Monday, December 13, 2010

A Candle in the Window


Christmas is a time for memories. I was very lucky to grow up in a reasonably normal home where we had a fairly traditional Christmas. Christmas was a far more modest event back then. Our decorations were of the paper variety and were strung from the four corners of the room to the centre ceiling light. Our Christmas tree was decorated in multicoloured baubles and lots of tinsel. Tinsel also adorned mirrors and pictures on the walls. The only fairy lights were, what we considered to be, very sophisticated Cinderella Carriage lights which were strung on the tree.

As a child the magic of Christmas Eve was always special. I remember the mounting sense of anticipation, tinged by the slight worry that I may not be able to get to sleep. One of my clearest memories is of watching out the windows as the light died and darkness fell. My mother would come into the front room and hitch up the net curtains in order to place a lighted candle on the window sill. I gazed out into the street, waiting as each of our neighbours did likewise. In 70s Ireland the only premises that were adorned in Christmas lights were pubs, shops and hotels. So the simple single candle in the windows of homes all over the countryside was a powerful symbol of hope and of welcome.

I am a great believer in the need for change and for progress. Life is fluid and little remains the same and that is a good thing. I indulge in fairly lights all over the house for Christmas and I string a set into the tree in the front garden – like many of my neighbours. Candles are a common feature in most homes nowadays and are lit year around.

But on Christmas Eve, as the light drains from the sky I often wish it were not so. I imagine a brief pause in all the excitement and a turning off of all the fairy lights – just for a few minutes. In the quiet and in the darkness and with appropriate reverence I wish to could again watch as each house could placed their simple, single candle in the window. Each one spilling its modest brilliance into the darkness of this special night.

But instead I will do what I always do. I will close my adult eyes and re-imagine the darkness of the 70s neighbourhood where I grew up and see again the flickering light in each window. I will recall just how powerful and poignant symbol a hope and of welcome these candles are. And I will take my lantern and light my own candle. And although it will be somewhat lost in the glow of my fairy lights, it carries the same, very Irish message, unchanged for many hundreds of years. There is a welcome here. Hope lives here.

Nollaig Shona Duit Go Leir!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW.......

Finally we have something different to talk about! And to think about.

Snow.

Tons of it.

Snow like I am not sure I have ever seen before in Dublin and I am very old!

This morning as I write this, there is a white out here in Cabinteely. My world has been gifted a thick duvet cover of artic brightness. Our roads are beautifully quiet. The special, gentle hush that snowfall always brings. It’s as if the whole world is an awe of Mother Nature’s ability to so beautify our surroundings.

The cats are bemused and horrified in equal measure and our elderly matriarch is particularly put out! Her old bones are too old for deep snow.

Today we are having our first duvet day of the snowy weather, with the exception of Carla who left the house before the blizzard and caught the bus to work. I do hope she finishes early so she can get home safely.

At the moment the girls are out with their friends, building snowmen and throwing snowballs. Later they will come in, red faced, wet and exhausted and we will do some baking. As the sun heads west, we will light the fire and sit around eating the results of our baking. And I hope we will remember how lucky we are.
So Ireland, I hope everyone is warm and well stocked up and able to enjoy Narnia outside our doors. Check your neighbours – especially the elderly! And don’t forget the birdies… although I got more than I bargained for when I tried to put out bread for a pair of doves! Those are seagulls! Hitchcock does Narnia!!!





Monday, November 15, 2010

"Where has all the money gone?"


7 Billion, 24 billion, 35 billion….
Bail Out,
ECB,
Bond Markets,
Ollie Rehn,
Front loaded adjustments,
Budget deficit,
Blah Blah Blah,
Gobbeldy gook
It streams from my radio.
It jumps from the pages of my newspapers.
It scares me to death and yet it is meaningless.
Intangible.
Words, totally unconnected to my day to day existence.
But yet words that are part now of the soundtrack to our lives.

Before these words became common language, long, long ago, at the very beginning of this recession, my daughter Mia, then 8 years old asked me “Mom, where has all the money gone?” At the time I smiled at her innocent grasp of the new financial reality. “Yes, child” I answered her “wouldn’t it be great if the Government could just print some more money for us all.”

I was recounting this anecdote recently to a friend when I thought again of her question “where has all the money gone?” The question stayed with me all day. Yes, where indeed has all the money gone?

Our current financial meltdown was triggered in large part by the property developers. The men who paid hugely inflated prices for parcels of land on which they had ambitious and unimaginative plans to build houses and apartments. We all know what happened next. The property market collapsed. The land became almost worthless and the developers couldn’t pay back the huge loans they had borrowed from greedy and clueless bankers.

