Sunday 20 January 2019

Bairbre Power: After binge-watching ‘The Crown’, I even started to speak like the Queen, but thankfully for my house guests, I lost my voice

Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

I spent the holidays with some powerful women, some by design, others by accidents of sorts, but it all turned out well in the end. The annual Christmas meet-up of the Power cousins was, as always, great fun and at the end of the night, after chatting with spouses, children, grandchildren and new members of the family, it was down to the four, gathered around a pot of tea and making plans for a road trip to Kerry which I suspect might just have to be routed through Clonmel.

Unlike my cousins, I haven't spent much time in Co Tipperary where our branch of the Power clan hail from, but from a distance, I've had an absolute fascination with how our ancestors survived the famine. Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea set in the backdrop of the Irish famine in Connemara is one of my all-time favourite books and when it comes to the Powers in Tipp, I've often wondered if they survived on fishing in the Nire Valley?

Going back further, what of the original Norman ancestors and our connections in Waterford and Brittany? Yes, I've a feeling this year is going to involve a good deal of research around family history. There's nothing quite like the challenge of going back in time with a family tree to give you a greater sense of self and purpose as you travel into the future.

The other powerful women I shared Christmas with included the late publisher, Katherine Graham, whose 700-page autobiography I picked up by chance when I went into a Rathmines charity store to arrange to donate books, but I ended up leaving with a new chunky paperback to test my arthritic wrists even further. I couldn't leave it behind as it offered insights into the world of the woman played by Meryl Streep in the keenly awaited movie, The Post.

Graham was the first female publisher of a major US paper but she was airbrushed out of All The President's Men save for one reference, a warning to Carl Bernstein from Attorney General John Mitchell that "Katie Graham's going to get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that's published".

Publish she did in her paper, the Washington Post. Thankfully, nothing happened to Graham's cleavage and as for Mitchell, well he was found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the Watergate break-in and cover-up, and went to jail. Moral of the story is women should not be airbrushed out of history for their achievements.

The other powerful woman who inhabited my world over the Christmas and then unexpectedly into the New Year was Queen Elizabeth, and that was down to the Netflix gem The Crown, which is utterly addictive viewing. Turned out all my friends were watching it too, so we had plenty of chat about.

"Wasn't Princess Margaret such a bitch?," declared one pal when I rang up on Stephen's Day to check how cooking that giant turkey had gone.

To be honest, I wasn't as hung up on self-obsessed Margaret and her assignations with Antony Armstrong-Jones as I was with her big sis, 'Lilibet', whose cut-glass aristocratic accent has enthralled me.

I had good reason to be hung up on the accents. I studied drama for 12 years and there are some - you know who you are - that would say I am still a bit of drama queen but I have a fascination with those royal accents and how they are achieved with clipped diction and curious diphthongs or 'gliding vowels' that get into my head like an earworm.

After watching six consecutive episodes of The Crown's second series, I began speaking like the Queen, in that clipped posh accent where weirdly, 'had' rhymes with 'bed'.

As I channelled actress Claire Foy, my 'Thank you' morphed in 'Thenk yu'. By December 27, I was totally getting into character.

"One simply must" I declared to the surprised dog as I pulled on the marigolds and dunked the six good John Rocha wine glasses into the sudsy water and dried immediately.

"Oh for God's sake, dry up," came a shout from the living room. Clearly my theatrics and attempt at the Queen's 'received pronunciation' were not going down a treat. Ears were saved the next day, when I went down with a chest infection and lost my voice.

Banished to bed for four days, I continued to watch The Crown but it was all Claire Foy - my fumbled Christmas attempts to take her off were over though it was fun while it lasted.

And so it was that I moved onto my next quarry on Netflix. I might have lost my appetite for food thanks to those antibiotics, steroids and the wheezing chest rattle, but the constant streaming in between reading and listening to John Creedon (a true national treasure) on radio cheered me up enormously.

Compared to other years, New Year's Eve was a real damp squib. It was me in my PJs, my dog and my new AromaWorks diffuser pumping out delicious wafts of bergamot and black pepper, its dome of ever-changing colours creating a disco effect of colours in the room. "Oh, how times have changed," I thought as the New Year chimed in and I was beyond content to be home, in my leaba, not facing a torturous battle to find a taxi.

Ironically, I was switching back to season two of my streaming favourite from last January, namely Designated Survivor, when the New Year arrived in and I toasted it with Club Orange. There's something sinfully delicious about not having to click on the next episode. You feel like a child in a sweet shop and yes, I was smug on instant gratification. A midlife TV equivalent of a sugar high.

However, now that I'm feeling better again, the box-set binge watching has ceased. No more. It's over. Like the tub of Heroes sweets, it was a treat for the Christmas holidays.

Now, I want to go back to reading in bed and watching movies on big screens rather than on iPhones and laptops and best of all, I'm really looking forward to the National Library for a date with my ancestral line. I have a feeling that all that peace and quiet and green reading lights will be good for the soul. The plan is to step back to go forward.

Irish Independent

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