Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy Christmas 2010 - thoughts on Round Robins and Recessions

Happy Christmas 2010!
Dear friends,

Family gathering for Jan's birthday celebrations (minus William)
It's that time of year again – the Round Robin's bob-bobbing along to a mailbox near you as yet again the annual missive that is our Christmas Newsletter wings its way around the globe. I just realised that this is the 21st Anniversary of our Newsletter – the first one was written on a portable typewriter in Iringa in 1989 and photocopied – badly – and sent off to far-flung corners of the globe from the Southern Highlands of Tanzania!

We are coasting downhill to the Christmas and the New Year with more trepidation than we've collectively felt in my lifetime. There's a strong sense of déjà vu – last year was bad but this year Ireland has a post-apocalyptic feeling now after our €85billion bailout by the IMF and the EU – an intervention much denied by our benighted government in the run-up to their arrival. These sheriffs have been and gone but will keep a close eye on us to make sure we're doing as we're told to keep the banks afloat and raise the taxes to do so, all the while paying the lenders enough interest would run the health service every year. The ignominy of having our affairs handed over to outside forces is a bitter pill to swallow as we have certainly lost our financial sovereignty – not quite back to the old colonial days but economically somewhat similar.

The dreaded budget was unveiled on Tuesday – there's a deficit of €6 billion to fund this year, part of the €14 billion we have to find by 2014. The years of wheeling and dealing have finally caught up with a government who had no grasp on economics as they led us into a bubble of property development borrowing from toxic banks that was totally unsustainable. We're all crashing to earth after builder developers abandon the ghost estates that litter the rural hinterland, while the banksters are all exposed as bluffers who profited from the light touch regulation and deference of the government. What it means to me is a drop in take-home pay of around €2K p.a. and that's just speculative – we won't know till mid-January as there're so many new and combined levies we have a job calculating it all till our first paycheques.

Jan and me at his birthday party May 2010
Back to the news from the Rotte-Murray family – and what a year it's been. We've seen the best of times and the worst of times, to borrow a line from Charles Dickens. We were blessed with the birth of our first grandchild, a beautiful little girl, Sofia, born to Shayne and Jany in Cork on February 11th. She is a joy and delight for all of us, as she grows to a lively active baby, well on the way to being a toddler who'll keep everyone on their toes this Christmas. Then three weeks later, on March 5th, we were plunged into sadness with the death of my beloved mother at the great age of 94. She had been declining over recent years, and she had a peaceful passing for which we are all grateful – she didn't suffer and I was blessed to be able to spend so much time with her in her last weeks in St. Joseph's Hospital in Dungarvan. It has been an awful loss as we were so close, but these last years have been a long goodbye, with her decline into dementia. She was buried in Lismore with her beloved parents, and Jan gave a beautiful eulogy at her funeral Mass. I have great memories of her, and I can look out our window to the graveyard at the back of our garden where she's at rest, and there's a comfort in that for me. We are all glad that the whole family were together with her a few days before she died, and we took treasured photos of her with Sofia and all of us.

Sofia's Christening Day, 4th September, with her parents
Shayne and Jany have settled into life in Cork, and they are expecting a second baby next March! Shayne had been working with Concern in direct fundraising but was let go in February. Jany then got a job in Marriott International in April, and Shayne is looking after Sofia and doing a business course – Jan or me babysit on the days he's at college. They are in a nice house in Blackrock, close to shops and bus routes. They went to Holland in August to bring Sofia to see Jany's family and friends. It is lovely having them in Ireland after all the years Shayne was in Spain, and we would miss them so much if they weren't here –so the timing was perfect when they came back – another year and they might have been put off by the dire economic situation. We had a lovely ceremony for Sofia's Christening in Lismore in September – she looked sweet in our family heirloom Christening robe – the 4th or 5th generation – and had a BBQ in the garden here afterwards, as we had a good summer this year.

Me and Sofia - October
Martin and us at his MA graduation DIT - Oct. 2010
 Martin has just finished his Master's Degree in Professional Design Practice in DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology in Bolton Street) and we had a lovely day at his recent graduation in St. Patrick's Cathedral. He is still living in Dublin, and is trying to find a job, without much luck so far though he has an interview this week. He enjoyed his MA and it is a damning indictment of the system to see so many well-educated graduates on the dole and unable to get work in their professional field- he has done unpaid interning to get experience for his CV, so I hope it pays off. There's so much emigration now that the government is factoring it into the projections for the social welfare costs for the next four years and they are also claiming the figures on the live register are dropping (the Social Welfare register) – that's all because of the emigration. I don't want the boys to have to go abroad – when we went it was from choice, not necessity. That's a whole different ball-game.

