One of a kind?

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Sligo’s magestic Benbulben…on the road out of town

Like a lot of my pals I worry about my parents managing in a world so different to the one they negotiated at ease in their prime. Though in their eighties they lead very active and fulfilling lives. But the worry persists. They are kind decent people who think the best of others. See, this is where the worry creeps in. I’d hate to see their trust betrayed. When I read about online scammers and hoax emails extorting cash I hope they don’t get through my dad’s firewall (“What’s that about our walls on fire” I can hear him say).

In October they trekked a section of the Camino pilgrim trail in Spain. And they got on fine. In fact my mam said it was the best vacation ever, dismissing all the family holidays of my youth. She was euphoric when she recounted the trip on a phone call when she got back.

She sounded almost as excited when I spoke with her last week. She calls me from Ireland every day since I became a mother eleven years ago.

On Friday she said she had good and bad tidings for me. The car broke down as she drove through Sligo town. Bad. It happened at the one of  the busiest junctions by traffic lights. More bad. There wasn’t so much as a splutter from the engine. It stopped dead. With a line of traffic building up behind her, she got out of her car in a bit of a state.  I can picture her so clearly. Red cheeks and furrowed brow. The young woman in the car next to my mother turned off her engine and hopped out. Good. She waved on the cars lining up behind my mother’s. My mam described this girl as her guardian angel but she later found out that her name was Siobhan. She was a young nurse and newly married. She’d decided to go shopping in Sligo on her day off.

Siobhan immediately took control of the situation and assured mam that she was going to help her and for my mother not to get upset or anxious. It was all in hand. She ushered my mother out of the cold and into the warmth of her car. First she called the guards so they could deal with the traffic and move the defunct car. They arrived promptly.  Like many people of her generation my mother doesn’t carry a mobile phone so wouldn’t have been able to make the necessary phone calls even if she knew what to do. She only drove herself in to town because my dad (her chauffeur) was recovering following surgery in Galway hospital during the week. Car trouble was the last thing she needed with her patient waiting for her swift return.

Siobhan found mam’s insurance details and made that call too. She asked if she could contact any family.  My mother didn’t want to worry my dad and the only number she could remember by heart was my sister’s in Dublin. So Siobhan spoke with her to get the details of my more local  sister. She in turn was contacted and Siobhan arranged to drive my mother to the bank where they could hook up.

In  the car on the drive to the bank, on finding out what townland Siobhan was from, my mother asked if she knew her good friend Anne Flanagan. Siobhan knew her by sight. She’d spotted Anne at mass that morning. Mam was further impressed (though not surprised she added)  that this young woman would head to mass on her day off.

They parted ways an hour after they first met. Mam wanted to make some gesture to thank Siobhan. Siobhan was very gracious and simply said that she’d like to think that a stranger would do the same for her mother or grandmother if they found themselves in a sticky situation. I’d like to think so too.

I suggested to mam she call Joe Duffy.  He presents Liveline, the second most popular radio programme in Ireland (after Morning Ireland).  I wrote an email to the show. And then forgot I had. So my mam was more than a little surprised when Aonghus McNally  (he was a TV presenter when I was a child)  rang her this morning and knew all about the rescue. She said she’d be too shy to speak on air so they asked if I would and I agreed. Though I wasn’t keen I wanted this tale of kindness out. And better still Siobhan might hear it. For the next couple of hours I waited. But the show was about drugs, the tobacco industry and the wrath of smoking and there was no time for the good samaritan.

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Little wonder we worry about our most vulnerable when so many news stories focus on the negative. Hearing my mother so elated after her car break-down (and rescue) was so reassuring. It’s a lovely story, especially for those of us living away from elderly relatives. As well as a reminder of the goodness out there, it’s a timely prompt to take heed.  Notice the plight of others and help out where we can. Because some day it will be your people in need of “a Siobhan”. Though exceptional I hope she’s not one of a kind.

To ensure happy endings…keep your family safe online

Last year I ticked off a parental milestone when I had “the chat” with my daughter.

