A US psychologist is urging parents to chill out and just let their children get on with things, writes John Cradden

Monday September 17 2012

PUSHY parents, eh? Look at their poor kids. You can almost see the deadness in their eyes. Being shuttled from one activity to another in the SUVs, seven days a week. Get a life.

Mind you, you have to wonder at the energy that drives these outwardly successful helicopter parents.

It must be exhausting, both managing a successful career and micro-managing their kids to ensure they get the best possible advantage in this dog-eat-dog, recession-riddled world.

My attitude couldn’t be more different. I can’t be bothered spending every afternoon ferrying them from music class to maths grinds and from gymnastics to GAA.

“Can I go out and play?” asks my five-year-old daughter. “No, it’s too dangerous out there, you might get run over.”

“Will you play a game with me then?” “No, I’m too busy, love”, I say, before handing her the iPad to play with.

I think I fall into a category of my own: the ‘lazy-but-overprotective parent’.

So when I stumble across an interview with US psychologist Madeline Levine about her new book, which supposedly advocates an approach termed ‘underparenting’, I’m hooked.

Here are some of the tips from her book, entitled ‘Teach Your Children Well’.

* Don’t be your children’s entertainment director (boredom forces children to make their own entertainment). Check.

* Don’t stop sibling squabbles (they’ll learn about compromise, survival and the art of negotiation). Check.

* Lose the buggy at age three (helps with exercise and communication). Our two-year-old insists on walking most of the time herself anyway, so er … check.

Levine’s previous book, ‘The Price of Privilege’, was a huge bestseller in the US. It explored why teenagers from affluent families were experiencing high rates of emotional problems, limited coping skills and disengagement from learning.

She found that it was mainly due to parents who had geared almost all their children’s lives to achieving high grades, trophies and entry into top schools and universities.

It turns out that the phenomenon is not confined to rich families but also huge swathes of middle-class households.

So the new book is an attempt to offer practical advice to parents who feel they want to change their approach in order to help their kids learn “real-world” skills that are important for success, including creativity, innovative thinking, resilience in response to failures, communication skills and the ability to collaborate.

It’s an interesting read and makes lots of salient points in a country where many parents are unhealthily obsessed with Leaving Cert points and the whole CAO merry-go-round.

Anne Conroy, training and resource service manager at children’s charity Barnados, says Ireland certainly has plenty of hyperactive parents.

“Research, which has included Irish research, has found that their over-involvement in such activities tends to cancel out the learning benefits of taking part in them.”

But she adds that there is no one way to parent.

“Every child and every family is unique, with its own background and its own way of doing things. Some of what Levine is promoting is helpful.”

When I interview Dr Levine I ask her if she really is suggesting that parents should become lazier in their approach in order to produce more rounded children.

She is livid with one newspaper’s suggestion that she’s all about ‘under-parenting’.

“I hated that article! They called it underparenting. As soon as I have time to breathe I need to write them a letter.

“The opposite of helicopter parenting or pushy parenting, or whatever, is not underparenting, it’s appropriate parenting,” she explains.

“It’s not that kids don’t need to be parented, they absolutely do. My suggestion is that instead of spending 95pc of our effort on what grades our kids get, or what college they are going to, that we pay some attention to the other aspects of character and coping skills that we know are necessary if you are going to have a reasonably successful life.”

Parents often do so much to ‘help’ their children that they end up doing more harm than good.

“It’s an exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their performance, which in turn makes them feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more overseeing.”

Levine says she is acutely aware of just how fast things are evolving in terms of what kids are learning simply because the world itself is changing so fast, so the need to learn better coping skills, for instance, becomes all the more important.

But before they try to change their approach, parents need to think about themselves first, she says.

“The first thing I would say to parents is to make sure that their own lives are in order.

“I think a lot of this hyper vigilance around kids has to do with parents feeling that they themselves are under tremendous scrutiny, or a lot of peer pressure.”

She suggests that parents get a hobby. “Make sure not everything you do is centred around your child,” she says.

“I can’t tell you how many kids have said in my office, ‘please tell my mother to get a hobby besides me.'”

She also suggests that parents learn to tolerate some distress in their kids.

“My advice always is, if you can’t stand to see your kid unhappy, you are in the wrong business.

“Part of developing resilience is making it through challenging things in life. And if you are always stepping in for your kid, they don’t get to do it.”

Even for those of us who are not so inclined to over-parent, Levine’s book offers useful reminders of just how important things like family time and unstructured outdoor play are, which can often be impinged upon by technology as much as too many extra curricular activities.

(Note to self: lock the iPad away.)

Margaret Harrington, a 46-year old mother of three teenage children aged 17, 15 and 11, says much of the practical advice in Levine’s book does make sense.

“I am a strong believer in teaching kids proper life skills,” says Harrington, from Carlow.

“This extends not just to my own kids, but anyone who visits here.”

Such skills include cooking and baking healthy food, doing laundry, ironing a school uniform, wiring a plug, basic food hygiene, working the central heating and fixing leaky taps. The list is endless, really.

“They will need to be resourceful when they grow up. Kid-glove parenting is the opposite of this.”

Being such a busy house means a big effort to sit down for dinner together in the evening is made.

“It makes an enormous difference to communication within the family. Everyone gets to share their day’s events, no matter how mundane.

“It means everyone’s talking, which, in this day and age, is not a given any more.”

Planned activities are minimal.

“The eldest plays saxophone and does karate. Our son plays GAA and rugby. The youngest girl does modern dance. That’s it.

“The kids get everything they need, but they are not molly-coddled in any way. I think that is a good thing.”

