Saturday, December 26, 2009

Reflections on a Forgotten First Anniversary

Hard to believe until I checked back that I missed the first anniversary of my blog entirely - that was on 22nd December and in the run-up to Christmas it went completely unnoticed. So now I am saying belated congrats to myself - and to all of you out there in the blogosphere who read and/or commented on the blog over the past year - thanks a lot! I really enjoy reading your comments and responding to them and at the same time I feel I don't devote a lot of time to the blog compared to some of you more diligent bloggers.

At the same time I am delighted to have had a chance to vent steam on issues that annoyed me over the year, as well as sharing some good times and events with you, and also posting recipes in what I hope was a user-friendly format for those of you into baking. I know I tend to use it myself when I am baking as it is as handy and accessible as a cookbook!

Some stats - I posted 70 times in the past year, and have 37 followers. My profile page has been viewed 820 times and the blog's been viewed 3694 times according to one counter and 4353 by another - who to believe? I don't really mind their accuracy as I don't want to start obsessing on my blog's popularity - it's good enough for me that people read and enjoy it and most of the comments have been positive. I have a listing on Irish Blogs and Blogarama -which might increase exposure, though they are a bit like vanity publishing - you apply to be on these listings - and I am following 48 blogs. This isn't a lot but as I find it hard to get round to reading all the posts these generate on my dashboard it's probably more than enough.

What do I like about blogging? It's relaxing; it brings me into other people's lives which is heaven for the innate curiosity I have about people without feeling intrusive (satisfying my nosiness some would say!)and it gives me a random record of my year which I would never get around to committing to paper. It is a format for musing or ranting/commenting on current affairs which exercise me, and a nice way to archive photos and videoclips that I have enjoyed or those I have made and shared via YouTube. I get to read recipes from around the world and try them out, and get a buzz from knowing some of you have tried and tested my recipes - and enjoyed them!

I have been a guest blogger on Niamh's Writer on the Way Home blog, and I have enjoyed interacting with all those who have commented on my blog or on whose blog I have commented. Some are incredibly talented and entertaining and if I was competitive there's plenty out there to aspire to! Lynda's blog from Tanzania was the first I followed as it spoke to me so personally - having lived in Tanzania for years I could identify with a lot of her posts and it was a great nostalgia buzz for me. There were many more that dipped in and out of my blogging life during the year and they showed me how we are all global citizens and if anything positive could ensue from blogging it would be to unite the world, unlike so many of our politicians and governments who seem to thrive on conflict and division.

Blogging feedback is generally polite and respectful - I don't really like the sometimes confrontational debate that ensues on some boards or chatrooms especially where contentious issues are debated, as it can quickly descend into abuse. Facebook is preferable for the hot topic debate where there are groups to opt into if the mood takes me.

So that sums up a few reflections on this relatively new hobby - one I never imagined doing a few years ago but which has given no end of enjoyment - long may it so continue.

Here are some of our Christmas Day photos -family and presents, the garden dusted in frost, and the Crib which is over 50 years old from my late father.

Happy New Year and Happy Blogging for 2010 to all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Christmas 2009 - the Round Robin comes bobbin' along


Here is the complete text - with photos-of our annual Christmas letter to friends and family at home and abroad - it goes global by snail mail, email and now I am posting it on the blog.

It's a tradition that began in 1989 in Tanzania and has continued to date, at the request of many of the recipients/victims, so you are getting a summary of what's in a lot of the blogposts throughout the year. It's a bit long - very long in fact - so you may not have the stamina to stay to the end, but if you don't lose the will to live but persist, then congratulations are in order! Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoy it. The photos you may have seen before as some were in old posts, but they were in the print version so for authenticity I'm including them here! (The photos are of the family taken last Christmas, Jan and me at a wedding, Maeve's 14th birthday, Spain holiday, BBQ in the rain, the boys at parties, and at Immrama 2009 with the speakers.)

Dear Friends,

It’s that time of the year again, when the Rotte family Christmas newsletter is wending its way to a letterbox near you. Be it email, snail mail or blog, there is no escape from this annual update from Lismore, so you’d better brace yourselves for the Recession Rant Roundup of events in and around our lives over the past year. It’s been such a rollercoaster year since our last communiqué this will probably just skim the surface and not cover a fraction of events at a local and wider level. I don’t feel at all Christmassy yet; the tree has yet to go up, or perhaps it’s that I’ve done a lot of shopping online – thank you Amazon – tantamount to economic treason, according to the Minister of Finance!

