Ode to the girl gang

My mother told me that she always wanted a sister, while my brother sometimes reminds me that when I was born he disappointedly asked my mother on the phone if I really was a girl.

There’s something in us that makes us flock to our own. In this day and age I probably shouldn’t say “our own”. People talk about genderless clothes and gender neutral toilets and all that’s grand, but I identify as a girl. I’m part of the tribe and I blooming well love it.

It’s about being apart of the girl gang and I don’t  mean the polished type of one that Taylor Swift cobbles together with her so-called celebrity “besties” every Fourth of July. I mean the gang of women you’ve known for years or at least feel you’ve known for a lifetime, when in reality it might only be six months, yet you know they will be there for you no matter what.

In primary school I always wanted a girl gang, the type that you saw on the Sleepover Club where the girls had each other’s backs no matter what, but in reality you’re plonked in with a bunch of children and sometimes all that really bonds you is your similar postcode, love for Home and Away (who knew Australian TV could have such an influence on a pre-teen?) and disdain of a particular teacher.

In secondary school I finally found the girl gang that I always craved and still count them as my best friends today- I’ve known one since nappies, am related to another, have lived with one and am currently living with the other. We’ve seen each other cry over stupid boys whose names we don’t remember, vomit in to handbags and fall on our backsides (I promise those aren’t all me!).

In college, this girl gang luckily extended its branches further and the seeds for some of the best friendships were sown over Snapchat (you know who you are), alcohol, Starbucks lunches, library breaks and cries of: “Does he like me?” thrown in between.

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My love for the girl gang began at home. My mother, sister and I are the three musketeers and the best friends anyone could ask for. Loyalty, kindness and seeing the funny side of a situation are only a sprinkling of what I’ve learned from them and hopefully they may have picked up a thing or two from me along the way .

When I think of women I admire, Mary Robinson, Maeve Binchy and Emma Watson are names that spring to mind, but they’ve never caught my hand when they notice me struggling in a pair of towering heels, or call me out when I’m being a brat.

The admiration for the women around us should begin at home and I know a lot of the time that’s not the case. Sometimes women aren’t blessed with beaming mothers or helpful sisters, sometimes it’s the women in magazines that are the best role models and that’s OK too.

My first teacher in school taught me how to read. It was the one thing I could do so easily from the very start. I didn’t have to try. “Hello”, “This” and “Is” were the first words I learned. She paved the way for me and where I am now, as did my two English teachers in secondary school.

I’ve the two best men around me- my Dad and brother and am friends with some lovely lads too, but for me when I’m stuck in a room with randomers at a house party, it’ll be the girl I’ll gravitate towards and say “Hey” to. We link our self-esteem so much to whether a guy likes us or our position on the career ladder or how high our college results are but I know If I had no girlfriends ready to ring at a moment’s notice my confidence would be dead and I’d feel so alone.

I live with two great ladies (and lad!)  work with some amazing women and have interviewed countless determined females over the last year. I’m proud to be a girl and believe so much in women power. On this International Women’s Day it’s about learning to cut out self-doubt and believing in ourselves more. It’s about putting your hand out to help your fellow female who may be struggling and it’s about coming from a place of love.

In the next few months we’re going to be tangled in the Repeal the Eighth debate. It’ll inevitably get nasty. Hurtful comments will be thrown like confetti on social media, comments that can’t be mopped or swept away very easily and that have the ability to cut deep.

It’s a topic that divides us and rightly so, but we need to respect each other as women and respect each person’s choice. So, in the coming months I’m asking you to hold on to your sisters and mothers and daughters and cherish the girl gang, it’s all we have. It defines us and sets us apart. It’s what makes us the powerful tribe we’ve always been.

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The grandmother I never knew and the vote

The grandmother I never knew was born in 1916. For most people, when 1916 is mentioned, images of men shelling bullets in to the walls of the GPO, and indeed, at each other, lurch in to mind. For me, the year reminds me that my grandmother was born without the right to vote.

While recently Ireland and the UK celebrated the centenary of suffrage- giving the vote to women over the age of 30 and men over the age of 21- it wasn’t until 1928 that women received the same rights as men to have the right to ink the ballot paper at 21 years of age.

Until the age of 12 my grandmother grew up in society that wouldn’t allow her to fully take part in that society or permit her to give her opinion.

They quietened her. They kept her down.

I often wonder what message this would have sent my grandmother, Mary. She was only 12 when the law was changed. Maybe she wasn’t aware of the law at all or perhaps she didn’t care. She wasn’t going to get a push notification on her phone from Sky News of: “Women get the vote” on her smartphone. There weren’t any televisions. They would’ve been lucky to own a radio.

My grandmother died in 1987. She wasn’t alive to witness her fellow Mary, Mary Robinson “rock the cradle” in 1990 when she stood in the centre of  a sea of men dressed in black, clad in a purple suit to receive her seal of office for the Irish presidency.

