheels were also set in motion for a CT scan followed by an MRI.
Next morning I received a call from Lagan Valley Hospital. Could I come along that afternoon for the CT scan? No waiting, straight in with reassuring staff talking me though the procedure. I had to wait over a week for results of the CT scan but it was clear and if it was cancer it hadn’t spread.
The MRI was next. This was the one I wasn’t looking forward to as I am extremely claustrophobic. However as it was scanning the pelvic area I was able to go into the tube feet first and apart from the noise it was fine.
How was I feeling during this time? I have to say I was quite calm and accepting. Red flags had been mentioned and I knew I was getting excellent attention and it was being investigated quickly.
I got on with life and took the attitude that what will be, will be, to quote and old song. My husband didn’t sleep much in those six weeks and the family were worried. I had good support from them and from friends who I had confided in.
On Monday this week I went to the Ulster Hospital to get results. Good news, the tumour is benign but is probably precancerous. So I will need an operation in January to remove it.
I am writing this to let anyone who is worried about their symptoms not to be embarrassed or afraid and to see your doctor as soon as possible. They have seen and heard it all before.
The symptoms of bowel cancer are below. This doesn’t mean that all cases will be cancerous but it could save your life if it’s caught early as in my case.
The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel ill. However, it’s worth trying simple treatments for a short time to see if they get better.
More than 90% of people with bowel cancer have 1 of the following combinations of symptoms:
- a persistent change in bowel habit – pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
- blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids
- abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss
Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions.
Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer.
Thank you for reading this. I hope you will share and maybe by doing so you will help save a life.
I wish you a Happy and Healthy Christmas.
It may be my age but I keep seeing scenarios in NI that have been going on here for years. Only difference, new voices, same arguments.
Nothing is ever taken to a conclusion. We just go round in circles never squaring the circle. Addressing the legacy of the troubles, dealing with terrorist groups, racism, homophobia, bonfires, flags round and round we go.
Now we have climate change and how that will affect us in the coming years appears to being ignored.
We have had the warmest summer on record. The earth is scorched and countries that never had wild fires are having to tackle major blazes. Lack of rain in some areas are adding to the problem.
Meanwhile torrential rain is causing flooding in areas that never had flooding before. Pictures in China of travellers standing in flood water up to their shoulders while standing in trains is terrifying.
London too has had flooding in areas never flooded before.
Can we stop the bickering and name calling and get down to saving the planet for future generations?
What I’ve seen on Twitter over the last week reminds me of a school playground
So what if Arlene Foster wants to join up with a clown like Farage to pretend that they represent a majority of GB citizens. (Note it’s GB and not GB and NI.) Let her get on with it. Viewing figures will soon tell us how well it’s doing. I’m sure they are loving the publicity.
We also have Covid to contend with and the conspiracy theories are rampant. Boris Johnston as PM should be speaking out to quash these theories and to have some of the leaders arrested for their hateful rhetoric, but he knows they are the majority of his supporters
Please politicians in NI stop acting like school children. We are running out of time to save our beautiful planet.
And for goodness sake stop using words like sneering and woke.
We have become a selfish society thinking only of Number One, taking everything as a personal insult. The treatment of the asylum seekers and the lack of condemnation by the unionist parties is shameful.
No matter how many blogs and op -Ed’s are written (like this blog ) how many people will listen? It’s worth trying, so don’t give up. We need to do something and do it quickly.
Let this generation be the one that takes climate change seriously.
Thanks for getting this far In the blog!!!
“What is like to be deaf.”? Asked a voice.
“It’s like nothing else on Earth” Signed a voice.
“Everything and everyone is forever quietened.
Little Mix, Pavarotti, the friend; the stranger; you ~
The traffic; the people; the sea; the new-born babies
The piano; the horse, the lamb, the orchestral strings.
That inconsiderate cyclist behind you on the footpath !
All these to us are silent; and silence is non-golden.”
A lot for a young man to take on. Your reference to violence possibly influenced by those who nominated the you to appear in the first place. Those who profit from violence perhaps.
I’m sure you are reeling from all the criticism( and someone tp positive padulation) that resulted from your appearance on the NI Affairs xxx Committee.
I would like to tell you why I stopped listening to you. It was when you suggested that violence could be on the table. I admire a young man that can be articulate even if he doesn’t hold the same views as I do but when he sees violence as an alternative to dialogue then I switch off.
I was your age when the troubles started and my children were a lot older than you when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. So for most of my adult life I lived in the shadow of the violence around me.
I lay at night as a teenager listening to the gun shots and the petrol bombs going off around the city. I drove through streets that were barricaded with burning busses, I was evacuated on many occasions due to bomb scares and two friends died, one who was coerced into committing an act of violence and was blown up and one an innocent young man carrying out his duties as a Civil Servant.
When my children were growing up I spent many sleepless nights worrying that they would get home safely. We had essentially normal life taken away from us through violence.
Look around you at the families who are left still suffering after almost 50 years. Is that the legacy you want for your children?
When you say violence is on the table. Violence against who? The British Government who negotiated the Protocol, or those who’s aspirations are different from yours? Will you wreck your own area with this violence? Burn cars and properties? Injure police who try to intervene?
Joel, life is short and you’ll find as you get older that using the pen rather than the sword will work better in the long run.
Don’t let your peers end up as statistics. Young men who will end up with criminal records. Go to university, meet others with different points of view but please don’t go down the road of thinking that violence pays. Our legacy would indicate that it doesn’t. It only prolongs the situation.
I wish you well for your future and if you choose the right path I’m sure you could do great things for your community.
Don’t let those who remain in the shadows lead you down the wrong path
By the way I have four grandchildren and I’m hoping that they will never have to experience violence again in Northern Ireland. We all deserve to live in peace.
There are many important questions needing answers for the citizens of NI and beyond:
Will Edwin Poots succeed in getting rid of the protocol ?
Will Jim Alister ever learn to smile and most importantly:
How will we cope if a 99 becomes a 00?
Having had some investigative experience I set off to find out from the man himself ( who wished to remain anonymous) at Seapark in Holywood where I have in the past purchased a 99 from his ice cream van.
‘What will you do if you can’t get chocolate flakes’ I asked. ‘Will the people of Holywood revolt?
‘I expect there will be some annoyance’ he said, ‘but I’ve called in a mediator and if we have to we will resort to sprinkles. It will just be a matter of reeducation. Holywood people love their 99’s. I never could understand why Holywood golf club and the Culloden hotel wouldn’t let me park my van there but it’s their loss’.
‘Will we recover if we lose the 99 ? ‘I asked
With a tear in his eye and a tremble in his voice he replied ‘ This could just be the tip of the ice cream, 99’s could be lost to a new generation’
I thanked him and told him I would take the matter up with members of the assembly some of whom believe the 99 is only a couple of years old and see what happens.
As I walked away licking my ice cream I thought
I hope this isn’t the end of the 99 as we know it.