So, Mia innocently asked “where did all the money go?” Someone got paid the large sums borrowed from the banks, which we are now effectively paying back! Surely there is a case to be made for an investigation into those who were paid the hugely inflated prices for their land. I understand that this is how land and property speculation works. But it is morally right that this modest cohort of people, whose bank accounts now bulge with possibly millions of euro, should be allowed to hold onto it? Meanwhile our Government considers reducing the Old Age Pension, Children’s Allowance and other benefits, our young people emigrate in thousands and our economy collapses all around us. We in effect are paying for their financial windfall.

To go after this money, would take courage and determination. I know that it wouldn’t solve all our problems, but it would go some way towards restoring a sense of fair play to the rest of us who profited only very modestly by comparison and then only by working hard during the Celtic Tiger’s roar. At the very least surely some kind of extra tax could be levied on the millions paid for what are now useless fields of dreams.

My daughter has a point – “where did all the money go”. We know where a lot of it went, and we seem happy to pay it back in order to protect some principle of a free market economy. I don’t think that Mia, now 10 years old, would consider that to be very fair. And neither do I.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

BACK TO THE FUTURE 1963


The 26th of June 1963 was my mothers 28th birthday. On that evening she stood in the front garden of our house on the Swords Road in Santry with her 18 month old daughter in her arms and together they watched as one of the most glamorous and charismatic leaders the world had ever seen, swept past in his motorcade on the way to Aras an Uachtarain.

I don’t know if the fact that I saw President Kennedy from my mother’s arms explains my fascination with his story. I think most people, particularly us Irish, find the story of JFK compelling. It has it all – power, glamour, wealth, success, Hollywood legends, conspiracy and the ultimate tragedy of a life cut short. To this day and no doubt into the future, JFK is the President many leaders, particularly American Presidents aspire to. Clinton and Obama made no secret of their admiration for the 35th President of the United States and the Kennedy family’s endorsement of their campaigns, was a key element in both their elections to office.

What was it that made John Fitzgerald Kennedy so special? Watch old film of this attractive man, who was 43 when elected, and his charisma is still evident today. Charisma, no matter what your role in life is, is a very useful commodity. JFK had it in buckets. He was by all accounts very charming and had the ability to make people like him. His self deprecating sense of humour also won people over. He was a leader whose two most powerful tools were charm and charisma. Coupled, no doubt, with a sharp intellect and innate understanding that politics is all about people, combined to make him a very effective statesman.

He understood that to connect with people, be they your countrymen or not, was essential. He arrived in Dublin on that June evening in 1963, straight from Berlin where he had made his famous ‘Ich bein ein Berliner’speech. JFK knew how to connect with people alright.

But connecting alone is not enough. Kennedy also knew how to communicate very effectively his vision of the world. He used big broad brush strokes when painting that vision. Many years later, African American poet Maya Angelou said “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And when he came to visit us in Ireland, Kennedy made us feel good, good about ourselves and good about this country we live in. What a precious gift.

When he addressed the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas on the 28th of June, he delivered one of his trademark, powerful orations. It was full of references to Ireland’s proud literary tradition, stressing our relatively new independence, and the role he saw for Ireland in working towards World Peace. Probably the best known passage from the speech that day was when he quoted George Bernard Shaw’s approach to life :”other peoples see things and say ‘Why?.... but I dream things that never were – and I say: Why not?”

Kennedy went on to say
“It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”

These words, delivered directly here to us in Ireland, inspired our country almost 50 years ago. We listened and we believed. Why? Because they were delivered by a charismatic leader, who had a vision to communicate to us and who ultimately made us feel good about ourselves. To me, this is the very essence of leadership.

We should be grateful to Ryan Tubridy for putting the spotlight back on those momentous days of 1963. Because buried among the newsreel footage, the anecdotes and the sheer excitement, is Kennedy’s speech to the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas. It is a speech that is as relevant today as it was on the day it was delivered. Almost half a century later, his words are still a wonderful gift to us. As we flounder from one financial crisis to the next, in a vacuum devoid of leadership and of vision, let us remember that the 35th President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy told us we possessed a remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination. And let us hope that he was right!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Halloween Musings on Sunday Miscellany


Just a little note to let y'all know that I will be one of the featured writers on Sunday Miscellany this Sunday, 31st October when I shall be, appropriately enough, musing about Halloween. Regular readers will know that this is my absolute favourite time of year!

So, have a lie in and set the radio to come on at 9am for an hour of stories, memories and music. RTE Radio 1. 9am. Sunday 31st October.