We covered periods, sex, contraception, love and respect. A lot for a ten-year old to take in. But I wanted to start the conversation so she’d know she could pick it up again with me any time. I wasn’t anxious because I knew what I was talking about. Where I do feel outside my comfort zone is talking about  permissions and viruses (strangely enough words that wouldn’t have been out-of-place in my earlier talk ) and navigating the virtual world. When I was a child the closest I got to securing my personal information was protecting my diary with a curse. My sisters knew that if they so much as had a peep – ill would befall them. It kept them out. Simple solutions for simpler times.

So when we were invited to partake in Fairytales in the 21st century- an event during hosted by Norton (the internet/anti-virus company with the focus on helping families to stay safe online I accepted on the spot. .

It would all be happening at the House of Illustration in Kings Cross.  On embarking at the station on a beautiful crisp Spring morning, we followed the labyrinth of billboards with Quentin Blake drawings directing us to our venue. King’s Cross was looking smart. The house is next to Central Saint Martins, the college for art and design. and the kids were mesmerised by the fashionistas filing in and out of the college. They were especially taken with hair colour – they spotted every hue.

We walked in to a haze of magic bubbles – the ones that don’t burst and easily stack. An entertainer read fairy tales retold in a modern context. The wolf huffed and he puffed and he hacked in to the pigs devices. It was lovely to see kids being kids. They dressed up in costumes (no assuming aliases). They made friends, engaging in the type of social interaction that’s stood us for centuries but is often usurped by screen-time, aliases and virtual friendships.IMG_0581

We got the chance to talk to the experts as people from Norton and Get safe online mingled with the attending parents. We spoke about passwords and the need to change them often. They suggested a password vault to store my passwords as I struggle to recall combinations from my expanding repertoire.

Remembering my need for privacy as a child (the diary curse) I sought their guidance on the issue around having access to our children’s emails. I’m not convinced its the right thing to do. They agree. The important thin, at this early stage with children, is to discuss the vices and virtues of online  presence. Tell them what to look our for, equip them with the knowledge to make the right decisions for themselves. It’s so much more empowering and fits in with my personal philosophy. Tony from Get Safe Online suggested I sit down and agree a contract with my child that is mutually beneficial. We expect to sign a contract for our phones etc. Why shouldn’t they. Given my background in creative writing for children I know I could turn this into a fun yet effective exercise for my daughter to do. She’s excited about drawing up her own contract. I’ll post it here. Tony said to send him a copy and I will – he might post it on his site too. Online etiquette will refer to time spent on and off line.

Just before our tea party the children were given a big rectangular biscuit – a tablet to decorate with icing pens. Some made gallant attempts, others couldn’t resist a nibble.

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There were so many other treats to entice.  The table heaved under the weight of  sumptuous  gateaux and cupcakes . There were  salads, Quiche and sandwiches too. We were set up for the day.

The kids got gift bags with balls and frisbees and pens and torches – paraphernalia to entice them outside and away from their devices methinks! I got a cream moleskine notepad.

My two had befriended the children of a fellow blogger.  We let them have a quick wander through the illustrations while we were at the house.  They even did a little drawing. Then it was outside to play with the contents of the goodie bag. Our new friends had a football with them so the boys enjoyed a kick-around, the girls played among the dancing fountains in the expansive courtyard while the mothers chatted.

On our way in I’d spotted a barge on t Regent’s canal that begged further exploration. Words on Water.  A boat full of books. We didn’t hop aboard. Four children #bullinchinashop. It would wait for another day out that didn’t involve sugared up children and wet feet (from fountain dodging).

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We said goodbye to our new friends.  The day was still young(ish) and we had a travel card.  What a better way to finish off our excursion than with a trip to the British Museum. After a morning of talking about the future, it felt right to pop in on the past.

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Days later my daughter and I visited Norton and staysafe online. We talked about kindness, respect and other friendship values and the need to extend them online. We read up on digital footprints and cyper bullying. We both learnt new things. I was impressed with the lexicon that goes with the emerging technology. Shoulder surfing (people watching you screen over your shoulder), click jacking (enticing you to click on a link), sexting and cyperbullying.

Thank you Norton for a great day out and a lot more besides. Coming soon….the contract!

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