Why Ireland must ban smacking children

Texan judge William Adams enters his daughter’s bedroom. On the wall next to the computer in the corner is a poster of Bart Simpson writing lines on a blackboard. In front of Judge Adams is his daughter’s bed, covered in a red and black spread.

His daughter Hillary is wearing thin grey pants and what looks like a pyjama top.
“Bend over the bed”, he says, quietly in his southern drawl, “Bend over the bed”. She’s whimpering now. “No. Dad”, she pleads.
“BEND OVER THE BED”.

He’s swinging a belt.

He thrashes her on her thighs before shouting once more “BEND OVER THE BED”.

She folds herself over the bed. She’s cowering, weeping, screaming. He keeps thrashing her. Crack, crack, crack. She’s flailing so he presses down on her back, to force her onto her stomach. He strikes her again and again and again.

He moves away. She sits up. Her shoulders continue to jerk forward; still flinching from the attack. She starts wailing. Her father stands before her and regards her for a second. Then he lashes out again. With each crack of the blow, there’s a gasp as she tries to find air. Her mother, from the corner of the room watches on and tells her daughter to “take it … like a grown woman”.

Hillary’s crime was to download music illegally from the internet.

The abuse continues for six minutes. The footage emerged in November when Hillary, who had secretly set up a webcam in her room to record her father’s ongoing abuse decided to release in on the internet.

Though he’s being investigated, there’s a good chance that William Adams won’t be held to account for his actions because of the time that has elapsed since his crime; the footage was taken in November 2004 when Hillary was 16. Judge Adams and Hillary’s mother have since split up, the latter claiming that she was”completely brainwashed and controlled” in her marriage. Hillary and her mother now have a good relationship and have appeared on chat shows together.

I found it impossible to watch the full seven- minute clip posted below but I forced myself to watch enough to decide that what Judge Adams did was a disgusting crime deserving of a prison sentence. Alarmingly, there are many who, having watched the same clip, disagree that Adams is even guilty of abuse.

While Judge Adams was abusing rather than ‘spanking’ his child, the case illustrates why it is socially important and morally necessary to protect children under law.

The Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald is considering bringing in a blanket ban on smacking children.

She should do so as soon as possible.

Most of the generation before me was beaten. Many were sexually abused.

In Ireland today, parents still smack their children in the middle of the street.

The purpose of a law is to create a boundary of social propriety. Broadly speaking, when a democratic society prohibits something, it sends a signal out about what is right and wrong.

Smacking children is wrong. It is not necessarily abusive, or worthy of criminal pursuit but it is still wrong.

Many who were smacked grow up to say “well, it never did me any harm”. Many of them use this as an excuse to smack their own children, claiming that “spare the rod, spoil the child”.

There is no evidence to suggest that smacking a child is beneficial. As children develop, they learn to model their behaviour on that of the people around them. Researchers have found that children who are smacked are more likely to grow up to be violent themselves.

Smacking a child is a poor parental strategy. It is a lazy, uncreative way to stop undesirable behaviour and leads to long-term damage to both parent and child.

I have heard the weak argument expressed that children under three have failed to reach the “age of reason” and can therefore only respond to discipline in the form of corporal punishment.

While it is tself highly contestable that children under the age of three cannot “reason”, this argument falls through because it is certain that children from the moment they enter the world, copy the behaviour of the people around them. Unless violence is desirable, children’s exposure to it should be prohibited.

Supposing a toddler lacks the capacity to understand that throwing food from their high chair is wrong. If he or she is smacked, they still don’t make the connection. Instead they learn that when their parents are upset, or angry, they respond by lashing out.

“But what if a child is running into the middle of the road and a car is coming and you lash out to stop them?” I hear people cry.

This is okay, you will not be prosecuted.

This is an uncomfortable topic for plenty of people. Many ‘good’ parents smack their children and admittedly the long-term damage might be minimal. Nevertheless, the message is ineffective and the means in itself infantile and unsophisticated.

Parenting is not easy. The temptation to smack will arise. In the majority of cases, at least a handful of smacks will be administered.

Where the law comes in is in changing perceptions. The fact that many people in America and beyond can watch a video as horrendous as that of Judge Adams’ assault of his daughter and claim that it doesn’t constitute abuse is utterly alarming.

