Why I am Strictly a #strictly Fan.....

There are so many of these competitive, make-me-a-star, raise-my-profile type TV shows these days, aren't there?

For me it all started with Pop Idol in 2001 which was subsequently 'replaced', as such, by The X Factor show in 2004.

There are tons of these shows. I should make it clear at this point though that I'm not particularly a fan of these type of shows per se, despite what my twitter feed may currently indicate on Saturday nights! And although I do watch it, I particularly dislike The X Factor show, mainly for the mentor game-playing they sometimes engage in and the fun they make of the 'weak' contestants - those they let through to the live shows for that reason - and how those with a back story have the best chance. Makes for better entertainment 'dahling', I'm sure they'll tell us.

The shows that I enjoy best though are 'Dancing on Ice', sadly no longer on our screens, which brought the fabulous British Ice Dancing stars Torville and Dean back into the public domain, making Ice Dancing cool again; and  Britain's Got Talent, which I love for the zaniness of the characters

However my absolute favorites are Got To Dance and Strictly Come Dancing. Mainly because they don't engage in the afore-mentioned game-playing, and also because they are, well, dance-based!

Myself and Looking for Blue Sky were chatting recently and a question was raised:

How come a programme about Ballroom Dancing, once a niche activity, has become so popular?

A very valid question that I'm not sure I can satisfactorily answer Blue sky, but I can tell you what I get from it and why I like it so much.

Anyone who knows me, or who are regular readers here, will know that dancing is my thing. You'll know that my love for dancing started with a chance TV item when I was three years old. From then on I watched any TV show that had dancing in it, which in my era consisted primarily of 2 shows: Top of the Pops and....... Come Dancing! This show was quite demure, staid even, and developed from following all of the many Ballroom Dancing competitions throughout the UK. The format evolved over the years and ultimately became the one I was familiar with. Groups of contestants (sometimes large, sometimes small) dancing around the floor, with the TV camera highlighting them one by one. Stunning costumes, in glorious colours with reams of satin and taffeta, feathers and sequins. With the men all in their suits and boleros, with ne'er a bare chest or rippling muscle to be seen. Through this programme I was introduced to the many different styles of ballroom dancing; the beautiful waltzes, the lively foxtrots and jives, the passionate Pasa Dobles and the sexy Rumbas and Sambas! Made such wonderful family viewing on a Saturday night!

My favourite part though, the one I lived for, was the more eclectic style - which allowed for more free-style dancing while also being technically correct -  the Group 'Formation Dance'. This was dancing-on-the-edge stuff, the highlight of the night, and I loved it!

Who could have known back then what this traditional dance TV programme would ultimately mature to be?

And that's exactly what happened with the introduction of the many competitive 'make-me-a-star' TV programmes. It worked for music so why not with dancing? I think that by applying this on-trend format of TV entertainment to the old style 'Come Dancing', they did for Ballroom Dancing what Riverdance did for Irish Dancing - they made it more popular and introduced it to a whole new audience. They made Ballroom Dancing 'sexy' ...... 'dahling'!

This show differs from The X Factor in that they invite 'celebrities' from all walks of the entertainment industry - thereby cutting out the 'game-playing'. Although the contestants have talent it is not usually (for most of them) in the area in which they are competing. They get to learn a whole new talent, one that takes as many forms as there are dance styles within this genre of Ballroom Dancing. There is a whole chemistry and bond, based on the most basic element there is; one that must exist if two people are to successfully dance together, i.e. trust. That is wonderful to watch. To see all of that develop, as well as the rapport between all of the couples and, of course, their dancing skills, as the weeks go by is another thing that attracts me to this show.This revamped dance show also provides a platform for the professional dancers and helps to highlight their phenomenal talents.  Of course I LOVE the choreography that these professional dancers bring to the show, and, although it can be a tad over-frenetic at times, I do love their more modern version of the 'Formation Dance', which is less restrictive and more creative than ever before.  And still the camera pans in from low on the dance floor, similar to how it did back in the day......