– John Cradden

Originally published in the Irish Independent

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Laser-eye surgery for older folk

Fergal Brehony, from Dublin, says getting Kamra is the best thing he's ever done

Caption: Fergal Brehony, from Dublin, says getting Kamra is the best thing he’s ever done

Laser surgery for age-related sight defects is proving popular, writes John Cradden

IF YOU have to hold this newspaper at arm’s length, or squint your eyes while reading this on a screen, it could be well worth your while reading on.

A revolutionary new type of laser eye surgery has been introduced into Ireland over the past year that promises a lifelong solution to presbyopia, an age-related condition that affects all of us to some extent as we reach our 40s or older.

Put simply, as the natural lens inside the eye ages, it becomes less flexible, or stiffer, resulting in problems with things like reading words or focusing on objects up close.

Laser eye surgery to fix presbyopia is nothing new, and many older people fed up of fumbling with multiple reading glasses or contact lenses have opted for one of the well-established procedures available to help with the condition.

But the downside with these procedures, which use lasers to reshape the corneas to improve vision, is that any correction for reading vision may have to be done again in later years as the eyes continue to age.

The difference with the new procedure, called Kamra, is that it promises to offer a more permanent and much simpler fix for the condition.

It involves placing a tiny disk with a pin hole in the middle over the cornea.

William Power, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Blackrock Clinic, says the principle behind the idea is an age-old one but is well understood by professional photographers.

“Say you’re taking a photograph of a couple in front of you but you want the mountains behind them in focus as well, what you do is you narrow down the aperture, and that increases the range of the depth of focus. That’s the simple principle, and the same applies to Kamra.”

The inlay is also only inserted in one eye — the non-dominant eye that is used for reading.

Fergal Brehony (52) from Rathfarnham in Dublin, says that undergoing the Kamra procedure was “the best thing he has ever done”.

“For the majority of my life I had perfect vision. Then, like everybody else, once I hit around 40, I needed glasses.”

When he heard about Kamra earlier this year while at Blackrock Clinic, he needed little convincing.

“Even in terms of glasses, I am done now. There’s been an incredible benefit. I haven’t picked up my glasses since the day I had surgery.”

There was no pain or discomfort and, less than 24 hours afterwards, he was able to drive himself down to west Cork.

As well as offering a permanent fix to presbyopia, Kamra is also less of a compromise compared to other surgery procedures, according to Dr Arthur Cummings, a consultant ophthalmologist at the Wellington Eye Clinic and UPMC Beacon Hospital.

Conventional laser surgery involves trying to achieve something called monovision, he says, which means “making the one eye better for distance and making the other eye better for near. What the brain does is, it marries that information and keeps everything in focus, far and near.”

However, some people with perfect distance vision, but who need help with near vision, may not be able to cope with monovision (which can be demonstrated in the clinic or through contact lenses).

They often find, for instance, that while their near vision improves, their distance vision is affected.

‘That’s when Kamra makes sense,” says Cummings. “So you place the Kamra inlay into the reading eye, it improves the reading eye, but without the same loss of vision you get from monovision.”

Blackrock Clinic, which started doing Kamra about six months ago, has done the procedure on over 20 patients so far, while the Wellington, which has offered it for a year now, has done nearer 40.

“It’s growing month-on-month significantly,” says Power, who reports that most of his patients are in their 50s.

At Blackrock, over half of the patients have opted for Kamra in conjunction with conventional laser surgery.

“For a certain percentage of people, their distance vision, at that age, is also beginning to fade a little bit too, and what we find is that with a bit of Lasik, we can improve their distance vision and, with that, their near vision with Kamra also works better.”

This is what Chris Smith (52) from Sandymount in Dublin opted for.

He was fed up with years of fumbling around with multiple sets of reading glasses, and his distance vision had also deteriorated.

He says the two procedures together made a huge difference. “I can say that it has transformed my life. When you have to wear glasses, it compromises quality of life.”

Although the Kamra has been used in select clinics in the EU for up to five years, the company that has patented it has stepped up its availability over the past year.

There have been no reported problems with Kamra, although Power understands that it has failed to work for about one in 100 patients to date. But he points out that the procedure is completely reversible with no permanent damage, something that is likely to help its popularity among those squeamish about the risks of conventional laser surgery.

“You’re just back to square one,” he says.

The cost of the procedure alone is about €2,000 depending on the clinic, but the cost is reduced to about €1,000 if you have it along with a conventional laser surgery procedure, such as Lasik.

It’s not covered by health insurers, but you can offset it as a medical expense against your income tax at 20pc.

Both Brehony and Smith say it’s money well spent. Smith says that, in the longer term, he is likely to save money because of the number of times he was having to get new, stronger glasses every year.

“Apart from that, the improvement in the quality of life is the main thing.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Smart Consumer: Keep fit on the cheap

Your exercise routine doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, writes John Cradden

There are few activities in life that are genuinely free, but keeping fit is about as close as you can get. Of course, there are those who have a vested interest in persuading you otherwise, such as sports equipment companies, energy drink makers, gym owners and fitness trainers.

Not to mention all the hundreds of celebs who have flogged exercise videos ever since Jane Fonda first urged us to “feel the burn” in 1982, sparking a multi-million dollar industry that is still in strong shape.

But getting exercise needn’t cost you a cent. If, however, you already have a well established fitness regime, there are plenty of ways to keep it up without burning the contents of your wallet.

No-contract gyms

We’ve all been there. After a couple of months of gym membership, your enthusiasm burns out and you’re back on the sofa. But you still have to fork out for the remaining term of your subscription.

Enter a new breed of no-frills, no-contract gyms that offer monthly subscriptions. Simplyfitness in Milltown, Dublin, requires only a small joining fee and just €29 a month to use its facilities.

