Tuesday 12 December 2017

When commuting is one big guilt trip

Families are being forced to live apart in the hunt for work in our culture of sacrifice, says Carol Hunt
The Commute (RTE)
Oireachtas Report (RTE)
Bram Stoker agus Dracula (TG4)

Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

Sacrifice seemed to be a recurring theme in many TV offerings this Halloween week. Coincidence? I don't think so.

The Commute was an antidote to the excitable horror of our traditional October 31 screenings: there was no hysteria, no screaming, wailing or gnashing of teeth -- not by the subjects at least -- although I can't speak for those of us who watched these lost souls calmly discuss the destruction of their family lives.

No, they were restrained. What we saw was just a few well told, matter-of-fact stories about ordinary working people and what they are prepared to endure in order to remain in employment in today's Ireland.

With the current rise in birthrates, one would assume that midwives would be in demand -- especially as hospitals find themselves increasingly unable to cope and home births gain popularity. But then, this is Ireland -- a place where people who make mistakes to the tune of three point odd billion sleep happily in the knowledge that they're secure in their jobs, while others like newly trained Cork midwife and mother of seven, Margaret Sexton Fitzpatrick, are forced to become what's now known as a "trans-national commuter" -- quite a blood-curdling description of an increasing number of people who live in one country yet are forced to seek work in another.

Margaret, who could easily pass as the mother of her (nearly) three-year-old grandson, qualified as a midwife last year and is forced to work three days on, three days off in a hospital in Tooting, south London. Her husband picks up the slack at home while she's away and her seven children -- between the ages of 23 and 11 -- all muck in too.

The big airy home in Clonakilty hummed with that soothing noise of a large family, working together in busy harmony, until it is time for her to leave -- again. She dreams of working in Cork and experiencing a normal family life again but, she says: "Hope is quite low down."

Sean Maguire is part of a group who commute daily from Limerick to Dublin -- total time spent travelling to work per week? 30 hours. He misses his one-year-old daughter and feels guilty that his wife has to shoulder all the daily responsibilities of her care.

And those who don't have children to care for also feel the guilt: Just married Tara and Neil Walsh both commute from Donegal. Tara weekly to Dublin, Neil daily to Galway. They see each other one day a week. Their plan to start a family is, quite understandably, on hold for the forseeable future as they have to work just to survive.

So much for the supposed 'culture of entitlement'.

'Culture of sacrifice' would be more like it.

But if that was just a little too restrained and stoical for the week that was in it -- never fear: there was drama and hissy fits aplenty down in our national bastion of entertainment, Leinster House.

"I'm not one for hysterics," protested Inda, as Gerry Adams led his party out of the Dail. "Where I come from, you stay on the pitch to state your case," he sniffed, huffily.

Never mind that the whole point of the walkout was that members of the Dail were NOT allowed state their case. The motion to debate the handover of €730m worth of Anglo Irish bonds to speculators, who most probably had made a killing on them, was denied.

We realised that we are a conquered nation. We have to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the markets. It was all very depressing.

But then Michael Noonan remembered that the kids were staying up late for the Halloween break and decided to give them a bit of a fright. Hehe.

Or was it a threat?

If their Mammies and Daddies didn't do as they were told and pay off all the nasty, evil bond-people Ireland would end up like poor Greece and be poised to suffer "another 16 years of austerity". And we wouldn't want to end up like that now, would we, boys and girls?

He scared the living daylights out of everyone watching, so he did -- so much that we all forgot how vastly different were the economies and financial situations between Ireland and Greece. But then why let the facts get in the way of a good scary story?

Immoral blood-sucking entities were also the subject of a TG4 documentary simply called: Bram Stoker agus Dracula.

And it has to be asked -- how does TG4 make such bloody (sorry) good documentaries, particularly when one considers its budget? Is there something in the water over there?

As Stoker would have been a neighbour of mine, and also a fellow student of TCD, it's always amazed me how little interest we've shown in the man, somehow believing that his masterpiece was created separately from him and not a composite of various experiences and memories from his own life.

We assumed that the inspiration for his Dracula creature was Vlad the Impaler, yet we neglected the horrors that may have inspired him at home. In this beautfully Gothic piece, Derry company Dearcan Media investigated Stoker's childhood and student life in Trinity. Most importantly, the programme highlighted the influence of fellow Irish Gothic writers on his work -- particularly the similarly neglected Sheridan Le Fanu's erotic and decadent Lesbian vampire story Carmilla.

Rumour also has it that stories Stoker was told by Speranza, Wilde's mother, of her memories of peasants 'nicking' cattle to drink their blood were as important to the story of his anti-hero as the traditional vampire tale.

He certainly wouldn't be short of inspiration if he happened upon us today. Would he now, Mr Noonan?

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