So for me it's not just the dancing; Strictly Come Dancing has such a history attached to it, it has risen from the ashes of Come Dancing and has been on our screens for ten years now. Ballroom Dancing is not that much of a niche, not really. Certainly not when compared to Ice Dancing and besides, as I've said above: there are many different dance styles encompassed within the title 'Ballroom Dancing'.

Ballroom Dancing is also a whole industry within itself. There are still many, regularly held, dancing competitions throughout the UK and Ireland, and the US too; for whom I'm sure Strictly means a lot.

The Strictly format has also become a hugely popular mode of fundraising for sports clubs, schools and charities here in Ireland alone, with this Fundraising Events Group being a hugely successful one-stop-shop for making your event happen!

And one day, hopefully soon -when my injury has totally healed, I will get to dance in one of these events.

It's on my to-do list after all!


#SilentSunday 26/10/2014


On Thinking Thoughts and Talking Small....

It was a kind of surreal conversation that surrounded me that day. It was like I was there, which I was - right there stage centre, can't miss me - but they were acting as if I wasn't. I didn't know what was expected of me you see. Should I try to join in from my precarious centre stage position, or should I just let them carry on..... ?

I guess it was something like being in a Doctor's surgery, or at the hairdressers - where there is an expected amount of small talk to be engaged in with every person that comes in contact with you. Exhausting, but it does put everyone at ease and makes the time fly by. Besides, in these situations the conversation signals are easier to read, you just join in - or pick up a magazine when they're blow-drying your hair so that everyone knows that conversation is no longer expected.

But this situation was entirely new to me. Eventually I just gave a wan, lop-sided smile, from my awkward tummy-lying position; hoping that this was a middle-of-the-road response that would cover all angles. Then everything went black........


I was just lying there, having smiled at everyone I came in contact with and engaged in the necessary - and sometimes unnecessary, it must be said - small talk. I was nervous you see. Very nervous. Even though I had no reason to be, not really. I'd been through this a few times before, But now I was relaxing, nodding off even, while I awaited my 'treatment'. And then suddenly, before I could even gather my thoughts, along came the person to bring me along to the next stage.

As I was wheeled in and out of lifts, and up and down, and along bright and sterile corridors, my mind began to wander.....

It meandered between what we'd have for dinner later that evening, to hoping that the Teen Boy had remembered, - and not lost, thrown away, eaten?,  - his hall door key, to 'please God, please let me come out of this in one piece. Better, if at all possible .... oh, and a few highlights and a bit of nice make-up would be lovely too'.

Unfortunately though, this was not a treatment of the beauty variety that I was being brought to, but rather one of the hospital kind. And one that required a rather large needle too. Well, there was another needle or two before the rather large needle was injected into my back, and not a million miles away from my spine either it must be said. Sure no wonder I was nervous.

I was delighted though that one of the needles would contain 'lots of lovely sedation' , as I said to everyone that I came in contact with, lest they'd forget and wouldn't give me enough. Or not give me any at all. Although I very much doubted they'd ever do that to me again. I've no doubt that the day they gave me this treatment without sedation is a day that has gone down in the annals of this hospital, never to be forgotten or repeated, ever again. In case my reaction would again frighten other patients waiting in line, like an injured human conveyor belt, for their 'turn'. It might even make this procedure completely obsolete! Oh no, sedation it most definitely will be.

So anyway, back to the corridor where I'm being pushed in a wheelchair with my thoughts going to places they had no right going, and thinking of the 'lovely sedation' that I was absolutely going to get. And then I thought: 'I know a General Anesthetic has more risks but what if I don't wake up after the sedation? Sure that couldn't happen, could it? I've too much left undone in this world, sure I'd have to come back to do all my 'jobs', especially one very important one. Nah, it'll have to be okay..... but what if it's not?

Okay, so if it's not what would the last things I'd see and hear on this earth then? See, I told you my mind went places it had no right to go.

'Well, I wouldn't want it to be that boring hospital notice over there,' I thought to myself. 'Nor that official sounding one on that door,' I mused.

