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TUESDAY JULY 14 2009

Talking about what really matters

Lady Tut-Tuts can tut away off With just a few months to go until Jennifer Doherty gets married, she gives us an insight into the highs and lows of planning a modern-day wedding WE all know one. In fact, horror of horrors, we may even be one ourselves. I speak of the age-old tradition of what I kindly describe as the Lady Tut-Tuts. You know the sort, arms folded in the style of Les Dawson's characters Cissie and Ada, tutting away at everything and everyone that displeases them. Growing up as a child in the 1970s, Dawson was a staple of television humour. I remember being enthralled at two woman called Cissie Braithwaite and Ada Shufflebotham, which he played with gusto alongside fellow comic Roy Barraclough. In various sketches these two women, curlers in hair, would stand over their garden fences and gossip. They'd blatantly adjust their ample bosoms with their folded arms and gossip a little more. I've seen many modern day Cissie and Adas – real-life Lady Tut-tuts. Every single wedding I've been to has included the obligatory Lady Tut-Tuts at the back of the church. These women cast a critical eye over weddings as they perch uninvited in the pews. They tut-tut at the things they don't like and may even pull a face or roll their eyes at everything else. These women take it all in and miss nothing. They are often seen in churches when weddings are taking place and they are not on the guest list. They are strictly uninvited. And are strictly not wanted by the happy couple. I speak of ladies, and without being ageist, at a certain stage in their lives, who just love going to weddings. They probably do not know the bride or the groom, the minister or the priest, the singer or the organ player. They might vaguely know the lady who does the flower arranging for the church or the lady who keeps the altar spick and span. There is obviously some underground, resistance-style movement out there so they can be forewarned about upcoming nuptials. The wedding crashers, for that is exactly what they are, whisper loudly, eat boiled sweets, shuffle around and now, all set for the new millennium, they are armed with the latest digital technology - the camera. As the wedding photographer lines up the wedding party outside the church, you can bet the Lady Tut-Tuts will be hovering nearby, anxious to capture the big moment. They are the begrudgers there just to criticise. I've found that since I started to plan my own wedding that everybody, even the dogs in the street, have opinions on my wedding. As I walk down the aisle of my big day, wobbling on my heels and holding onto my father for dear life all I want to just see before me is my handsome husband-to-be waiting at the altar. Out of the corner of my eye I'd like to see family and friends smiling and willing that I don't fall over. I do not want to see any random strangers snooping around my big day. Craning their necks to see what my dress is like, being noisy or even, worst crime of all, trying to 'ssshhh' their obligatory crying grandchild. So, as well as budgeting for flowers, honeymoon, dresses etc I have a new wedding most-wanted which I hope my fiance will pay for. Two big burly bouncers like Phil and Grant Mitchell to keep unwanted guests out and let only actual invited guests in. I am also not disclosing the date of my wedding in case I tip off all the Lady Tut-tuts in Ireland and they arrive en mass. Poor Phil and Grant will have their work cut out for them.

Dealing with Jenny Lee chats to author Maria Roberts about overcoming communal

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ARIA Roberts is living proof there is life after domestic violence. Aged 22, Maria left a violent relationship, taking herself and her 18-month-old son, Jack, to a women’s refuge. Whilst there she completed her degree in English literature and Spanish at Manchester University. Later she returned to the home she once shared with Jack’s dad, Damien, and last summer she took her play about domestic violence to the Edinburgh Festival. This is just one of the episodes she tells in her debut novel Single Mother on the Verge. The book reads like a hilarious and moving tale of a turbulent fictional life, but is in fact a true-life memoir of Maria Roberts’ life. Single Mother on the Verge, which follows her award winning blog of the same name, includes amusing anecdotes about her nine-year-old son Jack and the lovers in her life, not least her vegan boyfriend Rhodri. Roberts found writing about her own life empowering rather than cathartic. “I was able to look at patterns of my behaviour which I hadn’t noticed before because I hadn’t really spent that much time thinking about what I was doing.’’ A noticeable absence in the book is details of what happened in Maria’s life between the abuse and Rhodri moving in with her. “Those two or three years after getting out of that violent relationship were the most painful and difficult years when I felt incredibly down,’’ she explains. “Then came a day when I woke up and felt I’m not carrying all this upset around with me anymore. I’m not sure how it disappeared, it just did.’’ Helping Maria escape the demons of her past relationship was her eco warrior boyfriend Rhodri, a chickpea-loving vegan eco-warrior, who didn’t believe in career ladders or monogamy. “When I got together with Rhodri he

“The thing about love and dating is that you may think someone is ideal but six months later reality kicks in and they may not be as ideal as you thought” – MARIA ROBERTS