Oh, and if you are around a radio on Monday morning, I shall be popping into the East Coast Radio Studio at about 11.15 for another battering, sorry chat with Declan Meehan. Check out http://www.eastcoast.fm/

Happy Halloween

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gimme some of that ole Chilean magic

No doubt in order to balance Black Thursday, God in her infinite wisdom, decided last week to gift us with Chilean Wednesday. As I watched the events taking place, thousands of miles away in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile, with the rest of the world, I too cried. For the first time in months I felt uplifted and hopeful. I also swooned slightly due to the constant presence of the handsome Laurence Golborne, Chile’s Mining Minister whose huge smile shone forth from under his hard hat and dominated much of the coverage. He’s apparently now a superstar in his homeland and has been tipped as the possible next President. He’d make a great guest on The Late Late Show, which is having a dearth of good guests at the moment. But I digress.

I know nothing about Chile, except their red wine of which I am very fond. On Chilean Wednesday I discovered that their Spanish is a lot easier to understand than that spoken in Spain. Perhaps they talk slower. There were other things that struck me about Chile too.

Chileans exude an innate warmth and informality. There was little hand shaking at Camp Hope. No, it was all hugs and kisses and back slapping. Both President Pinera and Mr Golborne (did you notice his lovely teeth?) greeted each miner with a huge bear hug. They also hugged and kissed the miners families and loved ones. Although in the same situation I am not sure how keen I would be on Brian Cowan lunging forward to deliver a hug or even, God forbid, a kiss!

Chileans have sex appeal in a way that I doubt we in Ireland will ever have. Considering that they had just endured 69 days trapped in the heat below the desert, these men appeared as Rock Stars as each one emerged from what looked like a miniature reverse rocket, in their Bonoesque shades. Could you imagine how a group of Irish Miners trapped under a bog might look – even with trendy sunglasses? From the oldest to the youngest, these guys all exuded a confidence that only comes from knowing you look darn good!

Their ‘rock star’ make-over included a team t-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Gracias Senor’ or Thank God. Only Chilean Miners led by the gorgeous Mr Golborne could rehabilitate God in such an immediate and effective way, given what the various religions have done to him over the years.

I am left in awe of this South American country. We should be very jealous of them.

We need some of this magic. We need some of the media savvy that ensured the whole world shared in this magical rescue. They took a huge risk in inviting us all to be such an intimate part of the proceedings. Had it gone horribly wrong, President Pinera and Mr Golborne would have been left offering explanations and apologies. But it didn’t go wrong. It worked and beautifully. Why? Perhaps because they believed it would. Perhaps because they had ‘Senor’ onside. Perhaps because they have the sexiest Minister I have seen in a long time in charge. All of which does not bode well for Ireland’s recovery from our financial hellhole.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A PINT AND A HAIRCUT True Irish Stories


All of us remember the dreadful earthquake that devastated the island of Haiti early this year. I wrote about it here. Haiti has now disappeared from news reports and from the forefront of our minds, which I suppose are not very taken up with our own economic earthquake here in Ireland. However, true to form not all Irish people have not forgotten about Haiti. There are those that are working directly on the ground with Irish aid agencies helping the people rebuild their lives and there are creative and generous people like Garret Pearse.

A native of County Longford but now living in Wicklow, Software Consultant Garret, decided to do something practical to help Haiti. Some months ago he put out a call for ‘True Irish Stories’. His intention was to compile a book which would raise funds for Concern’s work in Haiti. The response came, from established writers, bloggers and brand new writers – proving that old adage that all Irish people have a story to tell, to be true.

After more months whittling down the stories he received and making difficult choices, the book is ready and should be hitting the bookstores about now. Taking its name from one of the stories, A Pint and a Haircut features 70 tales – including one by yours truly! I am proud to be associated with this great project along with other bloggers Eolai gan Feile (whose also donated the painting on the cover), Jane Travers and Maria Duffy.

A Pint and a Haircut retails at €12.99. If its not in your bookstore ask them to order it for you (ISBN 978-1-907536-16-1) or buy it online from the publishers Londubh Books. It will keep you entertained on long winter nights and make a great present. But most of all, it will help those whose lives are still devastated in Haiti.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Am A Citizen Of This Country And I Am Angry

I am delighted that the Irish Times today published a piece I wrote last Thursday - Black Thursday in Ireland - when the Government finally came clean on more or less how much this bail out of the banks is going to cost us!

I have been overwhelmed with the response I have had - on the Irish Times website and through Twitter.

You can read it here http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2010/1002/1224280160745.html

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

WE NEED A HERO


Regular readers of my blog will know that one of my all time heroes is Michael Collins. I have written about him before here. For my overseas readers, Michael Collins was the man who gained Ireland her freedom after 800 years of occupation by Britain.