'Oh, wait a minute,' I exclaimed in my mind as I was pushed through the double doors, 'what's that notice on that board I see.... 'Don't forget to.... bring your... Christmas Party.... deposits in this week... €10'. Ah yes, a Christmas Party, now that's more like it!'

So that was that all sorted then, I thought happily to myself.

Except it wasn't. I still hadn't reached my final destination you see, and instead was left in a kind of ante room to the operating theatre. *Gulps* . When the beeps stopped beeping then it would be my turn... on the table, so the speak... I was gleefully informed. *Gulps again... BIG ones*

I then flicked through some magazines desperately trying to distract myself again. Something here that would be the last thing I'd remember?..... ooh look, a pretty photo of my friend, Lisa Maree Domican !! Now, that really did distract me!

Then I was told that the radiologist would be here soon to give me me my 'lots of lovely sedation'. Okay, I can do this, no bother, I thought ...... and then I remembered.... OH CRAP..... it was a radiologist who gave me that treatment before wasn't it? You know the one I told you about above.... the one with 'Marathon Man' written all over it. - I refer of course to that movie with the sadistic dentist, except in my case it was a 'misinformed' ( chronic pain means CHRONIC PAIN Mister, so treat with due consideration!) Radiologist, and the pain inflicted was 'Marathon Man' multiplied by a factor of TEN, at least. My shocked sobs and screams lasted for a very long time after the procedure, and must have reverberated through the theatre and beyond for far, far longer.......

And then suddenly my radiologist appeared, fingers itching to get all sorts of wires etc linked to the canula which had already been inserted into my arm. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief on seeing that it was a different radiologist, and I was indeed getting 'lots of lovely sedation'.

Then things happened very quickly. I was wheeled into the operating theatre where there were lots of nurses and assistants buzzing around, following the usual routine for the next injured human on the conveyor belt, i.e. me! With great difficulty in preserving my dignity, I hauled my injured body from one trolley to end up tummy-down on another, and without further ado I was attached to all sorts of contraptions, while I listened to the conversation around me.....

After all the small talk and ensuring that I was well informed at all stages along the way,  they were all now suddenly ignoring me! My Consultant, that would be the one who was about to stick a rather large needle in my back not too far from my spine, and his head nurse were discussing the ways of getting out of changing the duvet covers with their other halves at home! I was fascinated.....

Apparently 'but you're so good at doing it, much better than me' is the best, and safest way to do it.

And apparently these would be the last words I'd hear on this earth....... then everything went black.

But of course the weren't the last thing I heard, else I wouldn't be here to tell the tale now, would I!

It appears that post-Nerve Block procedure I now feel slightly better than I did before.......... but I still need highlights and some face-paint.

But that will be a whole other story....... and a whole lot more small talk!


Note: For any of you needing Nerve Block procedures here's what I learned:

                                      Nerve Block 'Highlights' (!!)

The thing about these procedures is that the patient's reaction dictates it's success while undergoing the procedure - i.e. if the patient screams they've hit the spot. 
  • A Pain Management Consultant (some of them, not all) take a more humane approach and sedate you, so that you're just under, will still respond, but will not remember.
  • A radiologist's skills and the way he/she does their work means that they've a much more targeted way of hitting the nerve to block it. But they don't sedate you. 
I felt that the Pain Management route is the most humane, and while the radiologist's technique ultimately gave me the most relief (for a while) it was excruciatingly painful and the memory of that pain stayed with me for a long time afterwards. I've had 4 nerve blocks now and it's the sedation route for me if I need any more.

The choice however is yours to make.

The Forgotten 'Worker'.......

I don't know why I put myself through it, yet still I did it ..... I listened to the details of Budget 2015 the other day. It was a slightly better budget compared to those of more recent years, and it was jokingly thought to have been yet again translated from it's mother language, i.e. German!  There were little presents to the lower and middle income earners of Ireland in the form of extra tax relief and an increase in child benefit. It did irk me a little that all the calculation examples quoted on the evening news programmes added the tax relief due for Water Tax, even though this relief isn't claimable until 2016, and didn't reduce any gain by the cost of said Water Tax charges to reflect this budget's true net effect. In fact this Budget was pretty much neutral. For some, for others it was a loss, due to some anomalies.

