Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas 2011 - the Round Robin comes bob-bob-bobbing along - again!

For the past 22 years I've written a Christmas Newsletter from our family to the wider world - and since I started this blog I've shared it with the blogosphere - it's a family update but it's quite general and broad and people seem to enjoy getting it each year. I started it in Tanzania in 1989 and while it's a genre that's frequently the butt of bad jokes and ridiculed as being a self-indulgent brag-fest of family perfection and accomplished genius children I hope mine strikes a balance of normality while entertaining some bragging rights along the way. Enjoy! The photos are a selection you may have already seen on the blog.

           Happy Christmas 2011

Dear Friends,

The Christening Party
It’s that wonderful time of the year again when I get down to writing the annual Christmas Newsletter from Lismore and update you on the goings on in the Rotte-Murray household over the past year. It’s become a real tradition now since it began in Iringa in Tanzania in 1989 – hard to believe this is Issue No. 22! I could nearly compile my very own cringe-inducing Round Robin book and give Simon Hogget a run for his money – I’d call it something more creative than The Cat Who Could Open the Fridge! The tree is up since Saturday and there’s a festive air about, with street lights and Christmas fairs all over the place. Shopping till dropping seems to be the mantra in the towns and cities, where there are little signs of recession if you see the tailbacked traffic entering Mahon Point in Cork. Now all I wish for is that there’ll be no severe cold spell like last year when we’d no water for 8 days over Christmas – genuinely Dickensian, drawing water from the Spout (local spring source) and washing everything by hand. Thanks but no thanks!

Livia in her Christening Robe
With the economy in the pits and the recession still nowhere near bottoming out (if we can believe the prophets of doom who hound us on the daily news and current affairs programmes) there’s sometimes a temptation to join the 99% in one of the Occupy sites that have sprung up in our cities and larger towns. It’s really painful to see the budget bleeding every last cent from hard-pressed taxpayers and homeowners just to bailout/pay off the faceless bond-holders who hold us in their clutches. I don’t mind taxes where they’re targeted at specifics that enhance and benefit society – we hear a lot this year about living in a society not an economy, and it’s difficult to square the circle when the country has lost economic sovereignty to our paymasters in Frankfurt (ECB) and Washington (IMF). We hear that in a few years we’ll be able to go back to the markets (financial, not farmers, I’m guessing) and that’s gonna restore our sense of pride and place. Haven’t we all become whizzes at the jargon of economics and high finance? It reminds me of Italia ’90 when every Irish person became an expert in football and pretended to understand the offside rule, while throwing opinions on various players around like snuff at a wake - though it’s a bit obscene to compare those innocent halcyon days with the gloom of the current global crisis.
As for ourselves, we are hit but not rock bottom like many – we aren’t going to lose our home like so many unfortunate people who got stuck in negative equity and repossessions if they lost their jobs, and I am lucky to have a relatively secure public sector job. There are plans to lose thousands of public sector workers in the next few years through voluntary redundancy and early retirement plans and that ghastly term “natural wastage” (where people retire and are not replaced). In the HSE and nursing services there will be a mass exodus of management and some frontline staff come February when the deadline for current pension payments hits. Thereafter previously exempt lump sums will be taxed and no-one blames anyone who is due to retire in the next few years and who has a reasonable amount of years accrued from going while the going is good.  The downside for those of us left on the frontline is an increased workload with fewer staff. We’re all working flat out as it is and there will be an inevitable knock-on effect on patient services if it gets much worse. Morale is low at times but for frontline staff like me there’s a lot of job satisfaction so that and team solidarity makes it worthwhile.    
Livia's Christening Party
My big news from the work front this year is that I got a transfer from Old Parish, where I’d been for nine years, to Lismore, where my office is around the corner from the house! I am delighted with the new post and have settled in well in the past three months. I knew the area pretty well already though I find some of the back roads in the more remote upland areas in the foothills of the beautiful Knockmealdowns a challenge at times – thank goodness for the satnav – it’s saved my bacon on a few occasions. It’s been good for my personal economy too – my petrol bill has halved since the move, as I’m 150 miles a week down on my previous travel to Dungarvan. Between knitting circles and book clubs, there’s never a dull moment. Jan and I did the Sean Kelly Cycle again in August, with him doing the 90km and me the 50km, great fun and a chance to keep fit.
With Theo in the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin
Jan is still in the Labour Party as Town Councillor and had a busy start to the year with the General Election in February, after Ciara Conway, the Labour candidate for Waterford, asked him to be her Director of Elections. He got into it with great gusto and was on the highways and byways canvassing madly for the few weeks of the campaign, and it all paid off when Ciara was elected to Dáil Eireann after a nail biting marathon in the count centre. It’s been a roller coaster of a year politically as the Labour Party went into Government with Fine Gael, the more conservative centre-right party, after Fianna Fáil, commonly called the “previous shower”, suffered a massive wipe-out at the hands of a furious electorate, ending up with a handful of TDs. Jan had the honour of being at the Dáil for the first day as Ciara’s guest, and it was a great achievement for both of them. Ciara’s making a great name for herself as a vocal back-bencher on many issues, particularly social and economic. One thing’s certain – people will be as angry at this coalition as at FF when times get tough. Reading Twitter when there’s a topical programme on gives a good reflection of the Irish zeitgeist. Immrama was another busy time for Jan with the 9th festival this year hosting travel writers from a broad sweep of the genre. We had a great weekend and plans are well underway for the 10th year in 2012, which has to be special. The fundraisers will get under way in January with the annual table quiz honing our dormant post-Christmas brain cells.