Many of you will also be aware of the competition currently running on RTE to find Irelands Greatest. The contenders are Michael Collins, Bono (yep, I kid you not), Mary Robinson, John Hume and James Connolly. Each of these great Irish people is being featured in an hour long documentary outlining why they should be voted Ireland’s Greatest. I watched the Michael Collins one (a repeat of the original broadcast) on Sunday night.

I have read widely on Collins and so although I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know, the old news reel footage was wonderful and confirmed most of my opinions about him. Here was a man, a farmer’s son from West Cork, who went to London at 16 to work in the Post Office Bank. He returned to Dublin in time for the Easter Rising and went on over the next 6 years to achieve Ireland’s freedom from the most powerful empire on Earth.

He strode around my city and this country with confidence, vision and a seemingly huge amount of charm and charisma. He managed (in the days before mass media) to sell The Treaty he negotiated with Britain to the Irish people whom he addressed at mass rallies all over Ireland. He was a gifted communicator, a visionary, a soldier, an intelligence expert, a politician, a statesman and a celebrity. His work rate was huge. He was passionate, committed and determined. For me, there is no competition. He is Ireland’s Greatest.

On the same night as I watched the documentary on Collins, millions of people across the US were watching Jay Leno, who began his show by displaying a very unflattering photo of our Taoiseach asking his audience to guess who this man was. Was he a bar-tender, a politician or a night club comic? To huge roars of laughter, he announced that this man was in fact Ireland’s Prime Minister. He finished up by saying “at least we aren’t the only ones with drunken morons”. It was cringe making watching the clip back on YouTube the following day. And who can blame Jay Leno? Our leader, Brian Cowen has left himself wide open to such ridicule by his recent behaviour. But even before the hungover interview on Morning Ireland, Brian Cowen has managed to give the impression that he is weary of having to lead this country. He often comes across tetchy and irritated during interviews, as if it is a real nuisance to have to answer questions about the economy etc. He may have said it is an honour to lead this country, but you would never deduce that from his usual demeanour.

One wonders how Ireland could have gone from having a leader such as Collins to having a Taoiseach such as Cowen. I am angry that he has reduced our country to a laughing stock and a financial wreck. But trying to stay positive I am holding to the old adage that the darkest time is just before the dawn. Perhaps somewhere on this island, a new Collins is about to come into focus; someone who will lead Ireland forward to a new day. I really hope so!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

WHEN LOVES COMES TO TOWN

A shorter version of this short story was published recently by Woman's Way magazine.

Enjoy!

_______________________________________________________________

The short term car park was a cauldron of bad tempered chaos. Negotiating slowly around pillars, cars double parked waiting for a family to load up and move out, and hordes of giddy, scantily clad young women who appeared to have returned to Dublin directly from the Spanish nightclub, did nothing to ease my already frazzled nerves. I sent a plea to the car parking angels to please find me a space and continued my search, as I tried to swallow my rising sense of panic. I was already late. Finally I found a space, albeit it on the roof and in the corner furthest away from the walkway into the terminal building. “Memo to self” I muttered “be more specific when lodging requests with the Angels of Parking Spaces.” It was blowing a biting, easterly gale which was whipping rain in horizontal spears across the car park roof. “Bloody hell, I will be like the drowned rat after she was pulled through the bush backways.” Bloody hell.

In the Arrivals Hall a quick glance at the TV Monitor told me that the flight from Amsterdam had just landed. Putting my faith in the laissez-faire Dublin baggage handlers and perhaps, if luck was on my side, a shift change about now, I made a bee line for the bathroom to attempt to salvage something of my appearance which had been so carefully put together before I left home. I tried valiantly to retrieve my hair from the dark side, dabbed powder to subdue my shiny face and re applied some girliness with more pink lippy and surveyed the result. “It will do” I thought. Although I wished I wasn’t so pale. Last time Pier had seen me I was wearing a honeyed Mediterranean tan. Gathering as much confidence as I could fake, I strode back to the Meeting Point.

I took up a position among the throng of expectant relatives and professional meeters and greeters, trying to look casual and control my jelly like legs. I wasn’t sure if I was suffering from nerves or excitement or both. I squinted at new arrivals luggage trying to spot an AMS sticker. None yet. My mouth was dry. I opened my bag and popped in strong mint into my mouth and sucked hard. Be calm, be cool, I told myself.