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She similarly didn’t see her other namesake, Mary McAleese from north Belfast take up reign in the Aras in 1997.

From the snippets I know of Mary Fox. I know that she was part of an Irish Countrywomen’s Association team in north Cork that won a debating final. I know that she did the crossword in the Irish Examiner every week.

She even got married in a double wedding ceremony in 1944 with her sister- if that’s not ahead of it’s time, I don’t know what is! She was 28 too. Unlike her friends and neighbours, she didn’t rise to pressure and marry in her late teens. She lived her life.

Last week I listened to a podcast which featured Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, the grand-daughter of Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Ireland’s leading suffragette of the 1900s.

Micheline said on the show that she wondered whether her grandmother would be disappointed that we still have haven’t had a female Taoiseach.

I too wonder would my grandmother feel the same. She was forward thinking after all and may have been disappointed that we haven’t moved faster, when the likes of the UK, Germany, New Zealand and Northern Ireland all have female leaders.

Then again, she was of a gritty generation who didn’t sweat the small stuff and who were doing their best just to survive day-to-day, milking five or six cows and tending to some hens and pigs.

For Micheline and I these thoughts will only ever be wonderings on the wall of imagination. We can only keep fighting the good fight.

It is frustrating that we haven’t moved faster and that we haven’t had a female Taoiseach. I can only hope that in 100 years time, that an ancestor of mine won’t be wondering or musing like myself, that she’ll be saying we had not just one female Taoiseach, but numerous successful women leaders who held out a hand and let down the ladder for others women to follow in their path, that’s the only way things will change.

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a blog

What kind of blogger am I? Am I even a blogger?  Are those my feet? These are questions that roll through my mind most days (ok, the latter question is a Father Ted reference, but whatever).

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For those of you who keep an eye on my blog and matching Instagram and Twitter accounts you may have noticed that much like its owner, it’s very mixed up and a bit confused.

One day I could post a blog raving about my favourite book and the next I could be uploading splattered images from the Ploughing Championships.

I haven’t nailed down my blogging brand yet. I know it’ll never have anything to do with fitness because gyms freak me out and I conveniently forgot my towel the two times I ventured to the Mardyke gym during my three years in UCC.

Meanwhile, in the mornings I can barely manage to put BB cream on my face, so beauty posts are definitely out of the question and don’t interest me anyway.

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A sample of my mixed up blog posts on Instagram @clairefoxwrites

These days everything needs a label, everything has to sit neatly in a clear category, but my personality has never been like that, so why should my blog?

I can’t solo a football to save my life but would put up a good fight against any so-called sports fanatic to name the All-Ireland winning Cork team of 2005.

So, for now my blog is going to continue to be a confused bundle of madness, just like me.

Anyway, I’m a human being, I’m not a commodity or a brand that needs a unique selling point and call me naive, but I don’t think my blog needs one either.

There’s going to be farming references because I’m from the countryside and it’s part of my job.

There will be fashion bits and bobs because although some days it may not look it, I do have a dangerous love for spending money on clothes.

There won’t be posts with me telling you to eat six cashews with your protein-filled porridge every day or ramblings about free green tea that I got from a hidden gem herbal company (I don’t get free things).

Recently I’ve been thinking of dipping my toe in to the whole video/blog thing. There’s a phrase out there: “If you can’t stop thinking about it, you have to do it”.

Ok, even though you can’t stop thinking about indulging in a lie in from work or murdering your noisy neighbour who smokes weed 24/7, I don’t think that’s what this phrase is trying to communicate.

It’s telling you if there’s something in you that sparks a light in your stomach or an idea that gets you riled up then maybe you should just go for it. Stop imagining yourself doing it, stop dreaming about saying something. Just spit it out. Do it.

Forever Ms Procrastination, I decided to inform my mother and sister of my dilemma.

“What if I come across as a gom?” I winged to my sister.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the word “gom”, it’s regularly trashed out in my household and amongst my friends from home.

It has a similar meaning to eegit and idiot and while we could just as easily use those words, sometimes there’s certain situations where only “gom” will suffice.

“Sure there’s plenty people making goms of themselves on the internet, if you get abuse you can stop,” laughed my sister.

My mother not-so helpfully added: “Maybe you could do it under a different name.”

“The blog is called clairefoxwrites, Mam,” I sulked.

“Oh yeah,” she said.

While I’m still none the wiser, I know they meant well with their advice and always do.

When you upload anything on the internet you’re opening a door to a world of people ready to judge, however with videos it feels to me like forgetting to close the door and unwittingly inviting the entire cyber universe armed with opinions in for tea and a biscuit.

Or maybe Clarke Gable in Gone with the Wind was right- nobody does give a damn. So just do what makes you happy and forget about the rest.