According to Jackie Skelly at Flyefit in nearby Ranelagh, 98pc of its members pay the €29 monthly subscription, as opposed to the €259 annual one, which includes fitness classes. You can also get one-day passes for €9.

Indoor and gym-free exercises

If the new breed of budget gyms are still liable to pull your financial hamstring, why not create your own indoor gym. With a little ingenuity, you can re-use everyday household items such as weights, benches and suspension systems. After all, who needs dumbbells when you can use 1.5l water bottles or 2l cartons of milk?

Similarly, old bricks, old tyres or a basketball can double as fitness props and weigh towards your efforts in developing a six-pack stomach.

Only buy essential equipment

Online classifieds like Donedeal or Adverts.ie are a “graveyard of unused fitness equipment bought on a whim,” says Dublin-based personal trainer Dominic Munnelly.

He personally recommends buying only items like a good yoga mat for floor-based exercises, a kettlebell, a skipping rope, a chin-up bar, bands and a foam roll.

Hire a trainer

If you have forked out hundreds for a gym membership but haven’t witnessed your desired physical transformation, hiring a personal trainer could be money much better spent.

“I have worked with lots of clients that have done a few sessions with me and learned all the essential exercises and how to do them really well,” says Munnelly.

Afterwards, they then might use the workouts he posts up on his Facebook page or website to mix their training up a bit.

How much, though? “Fifty euro to €80 is typical, which is still great value, as many people buy the gym membership and never go,” he said.

Borrow fitness DVDs or visit YouTube

It’s a wonder that anyone goes and buys fitness DVDs when you can easily get one for free, either from a friend or the friendly local library.

Some workout videos are probably better and more up-to-date than others, but there are literally thousands of titles out there to choose from, and there are only so many variations on the same workout routine. You can also see many more examples for free on your laptop or iPad via YouTube.

Make your own energy drinks

Given the high prices of ready-made drinks, you might assume that they’re complicated to make. Far from it.

The core ingredients of sports drinks, which are designed to delay fatigue and enhance performance by preventing a fall in blood sugar and minimising the effects of dehydration, are sugar, salt and water.

The sugar prevents a decrease in performance caused by a drop in blood sugar; the fluid helps stave off dehydration; and the salt helps absorb and retain the fluid.

A typical home-made recipe is to scoop 60-80g of table sugar into a 1l bottle, add half a teaspoon of table salt along with a no-added sugar cordial and top up with water.

Do these while going about your business

If you’re pushed for time, you can integrate loads of exercises into your day-to-day routines.

For instance, scrubbing your floor for an hour will burn 400 calories, while an hour spent washing your windows will burn 250 calories. Thirty minutes spent vacuuming or scrubbing grease stains off dishes will burn about 100 calories.

Go running

There are no hard statistics for the rising number of recreational runners in Ireland, but you only have to look around now to see loads of red-faced folks bobbing along.

In addition, sports organisations report that all kinds of running events, ranging from short 5-10k runs to full marathons and even triathlons, are becoming over-subscribed. For instance, a record 14,000 competitors started the Dublin Marathon last October.

You’d be surprised at how much you could spend on a running kit, but this seems to miss the low-cost appeal of the sport. All you really need is a decent pair of shoes.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Q&A for possible cochlear implantees

A few months ago, a friend with a cochlear implant recently asked me to engage in some email correspondence with a chap with a roughly similar hearing background to me who was being assessed (and possibly still is, at the time of writing) by the Beaumont CI programme for a possible implant.

He had quite a few questions as it turned out, and the answers I wrote him helped to crystallise some of my own thoughts and conclusions to date about my own experience. I ‘ve reproduced them here, without the person’s name, as they probably help answer some questions other candidates may have or for those who are just curious.

Hello [name withheld]

Nice to hear from you. Delighted to offer any insight I can as you start your ‘journey’. It’s a word I don’t particularly like, but I can’t think of a better one that encapsulates all that you will experience if you go far enough down the road of actually getting a CI.

Thanks for the kind words re the blog. It’s very much stream-of-consciousness stuff and ramblings; I have had the notion of writing something resembling a book or a perhaps an ebook but, to date, I can’t think of an original enough angle beyond the boring memoir genre. But watch this space, as they say. It may not happen for another few months at least as I’m still getting to grips with all the ramifications of my own implant – its only been five months since my switch-on, after all. I would very highly recommend you read Michael Chorost’s memoir, Rebuilt, particularly if you’re at all interested in the technology behind it and the social impact of the technology. I’m no techie myself, but I found it profoundly insightful for a whole variety of reasons. He’s a very good writer, very readable and engaging.

But I shall do my best to answer your very good questions:

Does speech sound like a “Dalek with laryngitis” as a uk politician once said ? 😉
I think this quote is from Jack Ashley, [recently passed away] who got an implant many years ago. It’s worth pointing out that his own implant was probably quite some way behind the current technology, particularly in terms of the number of auditory channels – he might only have eight or even four. Today’s implants have between 16 and 22, depending on which manufacturer you go for. The more channels you have, the better for sound quality. Eight channels sounds far, far rougher than 16 or 22. For me, speech sounded surprisingly normal right from the very beginning, but any of the weirdness that people often describe on being switched on was probably ‘masked’ a good deal by what I still heard in my hearing aid ear. It takes a while for the implanted ear to become the dominant ear, but it does eventually. The short answer is no, speech really sounds quite OK at the beginning and becomes even more normal. Voices in general, for me, sounded a bit more lower-pitched and more monotone. Chaps with deep male voices sounded like they had marbles in their mouths. But that’s the worst thing I can say at this stage. It’s the more complex sounds that are more difficult to process, particularly music (did you read the article of my interview with Richard Reed)?