In attempt to control my nerves I concentrated my mind on the carved wooden box at home which contained all Pier’s letters. Pier’s funny, beautiful, and loving letters which I had been receiving for almost a year. He wrote English better than he spoke it and his words were full of colour, humour and sunshine. He described his life working for an Advertising Agency in the centre of Amsterdam, his flat which, naturally had a view of a canal, and his beloved bike which took him everywhere he needed to go. He made me laugh with his tales of smoking pot legally in one of the many hash houses he frequented. He wrote about his hippy parents who had retired to live on a houseboat with lots of cats and of the latest concert he had been to. In turn I wrote to him about Dublin, making it seem far more cosmopolitan than it was. My letters were sprinkled with references to Bono and to Phil Lynott, as though they were at least neighbours and possibly friends of mine. I made passing reference to my modest flat which had a view of a car park but from where I could smell the sea, which was not always a good thing. I told him about my job working for a holiday company and my great social life wandering around the pubs of the city which carried echoes of our literary heritage. He kept promising that he would visit Dublin and me soon. And now he would be here any minute.

Also in the wooden box were the photos of that great holiday in Ibiza. We met in an Irish pub in San Antonio and I couldn’t believe that I was having the clichéd holiday romance with a gorgeous blonde Dutchman. I pictured Pier’s long legs and strong arms. When we danced I felt so small, gathered into his tanned chest. He loved music and his funny English and mispronounced words meant we laughed lots during those two weeks. I smiled at the memories. This was going to be a great weekend.

I had a full itinerary planned with every intention of making Pier fall in love with my city. That could be the deal breaker. He must love Dublin. Because I did and I couldn’t really have imagined my future anywhere else. I had planned breakfast in Bewleys, a walk in Stephens Green, a trip on the new electric rail train, the Dart around Dublin Bay, a walk down Dun Laoghaire Pier. We would visit Davy Byrnes Pub and O Donoghues for a live trad session. And I had planned a big night on Saturday night in the Pink Elephant with some friends, and maybe a bag of chips from Leo Burdocks on the way home. He would get the very best of Dublin over 3 days and nights. On Sunday we would wander around the Guinness Brewery and he could buy some souvenirs to take back to Holland.

My two best friends, Niamh and Jackie and their men were joining us in the Pink. They were all almost as excited as me about this weekend and couldn’t wait to meet this Pier they had heard so much about. They had seen some of his letters and his photo and were, so far, very impressed. Although I was aware of a slight whiff of desperation in their enthusiasm. For too long I had been the spare wheel in our circle. Niamh had married her childhood sweetheart the previous year and it looked like an announcement from Jackie who has been dating Alan for a year by then was imminent. The 5 of us went out regularly and whereas it didn’t bother me much, I know that Niamh, in particular, felt that we are unbalanced. We should have been 6. And both of them felt that maybe Pier could just be the man for the job. I knew he was fairly keen on me, now I just needed my country to do its bit. Signs were good – he shared my devotion to Thin Lizzy and had just purchased U2’s War album and could belt out ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ with great gusto after a few pints. He had also been to a Rory Gallagher concert. He was tall, blonde and very handsome and was a graphic designer. And just a little bit alternative which I really loved. He ticked all the boxes. I just hoped he wouldn’t catch them calling me Louise Van der Beere which had been their latest big joke!

“Louise – hello” the suddenly familiar guttural accented English and my heart skipped a beat. Beaming with happiness I turned around and there he was. I opened my arms in speechless embrace. “Oh bloody hell, this could be a long weekend”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Leading the way to Gratitude


Just as I was savouring the last minutes of peace and quiet, my phone rang. It was Mia, our youngest, suggesting that I collect them from school as she needed to go to the Orthodontist.

“We don’t have an appointment today Mia”, I said.

“No but I need to go. I broke my brace eating my apple at lunchtime and now there is a sharp bit sticking out”.

Great, I thought, there goes the afternoon. I was already in a Monday mood which had been added to by the continuing gloom and doom in the news about Bond Markets and other things I do not understand. But I picked up the phone and without any difficulty got an emergency appointment for Mia.

At this point let me say that I cannot compliment the Orthodontic Unit at Loughlinstown enough. Run by the HSE (state health service) they have provided Mia was a superb, efficient and caring service in the search for her elusive front tooth which is still residing somewhere up near her nose. However it has been located and a gold chain attached which is in turn attached to a brace. It is tightened at regular intervals and is slowly pulling the tooth down into its position in the front of her mouth.

So we are regular visitors to the unit which is located behind St Colmcille’s Hospital. Like other hospitals in Ireland, Loughlinstown was originally a Workhouse, opened in 1841 for the poor and destitute of the area. The famine arrived a few years later and so the building was flooded with the starving and the dying. Both my younger girls are fascinated by the story of The Famine and each time we attend the hospital we talk about all those who must have suffered so terribly during the 1840’s and wonder what it must have been like for the unfortunates who arrived to this place.