The country is in turmoil – a real winter of discontent. Industrial unrest abounds and the church is convulsed with the fallout from the clerical cover-ups over the sex abuse of children in Dublin and the institutional abuse over decades. Half the country was under floodwaters last month as a result of bad planning and building on our floodplains, and we have just had the most divisive budget in my memory. The government has deflected public anger at the bank bailouts by vilifying the public sector which now has pariah status. As this is the season of goodwill I will try to be restrained and suffice to say I took part in my first strike last month, and the mass protest march back in February in Dublin, and there’s palpable anger at the inequity of last week’s budget. Social welfare and the public sector have been targeted for cuts to recoup the extra €4 billion the government needs to run the country – never mind that the bank bailouts cost €54 billion. I am down 14% this year as a public servant, and resent being singled out – if it was across the board cuts like tax increases it would be more palatable. To ostensibly stem the flood of cross-border shoppers, the budget reduced the price of drink. Maybe we can now afford to drown our sorrows but reinforcing negative stereotypes doesn’t do much for us internationally.

Enough government-bashing for now – time to move on to the family news. It has been a momentous year for us, especially as we heard from Spain that we will become grandparents in February 2010 when Shayne and Jany’s baby girl is born! We are all delighted and the good news is that they have decided to move to Ireland – and did so in November. So far they have been very lucky – after three weeks here Shayne got a job with Concern based in Cork, in direct fundraising around Munster – signing people up for donations on the street – and it is going well. It is not the dreaded “chugging” or charity mugging of some agencies, who work on commission, as he is on a salary which is not contingent on sign-ups. He has a real understanding of what Concern is all about, having been a Concern kid for most of his life overseas, so it’s ironic that he has gone full circle – almost a homecoming!

Jany’s pregnancy is going well though she is very tired at 32 weeks now, but that is par for the course and hopefully I can be a useful midwife to her at this time as well as when I’m a doting granny, and not be an interfering old bat! I am enjoying digging out all the baby stuff hoarded for years and revisiting Mothercare. Right now they are staying in Cork with our old friend from Tanzania days, Sohaila, and as she will be away for a few weeks they will housesit for her. They are busy house-hunting in Cork city so the best of luck to them – it’s less than an hour from Lismore so we won’t have too far to go to visit them – or vice versa!

Martin graduated last year and spent a few months at home trying to get work without much luck in the graphic design field – so he has gone back to study for his Masters’ in DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology), and he is really enjoying it. He had some summer work with a local printer in Dungarvan which helped with the fees – postgraduate study isn’t cheap and he wasn’t eligible for a grant as he had lived at home after his degree when he was job hunting. He comes home at weekends once or twice a month and will be here over Christmas with all the family.

William is in final year of his PE and Geography degree in Limerick University, and has been doing teaching practice in Lismore for this semester, in Maeve’s school but not her class – she couldn’t get used to her pals calling him Sir! Hopefully he will get what he wants when he graduates in the summer, whether it’s teaching at home or abroad, or taking a break. This time last year he was just back from a semester in Tennessee where he had a ball and that probably reignited the travel bug that must be ingrained in all the boys from their nomadic childhoods. He had intermittent summer work in Lismore but the recession certainly had an impact compared to other years, and he didn’t even get away for a holiday, poor lad.

Maeve has just had her 14th birthday and didn’t have a party as it coincided with some of her friends’ birthdays – so she will probably just invite them to our planned New Year’s Eve party instead! She is very grown up and taller than me; she’s in 2nd year now and seems to be getting on fine academically, while maintaining the requisite teen apathy about school. She has joined the local Foróige youth club and they are going to entertain the residents at St. Carthage’s Home with Carols next week. Alána, her friend, and herself went to England for a holiday to Alána’s aunts and cousins and had a ball. She auditioned for a part in next spring’s production of the local Dramatic Society, “Wiz”, and was in a great show last May – excerpts from 4 musicals – Grease, Hairspray, Mamma Mia and High School Musical

In July Maeve and me went to Spain for a short holiday to see Shayne and Jany in Malgrat, and it was great timing that Anne, my old friend from student days and her teen girls were in Barcelona when we were there. We spent nearly 4 days together between Malgrat and Barcelona and had fun catching up. First time since backpacking around India, Nepal and Sri Lanka when we were in Bangladesh 30 years ago, and it was great to see we still can pack in as much in a day’s sightseeing as we did back then! We spent two full days on the Barcelona Bus Turístic and had great fun playing tourists to the max. It’s a beautiful city and I surprised myself by loving the cable cars over the harbour and at Montjuic, with my fear of heights! True to the recession we didn’t go to the costly and well-worn attractions of yesteryear like Port Aventura and Marineland, but Tibidabo – with rides from 1929 – suited us fine. We stayed with Shayne and Jany in Malgrat, and enjoyed the beach and pool, eating in and out, and wandering round the shops and markets. We also got acquainted with Migo their dog – he is still in Spain, until his anti-rabies quarantine is up in March, when he’ll move to Ireland.