Would you consider having the second ear done?
Yes, I think I would, although it if were offered to me now, I probably wouldn’t.  Since the implant, my right ear, which was my good ear, seems to have taken a step back and simply isn’t working as hard. I hear so much more in my implanted ear now, which has long since become the dominant ear. Of course, as you probably know, Beaumont doesn’t have the funds to do bilateral implants except in exceptional circumstances, but the more evidence that emerges of the benefits of going bi-lateral (which are growing in number), I think it’s only a matter of time before it becomes more common. In the meantime, the fear that my hearing aid ear would ‘shut down’ (some implantees with a HA ear report that it shuts down very quickly, a matter of months, rendering it practically dead) doesn’t look like it’s going to transpire just yet. When I listen to something on the headphones or speak to someone on the telephone, that is when it’s most useful (and being a journalist, this will be important for me in the short- to medium term). However, my right ear is likely to deteriorate more as the years progress, but it hope it holds up long enough so that by the time I’m considered for a second implant, the technology will have moved on a bit (ie optical cochlear implants seems to be the nearest thing to the next generation, but efforts to stimulate cochlea hair cell ‘regeneration’ seems unlikely to happen for a good twenty or thirty years from now).

How did they decide which ear to do. Were you tempted to get the dominant ear done first?
For some people this is quite an easy decision but for me, this was a very very difficult thing to decide, and even now I’m still not 100pc sure I made the right decision, but I think I did. In the beginning, I was adamant I would get my right ear done first. It had always been my better ear, the ear that gave me all the sharpness and allowed me to appreciate complex music and use the telephone comfortably. So I felt I had an emotional duty to make my right ear the implanted ear, as a reward for all its years of hard work. If that sounds totally stupid, it probably is, but gradually the logic of doing my left, weaker ear became more convincing the more I talked to others and read what other people had to say online about the subject. The main logic, of course, is that if something goes wrong, you still have your better ear. But more than a few people pointed out that doing your weaker ear makes sense on a pure rehabilitation level if you plan to go bilateral eventually – your weaker ear will, by extension, become your stronger one until such a time as you get your second implant. I added a logic of my own, hinted at in the previous question, which is that by the time I do get a second implant, the technology would be better and the auditory ‘memory’ from my right ear and auditory nerve would still be fresh enough to get the most out of it – possibly more than I’m getting out my current implant in my left ear. Basically, my heart said my right, my head said my left, and the head won out.

How long was your wait from your first screening meeting to having the operation?

Exactly a year – slightly shorter than I expected. Some have had to wait longer, others a little shorter, but not by much.

Did they get you to try digital hearing aids and if not why not?
I’ve actually worn digital hearing aids since 1997 and never looked back. I think they made a huge difference in my case – at the time – from analog ones. The second set of digital aids I got, in 2007, were the second most powerful in the range but, by the time of my right ear deterioration in 2009, it become underpowered very quickly. I only found this out when I did the hearing aid review at Beaumont as part of the assessment programme (which they do with practically everyone as I understand it), when the audiologist did a test and prescribed a more powerful Phonak hearing aid. I didn’t realise they made hearing aids more powerful than the ones I had at the time. It made a little difference, but not a whole lot. I still have that hearing aid in my right ear.

Are there many settings to tinker with on the processor and which one did you get?
I got the Cochlear Nucleus 5 processor and the current implant. I would have preferred the Advanced Bionics Harmony processor and implant but, unfortunately, it was the subject of a major recall and the Beaumont wouldn’t use them, so I didn’t have the choice. But I understand the recall has ended and Beaumont are using them once again. Interestingly, one of the many reasons I wanted it was because it was the type of processor that adjusts volumes and sensitivity automatically depending on what situation you are in. The Cochlear version doesn’t do that. However, there isn’t much to fiddle with on the Cochlear processor – just volume and sensitivity. The fiddling is really around the four programmes – everyday, noise, focus and music. I tend to stick with everyday, with noise for noisy settings.

Annoyingly enough, my implant was the subject of a major recall, which was announced ONE day before I got switched on. I can only hope and pray that mine was not part of a duff batch of implants that apparently more or less shut down after a year or two and have to be removed and replaced! So far, no-one in ireland has been affected [ed note: I’ve since learnt that three people to date have been affected]

You may not have the issue of lack of choice by the time you are scheduled for surgery – assuming you are – as the Cochlear recall will probably have ended by then.

If you want me to offer any more advice on which manufacturer you should go for, I’d be happy to. There are all kinds of considerations but, in a nutshell, if I had the choice again, I would still go for AB, even though the processor is bigger and uglier than the Nucleus 5, which is very discreet. The underlying technology seems to be that bit more advanced, and the implant electronics have more space to cater for processor upgrades, so it’s more future-proof, if that makes sense. For many people, it’s a serious consumer maze, but in a way, the whole AB vs Cochlear choice reminds me a little bit like the old Apple vs Microsoft war of the 1980s and 1990s. AB – on the face of it – is like Apple; smaller (although apple is now bigger than MS – go figure), more innovative, more pioneering, and inspires an almost cult following among many techies. Microsoft is Cochlear; still the giant among CI makers, but the technology isn’t as impressive, and the company is more businessy, corporate.

I must emphasise that this is just my view and reflects my own outlooks and attitudes. Take my views on board by all means, but do do your own research and come to your own conclusions – assuming you have the choice when the time comes.

Anyway, I’ll stop now before I bore or bewilder you. But as a final word on the topic, I’m delighted with my Cochlear Nucleus 5. It works in the all the ways that it should and I’ve had no problems to date, touch wood.