The Orthodontic unit, being at the back of the hospital complex is surrounded by what looks like waste ground, overgrown and uncared for. Yesterday as we left, we noticed a worn pathway through the long grass and Mia suggested we check it out and see where it went. So we stolled away from the buildings and towards some trees.

Beyond the line of trees we stepped into a clearing. The foliage shaded the light and dappled shadows played on the ground which was covered in a carpet of beechnut shells. As we softly crunched our way into this church like space, we noticed, in one sunlit corner of the site, a large gravestone. It was marking the ‘Holy Angels’ plot* – where tiny babies were buried. As we stood and read the stone, our eyes were drawn to a small white cross a couple of feet away. It marked the grave of baby Natasha Sherwood who died in 1978 and poignantly ‘missed by her mum and dad and brothers’. Mia and I stood for a few minutes in silence. Sherwood is my husband’s name and so is also Mia’s and Roisin’s surname. My husband is English and it is a rare enough name in Ireland. This baby Sherwood seemed very real to us both. The fact that she was clearly a longed for daughter and sister, struck us as hugely sad. “She would be 32 now mom,” Mia said. As her words floated around this place I thought back to her own birth exactly ten years ago. Mia was premature and very sick for the first few weeks of her life. In her first 48 hours of life, we feared we would lose her. I have a small insight into how traumatic this other baby Sherwood’s death must have been.

The energy of this sacred place was beautiful. The only sound was the breeze rustling the tops of the ancient trees that stood guard all around us. As we continued to explore we came across another large stone memorial under the shade of overhanging trees. The inscription says it all. It read:

“The noble ones of other times sleep here,
Quiet be their voice.
They would not be disturbed.
Pain and hunger gone,
They feel not winter’s cold.
The Shepard has them now
Safe within his fold.”

St Colmcille’s Hospital. 1841 – 1991. 150 Anniversary

We had indeed found our famine graveyard. Here is this peaceful copse of trees on high ground behind the hospital. Sheltered by trees and in mother nature’s embrace, lie many hundreds of Irish people, who just over 150 years ago, died from hunger and disease.

As we left this beautiful place, we felt not sad, but very grateful that history has placed us here in Ireland at this time. Recession? We are wealthy beyond the dreams of our forefathers. Sometimes we forget to be grateful. And sometimes our children show us how or where to find such gratitude.


*Many hospitals in Ireland have a Holy Angels plot were in the past stillborn and new babies who were not baptised were buried routinely in an unmarked plot.

Monday, September 13, 2010

VERSATILE BLOGGER AWARD


Thanks to Ann over at Inkpots and Quills for this award. I am most grateful Ann - especially at the moment when I am finding that inspiration has deserted me. So this award gives me a post which will hopefully kickstart my creative juices!

You probably know the drill here. I have to list 7 things (you may not know) about myself. Here goes:

  • I currently don't know if I am still a Catholic! A rather odd experience for someone who always automatically wrote RC after religion when asked (mainly only hospital forms now, I think).

  • I am spending too much time on Twitter and this is possibly partly to blame for my lack of creativity with writing. Too much squashing my thoughts into 140 characters - a definite skill in itself but hardly creative.

  • I have an addiction to Extra Strong Mints and Ice Cream wafers - developed during pregnancies, the last of which was ten years ago!!!

  • I would love to have a nice garden... but as the sole gardener in this house, its not likely to happen any time soon.

  • I am in love with my iPhone - which is not really a good thing!

  • I love autumn. Especially the feeling of battening down the hatches against the winter.

  • I would love to love Christmas again! But currently to me it equals too much nonsense and hard work!
Riveting isn't it?

I would like to pass this award for Versatile Blogging on to the following great bloggers:


Mia at Mia's Room - who is truly a versatile blogger and who is 10 this week!


Nicola at Nic's Notebook

Susannah at Joy Frequencies


I know that's only 5 but whats a bit of rule breaking between bloggers!

Monday, September 6, 2010

OUR RESIDENTS GARDEN





As I write it is a grey day with the rain bucketing down. And there is a chill in the air. Altogether not a bright Monday. But I came across these few photos by Paul which I thought I would share with you.

They are of our estate's garden which up to this year was a lawn with some trees. This spring we decided to use the skills of a newly qualified landscape architect who suggested planting a native wildflower garden. This was the result in summer. Isn't it just beautiful and most unusual at the entrance to a residential estate. I thought it was particularly wonderful on a breezy day when the flowers all nodded their heads at us and the air was full of hovering bees and butterflies.

