Delicate Scent of Summer Dusk

I really shouldn’t be blogging tonight. I’m lucky enough to have a bit of work to do, work that I might actually get paid for. But I can’t concentrate.

I don’t know whether it’s because I’m ‘overdoing it’ as my two friends and husband protest that I am, or whether it’s this lovely weather distracting me and giving me an intense dislike for my desk at the moment. It’s been gorgeous these last few days, and my mantra is to make the most of life before it disappears through your fingers as fast as dry grains of sand. So I’ve been in the park, going for walks and trying to clear my head. And then I sit at my desk, and nothing happens.

Just half an hour ago, I took a break from my desk to bring out the bins, and as I stood there absorbing the fresh air and fanning away the midges, the smell of the warm air brought back memories: memories of having barbecues growing up that lasted until it got dark; memories of walking to the shop with a single pound coin in my pocket to buy sweets for all four of us; memories of having cycling competitions with my two younger sisters (in my younger, fitter days) around our estate, only coming back in when the other kids were called home too.

I really hope that one day, Ali will enjoy this freedom, but right now I don’t think she’ll ever be as free as we were. The dangers that were there when we were kids are still there now, and coupled with social media (I get the irony, believe me), you really can’t tell who is watching your kids and what images they have of them. Ali is only five and I’ve already taught her my address and phone number in case we ever get separated for whatever reason. We’ve done stranger danger, although how much of it she really understands I don’t know, and I worry irrationally all the time. This is normal, right?

I remember after the terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, I didn’t sleep for about two weeks. I got paranoid about every little noise in the night, about being in crowded spaces, about helicopters and planes overhead. And I’m not sure why it worried me so much, because I remember going to Coalisland (In Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland) every weekend with my parents as a child and being stopped by soldiers at the border. Both of my parents worried about their Southern Reg car – it was dangerous at the time and it certainly made you stand out as an outsider and in the wrong area, a prime target for petrol bombs. As kids we were terrified, but mum and dad seemed to take it in their stride. They were used to it, it didn’t faze them. And if it did, they never let it show.

What  were they supposed to do, never go north? Or move back up and never go south? They did neither. We continue to travel back and forth to see our family, and will always do so, even if Brexit does mean tighter borders between the UK and Ireland (and after the attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester this week, it’s looking like a possibility).

Our world is not safe, yet it has been reported that never before in history has it been safer to be alive. Polio, the plague and other diseases are almost entirely eradicated. Vaccinations against deadly diseases such as measles and malaria are widely available. Life expectancy is now into the seventies at least. And we will be spending the rest of our lives worrying about terrorism, bogeymen, rapists and the likes.

Listen, I’m not suggesting for one second that we should let our guard down and ignore what’s going on in the world. Nor am I saying ‘oh well, the world is an evil place, sure what can we do?’ Of course we must be seen to be strong in the face of barbarity. But our children deserve to live free of fear, because they are going to spend enough time worrying about things. Our children deserve to live, and to try and carve out a legacy to leave behind them for their own kids. They deserve the freedom to make their own mistakes and the freedom to recover from them.

They should be free to ride their bikes into the sunset, embracing the sweet smelling fragrance of a summer dusk.

RIP to those who were killed in Manchester 22.5.17, and condolences to your families.

Safety in an unsafe world

Today, the sad news broke that 24 year old Karen Buckley was found dead after a three day search. At the time of writing this blog, a man has been arrested for her murder. Karen’s disappearance and subsequent death has saddened everybody: people who are in their twenties who know only too well that they are not immune from her fate; parents who worry about their children who have left the nest and are living in all corners of the world; parents of younger children such as myself despair at how we have brought our children into a world that is so dangerous that we become suspicious of our neighbours and sometimes even those we love.

I was talking to my aunt about this degeneration of modern society, how the world has somehow descended into utter chaos, a world where nobody bats an eyelid at reading about murders, rape, kidnapping, muggings. ‘I find it very sad and disheartening that Ali is growing up in such a horrible world where people don’t give a crap about who they hurt. Drugs and violence everywhere. Things are so much different nowadays.’ My aunt, having one or two more years’ life experience behind her than I do, smiled and said, ‘We have seen the atrocities of Northern Ireland, the muggings and the drug wars have raged on for decades. The only difference is that you now have a child. And when you have a child, the world seems to be a much scarier place, because you suddenly have to protect your child from it.’ These words came to mind as I read the news this morning.

Twenty-four is so young. I try and cast my mind back to what I was like in my twenties. I remember with more than a pang of guilt how I arrogantly screened my mum’s calls because we had fallen out over something trivial, and I didn’t care if she was worried. As a mum now, I’ve no doubt that she was sick with worry. What if something had happened to you? she’d said angrily, her face white from sleepless nights. ‘But nothing did, I’m fine, would you calm the fuck down’ was how I responded to her ‘ridiculous outbursts’. Yeah, I’m really not nice when someone tells me what to do.

As a college student, I went out on the town at every opportunity. I remember being in Blackpool and singing the Irish national anthem at the top of my lungs outside the most British pub I could find (I strongly believe my speech impairment saved my life that night. Incidentally – true story- a man was seriously injured in a fight a couple of yards from the pub, a few hours later. We were so lucky. And so stupid). I remember going to Mojos in Mullingar with a friend and walking/getting a lift on her knee through Mullingar while blind drunk, wading through the throngs leaving the nightclubs. Both of us were probably wearing short skirts at the time. And yet, if we had been attacked, would we have been blamed because we were in short skirts? Or because we had disabilities? Would it have been our fault?

My dad follows this blog (often he’s the only one to leave comments here – hi dad *waves*) and he is probably furious at me for being so reckless and irresponsible. It’s a wonder how he gets any sleep. I’ve tucked my baby up in bed and although I will get up a few times during the night to check her (as you do), I’m reasonably confident she will be okay and not wander off anywhere. When she was younger, we baby-proofed the house, and we put everything sharp/dangerous out of reach and hid washing and dishwasher tablets. Now she is more independent, making friends and slowly moving away from the protective bubble wrap I envelop her in. I have to trust when I leave her with others, such as friends and family, that she will be safe. And I’ve always found that so difficult, but that’s more my problem than anyone else’s. It’s hard sometimes to believe that I’m the same person as that twenty-four year old I described above. How I’ve become so cynical, so untrusting, so guarded in everything I say and do (except for this blog of course).

I would like to end this blog entry with this thought. Karen Buckley (who I don’t know and have never met) did not ask for her fate, and neither did anybody else who may have experienced a similar fate. People, young and old, make mistakes, act foolishly, do things that they regret, but nobody deserves to be murdered or hurt for making these mistakes. There will probably never be a world where there will be no need to tell our children ‘Don’t trust strangers. Don’t walk alone or you will get hurt. Always tell somebody about your whereabouts.’ Whatever happened to Karen was not her fault, and we must remember that. Only by exonerating the victim of any responsibility can we ensure that we create a safer world for others, and especially our children.