Katherine Butler: Stand up, tick box and be counted

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The people of Ireland have booted out their hopeless leaders but many of them aren't hanging around to see if things improve; they're voting with their feet. A thousand a week are already fleeing in a new wave of emigration. The exodus represents an appalling brain and revenue drain for an already shattered economy, but is it necessarily a personal tragedy for those who go elsewhere in search of work and, who knows, adventure, love, fortune, fame? Think of the Irish in Britain: Philip Treacy, the celebrity milliner, who will be hatting out the bridal party at the royal wedding, or Dubliner Orla Kiely, whose design empire seems destined for world domination, comedian Dara Ó Bríain, Graham Norton, Fiona Shaw, the list is long. I doubt any of these Irish success stories would mourn that they left home.

From the moment I set foot in Paris for the first time at the age of 14, I knew I wanted to live in other places too. My days would be filled with reading Simone de Beauvoir on the cafe terraces of the Left Bank, I decided. Which doesn't mean I don't sympathise with those now on lonely journeys to the gold mines of Kalgoorlie. But most of the younger people leaving the Irish collapse will be educated, skilled, networked, confident, potentially more like commuters than emigrants. If they find jobs, there is no reason they won't embrace a multicultural metropolis like London where nobody cares where anyone else comes from. I don't crave Barry's Tea or Flahavan's Progress Oatlets, and more importantly, I have in the UK, the same legal rights as any British or European citizen. So why would I want to bang on about my ethnicity in the upcoming UK census as a campaign called "How Irish are you?" encourages me to? That surely would be a pointless, rather depressing exercise in ghettoisation.

Or so I thought until I heard the ebullient chef Richard Corrigan speak at his Mayfair restaurant the other night. The Michelin-starred Corrigan, who is even more unsentimental about Ireland than I am and has courted controversy by attacking failures in Irish farming and food production (he once described Irish chicken as "shit"), hosted charities who work with the least glamorous, least fashionable, most forgotten Irish, those who moved to Britain in the 1950s and '60s. The situation of many of them is shocking: they are the only migrant group whose physical and mental health deteriorated after moving to Britain; they have the highest rates of cancer of any minority group in the country; they suffer a disproportionately high incidence of dementia and the problems persist into the second and third generations.

Sadly, the charities find that many successful Irish want nothing to do with the "invisible" group; they don't want to be associated with failure. "Maybe", as Corrigan pointed out, "we don't get involved because we always think one day we'll be off home ourselves." Jennie McShannon of the Federation of Irish Societies told me she meets elderly Irish women who say they haven't been to the doctor in years "because he's in County Clare". They've paid their taxes in Britain, but don't dare to trouble the system.

The inclusion for the first time of an "Irish" box in the forthcoming census is a breakthrough which will improve statistics and lobbying clout, which matters as the axe falls on public spending. Even if you have British nationality, but you are second or third generation Irish, you can tick it. A hundred years ago, the 1911 UK census was the last one to include the island of Ireland. My great grandmother was asked to record ability to speak the Irish language, and whether anyone in the house was deaf, dumb, blind, idiot, imbecile or lunatic. History brings things around in neat circles.





A lesson learnt in loco parentis



I'm usually underwhelmed by the "I don't know how she does it" crowd who write bestsellers about how exhausting it is to be a parent. Now, based on what may or may not be recent personal experience, is the plot of my own new bestseller about a carefree single woman who undertakes to babysit her golden-haired nieces, both under six, while their parents grab a rare weekend in the Big Smoke.

Aunt arrives like Supernanny, imagining junior yoga sessions, only fruit for treats and a ban on mindless television. What could possibly go wrong? Chicken pox for a start. Weekend evolves into temperature-taking, Dozol-administering, Peppa Pig-flavoured housebound marathon. Woman unable to work oven, allows children to eat Chipsticks and watch too much TV.

Night falls, many stories are read but then family dog starts behaving oddly. Exhausted aunt has forgotten to give dog vital tablet prompting protracted seizure. Guilt-ridden, she sits with dog into early hours, both zombified by cartoons (did you know there are channels where shows called Frances the Badger and Strawberry Shortcake screen all night?). Five minutes after falling asleep woman hears the cries of tiny voices. "It's nearly morning, can we get into your bed?" She is forced to accept that parents have very complex lives, and like the Uncle Buck character in the forgotten 1980s John Hughes film of that name, realises that maybe there are things missing from her own.





Sick of the sound of it



Maybe now that The King's Speech has been festooned with prizes, people will start pronouncing the central character's name correctly. I'm not talking about the George bit, but the VI bit. I can't be the only one who has noticed how many people say "SICK-th" instead of "SIX-th". Even on the Today programme, I hear it, as in inflation rose for the "sickth" time this quarter. It sounds unpleasant but no doubt, I will be informed the reason people are making this shift has either to do with social networking or that it's "generational".

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