It shows that laws – like parents – must set clear boundaries. Physical punishment is wrong. Apart from the unusual case where a child is innately violent (not having learnt the behaviour) and when a parent must use force in self -defence, it is unambiguously unacceptable.

In eighteen of the forty-seven member states of the Council of Europe, it is illegal to inflict physical punishment on children in all settings, including the home.

According to the Irish Times, enforcing the same ban here is problematic because of the constitutional guarantees afforded the family.

It is ironic that in an attempt to protect a child from an abusive family, the rights of that same family could be infringed. It is the same kind of logic that protected the institution of the church over the abuses it perpetrated against its flock.

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Beauty? I just can’t nail it.

I found myself eating a sourdough sandwich alone on a bench in the Jervis Shopping Centre last week. From where I was sitting (right outside Forever 21) I had a perfect view of The Nail Bar, where two ladies were being treated to a French manicure and the attachment of gel nails.

The two clients, perched on stools with their hands stretched out in an arc before them bore an uncanny resemblance to a pair of begging lapdogs. The more I gazed at them the greater my desire to laugh and when I could bare it no longer, I let out a little giggle, which caused the man next to me, who was minding his teenage daughter’s shopping bags, to turn and stare.

I’m pretty confident that I’m the least nail-savvy woman in Ireland. I’m not sure if I even own nail polish, after my recent mass exodus of make-up of age ten years or more from my room. I’ve never had my nails done and the two or three attempts to paint my own in my early teenage years resulted in odd splashes of green glitter, which still pepper my carpet.

image from ftv12.tk

In case it seems as if I’m condemning the common cuticle, I promise you I am not. Sure we couldn’t do without them. They’re an anatomic necessity. Wikipedia puts it just beautifully:

“A nail is a horn-like envelope covering the dorsal aspect of the terminal phalanges of fingers and toes in humans, most non-human primates, and a few other mammals”.

Personally, I find them useful to pick at when nervous or for opening tricky plastic packaging.

I just don’t care how they look.

Don’t get me wrong. Perfectly-shaped contours are always nice. Anything well painted is a pleasure to look at.

The problem is, I don’t look at nails. I do not take sneaky downward glances to check out other women’s fingertips and I very rarely seek to improve the condition of my own.

Truth be told, their appearance is a matter of complete indifference to me.

It’s not for lack of vanity. I love clothes and good eye make-up and a gentle foundation. I flick through photographs of celebrities before I choose a haircut and I always turn to stare at interesting-looking people or those with beautiful clothes. I guess the reason that I’m indifferent to nails is that I think their cultivation is of little or no consequence to the overall appearance of a person.

I know, I know: I can already hear the cries of despair. It’s all about the detail. A real lady pays attention to her body from head to toenail. Each nail is a tapestry waiting to be coloured with exquisite strokes of blood red, deep blue and neon pink. A lady with fine nails is a lady with a well-kept mind.

Maybe so, but I just can’t see the point of it. Nails are tiny, breakable and their pinkish hue makes them naturally delicate and petal-like. Making them longer, or sharpening them or attaching sticky stuff to them seems to represent an awful lot of effort with little promise of reward.

I guess you have to be a connoisseur.

On my way out of the Jervis Centre I watched a pretty Spanish girl being stopped by a salesman in a black t-shirt. He asked her whether he could see her nails. She laughed a little and put out her hand. He took it in his and pretended to examine it carefully. Her nails were short enough, with a glimmer of pink sheen. He wasn’t pleased. He whipped out a special little square gadget and began rubbing her nails with it. Judging by his facial reaction, and her reluctant smile, they had been transformed. He swept her away to his stand, where she bought his tool. He popped in into the bag for her and she was on her way.

Talk about nailing your market.

Am I the only one that doesn’t get the hype? Are you a perfect-nails kind of gal? Are you a man with a penchant for well-painted lady-nails? Does the idea of breaking a nail fill you with fear? Is this another example of my inability to see the trees for the wood? Answers on a postcard, please.

Leprechauns trade in gold as downturn hits the streets

On North Great George’s Street this morning I saw a woman pushing a buggy with her belly while using her hands to scrape a scratch card with a coin. I imagined the baby going flying as she raised her arms in jubilation but alas, it didn’t happen. This morning wasn’t her lucky day.