Later that evening I listened to the comments and concerns from the sample panel of a small cross-section of our society, and I agreed with their points of view. 

I also heard the usual argument against the universal way that we allow child benefit to all, including the 'rich'. People would have preferred that it be given in the form of childcare relief, to facilitate mothers (it's usually the mothers) who work outside the home.

I also listened to, and agreed with, the working mothers who put their points forward with regards to the costs of going to work ie childcare.I listened to, and agreed with, a mother who is a Carer to her son who has 'additional needs', who now has options to either work or to do further study. The obstacle in her path for both was also the cost  of childcare.

In recent years the cost of childcare is highlighted again and again and again. And rightly so. All Governments in the past decade or so have resided over a policy of ensuring that mothers who's children were at school to get out there and get a job. That policy pervaded in boom and bust years alike, and I believe that that policy is Individualisation.

Now also during the above period there were mothers who either financially needed to work or preferred to be a working mum. It's entirely irrelevant why the mother is working really. Working mothers contribute to the working ethics of this country and to the state coffers (as well as taking care of home and child duties.) If childcare costs are seriously affecting any mothers choice to work then we should recognise that and make any tax allowances that's required. 

But we should not abolish child benefit as it stands and replace it with a childcare allowance, or Tax Credit.

Not unless you also grant it to those who don't 'work' but provide another form of childcare. 

And it's this group of Irish citizens that has been repeatedly ignored, in budget after budget, year after year.... also ever since the introduction of Individualisation. In fact this group of mothers very rarely get a mention, so much so that they don't even have a voice anymore. And that really saddens me. I'm also very much concerned about how Government after Government seems to see the preferred family unit as one where both parents work, if jobs are available. 

Yes, this group I refer to are of course those mothers who by choice or necessity stay home all day to mind the children.

And like working mothers it's also entirely irrelevant why they are stay-at-home-mums. The fact that they don't contribute to the state coffers seems to have a bearing, I don't believe that any Government in the past 14 years has ever acknowledged the contribution that a lot of these mothers also make to society (via extensive voluntary work in schools and parishes etc;etc;etc,) as well as to home life. Besides, as I've said before 'Not all contributions to our society can be measured in financial or economic terms. 

You may wonder why I blame Individualisation as a problem for both women who go out to work and women who stay at home. Well, I'll tell you why:

  • Individualisation replaced the aggregation form of taxation for married couples and was introduced in Budget 2000. One of the reasons it was introduced was as I've said before: 'it was felt that women were incentivised to' seek economic independence' .
  • In fact the effect of this new way of treating married couples, which meant a financial hit to those families where the mother stayed home, was that a lot of women with children went back to work as they couldn't afford not to. Older couples whose children were fully grown up were also affected in this manner. It may have suited some of them to do so but that's not the point.
  • Then along came the recession in approx 2008 and a lot of jobs were lost. A lot of these jobs were part time jobs. And a lot of these part time jobs were filled by women.
  • Individualisation helped fill all those vacant positions from 2000 (Fianna Fail either planned this -and I believe they did - or it was an unexpected huge bonus) and when a lot of those positions were no longer there Individualisation was still retained.
  • While this Individualisation did recognise the stay-at-home-parent by introducing the paltry  'Home Carer Tax Credit', the Government of the day only granted it  due to the uproar caused at the time; the one and only time that the SAHM's very loud voice was heard.
  • While most family tax credits have received a tweaking over the years, the Home Carers Tax Credit has only been slightly increased once in the 14 years since it was introduced. Despite salary increases and tax decreases during part of that time, all Governments continue to value the work that these parents do to the tune of approx €14.80 per week.

So, what do I want? I want to see a Government that encompasses and values all family choices as regards working in or outside the home, and all forms of childcare. 

I'd like a Government that makes any necessary adjustments that makes it financially viable for a family to choose whatever form of childcare or work choices that they find suitable, or necessary, for their family unit., 

I want us a society to not value one over the other, to see the value that both working and Stay-At-Home-Mums (or dads) bring to our nation and to the future of our society.