William and us at his BA graduation UL August 2010
William finished his BA in Physical Education and Geography in the University of Limerick and we celebrated with his graduation in August. He moved to Cork when he got a job as a waiter in the Airport Hotel, and as he was getting very few hours there he got another job this week in Amazon in Cork. He has applied for teaching in the UK as there seems very little in teaching in Ireland – the public service embargo is affecting new grads worse than experienced teachers as they are all competing for the few substitute jobs or maternity cover or the private schools unaffected by the ban on recruitment in the public sector. All very demoralising for the lads and their parents aren't too happy either – but we are very proud of all of them for getting to adulthood with a positive outlook on life and not giving up on Ireland – just yet anyway.

Maeve has just had her 15th birthday with a sleepover weekend here at home with five or six of her friends – we lifted the term-time ban on sleepovers for the occasion and she made the best of it. With her Junior Cert looming in June, she has had to knuckle down to the books – and having to do supervised study doesn't really appeal but it concentrates the study to the afternoon and she doesn't have that much to do after dinner. As we didn't go abroad for holidays this year – sign of the times – she spent the summer camping in the garden in a big tent we got in Argos, and they had good fun with that. I took four of the girls to Dublin for a weekend in July – we stayed in the Skylon Hotel and they shopped till I dropped. They enjoyed it and I was able to drop them to Blanchardstown Centre and spend time with Martin and also visit old friends Tom and Darina.

Jan had a very significant birthday this year – he turned sixty in May! All his family came over from Holland for a week and we marked the big occasion with a party in Ballyrafter House Hotel with the family and our friends. I baked a huge cake and we had a lovely night, and he didn't look a day over fifty (!) as we danced the night away to a local combo. The family all stayed in Youghal in holiday homes, and did a lot of sightseeing as well as spending time with us in Lismore during the week – we had a BBQ at home and then hired a bus for a day trip around the Ring of Kerry, which was a highlight for all of us. It was over thirty years since I had been there in my hitch-hiking student days. It's still a beautiful scenic route – a 90 mile round trip from Killarney and some hair-raising bends – no wonder the tour buses can only go one-way! Jan is still active in the local Town Council for Labour and on the national town councillors' committee, as well as Concern's council, and the national festival association.

Shayne, Sofia and Jany
This year's Immrama festival of Travel Writing was another great success, with big names like Ranulph Fiennes speaking about his Boy's Own adventures to various frozen wastes of the world, his self-amputation of his fingers after a nasty dose of frostbite, and other tales of derring-do. Tim Severin was also there, telling of his high seas adventures in the wake of Sinbad and St. Brendan and other great voyagers, and veteran writer Jan Morris rounded off a terrific weekend of armchair travel in wonderful settings around Lismore. It proved a great respite from the recession, and hopefully 2011 will be as big an event – many old faces return for the fringe events, and its international reputation keeps growing. Jan is kept busy as the festival manager, and plans are already underway for next year. We took part in the Seán Kelly Charity Tour of Waterford in August, with Jan doing 90km while Shayne and me did 50km, and Shayne did 90km in the Cork Rebel Tour in September. I got a lot of fun from my birthday present of a lipstick-red hybrid tour/trek cross bike.

I'm still working away in Old Parish area as the public health nurse, although I moved office to Dungarvan in May. With the snow we've had in Ireland in recent weeks – Snowvember as some called it – there have been parts of my area impassable by car, and the coastguard jeep had to do shopping for some isolated folk in the uplands. I don't think Ireland does snow and bad weather too well, as is the norm in so many countries, but we literally grind to a halt when there's more than a few days of snow and ice. We had the Big Freeze in 2009/10 and it looks like it may be round 2 already, with plenty more forecast. I continue to enjoy my job despite the constraints of cutbacks, as the recruitment ban means that posts aren't always automatically filled, and now there're plans to reduce numbers by 6000 in the coming years, half of which may be frontline nursing staff. With beds closing, hospitals overcrowded, and morale very low, it's hard to know where it will all end. There's even talk of returning the beleaguered HSE to the old Health Boards system to improve accountability.