I enjoyed the image though, particularly as it happened right outside the tacky off-license at the corner where a few days ago I saw the homeless man who sits on O’Connell Bridge (with his rabbit and dog) buy booze. He stuffed his rabbit into his shopping trolley and held the dog under his arm while he rummaged for coins to buy his cans. He could have gone to Centra but he was looking for good value. Aren’t we all?

If these moments tell us anything about the Irish, it’s that we’re damn good at recessions. If it’s a quirky economic downturn you’re after, look no further than Dublin city centre.

Without a doubt the creature that has benefitted most from the downturn is the Leprechaun. This being, formerly associated with ancient folklore and American gullibility, (“Do you really have leprechauns in I-Ur lend?“) has experienced an unprecedented comeback in times of austerity. On Grafton Street you can find a man of about two and a half-foot who has painted his face orange, attached a ginger beard to his chin and placed a pot at his feet. He looks a little like an Oompa Lumpa from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film. If you felt sorry for him I think the joke would be on you; he’s probably making a killing. Size matters.

Size matters so much among opportunistic leprechauns that the one that hovers around the Molly Malone statue is enormous. His artificial head is about six times as big as his own. He waves his gigantic leprechaun arms awkwardly at passers-by and of late he has decorated his crock of gold with silver tinsel. The other day I saw him leaning against a lamppost on the phone, with his huge fake head under his arm. He didn’t look Irish, which made it all the more wonderful. He’s probably an economic downturn migrant from the BRIC area who’s heard that no one throws a recession session quite like the Irish.

It’s not all fun and games though. There are feuds on the streets; warring factions have developed. Resentment is building.

You can see why.

Way before economic opportunism was in fashion, an old man from Cavan had an idea. He decided to put on a tweed cap and a patchwork waistcoat and sit on Molly Malone banging on a badhrán. The tourists loved it. He’d motion to them to come sit beside him and encouraged them to take photographs. He even bought spare tweed caps for them to pose with in the pictures. Once, when I was in my first year of university, I pretended to be a German tourist just to get a picture with him. If somebody else tried to sit down on the statue beside him, he’d snarl at them and tell them to clear off. He had the kind of audacity I can only dream of.

The good old days


It may be easy to mark your territory when the property market’s booming but things have changed. A few weeks ago, I saw my tweed-capped friend outside River Island, patting his badhrán with a sour face. Two American tourists stopped to have a look at him and quick as lightning he beamed. After both of them had had a go of the badhrán and dropped a few euro into his cap, he pulled them closer to him. Pointing at the giant leprechaun parading around Molly Malone, he whispered conspiratorially, “See that leprechaun? Don’t bother with him; He’s a fake”.

Budgets aside, recessions in Ireland are pure Gold.

Also, if you find this post facetious, you can read a serious piece about my opinion of the Irish here.

Enda’s National Address goes down a storm

Curled up in a blanket with a cup of camomile tea at 9.30 to watch Enda address the nation. Nice and cosy. The anticipation was killing me during the weather. I usually love watching Jean Byrne talk about unsettled conditions but it wasn’t her place today. Talk about stealing Enda’s thunder.

Got the three-day summary anyway and then – hurray – grim-faced Enda appeared in his red tie. He looked tiny in front of those enormous flags. Wonder how it feels to be on a wooden chair with the weight of the nation’s deficit upon you. Did anyone notice the upside-down glass? Talk about half empty. Not a drop. You’d think he’d have got thirsty addressing the nation for that long, but these are the times we’re living in. Silver quill on the desk made it all very official didn’t it? I swear he was looking me in the eye the whole time though. Wonder if everyone got that. Might be a Mona Lisa trick they teach you in the Dáil.

Anyway, he was very fluent. Don’t care if he had it all on a screen because he was looking me in the eye. Told me I wasn’t responsible for the crisis. Relieved. We’re spending 16 billion more than we’re taking in though. Not so good. Liked the way he said “Eamonn Gilmore and I” – best of friends. Said they’d imposed losses on some bondholders. He forgot to say which. Ah well, there was a lot to be said.

And then, last thing I expected, he thanked me! For my “courage, character and sense of responsibility”. Ah Jaysus Enda. It’s the least I can do. Any time. You’re doing fairly well yourself, with all your kite flying and addresses to the nation.