Jan and me are fine even if we are apoplectic at the state of the nation. He is still active in the Labour Party and was Mayor of Lismore until the end of his first term in June. Then he had the local elections and we were all thrilled when he was elected to the Town Council – it was his first election as he had been co-opted to the council initially. He was featured on a national radio programme (Newstalk’s Global Village) on the immigrant candidates just before the election. He was one of only 4 non-Irish candidates elected from 44 in the elections. I enjoyed the tense atmosphere at the count centres, and still don’t understand it all. No, don’t ask, as I am not going to even attempt to explain the arcane system of transfers and surplus redistribution that operates here in elections. We both went to the Labour Party Conference in Mullingar in March, and I went to the Labour Women’s Conference in Dublin in October for the first time, with other Waterford Women delegates, and spoke to a motion against the reversal of the proposed cervical cancer vaccine programme.

Jan also went to Mozambique with Concern for a week’s field trip as a Concern Council Member (not to be confused with the town council!). He had a wonderful time, with a trip up the Zambezi bringing back memories of our 1994 trip on that river in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. I think he would go back to Africa in the morning if circumstances allowed – as would I! We were both saddened by the death in October of our old friend and co-founder of Concern, Fr. Aengus Finucane. He was my boss in Bangladesh and CEO of Concern for all our time with the organisation in Tanzania and Laos. He helped make Concern the organisation it is today, as was evident in the huge funeral and the international acclaim his passing brought. The funeral was like a reunion of Concern over the past 4 decades, as friends going back to his days in Biafra were present.

The Immrama Travel Writing festival in June was another resounding success – Kate Adie and Fergal Keane captivated everyone with their accounts of reporting from frontline conflict zones in Africa and Asia, and Manchán Magan amused the breakfast audience in Ballyrafter. Jan continues as administrator for the festival and planning is underway for 2010 – so watch the website for the line-up in a few months at

I am still the Public Health Nurse in Old Parish and Ring, and I love my day-to-day frontline work with patients. I have been involved in the Swine Flu Mass Vaccination Clinics and enjoyed meeting new people. I was profiled in the current HSE staff magazine in the “getting to know you” section – my 15 minutes of fame! I went on my first strike last month – it was a one-day stoppage by all public sector workers to highlight the unfairness of the proposed cuts. I was organiser for the PHNs as I am rep for the INO in the area, and it was a steep learning curve. All went well, despite the weather – it was at the height of the recent flooding and monsoon-like rains, so not a great day for picketing. I went to the INO conference in Killarney in May, and as ever it was an enjoyable busy few days in a beautiful setting, and I came home via the scenic route of the Lakes, Torc Waterfall and Kenmare.

Life is very busy with work and family commitments, and my mother is still being well cared for in Dungarvan Community Hospital, at the ripe old age of 94. She is fully bed-bound dependent now, but still knows me, and though it is so sad to see the shadow of her former self, it is lovely to see her every day I am at work, and she enjoys the chat even if she doesn’t remember it afterwards.

On the relaxation front, I still read as much as ever, and have started a blog in the past year, which many of you may have seen. I called it “Dispatches from the Deise” at It has just been added to Irish Blogs which might increase its exposure. Hard to describe it except to say it’s pretty eclectic. From political rants to personal ramblings, with recipes on the side, and some travel pieces, nothing’s off-limits!

We enjoyed visits from various friends during the year and love to reconnect with old friends from our days abroad as well as those of you closer to home, and we enjoyed a lovely wedding in August, and have another to look forward to (sister of the first bride!) just after Christmas. Otherwise our social life was quieter than other years – sign of the times or is staying in the new going out!

I am coming to the close of the letter now and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones. If you are in the Lismore area on New Year’s Eve then welcome to our party! Let’s hope that 2010 will see us personally achieving our dreams and goals and that the country and the world will emerge from the global recession and start to really recover economic stability and peace. Have a wonderful Christmas and to paraphrase the former NI minister’s unparliamentary language (not unlike the recent Dáil outburst by Green TD Paul Gogarty) – don’t let the recession get you down!