The Impatient Patient and the Ten Minute Beauty Walk........

You know, it's only when you look back that you realise how far you've come. And for the times that you want to take a quick peek back, to see exactly how you've felt at a difficult or prominent moment in time, it's then that you realise how good it really is to have a blog. It might even encourage you to continue with it; if you've been having doubts that you can continue, that is.

And I really have been having those thoughts. Maybe after six years of chronologising my life, writing about things I'm passionate about, or sharing some humorous moments, that it's time for me to just, stop.

But, what would I do with my free time?

I had the same thought when I came home from hospital six weeks ago. I'd no idea what I'd do with my suddenly enforced free time, given that I was on one crutch, on controlled medications and forbidden to do a lot of basic housework.

I know, it's a wonderful longed for moment, isn't it? The one where you're told 'no  more housework' for some time to come! I mean, there I was during the earlier summer months, lazing in the glorious summer sunshine every chance I got, feeling slightly guilty about the housework I knew needed doing, yet knowing that I absolutely would to do it...... anon. And now here I was with the perfect reason for NOT doing it - while the end-of Summer sunshine still beamed down from above.....

Except, the end-of-Summer now has a distinct cooler, Autumnal feel about it. There's no sitting out in it now that I can, sit that is, but it is lovely to look out at or to brave yourself for a short hop-a-long stroll to the beach! In fairness, it's more of a mixed stroll that starts off with a determined 'look-at-me-power-walking-with one-crutch' look fixed firmly on my face; that ultimately sees me coming home again ten minutes later at a much slower pace, slightly dragging my left leg behind me; like a demented pirate-tress... gone dreadfully wrong!

However it's definitely worth the 'walk' that I do, to be bolstered and renewed by the beauty I see all around me in that ten minutes.....

I guess life on one crutch hasn't been all that bad, not really. It's just so restricting for an active and terribly impatient patient such as myself. I should really just totally embrace this whole 'forget the housework' thing and just relax, get fully better. It's funny really, it's very hard to sit indoors day after day, watching the dust and sheer untidiness build and build, until you fear you may drown in it. So much so that you set yourself tiny little tasks to achieve each day, besides making the meals and while totally sticking to the no hoovering rule!

And so, the last six weeks have passed, with a lot of resting, book reading and with a little spot of knitting and crocheting thrown in for some variety. Of course, I've also had a lot of visitors and some lovely outings too. And I thank my good friend Looking for Blue Sky, for getting me to and from one recent coffee/tea morning reunion!

You'd think with all this free time, in between the above activities that is, there'd be time for some more blogging too, wouldn't you? But, I've been strangely disinclined. I've only blogged when I had something specific to share with you, but nothing in between. I suppose it's to be expected really, given that I'm not out and about experiencing life as much as I had been. And I guess, I just kind of, ran out of things, to say......

Or had ideas of what I might say; little thoughts that would flit through my mind on occasion, only to flitter away again, like a drunken butterfly on a sudden burst of an end-of-summer breeze.

Or maybe the medication has invaded my thoughts too, making them as random as it makes my dreams! Seriously, the dreams while on these meds are totally out there! And using language like 'out there' is absolutely fitting and should plant a firm idea in your head of my nocturnal experiences. I can't even snooze without them invading my mind! I wasn't all that far off with my 'Opiate Disclaimer' in my hospital posts after all!

So here I am, possibly nearing the end of my enforced free-time, as a recent Doctor review might imply. Although there are some much looked forward to events and outings that I have to say no to, until the New year at least. And while there's one not so nice hospital procedure that I soon must have, I can look back through some recent blog entries and really see how far I have come since my hospitalisation.

I really should concentrate on enjoying the remaining free time that my injury has imposed on me, making the most of the opportunity to do more of the sedentary activities I enjoy, rather than focusing on what I'm missing. 'Positive thinking for the recovering injured person', if you like!

Besides, my Doctor has just said 'yes' to driving and to the odd glass of wine!

Now there's progress!

