The Familienfest: Schultzs to reunite in Forest

The Schultz Family Gathering (or Familienfest in the vernacular) is a singular event.
It usually features a hearty meal in a picturesque Bavarian inn, a carefully-prepared powerpoint presentation and musical repertoires courtesy of the constantly evolving younger members of the clan. Its principal charm, however lies in its relentless continuance and large attendance-due in no small part to the generous odds of procreation afforded by a family of nine children, and the large liklihood that this year is Onkel Such-and-Such’s 60th or Tante So-and-So’s 50th.

It has been a tradition familiar to me all my life, but I believe true initiation occurred when I was five years old and hence qualified as the aforementioned younger generation. An aunt was marrying and it was decided that the Ferguson sisters three should perform on their fiddles. Dressed in uniform purple dresses and wearing ivy headpieces, we appraoched the stage where an older cousin had just performed a tap dancing routine. My older sisters played a delightful duet (it could have been the Chaconne, must check). Then it was my turn. I was not skilled enough to join the siblings so naturally I had been given a solo slot.

I played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to raptuorous applause and in the years that followed, I continued to showcase my (very limited) talents, sometimes in small choirs made up of the under 12 Schultz contingent and other times on the recorder and flute to which I had progressed. Lack of ability and regard for the stage did not offer possibilities for exemption. Performance, just like attendance, was mandatory.

There may have been much bemusement and faux resignation regarding the festivities over the years but we all secretly loved them, and still do -well into the age of reason- when work commitments or smiliar could easily offer an excuse not to go.

What’s so amazing about the Schultz Familien Fest is the meticulousness with which it is organised. Seating is strictly arranged according to chronology. Therefore I’m always beside Cousin Maximilian. For years – in fact until my legs grew too long to fit under the kids’ chairs- I was stuck at the Kindertisch. Evrything worked like clockwork, with slight variation year-to-year from the following routine: Starter at 14.00 hours, with power point presentation to precede the main. A wee clink of the glass gives those in attendance the opportunity to add relevant anaecdotes to those already referred to in the presentation. Dessert comes after a brief musical interlude or equivalent performing art. Kaffee und Kuchen served, during which seating plan is allowed to fall apart.

I’m flying off at an ungodly hour in the morning to attend such an event: My Onkel Gideon’s 60th and my Tante Rosemarie’s 50th. This year the family is staying in an inn in the Bavarian forest. My Greek cousins are performing on the violin, recorder and piano. The powerpoints have been made, the seating and sleeping arrangements finalised. This time tomorrow I’ll be in the forest, mingling with Schultz relatives I haven’t seen in years. I can’t wait.

The Retro-White-Laced Floral collar: a brief treatise on Reverence

In the pew in front of me a white lap dog lay at its owner’s feet as the Reverend proceeded up the aisle, flanked by a choir of two Nigerian men. My period of absence from Church had been sufficient to make the experience of a service yesterday morning a little surreal. Of course, I recognised the hymns and some of the readings but uncanny for me was the order of ritual, which unfolded like scenes from a play. The regular congregation performed their responses perfectly and they sat and stood almost before their cue.

It got me thinking about sacred spaces and how I revere them, in spite of my private apprehension of gathering with a group of people in a space reserved for those with a similar belief. It’s more than a respect for the liturgy that those quiet churchgoers have: it’s a respect for the institution.

Religion is not the institution for me but I feel I would benefit from further schooling in reverence. In fact, even when you remove all traces of God you stumble into the most awe-inspiring of places.

Today I bought a delightful dress in the Irish Cancer Society Charity shop on the Rathmines Road. I knew I had encountered the Devil of Temptation as soon as I saw the retro white -laced collar. The colours weren’t quite ‘me’ and it was a bit too big. But not even the unflattering mirrors and harsh lighting could conceal the fact that the garment itself was enchanting and that the retro white- laced collar fell around the neck like petals on a flower.

I bought it for €8, at LSB’s encouragement. It was a minute after 5 pm when I left the store. One of the cashiers was locking up as the other closed the tills. They were both elderly, cordial, wispy-haired. And I thought: they do this every day. They do this for a cause outside of their own gain. LSB and I crossed over to browse the book sections in Barnardos and Oxfam. In the latter, a lady was polishing dust off a framed picture, which she then returned gingerly to the display shelf. And for that, I revered her.

Celebs Spotted in Sandymount: LSB with lover in self-service till tiff

There was only one News of the World to be had today. It was torn and soggy and lay abandoned on a shelf in Tesco, Sandymount. As always, LSB was first to spot it. “There’s one there, Katzi” he said, “but it’s a bit of a mess”.

I picked up the grubby scraps of newssheets and examined them carefully. I’d been into every newsagent between Rathmines and Sandymount and: nothing. Nothing but broadsheets brimming with supplements sealed in surround wrap, and boxes full of half-price jammy dodgers.

I wanted the last- ever copy. And scarcity is a great fuel to desire.

I wanted it so that in years to come – if this whole teaching-writing thing doesn’t work out – I can advertise it on e-bay as a journalistic artefact. A wealthy media tycoon will invest and my fortune will be made. In public, my friends will praise my foresight but privately they will deeply regret popping their own copies into the green bin.