was a wonderful, caring, loving boyfriend and never at anytime did I feel at risk or threatened by him. “And the fact he wanted to have a non-monogamous relationship and he never showed any jealous behaviour or possessiveness, was really liberating. “I’m quite a traditionalist and deep down I knew this behaviour is not the best way to behave, but because I could do it I did. “And in the context of everything that went on before with Damien, to have the freedom to explore my own wants and needs, away from being a mother and a girl who had experienced domestic violence, was very important in moving on in my life. “It wasn’t that long ago that all that activity was happening I don’t think I could pull a man now. “I think I’ve lost my charm. Maybe I don’t try,’’ she laughs. But Maria hasn’t given up on men entirely. “In the book I’m actively chasing a dream of a perfect relationship because I wanted my life to change. By the time I get to the end of the book, I’ve made those changes and it doesn’t include a man. “The thing about love and dating is that you may think someone is ideal but six months later reality kicks in and they may not be as ideal as you thought. But I do remain optimistic. I’ve got to get it right at some point.’’ Maria moved to London just under a year ago, shedding most of the baggage of her past and putting all their belongings into a few black bags. “There were so many bad memories attached to that house in Manchester. It was really exciting to pack up my belongings and move. It felt like it was time for a change and to live in a completely different way.’’ Her and Jack now live in a shared house with other single parents. “I live with a single mum who has two children, a single dad who has a little boy and we have a German au pair to help us out.’’ This communal way of living is a growing trend, especially in London, and Maria encourages other single parents to give it a go. “It’s not for everybody. In the beginning it wasn’t that easy because we were living with people we didn’t know. “But a lot of single parents feel stuck. If someone is thinking of a career change or moving cities, it’s a fantastic thing to do as you have built-in support.’’ So was the shared living option the right one for her? “Most definitely. We are living in a lovely big semi-detached. I couldn’t have afforded to live in London with my son on my own.’’ Maria takes a positive outlook on life saying “tough times are part of the texture of life”. In her book she wants to highlight “the other side of domestic violence’’ – the comedy and the survival side.


TUESDAY JULY 14 2009

Parenting

Contact Features Department Tel: 028 9033 7548 Email: features@irishnews.com

domestic violence domestic violence, being in a non-monogamous relationship and living

! SURVIVOR: Maria Roberts has come through a violent relationship and has now published a book about her experiences

“I was very young when it first started and I wasn’t aware what was happening. I just thought I had a difficult boyfriend. “If someone is in a violent relationship they definitely need to talk to somebody or contact a helpline” – MARIA ROBERTS

“This book isn’t one of those misery memoirs which is very horrific and where violent things happen, because I got out of that relationship. If I had stayed in that relationship maybe things would have got worse.’’ Maria, who received support from Women’s Aid, encourages those in violent relationship to find help and carve out a new world. “I was very young when it first started and I wasn’t aware what was happening. I just thought I had a difficult boyfriend. “If someone is in a violent relationship they definitely need to talk to somebody or contact a helpline. Maria also challenges all women not to turn a blind eye to the needs of others. “Yes these situations can be dangerous to everyone attached to the women, but backing away from it is not the answer because it just perpetuates the situation of that woman feeling lonely, isolated and damaged. “She not only becomes a victim from the man’s actions, but she becomes a victim in other people’s eyes as well.

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“So if you know someone who is in a violent relationship, give them some support and warmth,’’ says Maria. She daily faces the tough decision of whether or not to allow her former abusive boyfriend access to their son. “It’s a very difficult decision for a mother to make and it’s something I’m still battling with. “Moving away from Manchester and moving out of that house cleared away a lot of old demons and Jack has been a lot more at easy and a lot more jollier. “There will be a day when he will see his dad, of course he can. “The most important thing for any child is to have security and stability and safety. And so it’s my duty as a mother to provide that for him, but it’s not easy making that decision. “He does ask me about it, but I feel at this point in time I will hold my ground on that for as long as possible.’’ With an idea of a second book based around her new living arrangements, Maria is looking forward to a summer of having fun with her son, with playing rounders top of their agenda.

Child-proofing a holiday destination By Leona O’Neill I'VE spent the last couple of weeks trying to organise our summer holidays. I thought we might go abroad, somewhere nice and sunny, but the recent heatwave and the severe grumpiness that it induced in my lads told me we'd be better off somewhere cold and miserable, so we're staying closer to home. Now that my older boys can speak up and tell me what they want in a holiday I've really had to work hard at finding something that suits everyone. I made them all write me a list of things that would make their idea of the perfect holiday come to fruition. The lads' list of demands went something like this: The destination must have: 1 A gigantic toy shop 2 At least 20 sweet shops 3 A Playstation or Wii 4 An abundance of muck 5 A bit of a beach so we can dig gigantic holes to bury the dog/Daddy/the car in. 6 Chocolate on tap. The destination must not have: 1 Vegetables 2 Homecooked dinners (We want beans twice daily for a week) 3 Naggy mas telling us to go to bed before 9pm. Unless Willy Wonka's gone into the self-catering business and is renting out his chocolate factory complete with computer suite and man-made beach I doubt we can meet all their demands. Donegal will have to do. Now, I have had problems before going on holiday with my kids. Last year we went to a B&B which professed to be kid friendly then turned out to be the complete opposite. Regular readers will recall that on that occasion we were asked to keep our small children quiet. Apparently the sound of children laughing hurt the only other two guest's ears. These people also took exception to rock music, thought disco smoke machines were the work of Satan and that people who hung around outside chip shops where devil worshippers. We left after one night. This time I have been really careful about where we will stay. Self-catering seemed to be the best option for us, because of the fact that my children are insane. I have trawled through self-catering websites for weeks trying to find somewhere really perfect. I've sent hundreds of emails, sounding totally neurotic. I've asked if the properties were anywhere near lakes, ditches, rivers, caves, mine fields, shooting ranges, nuclear waste dumps, warzones, etc, etc. Anyone who knows my middle child Caolan will attest that he is no ordinary child, indeed he has aspirations for a career in stuntmanship and is a magnet to disaster. So I got a variety of answers and was laughed at frequently. One man told me that his property was beside a lake with gigantic crocodiles. I professed I wasn't aware that crocodiles were a native species to that region. Another woman told me her property was the most child friendly place in the known universe and when I looked it up on the net it was perched on the edge of a large cliff. I don't know about you but having a 200ft drop to the raging ocean just yards from your front door doesn't scream child friendly to me. We eventually found somewhere Caolanproof and we're currently in the process of wrapping them all in industrial-strength cotton wool. Happy holidays!!

Dealing with Domestic Violence  

Interview on the themes in Single Mother on the Verge.