Take care out there....


The Legendary Lady and the 'Dancocabin' 'Audition'......

We were so nervous, even though we had rehearsed and rehearsed, over and over. We knew the dance routine inside and out. We danced it umpteen times at the weekly dance class that we'd been attending for years. We also used the time that would be otherwise wasted as we danced it at the bus stop, as we walked down the street, and in the shower. Usually in our heads, but sometimes not! Especially if there were a few of us waiting on Fairview Strand to get the bus home from Monday night dance class at 10 pm at night!

But this was an extra rehearsal, squeezed in the week before the big show, so much so that the only venue free was the portocabin in her back garden!

It's not like it was the first show we'd ever done in our lives. As adults we were well versed in stage performance and stage and rehearsal etiquette and discipline. This had been instilled in us from our years of rehearsing with varied Choreographers and Directors, but most especially with both of this stage-school founding lady's daughters. We adored the choreography style of both her daughters, attending classes by Lorraine and doing fantastic shows with Joan. But it was through the dance classes that we met the lady herself...

So here we were. All 20 (approx) of us squeezed into this lady's 'dancocabin' - or Dance Studio as it would be dubbed these days! - with Lorraine once more putting us through our paces. This dance routine, all  7 minutes of it, had to be foot perfect, with every toe pointed throughout, as it was to be the finale number of this well known and respected lady's then biennial show. So we worked really hard as the routine was dissected, each section - especially the lifts, were tweaked to perfection and put neatly back together. Yet again.

And then it was time. 'Mammy' was coming out to assess if we dancers would be acceptable for the finale number.

The nervous adrenaline, the good type - the one that fuels your body to dance your little legs off - was palpable in the air as 'Mammy' entered. It was a small space and it seemed to expand so as to fit the aura of this awe-inspiring lady. Most of us had never been one of her 'kids' but were we to be now considered her 'seniors'? 

We greeted her as the adults we were, but gave her the respect that all her 'kids' gave her and addressed her as they did - 'Miss Barry' Not because we were afraid of her in anyway. No, not at all. We were in awe of her, we wanted her to also respect us and our dancing efforts.....

And so we put our nervous energy to good use that day in that extraordinary 'dancocabin', we plastered the smiles on our faces as the sweat dripped down our backs and gave the performance of our lives. It didn't matter that we didn't have the space, although we may have balked a tad when any of us made the front row and were practically face-to-face with her! - we just did the routine, lifts and tap section included. Full out. All 7 minutes of it. It was an amazingly choreographed routine that used every single beat of the music, and more.

And then, gasping for breath with the sweat oozing out of every pore, we awaited the verdict...

We had of course been discreetly watching her reaction throughout the number as she scanned us all and then the number as a whole. As I've said before: 'She was always extremely encouraging to us but showed no facial reaction whilst we were dancing, so it was nerve racking to wait until the end to hear her judgement! Kept us all, boys included, on our twinkle toes, that's for sure!!'

Miss Barry looked at us and nodded to Lorraine saying 'very good..... very good' She talked a little to us, thanked us too, and then she left.

We had passed the 'audition' so went on to perform in her show and then another one two years later. The boys even got their own number one year...

                                                       Boys with Angeline Ball  
                                                       image credit  to evoke.ie

The legendary  Billie Barry Stage School has been in the capable hands of her daughter Lorraine for some years now and the entertainment provided by the school's shows continues to be simply outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed the two recent shows I went to see and really hope to go see their 50th anniversary, Golden Jubilee show 'Gold' next month.

And so it was with great sadness that I heard of the death yesterday of this awe-inspiring, glamorous and legendary woman - Billie Barry. She gave much encouragement to every dancer or performer who came her way, and some rose to stardom or were led to a stage type career as a result of attending her school.

                                                image credit to news.msn.ie

May she rest peacefully, safe in the knowledge that her legacy will continue through her children and hopefully, in time, through her grand-children.

I continue to think fondly of her and our stage experiences and my thoughts and prayers go to her whole family, but most especially to her daughters Joan and Lorraine.
My love to you both, girls.