Luke Byrne was the designer and planter - beautiful job.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

SLOW DOWN... Take Time For Yourself, Mammy

It is really only in autumn and spring time that I can almost physically feel the Earth turning and the seasons changing. Having spent some more time in deepest Kilkenny last weekend, the countryside looked quite different than when we were there in July. We passed so many fields of hay bales, rolled and looking like giant breakfast cereals. On the farm the orchard was heavy with ripe red apples and the air smelt different. Fingers of damp touched my skin in the evening and early morning. Heavy dew fell at night, making for soggy pre breakfast walks.

I love autumn. It is probably my favourite season. I love summer too with all its outdoor activity and loose routines. But once we arrive in September, I can feel the change of tempo in my bones. As the earth draws energy inwards to itself, preparing Mother Nature for her long winter sleep, I too change my focus back onto myself. With the children gone back to school, routines have become re-established. The house is once more quiet in the mornings and has been returned to me. I love the peace and stillness and the opportunity to do what I love – to write. Over the last 9 years I have used this free time in the morning to investigate and experiment with all kinds of things that interest me. It has also taken me most of those years to get over the slight guilt I sometimes feel, by devoting some hours every morning to my own stuff!

As women who are ‘housewives’ or ‘stay at home moms’, it can sometimes be very difficult to protect time for ourselves. Due to lack of job description or contract for the post of Mammy, you can easily become the target of various others, from family members to your own kids who think you are just sitting at home, drinking coffee and waiting for something to do. Therefore you get can too easily get sucked into all kinds of errands for others. It is vital to establish boundaries and a healthy self respect for yourself and your job of running a home and children.

The time in the morning is often the only opportunity in the day for some ‘me’ time. Once the kids arrive home, there is homework and dinner and housework. In my experience most mothers will ‘work’ till at least 9pm on week nights. So take that time in the morning. It is yours, grab it with both hands, hold onto it tight as others may gently try to wrestle it away. You do not need to justify to anyone the fact that you are choosing to go to the gym, read a book, write a book, bake cakes or learn a new skill in the morning. Remember that your job, albeit looking after your family, is a job and the old adage is true – all work and no play makes Jackie a dull girl!

Photo from by Noukorama on Flickr.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

CHINS UP - KEEP SMILING

My passport expired recently. I was devastated. I loved my passport. With each passing year I loved it more. As birthdays came and went and I got a year older my passport photo preserved my face in the year 2000.

So with a trip abroad on the horizon it was time to apply for a new document which would encourage foreign governments to be nice to me and would confirm me as a citizen of Ireland. The latter being a somewhat difference experience now than it was in ‘brink of boom’ 2000. I am not sure how enthusiastic I will be to brandish my proof of belonging to a bailed out, banjaxed and bankrupt little republic in Northern Europe… but I digress.

Off to the Garda station for the forms, which I fill out in my best handwriting with my favourite pen. Simple enough. Then for the photo.

This should also be a relatively simple exercise. I am, after all, married to a photographer. Therefore I don’t have to trudge to my nearest shopping centre, to sit in a caboosh clutching hairbrush and lipstick and attempt to undo the windblown hair and smudged lips. Oh no, I can have my photo done in the comfort of my own home, standing against the ‘Summer Solstice’ painted wall in the natural light of the big window, something which the photographer assures me is very flattering.

Freshly made up, hair brushed, I’m all ready.

“Remember you are not allowed to smile anymore” says the photographer. I had forgotten that bit. Ok, I think, I will do my intelligent look. A look I like to adopt when attempting to contribute to conversations about bond markets, subprime loans and the like. I have always felt it worked quite well.

Click, click, click, click…… about twenty images taken and off I go to inspect the work through the back of the camera.

I am horrified. “Jaysus” I roar at my long suffering photographer husband, “they’re brutal.”

I don’t just look sad, I look gutted. Like a woman who has just learned of some awful tragedy that has befallen all her nearest and dearest. “I’m not going around the world with a photo like that. Jaysus. Again.” And so he picks up the camera and I head back to the Summer Solstice, my mind working overtime.

Maybe I will try enigmatic, I think. Mysterious. Surely I could do that without smiling. So I stand willing the soft daylight to work its magic and opening my eyes just a little wider than normal in the hope of softening some of my ‘laughter lines’. Chins up.
Click, click, click…. And back to the camera I go.

“Oh my God”. Not only sad but now quite mad too. Like a killer’s mugshot. Only worse.

I decide I don’t want a bloody passport. I probably won’t ever be able to afford holidays again anyway after the budget. I curse the bloody Americans for deciding that it would be a safer world if the travelling public didn’t smile in their passport photos. My photos would give any self respecting terrorist a good run for their money.

I try to calm down. The photographer nervously asks if I want to try again.

