The Thrill of a new Term

Maggie Armstrong’s school days may be far behind her, but she still cherishes the feeling of a new beginning …

“September has come, it is hers/Whose vitality leaps in the autumn/Whose nature prefers trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place”. Louis MacNeice wrote these words about an undisclosed woman in his Autumn Journal. It’s a melancholy poem that was written between the Spanish Civil War and World War II, with September cast as the beginning of the end. It is mostly about this mysterious, autumnal woman, who has a decadent interest in fashion, “Taking enormous notice/Of hats and back chat”.

Are you feeling it too? The novelty, the potential, the schooldays thrill of it all? The season of patent black shoes, popsocks and crisp white shirts; of new pencil cases, gel pens and copy books. September has come, and with it stationery, timetables and falling leaves. Term. Are you in? Are you too, by order of the calendar, going to turn over a Fresh Page?

On the first week of First Year in school I wasn’t feeling it. If you’ll allow some introspection, we’ll use my school days as a “jumping off point” for talking about yours. Because what we forget is that, at one time, September was terrifying. The following incident should remind you of the blustering confusion that September’s flurry of Fresh Pages can create. And the importance of attending to them in good time.

In French class on that first week, in our dimly-lit box classroom adjoining the convent we weren’t allowed to enter – nor run down the corridors of – stooped Sisters carried trays of dinner. Madame McCarthy told every girl to buy a Varsity ruled A4 pad. “The first thing you need is a Varsity ruled A4 Pad, girls,” she trilled, a Napoleonic shape in an unspooling purple cardigan that reached her knees. “Then we’ll start our conjugations.” She shook her Anna Wintour bob, which was infrequently dyed plum. We all looked on dismally. Our teacher’s Joie de Septembre failed to stir the doom-laden little classroom.

This story appears in the September issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday October 2

To Have And To … Hyphenate?

Getting married may be clear-cut but the question of husband’s vs maiden name is as complicated as ever, says Pamela Erens

Last year, my husband and I marked our 20th wedding anniversary – 20 years of being joined by law, yet maintaining different last names. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t assume that I would keep my name if I ever married. Most of my friends were of the same mind and, when I did marry, there was plenty of support for my choice. It was 1993. I had the sense that “everyone” was now doing the separate-names thing, and that the trend would continue until it was the norm.

That hasn’t turned out to be the case. Statistics are hard to come by, but the consensus is that the practice of brides keeping their names peaked in the 1990s and has tailed off since. It was never the dominant choice – name-keepers in the US, for example, never rose above around a quarter of the female married population. (Hyphenators and couples who select a brand new name to share have always been a very small minority.) There are some signs that the tide may be reversing again; a 2013 UK Facebook survey of millions of users found that a third of women in their 20s had kept their maiden name. But it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see all brides-to-be choosing one path rather than the other. That’s an indication that the marriage-naming nexus is complicated, with no ready-made, one-fits-all cultural solution.

For me, the choice was both instinctive and informed by feminism; the two, in my case, are not easily distinguishable. I didn’t believe that marriage was going to make me a brand new person, a person somehow more “Ratner” (my husband’s name) than “Erens.” I’d never been a starry-eyed romantic, and I eschewed many of the other traditional wedding trappings as well, such as the voluminous wedding train, the veil, and the cheque to pay for it all from Dad. These seemed to me to be false and inappropriate symbols of childlikeness and purity, and I felt neither childlike nor pure. I was 30 years old, and my husband-to-be and I had already been living together for over two years. I’d been in the workforce for eight.

This story appears in the July/August issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Saturday September 6

The New Volumes

Load up your luggage – or your Kindle – with great, engrossing holiday reads

Light and Lovely
The Vacationers 
by Emma Straub
Emily Straub’s dysfunctional Post family decide to take their first holiday together in years in The Vacationers – but as each family member’s secrets come spilling out, their trip to Mallorca brings about more discoveries than they bargained for. With smart, sassy characters and snappy dialogue, it’s a witty summer read. Riverhead Books, €8.99.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Set in 1920s London, bestselling author Sarah Water’s new novel The Paying Guests explores tensions and culture clash that emerges between an impoverished widow and the paying lodgers she’s obliged to take into her home – a modern young couple belonging to the emerging clerk class. Virago, €20.85, out August 28.