Finally – are you happy with it ?

Absolutely. I’m still getting to grips with it and there is more to come, but everything is working well and as it should, which is the biggest relief. As you can probably appreciate by now, it takes time to for it to make the difference and time to habituate yourself to it. Some notice the difference straight away while others take longer – everyone is different. The adjustment phase, for me, is taking longer I think than I expected but only because it’s in my left ear, which was never my good ear. The brain is having to rewire itself to tune more into my left ear than my previously dominant right ear, so that is adding an extra element of adjustment. But what amazes me, even after 6 months, is that the change is still happening – you apparently should reach your ‘peak’ after a year or so, on average – and it has been steady rather than dramatic. But the difference compared to six months ago is dramatic. I’m (just starting) to use the phone again, able to sometimes follow the TV without subtitles, converse with people face to face and in groups far far more easily, hear the radio (still a work-in-progress) etc etc. Not to mention hearing things I’ve never heard before.

I think one of the best things is that I have two young children – 18 months and 5 – and being able to hear them far better than I did before is just the most wonderful gift and at exactly the right time, particularly since they’re both chatterboxes!

In a nutshell, there’s no way to say if you will be happy with it, as the range of outcomes is quite varied, but they do say that those who have normal hearing for at least a few years get the very most out of it. So you, if anything, are far closer to being the ideal candidate than me, and certainly [name withheld].

I’ve yet to meet one implantee who regrets it – although I don’t get out much. The beaumont team are fantastic. You’ll be in very good hands, if it all goes ahead.

Best of luck


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Stuck in a motoring time warp?

My new (to me) classic beemer

If you’re tempted by a 30-year-old beauty, here are the all-important questions you need to ask yourself, says classic car fan John Cradden.

My family, friends and neighbours say I am stuck in a motoring time-warp. It’s probably true. For seven years, I owned a small, two-door BMW saloon from 1974. Before that, I owned a 1972 version.

But a fast-growing young family meant I needed something bigger and more practical, so I recently upgraded to a newer car, a four-door BMW five series — from 1980.

In case you haven’t spotted the pattern, the cars I buy tend to be 30 years old or more — the age cars need to be before they are classified for motor tax purposes as ‘vintage/veteran’ or as a classic.

The classic car bug bit me many years ago and when you become passionate about something, you develop strong opinions.

In fact, if you make the mistake of telling me that you are thinking of buying a classic car, I will take you into the nearest dark corner, shine a bright light in your face and ask you the following questions:

Why do you want a classic car?

Seriously, why? They have bags more style and character? More fun to drive? Yes, those reasons are acceptable, but what’s that last one? They are cheap to run?

I was like you once, many years ago. I also fooled myself into believing it made financial sense.

After all, I didn’t need a car for my daily commute.

But what I didn’t anticipate was becoming so bitten by the bug that I would be happy to lavish large sums of money on their upkeep and spend many hours with my feet sticking out from underneath them.

Classic cars cost, and the moment you neglect them is when you start paying. Yes, yes,  a classic car can hold — even appreciate — in value, but not if you run it into the ground or, worse, let it rust in peace.

What’s your budget?

The sky is the limit here. A 1963 Ferrari GTO recently sold in the UK for €25m.

According to Dermot Flynn, who runs a twice-yearly classic car sale and show event in Swords, Co Dublin, the average budget for a classic right now is between €5,000 and €6,000.

“For this type of money you will do really well and land yourself a really good MG, any Ford that you can think of, a Daimler or a Mercedes.”

If you want to keep your costs down, buy the best example of your preferred model that you can afford.

And don’t even think about a restoration project. Leave that to the hard-bitten classic enthusiasts.

How often will you use it?

If you plan on using it for your everyday commute, some words of caution from Thomas Heavey, editor of popular vintage motoring magazine Irish Vintage Scene: “While some people successfully manage this, I think it will affect the longevity of the life of the car.”

Use it sparingly and you’ll still like it in years to come.

Do you have the number of a sympathetic mechanic?

“It’s not so hard to find someone who will service a classic car,” says Jon Millar, who runs Classic Car Workshop, a Co Clare-based car restoration business.

“It is, however, hard to find someone who can carry out quality restoration work on classic cars as these skills are dying out.” Which leads me to my next question.

Are you a member of a club?

There are hundreds of clubs, with mines of information and contacts for mechanics and restorers.

After all, their members have nearly all experienced the pain at seeing lost, naive people like you who end up paying huge money for what turns out be over-polished rubbish and then lose the will to live when faced with the costs of putting them right.

You can also chat to us at the many shows and events coming up over the summer. I am now looking forward to Classic Car and Motorcycle Live at the Mondello racing circuit on June 17 and the popular Terenure show on July 8.

Hope to see you there.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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What are the scores, George Dawes?

I did the standard CI speech recognition test this morning, which is used to measure progress in understanding speech in CI recipients. Here are my scores, along with the previous ones from 6 months and before.

Pre-op: 14.3%

One week post-op:

CI and Hearing aid: 6%; CI only 0%

3 months post op:

CI and hearing aid: 26.7%; CI only 6%

9 months post-op:

CI and hearing aid: 81%; CI only 55.7%

CI and hearing aid in noise: 48%

The average at 9 months across all Beaumont CI recipients is:

CI and hearing aid: 64.1%; CI only 59.5%

CI and hearing aid in noise: 38.6%

So, pretty good I think. I certainly feel the improvement in almost every way. My score at 12 months (3 months time) should be better still, at this rate.

I nearly ripped off my left big toenail last week, causing quite some pain that still persists, but such was the spring in my step as I walked back to the hospital car park after today’s appointment, I didn’t notice it at all.