Might be because I’m an English teacher now but really noticed the Taoiseach’s emphatic ‘B’s and ‘P’s. The way he said that lower rate of interest on “Bborrowings” will save “ten Bbillion” in time and that we have to “Bbuild on those first steps” and how “Ppublic sector Ppay”’s been cut. Kind of charming.

Said a few times he wished he didn’t have to say this but he does. Ah, Enda.

In fairness, he didn’t shy away from the serious stuff. It’ll take years to recover, we remain fragile, change won’t come quickly enough for many people out of work.

And after all that, still with steely blue eyes directed at me he says: “I am VERY OPTIMISTIC”. He wants to make Ireland the best small country to do business, to raise a family and to grow old”. Good on ya, Endo. Yes we can. But rather you than me.

Oiche mhaith now, Taoiseach. And for God’s sake, have a sip of water. You must be parched.

For Enda’s back story, click here.

Enda's red (ad)dress

Is your plumber a “drainage artist”?

Oscar Wilde, who made a pretty living out of making subversive, witty and astute social observations said, “All art is entirely useless”. After all, he was one to know. Having written a handful of droll plays and a novel about a portrait taking over the life of its sitter, he was still bound by the tedium of life’s practical problems. His dirty dishes didn’t disappear when he flung a leather-bound poetry anthology at them, nor did the flat tyre of his carriage auto-inflate to the sound of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

Oscar Wilde


Wilde’s facetiousness would have been reviled by Stephen Dedalus, the 22 year-old hero of Joyce’s Portrait and later of Ulysses.

Young Stephen takes art extremely seriously as did the many ‘greats’ before him. In the “Proteus” episode of Ulysses he’s strolling down Sandymount Strand and decides to close his eyes as he walks to see how far he can get in the ‘dark’. He takes a few steps but just before he opens his eyes again a suitably verbose thought strikes him: “Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? … Basta! I will see if I can see. See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.”
Stephen, self-absorbed and brilliant wants to know if the world continues to exist when he stops seeing it. Unfortunately of course, he will never find out because he can’t have his eyes open and closed at once.

Me being ridiculous on Sandymount Strand


Wilde’s idea that art was –in practical terms – absolutely useless and Stephen’s anxiety about the relationship of his senses to the outside world make for nice discussion points about the purpose and perception of art.

These days it’s not difficult to be classed as an artist. I’ve heard pedagogues described as “teaching artists” and people that roll dough as “pastry artists”. I’m all for it. The idea that there’s such a thing as an “artist” who exists on a plane of perception loftier than that of mere mortals is archaic and implausible. While the indiscriminate use of the term “artist” might be democratising and flattering to the individual, in effect it has now become a pleasant synonym for “skilled”.

Since it’s now acceptable to use the term “art” to refer to general skill rather than individual genius, Wilde – were he still here-would have to admit that “art” in its broadest understanding has become very useful indeed. I’m sure he would have delighted in calling in a “drainage artist” to unblock his toilet.

There’s something deeply unsatisfying about sealing off the definition of art as coterminous with “skill” though. To be skilled may be considered a favourable, functional quality leading generally to better prospects but doesn’t being an artist require something more than just know-how? A particular kind of sensibility perhaps? What happened to the image of the melancholic artist living in a hut penning poetry about his unrequited love? What about the assumption that pure art is “divinely” inspired?

Christopher Witcombe, Professor of Art History at Sweet Briar College, Virginia traces the emergence of the modern understanding of the artist back to the sixteenth century. He argues that during that period, “A work of art was believed to contain an extra indefinable spiritual essence”. This “divine” inspiration was impossible to explain and so the Italians referred to it as “un non so che” (I don’t know what), which was later taken up by the French, who called it the “je- ne-sais-quoi”.

People naturally became fascinated with the mysterious, god-like figures who created celestial masterpieces. Theories about their personalities and temperaments emerged and thinkers came to the consensus that the quality, which predestined an individual to become an artistic genius, was melancholia. It wasn’t a new idea; Aristotle had thought it before, and Hippocrates guessed that it occurred as a result of a build-up of black bile in the body.

Not much has changed. We’re still fascinated with the idea of “artists” today. And no, I’m not talking about the ones that teach our kids, roll our pastries and fix our toilets. Language is constantly changing, but no matter how loose the term “artist” has become, we still differentiate in our own way between those possessing a skill and those with an innate “genius” quality.

