An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Sunday, September 11, 2005
This week's ST - Bonds - What Bonds?
I might be home (almost) alone but at least I’m not trapped
A distinguished gentlemen from Harvard lamented the absence of personal bonds at a bonding session for Fianna Failers in Cavan last week. Since then, the press has been full of Professor Robert Putnam and his book Bowling Alone, in which he warns that the disintegration of personal bonds in the community is at the heart of social collapse.
The accepted analysis is that the past was the land of the poor but happy. Now we are rich but unhappy, the victims of economic success, bad planning, 100% mortgages and the PDs. The individual has risen at the expense of the community. There is nostalgia for our natural state: good neighbours looking out for one another.
I am the Lone Bowler on our road. At 8.30am all the other houses are locked up. The occupants crawl through the N4 traffic towards creches and offices, leaving me behind. The babies and I look at each other and wonder how we’ll pass the next eight hours.
Our white-trash moments are becoming more frequent. We’ve been lying on the couch watching Dallas at 10am clutching soothers we swore would never be permitted and drinking bottles laced with Dozol. When they’ve passed out and the floor is swept, Mammy can postpone the onset of insanity by going online and establishing personal bonds with the outside world.
The house I grew up in, which I can see from my kitchen window, was a classical agriculturally centred home. My mother might have had the misery of nappy buckets, but at least there were grown-ups in and out of the house all day and a gang of kids on the road for us to play and fight with.
Nobody lives like I do any more. They live like my neighbour, whom I’ve never seen. She works in Lucan and it’s more convenient for the children to go to school there. I presume she shops in the Superquinn because I never see her in our local Londis. Her house is a hotel, where she sleeps and collects clean clothes.
I’m not judging her. She’d probably love to live nearer Dublin, but just can’t afford to. But it makes our village a bleak place. My children have nobody to play with because all the other children are in daycare. If they are ever to see another child, they’ll have to go to the creche too.
But there is no going back. I am the aberration who will have to conform. When the women got their chance, they ran, and governments have been trying to fill the gaps ever since. Our mothers and grandmothers took care of their parents and their children. Now the state is left with the old on A&E trolleys and the young in children’s court.
The accepted interpretation is that we chose in the past to be good and caring, and we have abandoned those instincts due to the irresistible force of the free-market economy. I think it’s the reverse: our past poverty forced communities into interdependence. They shopped locally because they had no cars to go further. We got healthy dinners because that was the only food available. We looked after our parents because we were living in the same house. We went to mass because there was nowhere else to go.
We didn’t regard personal bonds as a good thing. They were chains and we broke them as soon as we could. Rose-coloured revisionism would have us believe that these bonds protected the vulnerable. All I see were boundaries that prevented people from helping. People weren’t looking out for each other 30 or 50 years ago, they were hiding.
I hate dredging up the death in 1984 of 15-year-old Ann Lovett while giving birth in a grotto, but her case epitomised everything that was wrong with this country. I know a woman from Granard whose daughter came home from school with the news that Ann was pregnant. Her reaction is a source of self-reproach to this day. Instead of saying, “Poor Ann, we must offer her help and make sure she’s being looked after properly”, she said, “Poor Ann. Well, don’t be talking about her. Let her deal with her problem herself. Interfering will only add to her difficulty.”
The reluctance of people in Granard to talk about Ann has more to do with this sense of communal guilt than sensitivity to the Lovett family.
Colm O’Gorman, who exposed the sexual abuse by Fr Sean Fortune in Wexford, described a conversation with a neighbour after Bishop Brendan Comiskey was forced to resign. She casually admitted that she knew what was going on, but felt it wasn’t her place to do anything.
This was the conspiracy of the community bond, whose absence was so lamented last week. Help was equated with interference and only caused problems.
Minutes after Putnam was interviewed on Morning Ireland, Ryan Tubridy congratulated Bob Geldof on being made a Freeman of Dublin City. Geldof reminded listeners of the Ireland of the 1970s and 80s. Between the banks, unions, political parties and the church, any kind of individualism was completely crushed.
That is behind us now and has created my invisible neighbour. Why should she care about my isolation? No teacher will belt one of her children, no priest will abuse them and if her daughter gets drunk and pregnant, they’ll have a huge row and get on with raising the child. She has all the bonds she needs.
The privilege of the blog reader: I can include some lines that News International in their wisdom deleted but I liked:
"When Eircom are advertising broadband, they should show me with my porridge and tea, waving digitally at my Internet friends. They’re watching me drift out further every day and must wonder if I’m drowning."
But here's the good news. I did feel like I was floating away the past few weeks. I was living in my head and being irritated by the incessant mammymammymammy. I woke up this morning having been treated to a 10am lie in by my excellent other half and suddenly felt calm and earthed again. Perhaps there is an astrological explanation. I must check the movements of Saturn and the phase of the Moon. Or perhaps I ovulated. Who knows. Anyway, today I am waving not drowning. posted by Sarah | 10:54 0 comments
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