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Gardening on a budget

Joanne Butler


You can discover your green fingers with some help from the experts, says John Cradden

For many years, gardening was a relatively inexpensive hobby. It tended to be the preserve of the hardcore green-fingered, and it usually took many years of patience rather than wads of cash to create a beautiful garden.

Then, during the boom years, the humble old gardening trade flourished into a serious industry with new garden centres and designers who could create beautiful gardens in a matter of weeks.

These days, of course, not many of us have the money to splash out on ‘instant gardens’.

But by following a long-established culture of thrift in amateur gardening plus a few tricks picked up from the instant gardening trade, you can really spruce up your garden in a very short time.

1 Buy the best tools you can afford

Gerry Daly, editor of Garden.ie, says: “Buy good quality, serviceable tools, the best you can afford. They are easier to use and last longer.”

Ian Gomersall, a professional gardener who runs organic gardening website Gardening.ie, says cheap tools can actually be dangerous as well as a false economy.

“Cheaply made hand tools are not only a waste of money, they are really dangerous when they break under normal working conditions.”

2 You don’t need too many fancy tools

The experts agree that when it comes to equipment, most gardening can be done with very few tools, such as a spade, fork, secateurs, rake, hoe, mattock (pickaxe), shears, hand trowel and watering can.

“There are a lot of cheap, novelty gardening gadgets on the market designed to be impulse buys, and end up in the bin after a short time,” says Gomersall.

3 Source plants at local sales

There are many places to buy plants, but locally based sales, such as church fares, charity plant sales or bring-and-buy sales, can be great for value, says Daly.

However, he adds that you should do some plant research before buying. “Be wary, as some of the plants on offer can be a touch too vigorous.”

4 But don’t discount supermarket plants

Daly also suggests buying discounted supermarket plants as well as those in garden centres, but focus on small plants, “as they are much cheaper than larger, older plants”.

He also suggests making the most of what you buy from these outlets. “Buy perennial flowers in a garden centre, grow them on for a year or two and split them into several plants for re-planting,” says Daly.

However, Gomersall is sceptical about the quality or suitability of plants sold at supermarkets. “Some of the supermarket plants and flowers come straight from controlled environments ideally suited to their growing needs,” he says, adding that once they fall into the hands of a consumer, they are usually short-lived.

5 Share plants and seedlings

Daly points out how the social ‘glue’ of gardening also contributes to it being relatively inexpensive as a hobby. For instance, many gardeners will have swapped plants and produce with friends and neighbours for many years. “There is a great tradition of plant swapping, and passing on, in gardening,” he says.

6 Join bartering groups

Gomersall reports that LETS (local exchange trading system) groups, where people buy and sell goods through bartering, are growing again around the country after being neglected during the economic boom.

“The active groups do a lot of trading in plants and vegetables. Groups such as the GIY (Grow It Yourself) set-up are growing, too, in many areas, and local gardening clubs are more popular than ever.”

7 Join a club or use social networking sites

“Join a gardening club in your locality and avail of proven local expertise and advice,” says Daly.

Social networking is a great resource for obtaining information and tips about basic garden design, says Gomersall, and there’s loads of great websites and forums on the subject as well as computer programmes created to help you design your perfect garden.

8 Recycle items for use in the garden

The world of gardening has long been a hotbed of recycling activity.

“You can recycle lots of items for use in the garden, such as plastic packaging trays for seeds and yogurt cups for seedlings, drinks bottles for covering early plants,” says Daly.

Other funky recycling suggestions we picked up include re-using old Belfast sinks, wheelbarrows, buckets and even old wellies.

9 Check out allotments — but only if they make sense

If you have no garden at home, allotments can make sense for growing your own veg, but only if they are really close to home, says Gomersall.

“The community gardens on housing estates will prove to be the most cost-effective and popular options in the future as you will generally be able to walk to the plot and deal directly with your veggie-growing neighbours.”

In rural areas, by contrast, most will favour growing in their own garden, even if it is less social.

10 Sound out an expert

If you are completely clueless but want to get a head-start in building your garden sanctuary, it may be worth your while seeking out professional help.

“It could work out good value for money getting a professional in to design a complete plan for the garden as alterations can be costly later,” says Gomersall.

He suggests looking at three or more of the designer’s gardens and working out a contract before starting.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

Case study

When Joanne Butler and her family moved to a cottage in Gortahork, Co Donegal, in 2008, they didn’t foresee how the recession would change their ambitious plans for the garden which, at that time, was just run-down land.

After renovating their 300-year-old cottage, Joanne said: “We had to take stock and to start planning the garden more carefully, more slowly and more imaginatively with no money left in the bank, so to speak.”

Armed with a plan and a well-researched shortlist of suitable plants, she found that buying 400 plants at €2 each on average was going to be too expensive.

“This is when I found my love of propagation. I found an old overgrown box hedge on a walk one day, and took a few cuttings from that. When they grew for two years, I took about 40 cuttings from them, and now this year I will hopefully get the 400 cuttings I’m looking for, and in two years’ time they will be ready to go in the garden.”

If she does buy seeds, she uses an online retailer in Co Mayo, called seedaholic.com. “My limit is usually €20 per year.”

Joanne enrolled in a short horticulture course in 2009, on which she met many like-minded gardeners. “This was a great way for me to start swapping seeds and plants and also be able to borrow tools I couldn’t really afford or that I only needed on a one-off basis.”

She also hooked up with a neighbour with a “wealth of experience and knowledge of what grew in our area”, after which she left with a “car-load” of slips and cuttings.