The Hive by Gill Hornby
Gill Hornby’s latest is a delicious exploration of the school-run hierarchy and the perfect holiday read – though it might make you dread the return to the school gates in September. This bestseller is new in paperback. Little Brown, €21.50.

Friendship by Emily Gould
Former blogger and Gawker co-editor Emily Gould makes a two-in-one publishing debut with her novel,  Friendship, and a collection of essays, The Heart Says Whatever. Gould epitomises the Gen-Y experience, but her sharp and witty prose has a broad appeal. Virago, €14.24.

This story appears in the July/August issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Saturday September 6

Fake It Till You Make It

Kate and Pippa Middleton are the poster girls for the Fake It Till You Make It mantra. It’s one way to get ahead socially and professionally but can you handle the effort required? Penny Mc Cormick isn’t sure she can …

By my own admission I am not an “early adopter”. Therefore I have eschewed variously and in no particular order; the 5:2 diet, juicing, Shellac pedicures, It Bags, Facebook, Fraxel, Twitter, jeggings, Louboutins and Selfies. No wonder I’ve been immune to the Fake It Till You Make It philosophy of life and love. In my defence, I was brought up to “say what you mean and mean what you say”. After all, the Fake It facts of life are alien to Irish reticence and our notorious “shyness in coming forwards” – or at least to my generation. I am 42. 

However, I’ve worked with many a Faker and watched them in action. You know the sort; relentlessly upbeat about everything, always sporting the latest trend, and seemingly moving up the corporate ladder with artful progress. They’re often not particularly clever. But an overriding confidence and an unshakable belief that life is theirs for the taking trumps intellect any day. When I heard of designer L’Wren Scott’s untimely death, my first thought was sadly that she was faking it too; the lifestyle, the parties, the boyfriend and the successful design empire. Poor L’Wren. She was swimming in a bigger shark-infested pond than the rest of us and it obviously got the better of her. In contrast, fellow designer Tory Burch is a Faker survivalist. “I think you can have it all,” she says, “You just have to know it’s going to work.” Classic Faker mantra.

Rule #1 Only Connect
No such thing as a day off or evening at home in the Faker handbook. Whether attending the opening of an envelope or a Parents’ Association meeting, networking is key. I’ve never set much store by business card exchanges but I’ve followed up religiously on new contacts and have had a good response with invitations to lunches and dinners. Result: I’ve made new friends and more work has followed.

This story appears in the July/August issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Saturday September 6

Travelling Light

Claudia Carroll packs away her trepidation and enjoys the highs and lows of learning to fly a single-engine aircraft

I love travelling by plane. Childhood memories still linger of my very first flight to London, back in the day when glamorous air hostesses handed out sweets before take off and the captain casually strolled down the aisle mid-journey, politely asking passengers if they were enjoying their flight.

Which is why, the minute an opportunity arose to take a flying lesson, I didn’t hesitate. Like Amelia Earhart, I envisaged myself cruising the skies with skillful ease, cool, calm and collected. After several (six!) cancellations due to “incoming thunderstorms” and “widespread cloud cover” (despite it being June), I wondered how light aircraft ever make it off the runway in Ireland. But finally on a clear, sunny afternoon I drove to Weston Airport in Lucan to meet my instructor Shane Connolly.

He began by explaining that although the lesson would last two hours, the first hour would be spent in the classroom. That curbed my giddy excitement. But Connolly quickly explained that it was vital to understand the critical points of flying before I took to the air. With the aid of several diagrams he explained the basics: the plane’s altimeter shows altitude (the plane’s height in the sky), and should never exceed 2,000 feet so as not to interfere with the flow of air traffic over Dublin airport; the vertical speed indicator is similar to the speedometer of a car, but with a giant zero in the nine o’clock position. The goal when airborne is to maintain this zero reading at all times so the aircraft flies on the straight and narrow. The control column, which looks like a rectangular shaped steering wheel, will increase altitude when pulled out and decrease it when depressed. Then came Connolly’s most important tip of all. “Never trust your eyes, only your instruments.” I started to get a bit antsy when he added, “If John F Kennedy Junior had remembered that much, he’d still be alive today.”

On that sobering note, we head to the runway, which is the size of an average garden path. The 30-year-old, single-engine Cessna light aircraft I’ll be flying has an engine that looks just large enough to power a small lawnmower. But before I have time to hesitate, I’m being strapped into a tiny two-seater cockpit.

This story appears in the July/August issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Saturday September 6