Róisín Ingle: We need joy and distraction, whether it’s Taylor Swift or rugby

You find it wherever you can when man’s inhumanity is dominating a relentlessly dark news cycle

Seeking joy and distraction in bleak times, on Friday I rented out a cinema in the Dublin suburb of Coolock to bring my mother to see Barbie. What I mean is when we got there and I realised screen five was completely empty except for us two, I tried to convince my mother that I’d rented it out. The cinema trip was a belated 84th birthday gift. My mother had previously announced that she didn’t want actual presents any more, she wanted “experiences”. At 84, I reckoned she didn’t mean bungee jumping or a hot-air balloon ride. My mind went immediately to Barbie.

This was her first time at Greta Gerwig’s effervescent feminist masterpiece and my fifth because I am a glutton for entertainment. The taxi driver heartily approved of our choice of movie. He’d seen Barbie himself with his wife and grown-up son and daughter. They all had a marvellous time even though they’d initially planned to see Oppenheimer. “Still haven’t seen Oppenheimer,” he said. “Neither have we,” said my mother and I.

The traffic was bad so we were slightly late to the screening. Rushing carefully into the cinema, as quickly as my mother’s dodgy knee and eyesight issues would allow, I realised I was still scarred by another time I went to the cinema with her to see A Beautiful Mind in Belfast back in the early noughties. On that occasion she tripped on the stairs going up to our seat and broke her leg. She was taken out of the place by ambulance and never did get to see A Beautiful Mind. For Barbie in Coolock we carefully navigated the cinema stairs and sat down safely, just missing the beginning of the movie. Even after five views, Barbie had lost none of its power for joy and distraction, while the first time for my mother was a charm.

Joy and distraction. You find it wherever you can when man’s inhumanity to men, women and children is dominating a relentlessly dark news cycle. Some people find it in sport. On Saturday, my rugby loving friend tried to shake me out of a lifelong ambivalence towards that game. He was worried that by taking no interest in Ireland’s attempt to get past the quarterfinal stage of the World Cup for the first time, I’d be “on the wrong side of history” if we made it through. We went to watch the match in The Circular in Rialto which was simultaneously celebrating Oktoberfest and Ireland vs the All Blacks. There were skeins of beer and at least one person wearing lederhosen. My friend drank Guinness while I sipped unpatriotic spicy Margaritas and tried to keep up with the game. I learned a few things. That kicking a perfect ball through the posts is “dissecting the uprights”. That the game of rugby has elements of ballet, chess and boxing. That Peter O’Mahony cultivates a nice hedge. Even though we lost, my friend says I’m on “a rugby journey” now. To my surprise, I might well be.


On Sunday, still jonesing for joy and distraction, I went with seven other Swifties to see Taylor Swift: Eras Tour the Movie. “Are you going to sing along?” an American women asked when we entered the cinema. “No,” I lied, worried that she was prejudging our cinema etiquette. “Oh,” they said. “We are.” “So are we,” I owned up, relieved. We took the back row because we knew we’d be dancing (and scream singing and possibly sobbing) for most of the nearly three-hour spectacle and didn’t want to block anyone’s view.

I envy those who have yet to dive into the Taylor Swift universe, I’d like that thrill of discovering her work for the first time. Like my friend trying to turn me on to rugby, I want to shake everyone who thinks she’s not for them. Most of these people are wrong. They have yet to realise that Swift’s storytelling expands far beyond her own experiences and forensically interrogates the tragedies, achievements and challenges all of us face in life. She makes the personal universal. Think you’re not into Swift? Go and see the Eras movie and then come back and talk to me. You’ll see a woman at the top of her artistic game, serving up a playful, powerful, public display of emotion like no other. “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 52,” I scream sang from the back row, making her song 22 more age-appropriate for me. “It’s miserable and magical,” I continued, a lyric that needed no amending. The catharsis was real.

I’ll bring my mother, not a Swiftie, to see the film at some point to test out my theory that it’s impossible not to be moved by that concert movie. Meanwhile next month, for part two of my mother’s experiential birthday gift, I booked us tickets to see the musical Carousel in the beautifully renovated Stella cinema in Rathmines. It’s a film which was first released nearly 70 years ago when my mother was a teenager. Back then she had a dress made exactly like the one worn by the movie’s star Shirley Jones. She remembers my dad singing the songs when he was a young man. It will transport her to a different time and place. Joy and distraction. Seek it, find it, savour it. Wherever you can.