Joanne has also made plans for cost-effective maintenance once the garden is finished, including investing in a wormery and collecting rain for watering by any means available, such as old baths, the wheelbarrow and so on.

For any major work that might be needed in the future, Joanne has joined a small, local bartering group called Let’s Link Donegal. “So, instead of me paying money, for example, to someone helping me plant 100 trees, I will offer them in return something that they might need.”

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Deaf village project

A €25 million community development designed for deaf people will open in September, writes John Cradden

AFTER FIVE years of planning and a huge amount of consultation, the first and most significant phase of a new €25 million community village development for deaf people is set to officially open in Dublin this September.

The development, to be officially named Deaf Village Ireland, will be located at a 30-acre site off the Navan Road in Cabra, and will be the base for a set of new administrative, social, religious, sports and residential facilities designed specifically for deaf people.

These include offices, shops, a sports centre, a museum and residential accommodation for deaf adults as well as for boarders at a new deaf school, which will merge the existing boys’ and girls’ schools on the site.

But during consultations with local politicians, Government and local authority officials over the past five years, the various deaf organisations involved in the project have had to fend off criticisms about the very nature of it.

The criticisms have been many, but the general thrust appears to be that the idea of having nearly all of the available services and facilities for deaf people on a single campus goes against the grain of the Government’s disability policy, which is to integrate as many of the services for people with disabilities as possible into mainstream institutions, including education.

Indeed, some have reportedly gone as far as to argue the village will end up creating something of a deaf “ghetto” or a kind of social enclave, effectively re-institutionalising deaf people or sectioning them off from wider society.

However, the unanimity of the response to these criticisms from all the partners involved in the project appears to have helped them win the argument – and a €3 million Government grant towards the project.

Liam O’dwyer, chief executive of the Catholic Institute for Deaf People (CIDP), which has spearheaded the development, confirms that this is “a subject that has come up all the time”.

The response, he says, is very simple: “Deaf people need other deaf people to use sign language. Deaf people therefore want to be with hearing people who sign and deaf people who sign. It’s very much as simple as that.”

Brendan Lennon of Deafhear, the country’s largest service provider to deaf people, says: “Some people believe that it (the deaf village) is inconsistent with the government policy of mainstreaming, but we believe that this is a misconception.

“Deaf people who are ISL (Irish Sign Language) users need to be able to meet, socialise and make friends together just as hearing people do. This is actually consistent with mainstreaming, where people can meet with their peers and participate on an equal basis.”

O’dwyer doesn’t dispute the wider trend in the disability sector towards mainstreaming, but says “the needs are different for deaf people. The policy makers need to understand that and they still don’t understand that”.

Kevin Stanley, founder of disability organisation Inclusive Enterprises and a consultant to the project, says: “I don’t agree for a minute that the deaf village would ghettoise or effectively section off the deaf community. It will be quite the opposite, as it will become a gateway to opportunities and services, not only to deaf and hard of hearing people, but also hearing people.”

But he also believes the village will provide a space for deaf people that will help cultivate a stronger deaf culture and identity based on using Irish Sign Language.

The project was sparked in 2008 after the CIDP’S €15 million sale of the St Vincent’s Deaf Centre on the Lr Drumcondra Road to the RPA for the Metro North line in 2008.

The village project took its inspiration from a number of projects overseas, but particularly the Lighthouse in Finland, a large building with a similar range of centralised services and facilities to those planned for the Irish project, which was built just over 20 years ago.

The project team also consulted widely on the design of the new development, including with a Us-based architect with experience in creating “deaf-friendly” spaces. According to O’dwyer, this involves considering how buildings and landscaping can be designed to make using sign language easier, such as wider paths and corridors, brighter colours and lighting, and removing objects that might block peoples’ view of signing.

To outsiders, the word “deaf” in the Deaf Village Ireland might turn out to be a bit of a misnomer as it becomes clear that the village has no intention of excluding hearing people, but if they have no knowledge of – or intention of learning – Irish Sign Language, then they may not feel quite at home. “The commonality in the village is not deafness, it’s sign language,” says O’dwyer.

One issue about the village that would prove contentious within the deaf community was about who would run it. While it was accepted that the CIDP will own the land and buildings in the new development, the organisation decided, after much consultation, that it would take a hands-off approach to the running of it.

O’dwyer candidly admits that many groups within the deaf community are “understandably” wary of the CIDP as a Catholic organisation, based on experiences they would have had in the past. But by fully embracing the principle of community-led development, the CIDP fostered the idea of setting up a separate management company run by deaf people themselves, and on which it will have just one seat on the board.

“I think once they saw CIDP was putting in place, or enabling the deaf community to put in place its own management company to run the village, then the community was satisfied and ultimately are now running the project.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Times Insight quarterly magazine

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Dream bangers

There’s a lot to be said for old workhorse cars – they may be long on mileage, but for the most part, they’re much shorter
on cost than their shinier, newer counterparts, writes JOHN CRADDEN

CARS IN IRELAND generally live a hard life. Motorists here do higher average mileages than those in other EU countries, and it’s also remarked that we tend not to look after them very well. But thanks to the establishment of the NCT 12 years ago and a slowly improving culture of regular car maintenance, allied with big strides forward in car mechanical longevity, many thousands of older, faithful workhorses are still to be seen on Irish roads, still in very good condition and still going the distance for their owners.

According to the Society of the Motor Industry (Simi) figures, the number of cars more than 10 years old has almost doubled in five years, from nearly 274,000 in 2006 to more than 471,000 by the end of 2010.

It wasn’t so long ago that cars were only expected to reach the 100,000-mile mark before giving expensive trouble, but these days the average car is reasonably expected to run to 150,000-200,000 miles without too much bother — as long as it is still well looked-after.