Love from us all, Catherine, Jan, Shayne and Jany, Martin, William, Maeve and Ben the dog Blog:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Poor or Public Sector? Unparliamentary Language in a Post-Apocalyptic Budget 2010

This has been a bad week for the Irish public sector worker - we have been collectively hammered in the harshest most divisive budget in my memory at any rate. With taxpaying workers, it solely targeted the public sector for cuts, and despite the one day strike on November 24th and subsequent attempts at resuscitating union-government Partnership talks - which broke down at the 11th hour - there was an inevitability that nothing would make a difference and the decision on slashing pay was a fait accompli. There has been an increasing divide and rule fomented by the right - government and the employers bodies like IBEC and think tanks like the ESRI - in recent months to drive a wedge between the public and private sectors. As Joan Burton TD, Labour's finance spokesperson, said in her response to the budget, the low-paid public sector cleaner will constantly be reminded they are lucky to have a job and no doubt we'll all be reminded of this fact frequently in the future. Do we have to be grateful and not demand any more than the crumbs that fall from the private sectors' conspicuous absence of pay cuts? There was no increase in income tax which meant that the private sector felt no pain in the area of pay cuts, only the same as the rest of us in the carbon tax and other general increases like the drugs payments. All this to raise €4 billion, a fraction of the €54 billion given to bail out the banks but this time falling on those unable to circumvent the blow.

The budget targeted not alone the public sector for this unfair and unbalanced hit, but also hit the most vulnerable - social welfare recipients, child benefit, and carers - all had cuts to their payments except for the pensions paid to over-65s. The government learned to their cost last year that hell hath no fury like a pensioner with a grievance after they tried to remove the universal medical card for the over-70s in October 2008 budget - arguably the worst PR move since Garrett Fitzgerald's Fine Gael collapsed the government in 1982 over the proposed VAT on children's shoes. The jobseeker's allowances (dole) has been halved for the under-21 year olds, and reduced for under-24s. Those on disability and other long-term benefits will all be hit, and the universal child benefit paid to mothers - historically to give them a payment in their own right back in the days when women were chattels and had no right to own anything in marriage - has been cut by €16 per child. The excuse that we have generous social welfare rates is no reason to be so brutal in cutting these payments - hitting the captive audience of those on social welfare is a low blow as the cost of living is way higher here than in many other countries.

All in all, I will be down about another 6.5% direct pay cut on my gross salary. I know this will be slightly less when net income is calculated as I will have less tax and PRSI and levies to pay, but it is a real hit when you realise the public sector were hit with an obligatory pension levy back in May - for me, a 7.5% levy on my gross pay. So this year I have effectively had a 14% pay cut, which is draconian by any measure outside the IMF - in fact some of us feel the IMF taking over the government coffers would hardly be worse in their structural adjustments than the present Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition. The IMF is trotted out like the bogeyman whenever there's outrage and uproar from people over the budget cuts, and the government thinks it can get away with anything as a result of this fear - along the lines of - if you think this is bad, what do you think would happen if the IMF took over? Well, some say 15-20% pay cuts across the public sector would result - hallo, what have we had in the past year? With income and pension levies, and this pay cut, that's exactly how much we have taken. So I am inclined to say - bring it on. At least it might weed out the corruption and pandering to vested interests we see in the current budget. Publicans, the motor industry and the private sector are the winners in this budget.

Did I mention the biggest joke of all? The excise duty on alcohol was reduced in order to make booze cheaper! No, this is not a clip from Father Ted or a letter to Santa written by Father Jack -it is for real - the budget saw a drop with immediate effect in the price of drink and the justification is to stem the flood of shoppers trekking to the North Face of Newry every weekend (and every strike weekday!) That the government thinks that knocking 60 cent off a bottle of wine will keep patriotic shoppers at home shows how far removed they are from reality. People shop in the North of Ireland for overall cheaper prices as Tesco, Lidl and Ikea are all cheaper there than in the south. As for the motor industry - that would be car showrooms and sales outlets - a scrappage scheme was introduced in the budget which will give a €1,500 trade-in on cars over 10 years old when a new low-carbon emissions car is bought. As most people can't afford new cars with that scrappage it will probably be totally ineffective but the car dealers are happy.

The only bright spot in an otherwise abysmally depressing week on the news front was the diversion in the form of Green Party publicity hound TD Paul Gogarty lashing out at Labour's Emmet Stagg yesterday in the Dáil in an unparliamentary outburst. He took exception to Stagg and other Labour TDs accusations of hypocrisy at his statement that the budget was unfair but he was voting with it nonetheless. It is best watched in the YouTube clip above - but you have been warned, there is no beeping out the unparliamentary expletives! Of course it lightened the day a little and he achieved his goal of yet again hogging the limelight as is his form - he has shown similar form in the past and relished the spotlight, but is generally viewed as a prat by the media and by most of the electorate at this stage, and his hectoring and heckling in the Dáil was becoming tiresomely predictable - until yesterday's meltdown brought him to a new level nearly as low as his rollover in front of Frances Fitzgerald.