 

Some like it hot chocolate

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact memory of when my love affair with hot chocolate began. The first time I even realised that hot chocolate existed was when my brother boasted to me that he and my mother had indulged in a creamy hot chocolate for breakfast before a match in Old Trafford in 2000. For a five-year old who hadn’t even been abroad, this concept was too much for me to handle and something young, curious Claire would have to investigate further.

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Enjoying a hot chocolate at Doneraile Cafe, Co Cork

 

I do remember moments at aged five or six scuttling in to the kitchen behind my Dad between the end of Emmerdale and the start of Coronation Street and watching him spoon contents from the purple Cadbury’s tin into a mug for me. I’d be allowed to stir in the milk and he’d place it in to the microwave.

 

I’d do the very unsafe but child-like thing of pressing my head against the glass and watching the mug twist around inside the machine and work its magic.

 

“Leave it cool,” my dad would warn me as he placed the cup on the kitchen table.

 

Of course I never would and I’d often scald the tip of my tongue, but that would be a problem I could whinge to my Mam about later on. I’d take pleasure in swirling the brown and white mixture with a spoon and in watching chunks of chocolate travel to the top of the cup. I’d then settle down for the evening playing with my Barbies, as Ken and Deidre Barlow yelled at each other on the TV in the background. Bliss.

 

My affection for hot chocolate probably stems from the fact that I was never a fan of tea. Many people are surprised to hear this as my granny accent coupled with my farming background would usually spell out “TEA FANATIC” in bold, capital, neon-light, flashing letters.

 

It doesn’t matter how many spoons of sugar I add or churns of milk, tea does nothing for me. It’s like seeing Christmas decorations in October- no emotions.

 

Sighs from friends arriving home from work of: “Oh I can’t wait for tea” always amaze me and questions like : “But don’t you find it comforting?” are something I’ll never understand.

 

While there was a time I would never even slurp it and would look on in complete disgust when a gran-aunt in a dark house would push one in front of me on the checkered table cloth, these days I’ve become more polite and can drain a cup on request if I have to.

 

Nowadays everyone’s a coffee lover, and as a journalist you’re almost an outcast if you don’t resort to a piping cup of caffeine to deal with all the deadlines racing over your head. I tried some recently when the schedule was mounting but the headache that ensued just wasn’t worth the mediocre taste.

 

Hot chocolate goes hand-in-hand with some of my most beloved memories. Most weekends when I’m home I go to a café in a nearby town or village for a cup of the chocolate stuff with my mother and sister for a cosy catch up. While they sip tea, I always order the fluffiest and foamiest mug of hot chocolate on the menu.

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A splendid hot chocolate from Cork Coffee Roasters

 

Every Friday after school my friends and I had the tradition of marching down from the old convent gates to the nearby coffee shop. With a roasting hot chocolate in hand we’d natter about homework, nagging teachers and laugh at the lack of boys in our lives.

 

In college, I became overly acquainted with the ivory Starbucks cup which would always become splattered in a mixture of chocolate milk and lip gloss as soon as my mouth hit the lid. It was a great place to doss the day away with the college magazine and arts crew, while we contemplated what masters we would do, would we even do one, or should we just sell our souls to the business or IT world altogether?

Mini-life crises over and done with for now,  I currently find myself living in Dublin and I’m yet to discover a hot chocolate in the capital that even mildly compares to the creamy, smooth cups that Cork has on offer on almost every street corner. In Dublin, while I’m often greeted with magnificent platters of hot chocolate-come-ice-cream-cone combinations, the taste of the presentation never lives up to the one that reaches the mouth.

Then there are the places that serve you up a boring Lidl blend with stale marshmallows and they still have the cheek to charge you close to the fiver mark. Or, in some cases, cafes provide you with tiny shot glasses of chocolate buttons, marshmallows and cream and expect you to mix in the blend yourself-  sorry now but if I’d wanted to do that I’d have stayed at home.

In Cork, there’s a hot chocolate for whatever mood I’m in. If I’m feeling the need for an artsy mug of magical hot chocolate and want to sneak in an Instagram story, I’ll head to Alchemy on Barrack Street. Some days if I’m not about the marshmallow and cream life I venture to Cork Coffee Roasters on Frenchchurch Street. This rustic red cup of brilliance offers a tasty treat without all the trappings and somehow tastes just as good.

Doppio on College road speaks to my sweet-tooth heart like no other. In final year of college in UCC, as if heaven sent, it opened only five doors down from my freezing college house. Its heavenly mugs contained the perfect combination of sugar, chocolate and cream and offered refuge from the sub-zero living temperatures of a winter’s evening.