On the other hand, if this whole teaching-writing thing does work out, I will be moving in the kinds of circles where possession of such a sordid journalistic relic will afford no small amount of Fleet Street cred. Either way, my quality of life will improve.

But I was in a bind. Nobody was going to want a dirty, torn copy, and by the time I was ready to sell it, there’d probably be a NOTW nostalgia app available for the iphone26.

Today's NOTW; the last ever.

I dropped it back on the shelf with an exaggerated sigh.
“You’ve never bought the News of the World before, have you Katzi?”, LSB asked tentatively.
“No, no of course not”, I answered- rather ashamed that LSB was made of more moral fibre than to suspect me of a mercenary motive.
“I suppose I’ll get the Sunday Times then”, I said, grumbling all the way to the self-service till, where I tried scanning the main headline in favour of the barcode repeatedly, much to LSB’s contained mortification.

“Katzi”, he whispered “you put the coins in this side”.
“Yes I know”, I answered briskly. “Obviously”.

As we were sipping our mocha (his) and cappuccino (mine) a little later, I had a look at the front page of the Sunday Times. I could not believe my eyes.
“LSB?”, I ventured.
“Yes, Katzi?”
“Is Amanda Brunker very famous?”

“Well Katzi She is quite famous as an Irish celebrity,” he answered, measured as always.

“Hmm”, I said.

“Why do you ask?”

“She was profiled in the Irish Times yesterday” I said “but I’d never heard of her. Has everyone heard of her?”

“Most people”.


“I saw her video on youtube yesterday” I said. “She’s awful”

“Yes Katzi, she is”.

“How come I’ve never heard of people that everyone else has?”

“I don’t know, Katzi”.

I allowed a pregnant pause to occur.

“I should have read the News of the World more” I said with gravitas, tossing aside the Sunday Times Culture section and diving into my scone.


On pens and penises

Meet Gilbert and Gubar; two ladies whose collaborative feminist treatise The Madwoman in the Attic opens with the question “Is the pen a metaphorical penis?”

I’ve had a long look at my black felt tip. It doesn’t appear virile- though of course that ejaculation might be premature.

For decades, academics and journalists have been considering women’s place in the world. They have been characterised as angels, whores, monsters and mothers. In the name of progress, their gift in writing has been likened to a product of the male reproductive organ.

In western society, traditional notions of a woman’s place in the home have become taboo. Of late, the idea that a woman might choose to become a fulltime mother rather than a professional has been rendered unthinkable.

The reluctance to accept that a woman may decide on motherhood over career advancement was exemplified by a New York Times article by Jack Ewing published last week, which meditated on the surprisingly small number of German women who return to fulltime work after availing of the government-paid 12-month parental leave.

The writer laments the fact that “Despite a battery of government measures … only about 14 percent of German mothers with one child resume full-time work, and only 6 percent of those with two”. He goes on to cite example after example of corporate bodies where only a tiny proportion of women have ended up at the top. Part of the problem, he muses is that “most schools still end at lunchtime, which has sustained the stay-at-home-mother image of German lore”.

While it’s worthwhile to draw attention to gender disparities in top corporate positions, the discourse that surrounds it – while well-intentioned – does a good job of enforcing the idea that women remain passive beings with little control over the course of their lives.

Ewing expresses the misgiving that “when it comes to empowering women, no Teutonic drive or deference seems to work”. Far from promoting any egalitarian cause, such speculation denies women the right to make life choices outside of a socio-political narrative, which subtly yet forcefully dictates that having a career is more worthy than caring for a child and that empowerment can only be measured in economic terms.

Germany is a good example to focus on to illustrate the point. Government measures strongly support the mother in the workplace – she is allowed 12 months parental leave with pay and is guaranteed her job back at the end of it. Although it’s probable that a larger proportion of mothers return to part-time work, the fact that only 14% go back to a fulltime career is indeed surprising.

In the absence of financial and political disincentives however, the fact that is continuously over-looked, is that women are opting not to return to work. Instead of being respected as free agents, those that make this choice are treated as victims of a social order which is portrayed as significantly less than the sum of its egalitarian parts.

For true parity to exist, the Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus mantra must be debunked. Ewing describes Germany as “one of the countries in most need of female talent” (my italics) but doesn’t define what he means by the term. If male and female talent aren’t viewed with equality, the prospect of a roughly 50:50 breakdown of gender in all sectors of professional life is unrealisable.

Furthermore, unless it’s accepted as equally scandalous that the proportion of male nurses is equivalent to that of female corporate executives, a discussion of gender can never be detached from a social weighting in favour of money.

Were society’s priorities reversed, public discussion might centre around the outrage that a man’s right to parental leave is considerably more restricted than a woman’s, that a boy’s emotional development is stunted by the expectation that he will advance up a corporate ladder and that the male body is no more than a military tool.

While you can’t spell “metaphorical penis” without pen, as I look again at my black felt tip I begin to think that Gilbert and Gubar might have been feminists equipped with rather (pardon me) fertile imaginations.