Present-day admirers, like their Renaissance counterparts, continue to elevate their artist heroes to deity status. One of the many adoring comments under a youtube video featuring the actress Natalie Portman claims “if you don’t like Natalie Portman you don’t like God”.

One of my students, a middle-aged French lady, once said that she considered Lady Gaga an artist in the “true sense”. I’m not sure how she justified it, but she reinforced the widespread assumption that ‘pure’ artistry actually exists.

Is Lady Gaga a "true" artist?


Luckily, we’re living in an era of relentless scientific inquiry and rather than accepting that true artists are born god-like to inspire us with awe, we can test the theory by removing some of the potential confounders.

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post set out to do just that in 2007. He asked world-renowned concert violinist Joshua Bell to help him conduct an experiment to determine whether people would recognise the intrinsic value of art in the absence of relevant context. Bell was an ideal specimen for such an experiment. His playing had been famously described by Interview Magazine as doing “nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.”

Weingarten asked Bell to pick up his violin, dress up in jeans and a cap and perform for 45 minutes at a Washington metro stop during rush hour. Just days before, he’d sold out Boston’s Symphony Hall, with tickets $100 a piece.

During Bell’s performance, 1070 people hurried by without stopping, 27 gave money, and seven paused to listen for at least a minute. At no point did a crowd gather. One lady recognised the performer and gave him $20, which amounted to a significant portion of the total $32 and change he made that day.

So context matters. When people are in a rush, they’re not primed to recognise brilliance, or even as many describe Bell, genius. They’re not used to train stations playing host to maestros and anyway, they’re not really in the mood for “art”. The kids need to be picked up, and the laundrette closes at 2.

Knowledge matters too. The difference between a virtuoso violinist and an amateur is easy to identify if you’re a classical music enthusiast, or if you play yourself. Not so if you’ve never consciously listened to anything like it before.

Unless of course, a truly essential or “divine” quality really does exist, in which case, we should be able to identify it without prior knowledge or relevant context.

Which brings us right back to Sandymount Strand, where Stephen Dedalus, himself a wannabe artist is testing his own perception against the idea of an objective reality.
It’s a futile attempt because it’s impossible to escape the bounds of his own perception. Stephen can’t ‘see’ with his eyes closed and he can never be sure of what happens to the world when he shuts it out with darkness.

When I was at school, I found it strange that entire groups of friends seemed to like the same music. It confused me and sometimes it made me unsure of what I really liked and what I thought I should like. Was artistic appreciation a prerequisite for forming bonds? Or did people simply like the music their friends liked, because they were primed to see its value? It’s impossible to know really. Teenage sensibilities seemed to be invested heavily in film and music, and less so in visual art and writing. I couldn’t imagine lunchtime conversations featuring encyclopaedic knowledge and endless speculation about the direction of Irish sculpting or the American short story back then.

One of the most appealing attributes of art is that it evades definition. Is a well-placed mahogany chair “art”? What about a stickman figure Picasso may have penned when he was drunk? We delight in arguing about these questions because deep inside us, the idea of “art” as something pure and divinely inspired hasn’t vanished. We talk about skill, because it’s measurable: This genius savant has an IQ of ‘200’ and that performer could play the trickiest passages from Chopin at the age of seven.

New York Times columnist David Brooks
argues that the possibility to become an artistic genius lies in all of us. All it takes, he feels, is diligent practice, single-focus and proper mentorship. He reminds us that the brain is plastic, and that we “construct ourselves through behaviour”.

The Irish Times recently reported on a study that found that when subjects gazed at artwork they found particularly beautiful, they experienced a surge of Dopamine, (known as the “reward” neurotransmitter) through the brain at levels equivalent to gazing at a loved one.

In this experiment, the brain simply responds to a visual stimulus, which it has already categorised as beautiful. The Irish Times conclusion that “these findings have significant implications for Government policy” is a leap too far however. The study tested subjects with pre-existing notions of beauty. It did not explore other potential pleasure-stimuli, like a beautiful view, the smile from a stranger, a spontaneous meeting or the feeling of soft sand under your feet.

Dopamine pathways aren’t just activated by a masterpiece. They also play a key role in the progress of addiction as well as during eating and sex.