(That’s miles, not kilometres, by the way. We may have changed over to the metric system in 2005, but dealers say most of us still live in imperial land when talking about car mileages.)

The owners and cars featured here nicely illustrate the many virtues of keeping cars going for as long as possible. As well as saving money, most of them have racked up so many miles with relatively little trouble that their owners have become quite attached to them.

At least two of the cars here exude a nice “banger chic”, while another is well on the way to becoming a popular classic.

All the cars have mileages of between 155,000 and 215,000 which, while impressive, are probably nowhere near the top of Ireland’s (non-taxi) car mega-mileage league.

For instance, a certain company car park in Co Galway contains, among others, four hard-working VW Boras, none younger than 2004 and none with less than 250,000 miles. A mechanic in Co Longford reportedly services four Skoda Superbs with odometer readings ranging from 250,000 to a staggering 496,000.

In terms of car makes, it’s no shock to find the Germans, Swedes and Japanese represented here as they consistently tend to be among the best-built and most reliable, but we also heard of a Renault and a Citroen – both nine years old – that are already pushing their odometers close to the 300,000-mile mark.

However, it will be interesting to see if as many of today’s new cars will still be around in 10 or 15 years time. Judging by reports on several online motoring forums, the trade-off for the huge strides in fuel efficiency, emissions and safety in cars over the past five to 10 years is that there are more things to go wrong. Early failures of highly complex components and electrickery are now proving so expensive to repair or replace that they may well become uneconomic to fix sooner rather than later – and long before the end of their useful mechanical lives.

Indeed, the 1990s and early noughties may come to be regarded as a something of a golden era for car-longevity engineering; with excellent rust-protection but still relatively lo-tech, cars over 10 years old are still cheap to fix.

Only time will tell.


Kilkenny Labour Party councillor Michael O’Brien has racked up 201,000 miles in his 1998 Rover 600, which may surprise some, given how cars made by the now-defunct British company didn’t always have the best reputation for reliability. But it turns out the Rover 600 is basically a re-badged Honda Accord. Bought at two years old, it has proved not just a faithful and dependable hack, but very cheap to run.

“I think that for age-to-mileage ratio divided by maintenance outlay, it’s hard to beat this Rover. All she ever got was consumables and an oil change and filters every 20,000 miles.” The biggest repair bill was for damage to the radiator caused by overheating, but was repaired for just €195. “Great value.”

But running costs aren’t everything when it comes to being happy with a car. “Most of us confuse knowing the price of most things, but how can anyone deduce the real value of something so precious as a good wagon?” asks O’Brien.

So far, he has resisted pressure from his wife to upgrade the “ould banger”, but if he had to change?

“I’d like to have one of the latest 2.2litre diesel Jaguars, a real socialist’s car.”


Most classic car enthusiasts tend to drive their prized motors only at weekends and holidays and garage them over the winter, but not Brendan Purcell. He still puts his 1990 BMW 318is through the daily grind of commuting to work as well as weekend runs taxiing his kids around.

Purcell, from Ratoath, Co Meath, bought the car in 1999 with 82,000 miles on the clock. Today, the odometer shows an impressive 215,000, and it’s still highly presentable. “It has only let me down twice since I bought it, but has been very reliable for the last four years,” said Purcell.

It’s one of the iconic cars of the 1980s, and there’s no doubt about its emerging status as a classic; Brendan maintains a popular website devoted to his particular model.

“When I first bought it, I spent quite a while upgrading and repairing various things. But in recent years it’s only needed wear-and-tear expenditure. I’m fortunate that I can do a lot of work on the car myself.”

However, he has had to pay more attention to the bodywork now that small bits of rust are appearing. “It goes to the bodyshop at least once a year now.”


Most examples of high-mileage cars tend to be larger models with big engines, but Hilton McWeeney’s 1997 Suzuki Swift shows how small cars are just as capable of going the distance. Bought in 2000, the odometer now reads around 165,000.“Growing up, we always kept our cars until they could go no more, and I would always have expected this car to do the same,” says McWeeney, who lives in Maynooth, Co Kildare. “To be honest, though, I would have expected the car to have given up the ghost by now.”

It’s given him little trouble and has only required standard wear-and-tear replacement parts (it’s still on the original clutch), and he does most of the maintenance himself. He wasn’t tempted to avail of the recent scrappage scheme, but nearly bought a replacement three years ago before changing his mind.

“I still get slagged by friends over having the Swift for so long, but doing the numbers, over the years they’ve spent thousands on cars whilst I’ve spent a fraction of that on maintenance costs.”


Old-style, boxy Volvo estates are a firm favourite with the housewives brigade, but if Isabelle Mooney’s experience is anything to go by, they also deserve their reputation for longevity.

She previously drove her family around in two secondhand 240 estates before upgrading to their current model, a 1997 940, which they’ve owned from new.

“We expected that we’d get at least 15 years from the 940 as the earlier cars were sold in perfect working order,” she said. “I read Volvo adverts years ago showing that average life was about 19 years, compared with something like 12 for other cars, so I can well believe it.”

Initially a company car with just about every optional extra available, it has covered 155,000 miles to date. Much of that mileage included undertaking no less than ten 4,000-mile round summer trips all the way to Switzerland and back.

In daily service since new, but serviced strictly by the book, it’s still on the original brake discs, shocks and exhaust. It needed a clutch, an air conditioning compressor, and a water pump. “It has been a tremendous workhorse and it really is part of the family,” says Mooney, who lives in Dublin with her two teenage daughters, a dog, three cats and five chickens.

This article was first printed in the Irish Times

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