That's about it for our news this year – we weren't away for any holiday, rather the family came to us in May and in late March an old friend Tandy came for a visit – we hadn't met since we lived in Iringa where our kids grew up together, so we'd a lot of catching up to do. We spent some of the time sightseeing around lovely West Waterford and had some knitting lessons – which she has kept up since returning to London. Jany has discovered a previously unknown talent for crochet, and I knitted some funky socks for myself as well as some baby clothes for Sofia. I'm still reading avidly, and in the book club, as well as an online Bloggers' book club, where there's a lot of overlap with the real world club. I enjoy blogging as an outlet for writing – mostly recipes, book reviews, knitting, family events, and current affairs ranting. Check it out – I was chuffed to be shortlisted for two categories in the Irish Blog Awards, even though I didn't win it was a nice accolade.

We're looking forward to having all the family together for Christmas in Lismore, even though it'll be sad as the first one without Ma, and she'll be in our thoughts. May you all have a wonderful Christmas, and drop in if you're around Lismore – we've an open door here and love to catch up on old friends in real time as well as all those we keep in contact with through Skype, Facebook and email, which have all changed the way the world communicates. We wish you all much happiness in 2011 and look forward to hearing from you in the coming weeks and over the festive season.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all,

Love from

Jan and Catherine, Shayne, Jany and Sofia, Maeve, William and Martin, and Ben the dog.


Lily said...

Great post Catherine. I started following your blog this year and really enjoy reading your posts.

Have a lovely Christmas, and wishing you and all the family health and happiness for 2011.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your grand-baby! I have seven grandchildren, and they are so wonderful. You have a wonderful family. You will miss your mother because you were so close to her. But it was lovely that she could go peacefully and without pain.

May all of your family have a wonderful holiday in these difficult and uncertain times!

Stephanie V said...

It was an event -filled year for you. And what a delightful little one is Sofia! I hope that you will all have a wonderful Christmas. I wish you success in overcoming the disappointment, anger and uncertainty that is now reaching Ireland.

ellen said...

Congratulations on your grand-daughter! I truly hope that Ireland is able to get back on her feet. My parents had to emigrate 30 years ago, it is sad to grow up with all your family in another country. I went back and lived in Cork for 5 years, loved it. I hope all your kids manage to find jobs and stay home. Family is all that matters. Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2011.

Barbara said...

I love the photo of you holding Sofia on your lap! She's beautiful and the two of you look so happy together!

About 2 or 3 weeks ago, I emailed you, using the email address in your blogspot profile, with a proposal to guest blog on my Tanzania blog. Did you see the email? I'm wondering if the email address I used is out of date?

Mimi said...

Lovely window into your life in 2010, Catherine.
Hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas, even though it will be hard for you, being the first without your dear Ma.
And hoping that 2011 is a healthy and happy year for you all!

Ann said...

Enjoyed your Christmas letter Catherine. I will be joining you in Grandmother ranks in Feb. Sophia has grown so much. She is a little beauty.

Sending best wishes to you and your family for a very happy, holy and peaceful Christmas. A xx

Anonymous said...

I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

God Bless You :-)


Peggy said...

Hi Catherine,I hope you have a wonderful Christmas at home with family and friends.

Catherine said...

Thanks for all your comments on the Christmas letter and glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for all your good wishes and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and every good wish for 2011!

Lily - thanks for following the blog - I am not so great at commenting on blogs but I try to reply to those who comment on mine - effort is much appreciated! BTW, welcome home if I saw your FB status!

Ann - that's great that you have 7 grandchildren, it's still a great novelty for us! We'll miss Ma indeed but will have fond memories of her.

Stephanie V - we'll have a bit of difficulty getting used to less in our pockets after the budget cuts kick in, but we'll try to soldier on and look at the important things in our lives.

Olivia - thanks for visiting and commenting - and true to say it's hard to be forced into emigration, as so many were in the 70s and 80s. I will visit/follow your blog - and hope you come back to mine!

Barbara - I emailed you about the guest post so I will be in touch in the New Year! Hope you have a good African Christmas with all the sunshine of a Tanzanian summer!

Mimi - nice of you to visit and comment - and glad you liked the window in my world - like that image! We'll have a good time with the family around even though Ma will be missed, her last Christmas at home with us was 2006, she wasn't up to leaving the hospital after that.Life is hard at that stage.

Ann - great news about your impending granny-hood! I'm guessing it's your daughter? Hope all goes well for her, and have a great Christmas. Will keep in touch!

Ron - welcome and thanks for following - hope you enjoy the blog - I will visit yours and follow, plenty of variety is great!

Peggy - hope you're not snowed in up in Cork! Hope you have a great Christmas and that the allotment continues to give you lots of pleasure in 2011!

All the best from Catherine