Society shouldn’t formalise art. It should encourage us to look more deeply at the world around us and to be creative in what we class beautiful. If you’ve lived all your life in a high-rise block of council flats littered with crisp bags and dirty runners, you might not be flooded with dopamine when you visit an art gallery. Maybe though, when you look outside your window and see a flower popping its head out of the box you planted it in, you will feel a rush of pleasure.

Oscar Wilde, who had “nothing to declare” but his own “genius”, fell victim to a society, which classified art into moral highs and lows. His love- surely the highest of all art forms-for another man landed him in prison in Paris, where he died a pauper’s death. Maybe it was this world of narrow definitions, which Stephen Dedalus was shutting out when he walked in darkness along Sandymount Strand.

High Art and Low Art don’t exist. Every one of us can experience moments of intense pleasure and awe. It can be at the taste of your first Lindt bunny after Lent, at the birth of your first child, or in the look in the eyes of your grandmother as she knits you a Christmas sweater. It can be in the middle of traffic in an ugly part of town or in the vast expanse of a city’s art gallery. It’s all around us.

Lindt Bunny Joy

Three Men that don’t know they’re in my life

1.The pioneering beggar

Every day I see an oval-faced man on Grafton Street holding an enormous wooden sign, which points you in the direction of the Sweet Emporium on Duke Street. He has been holding this sign day in, day out for many months. For years before that he sat slumped on the steps of the insurance building next to Hodges Figgis with a tin covered in chipped orange paint. His eyes were too sad and vacant to be those of a charity collector; he was a pioneering beggar. Somebody must have noticed him there and decided that if he was going to stay in the city centre looking for money all day, he might as well send people to the Sweet Emporium. Now he works double shifts because I’ve seen him back by the steps on Dawson Street at evening time. He’s been on my mind on and off for years. I wonder what we’d talk about, if I ever found the courage to introduce myself.

2. The Man with long, blonde hair

Since my schooldays, I’ve been passing an extremely tall man, with long blonde hair and thick pink lips. When he walks, his whole body jolts heavily forward and then bounces back, as if on a spring. He has a long, beige face, which blends in with the bewildered expression he wears. When I watch him, he seems to be looking at something beyond what I can see. I think he is the wildest and gentlest man I’ve ever seen and I also think that he is intellectually disabled. I feel sad when I see him, because of the way he moves, and because of the large blue pools which are his eyes. Every once in a while he puts on black, knee-high women’s boots and stumbles down the street in them. Sometimes I try to imagine his mother and father but I can’t because I can’t paint their pictures in my head.

3. The Opera Singer

He wears a smoking jacket and bow tie and sings to the crowds of shoppers as if he were on stage in an Italian opera house. He has a neat, tight face with symmetrical features and short, sandy brown hair. He could be from the Czech Republic or from Slovakia, but in fact he comes from our own shores. I’ve heard him speak; he asked a lady last week if he should sign her CD “To Anne with an E”.
His body language, coupled with his attire is highly comedic. I know this because once I was sitting by the window upstairs in Bewley’s watching him speak to a middle-aged lady, who happened to be a fan. He bent forward to touch her arm and tilted his head backward to laugh at what she had said. He used his hands constantly, flapping them politely in her direction and then mock-modestly at her wide-eyed praise. He’s a charmer.

These three men are in my life but I’m not in theirs.

The Mouse

One September morning in our poky kitchen, my father and I were enjoying an early brunch. He was spooning floating pineapple rings from a large glass bowl while I dipped some oatmeal biscuits into my peppermint tea. From the corner of my eye, I noticed something small and dark flitting across the floor, but the moment I turned in its direction, it was gone.

My father’s pineapple ring splashed unceremoniously back into its pool. “Did you see that?” he asked.

“See what?” I replied, wondering whether he was talking about the same thing.
“Something on the floor?”
“Yes! It was probably a Daddy Long Legs”, I told him.
He agreed and we laughed at my infantile terminology.

I thought nothing more of it and we continued to eat in amicable silence.

That September represented a new and unforeseen period of my life. I’d finished university the May before and was still at home, having failed in my attempts to travel and to find a job.

The upside to it all was that I was rather enjoying domestic life. I got to see a lot of my dad, and we’d developed our own little routines, like making mochas in the tiny steel pot which he’d had since university and listening to programmes on Radio 4.