 

While hot chocolates have developed from the plain mugs of Cadbury mixes I was accustomed to in the early noughties, the New Zealand Rugby team’s KISS mantra (Keep It Simple Stupid) is what I advocate when it comes to enjoying a truly perfect cup of hot chocolate. Forget the tray with chocolate and strawberry sauce at the side or the stir-in chocolate spoons. Please hand me a cup of warm, sweet chocolate with a sprinkle of marshmallows and a hefty dash of cream and I’ll be more than content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Booked Out

DISCLAIMER: The above image is how I imagined I’d look when I did the the not so clinically proven: “wash-your-hair-and-plait-it-the-night-before-school-so-it’ll-be nice-and-curly-in-the-morning” trick as a teenager. Needless to say at the age of 16 I woke up to a fuzzy mesh of hair, not quite unlike a cat’s fur sitting on my head, a world away from Hermione’s lingering curls.

Anyway.

I’m currently reading Rachael’s English’s American Girl. I bought it a month and a half ago but between  suffering a yogurt spillage in my handbag and encountering  a prolonged bout of laziness after it had dried out, I only managed to pick up the book again yesterday.

This is nothing against the said book, it just shows how even someone who would go as far as calling  themselves a “book-lover” on their Twitter bio suffers with procrastination and is prone to getting dangerously distracted by Mad Men.

This isn’t a book review, why? Well, I haven’t finished the book ,so I don’t think that would be fair or do the author justice. I’m just musing as to why I take incessant prodding to do an activity I actually enjoy. It’s probably because reading requires a level of concentration that many of us aren’t used to exerting since leaving school or college.

In school, Snapchat didn’t exist and I kept my block Sony Erikson buried in my schoolbag or stowed away  in my locker, depending on how nerdy or scared s***less I was feeling on the day.

Every night after I’d finish my homework I’d unleash my inner Hermione Granger and alternate between reading a Jane Austen novel or a Bronte one.

Most of the time they were a struggle but sometimes there were glimpses of humour and “daring” hand-holding love scenes that spoke to my 16-year-old self.  I’d tuck myself up with Emma or Wuthering Heights, along with a dictionary and log new words I didn’t understand into a battered Aisling copybook and duly record them. Just in case I ever wanted to use words like “insipid” or “sage” in my daily life.

I’ve earlier memories of my dad and brother reading to me when I was small. Funnily enough they both had the same tactic of exaggerating what happened in the Mr Men’s books, so much so that I’d be bowled over on the couch chuckling and aghast at their more entertaining albeit ruder versions of the classic tales.

The first real book I read on my own was Song of the Sea by Don Conroy. I got it as a birthday present from a girl in my primary school. I was determined to read a proper book, with no pictures, on my own and to the end.

To be honest I couldn’t tell you what it was about and don’t even think I  understood what was going on, I was  just stubborn but nevertheless it led the way toward a slew of Animal Ark books and the entire troubled, Jacqueline Wilson family building their way along my  shelf like a row of misshapen building blocks.

I blame college for making me a lazy reader. Sure as an English student wasn’t I “always reading”, except for those days  where I’d spend hours in the campus coffee dock and  nights where I’d crawl out of Bodega or the Brog or the Bowery or whatever club du jour beginning with a B was the “in place” in Cork at the time.

Bible heavy copies of Beowulf and 18th century anthologies never thrilled me enough and it was only at Christmas time curled up on the chair to read a cosy Maeve Binchy novel that I’d rekindle my love for reading again.

Last month I read the most gripping novel I had come across in a long time. The Nightingale by Kristina Hanna has everything I like in a book- love, drama and a dash of murder. Also it’s about sisters and since my sister and I are so close, even though we are not particularly close in age, it’s a a relationship that fascinates me.

I read the book at my own pace and didn’t rush myself and enjoyed it all the more. Before I tried to be  strict with myself and say: “I’ve to finish this in 5 days”, now I give myself a month and if I haven’t finished it in that time-frame I  just forget about it.

Next week I’m enrolling myself in a creative writing class. I feel I’ve a story in me but like reading I need the discipline to do it and to not just attempt it whenever I get a half-hearted notion or  decide to fill my diary with tears whenever a boy is “mean” to me.

There’s bundles of excuses I could use not to go like:  it’s on for two-and-a-half hours or I’ve been feeling tired recently or it’s straight after work, but no. I’m going. I’m going to drag myself from Talbot Street to Harcourt next week for two-and- a-half hours to do an activity that I enjoy.

I’m going to be like that seven year-old reading Song of the Sea– I’ll finish it, to the end, even if I haven’t a foggiest idea of what’s going on. Sure, isn’t that life?

Dublin: A vintage city

I recently went on a trail around Dublin’s streets  to visit some of its best vintage stores and to chat to their style loving owners. I documented my journey on Instagram. Here’s some of the images and musings I got from my trip around Dublin’s cobbled streets. Visit my Instagram @clairefoxwrites for more images from Dublin’s vintage stores!

Siopaella

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Lucy’s Lounge

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Carousel

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OM Diva

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Folkster

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