Shayne, Jany and Sofia and Livia
The rest of the family are all fine, with plenty going on in their lives. The big news for 2011 was the birth on 26th March of our beautiful second granddaughter, Livia, to Shayne and Jany and she’s a sweet sister for Sofia, who gets on great with her. She is a lovely happy baby, and is now sitting up and starting to move around. We had her Christening in Lismore at the end of October, and she looked sweet in our century-old family Christening robe which Sofia wore the previous year. Sofia is almost two and is full of chat and always on the go, a real livewire, yet she can sit and play for ages with her toys and it’s great to see her playing with the stash of Duplo from the attic when she’s in Lismore.  Shayne got a job in Cork the week after Livia’s birth, in Abtran in Bishopstown, in customer services for Electric Ireland (old ESB). Jany was on maternity leave until September and she got a new job closer to home the week before she was due to go back to work, she’s an IT helpdesk specialist in a company near the CSO in Mahon. They’ve sorted childcare with Anne, a Dutch au pair who’s living with them for a year.  Their other big news is they are planning a wedding for next July in Lismore – so we can look forward to another celebration!
Godfather Martin with Livia
Martin is still in Dublin, he was out of work for a few months after finishing his Masters, and then he got a job as a waiter in the Westbury Hotel in Dublin, a pretty swanky place where plenty of celebs stay when they’re doing shows in the city. Graphic design jobs are pretty thin on the ground so he was glad to get off the dole with the Westbury job, but he’s looking farther afield for the coming year and he’s going to Australia at the end of January. He’s going with a friend who’s also a graphic designer, and they’re heading for Brisbane where they have friends who were in Tanzania when we were there – as kids they grew up together in Iringa so it’s nice that they’ve kept in touch over the years, as we have with the parents – in fact Tandy was here in 2010, and the three girls were here over the New Year and visited us in Lismore. So while I’ll miss Martin madly, I have to overcome my Irish Mammyness and be happy for him, as he’s doing the best thing for himself – and wish him the best of luck down under! 
Godfather William with Sofia
William is still in Cork; after working in a variety of jobs since he graduated from Limerick and moved to the real Capital last year, he decided to go back to being a student and is doing his Masters in Electronic Business in UCC – totally unrelated to his PE teaching degree but something he wanted to do – sadly a new regulation barring grants if returning to education within 3 years of previous study meant he wasn’t eligible for a grant, but he decided to go ahead with it and luckily we can help him out. He’s got into the sport and social side of UCC life with Intervarsity Volleyball and Trampolining. He’s on the Irish Volleyball team now and has got his first cap a few weeks ago. He will probably travel once he’s finished his Masters, unless a plum job lands on him. It’s hard to see the young adults leaving if there’s little prospects for them coming back in the future – we went from choice back in our day, and jobs prospects for nurses were a given – now the public sector recruitment embargo has done away with that certainty.
Maeve did her Junior Cert and decided to go straight to 5th year but after a few days she realised she’d made a wrong choice and luckily she was able to go back to Transition Year which is like a gap year – school without too much pressure, plenty of variety and fun activities, and not too much academic pressure. Work experience is part of the programme and she spent a week at the crèche in Fermoy where she went as a toddler until she went to school. She’ll have another two sessions of work experience in the New Year so that will be another taster of the world of work. She is now 16 and taller than me, and she is becoming very grown up and independent, enjoying spending time hanging out with her friends. In June she went with two of her friends to SummerJam in the O2/Point in Dublin, and I had to go as they were under 16 – despite the ear-bleeding decibels I enjoyed some of the acts –  LMFAO and Ke$ha – don’t ask! It’s an indoor festival, a kind of Oxygen without the mud, lasting 3-4 hours. 

Jan and me at Newgrange World Heritage Site in Co. Meath
Jan and me went to a couple of gigs this year – Eric Clapton was Jan’s guitar hero for years and for his birthday we went to see him at the O2 and he didn’t disappoint – he ain’t Mr. Personality but boy he can play and sing! Christy Moore at the Marquee in Cork was an anniversary pressie from the kids and that was a great night – Christy was in flying form and not grumpy at the crowd as he is at times. We had a lovely day out in Dublin in July when Theo, our old Dutch friend from Iringa days, came with his Dutch Brass Band Me Tresse to play a series of concerts in Ireland – we saw them in the Guinness Storehouse and Jan went to see them in Galway as well. We had another trip to Galway to visit friends and Jan and I had a few staycation short breaks in Sligo and Trim, and I went to the INMO conference in Kilkenny in May. We spent a lot of weekends in Dublin and Cork, and the year flew by.
So that’s about the summary of our lives for another year, and I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and every good wish for 2012 – may it be a happy and prosperous year and don’t forget our door is always open and we’d love to see you anytime. I hope we meet over Christmas!
Love Catherine, Jan, Shayne, Jany, Sofia and Livia, Martin, William and Maeve (and Ben whom I left out of the email and letter version!)