Though I could sense myself regressing, I took solace from the fact that these moments at home were precious; that they wouldn’t last forever.

Throughout the summer, I had been indiscriminately applying for jobs but nobody would have me; the country was at a standstill. Then one day an enormous opportunity presented itself: The Irish Times was looking for an intern.

600 applied and I was in the final eight. I wasn’t holding my breath but I was devouring newspapers all the same and after a summer of uncertainty, a date for the final interview had at long last been set. Many of my conversations with my father went something like this:

“Dad, do you think I have a future?”
“Of course”, he said “You will become a literary lay-about just like me”

My father is the honorary editor of a history journal and spends much of his time cycling to and from the National Library to check if Major General so-and-so of the fifth battalion really did travel to Kinsale in 1752 as the Right Honourable Blogs’ diary of that date alleges. If he’s not doing that, he’s sitting in front of his laptop, painstakingly typesetting articles, which have arrived in his inbox from the eclectic collection of contributors he has garnered from around the world.

“Of course you won’t be rich”, he said, “but you will find a niche eventually”.

So went our conversations that summer and we revelled in the gentle irony with which we viewed our mundane daily existence.

Now that the summer had drawn to a close, the brunch we were enjoying in early September was my last before the final Irish Times interview, which was to take place the following day.

That evening, my father made an announcement.

“We have a mouse”.

“What?”, I said, already squirming.

He nodded solemnly. “Yes, I rather feared that’s what I saw in the kitchen this morning, but I didn’t want to scare you”.

“Ugh”, my mother sighed, from under her woollen blanket in the living room. “We’d better seal up the kitchen door so it doesn’t escape into the rest of the house”.

And so it began.

I refused point-blank to enter the kitchen the following morning and set off for my interview without breakfast.

I’m a vegetarian but that does not mean that I like to be invaded; particularly not by fast creatures, with long, thin tails, I told myself. After all, that’s why I chose to grow up with guinea pigs and hamsters rather than gerbils and rats. I further justified my over-reaction by telling myself that I was under enormous stress: what with a potentially life-defining interview ahead of me.

I arrived home that evening to bad news.

“We saw it in the living room”, my father said, grim-faced but full of resolve.
“It was incredibly fast”, my mother added gravely.

On the way upstairs, I quivered at every nook, convinced that the creature was about to emerge from hiding and crawl up my leg. I couldn’t bring myself to take out my furry slippers from under the hall table either, in case the mouse had taken refuge there. I shuddered and locked myself into my room.

I sat there and wondered about myself.

Two days later, things took a turn for the worse:

“It was in our bedroom”, my mother said “I saw it scamper behind the cupboard”.

She too was highly uncomfortable about the invasion.

Action had to be taken. My father got some traps.

My protest was pathetic: “Can’t we just capture it and free it humanely? Please

We could not, and I had some nerve if I thought that I could just sit there, being an hysterical and inert vegetarian, applying a guilt trip while they went to war on all our behalf.

Impractical, irrational and immature, I knew that I could neither see the mouse suffer nor capture it alone.

There had to be another way.

I made my way to the local hardware store, passing through shelves of creosote and weed-killer until I got to a section labelled “Pest Control”. Jumping with delight, I found exactly what I was looking for; I snatched it from the shelf and proceeded to the till.

I arrived home triumphant.

“I have a humane trap”, I declared.

“Huh?”

They weren’t nearly as enthusiastic as I was. They’d spent the day trying to catch the thing, which had now been spotted in several locations throughout the house, only to have me saunter back from my sojourn in the moral high-grounds, wielding a tiny cardboard box, which promised “easy capture and release”

They wouldn’t replace their multiple killer-traps with my one humane one, but agreed to use it as a supplement to their own.

The following day I spotted the mouse in my sock-drawer, and screamed.

I noticed though, that it was much smaller than I had expected.

It was a baby mouse, with a beautiful little face and a shorter-than-average tail.

I thought about the techniques for overcoming fears that psychologists recommend. One of them was called “mere exposure”: simply coming into contact with a fear can help alleviate it.

On Sunday morning my mother went to Church, having seen the mouse scuttle under her wardrobe.

By then our battle with the mouse was becoming somewhat of a farce; so much so that my father had placed our mouse-shaped pumice stone onto a trap in the living room the day before in order to startle me.

Fortified by courage and relaxed by the prepostrousness of the situation I entered the room. My father was in bed, reading a tatty book with a dull title.

“What’s the situation?”, I asked.

He lifted his nose reluctantly from under the book: “It has to be over there”, he said, motioning to the far corner of the room, “It definitely hasn’t left.”

With a sudden surge of courage, I ran to the kitchen and snatched the humane trap from where I had placed it just beside the door.

Returning upstairs, I opened the flap to the linen closet where scores of my mum’s dresses were hanging.

In the corner, half-concealed by a green velvet wrap, whiskers twitching and tiny ears erect, I saw it perched.

Any of the fear I had left drained from me in a flash. It was adorable.

We waved a scarf at it and it dashed. We dived and it squeezed past us in a blur. We put the hoover on and it didn’t move.

We laughed.

Mum came home and I retreated, expecting that we would have the little creature captured and released into the wild by lunchtime.

Later that day a voice called me from above.

“Kate, we have it!!! We’ve got it!! Come here!”

I rushed up, tripping on the pieces of cheese they had left in a trail across the floor.

My father, grinning, was holding the plastic box, where the mouse had become entrapped.

“There you go, it was your humane trap that did it in the end”, my mother conceded, smiling with a twinkle in her eye.

I took the box from my father and stared in at the little face, with its jet-black beedy black eyes peering back at me.

In those few minutes, as we sat there in my parents’ room, surrounded by traps, with clothes and cheese strewn around the floor and the tiny creature in our hands we felt closer to each other than we had for a long time. Somehow this little incident had brought us together: first through our nervous tension and then, when we saw the cute thing up close, in our shared appreciation of the ridiculous.

There was some sticky stuff on the base of the trap so the creature couldn’t run away.

“We’ll release it in the park across the road”, I cried, beaming at the idea.

“It won’t be long before it’s back!”, my father laughed as we were getting ready to go.

We were giddy with our success.

I ran upstairs to grab my camera so that I could record the moment of release. We got as far as the gate and I got my mother to take a shot of my father and me with our mouse friend.

Once in the park, I returned the box to my dad, to do the honours. We’d brought a pair of kitchen scissors with us so we could remove the top of the box.

Gingerly, my dad cut through the roof. The mouse, impaled on the floor, did not look happy.

“Not long now”, I gushed over it, still frivolous and light-headed with our victory.

My father placed the plastic container down on the ground.

Suddenly from behind, an enormous labrador came bounding towards us, barking madly. He had smelt a rat.

My instincts suddenly aroused, I growled and ushered him away, becoming a little embarrassed as I turned and saw his ten-year-old owner watching me.

The dog gone, the park fell silent but for some leaves, which rustled in the distance. We must have been there for only a few seconds but suddenly an uncertainty engulfed the air.

My father stepped back to look at the motionless mouse, stuck to the base of the box and after a while, he asked my mother to get him a sand scraper from the house.

While she was gone, I bent down, and looked more closely at where the mouse was stuck.

Attached to the base of the box, were not just the four paws, as I had thought, but the entire belly of the mouse, rendering it utterly immobile.

My mother returned with the scraper. Dad picked up the box again. With gentleness that stirred me, he attempted to get it under the mouse’s tiny feet.

It didn’t work. The gluey goo was too deeply ingrained into its silky-thin fur.

My heart was beating more quickly now.

The little body was beginning to twist in pain. My father’s expression changed: scraper in hand, he too was twinging with discomfort.

As the mouse moved, more of its fur became dislodged.

I began to see blood.

“Stop”, I yelled, hopelessly.

I had to look away. My father’s eyes were full of pain, as he continued to scrape at the little body, wreathing in agony.

An autumn chill was in the air.

The last I saw of the creature was its outstretched neck and taut, mangled, tortured body being ripped away from the plastic box.

It haunts me still.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, nothing has invaded me like this image. We had some other mice after that which were killed, humanely by guillotine. I got a rejection letter from the Irish Times some weeks later and didn’t feel much. And for all the bloodshed I have seen in the news, and the depressing images of suffering on the streets around me, nothing disturbs me like that image, or sends a pang of guilt so accute gushing through my entire body.