I’m out of ideas, except for praying for divine intervention. So like a prisoner about to be executed I position myself in front of the cream wall again and try to think positive thoughts.
Click, click, click……

“Ok, I now have almost 100 frames. We need to choose one.” Roughly translated that means, I am finished photographing you now, my neurotic wife.

I am close to tears. For the next ten years, I shall be accompanied on my travels by a photo that not only reminds me of how gravity and time have conspired to pull my face south which ensures that when ‘resting’ my face wears an expression of huge sadness.

“Maybe if I lay on the bed and you stood above me with the camera……”
But the photographer has disappeared and the door to his office is closed. He is making my print.

Oh God! Do you think that by the year 2020 I will look back on this photo and think how great I looked? How sad will I be then?

And I apologise for the lack of photo to go with this post...... I don't need to explain why, do I?

ONLY A CAT?


In this part of the world, cats were big news last week. Yep, domestic moggies made the headlines. For the benefit of the Americans, let me explain. The first story came from the UK where a woman put a cat in a wheelie bin. She was caught on CCTV and later apologised. However she qualified her apology by saying "it was only a cat". The second story concerned a moggie from Malahide in North Dublin who decided to board the DART (rapid transit system) at her local station and travelled into the city. There was taken into the care of the DART staff who tweeted her story and her family were located and a renunion was arranged.

But back to our lady in the UK - "only a cat" she said. As if there was such a thing as "only a cat." Cats are sublime creatures. I know. I have shared my life with cats since the day I was born, quiet some time ago. The cat heritage comes down my maternal line. My mother always lived with cats; I must find out if my maternal grandmother did too.

Anyway the point is, I know cats. I understand them. And they are magnificent creatures. I don't know who it was that said "I have lived with many Zen Masters, all of them cats" but he was bang on the money. I currently share my home with four felines, some more Zen than others. But each one of them contributes to a laid back, informal, comfy energy in my home, that I could not achieve alone. Sure they also contribute to cat hairs everywhere but so what. If they could talk, they would say "chill out, its hair. It don't stain"

My cats desport themselves all over my house. Each has their own favourite spot. In the morning they find puddles of sunlight to recline in and as the sun dissappears they seek out the heat of radiators and hidden pipes. One in particular likes the Hot Press. The lend the whole house an air of languid uselessness in a way that no scented candle or soft music could ever do.

Often I explode in the front door, laden down with bags, harrassed and mithered, only to be met by the sight of Fat Cat stretched out on the hall chair, catching the sunlight. He opens just one eye to acknowledge my presence. Above his head is a giant thought bubble which says "what's the fuss? Chill woman!" in a voice reminiscent of the old Caramel Bunny. Then he drifts off back to cat dreamland and I arrive into the kitchen wondering which of us is the more evolved species.

But it only an inexperienced cat woman who thinks that cats sleep all day. Sure they sleep a lot but cats have another habit which occupies many hours in the day. That's looking out the window. They ponder the weather and also take huge interest in the neighbours movements. What are they thinking about as they gaze out the window, I wonder.

Cats are mysterious creatures. They live in two worlds. This one and the other world -the unseen world whose energies they pick up regularly. Ever seen a cat staring at a stop high up on a wall or on the ceiling. They are in touch with things we only imagine. They are endlessly curious, as demonstrated by the Malahide Moggie on the DART. We also had an adventurer. Tiger, our matriarch cat, took off when she was in her teenage years and was gone for 3 months. We had her dead and buried when one day she wandered back into the kitchen, not much the worse for wear for her expedition.

But the very best thing about living with cats is that point when you gain their affection. Unlike dogs, whose love can easily be bought, cats are aloof and independent. So that when they decide they like you, it is the most precious and wonderful gift. Once you obtain the love of your cat, you have a friend for life. A soft, warm, wise and comforting cat. "Only a cat" indeed, as if there was such a thing!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

RADIO INTERVIEW

Thanks to my friend Duane in Michigan, here is the link to my interview yesterday on East Coast Radio - in case you want to listen to me waffle on about various things which included back to school, twitter and the Rose of Traleem (didn't Daithi look great last night)!

The Morning Programme - East Coast Radio Interview

Friday, August 20, 2010

ONLY 10 DAYS.... From Monday


Only ten days to go. I am like a prisoner carefully marking off the days on my calendar till my release. I am marking off the days till they go back to school.

The end of August is always the same. My patience has worn thin, my nerves are frazzled. I am like a hen on a hot griddle, sizzling and fraying around the edges. Its time they were back in school.

Of course, I haven’t felt like this all summer. Oh no, by the middle of June I was rightly fed up of the endless homework, school lunches, projects, head lice notes and necessity for clean uniforms every day. I embraced the beginning of summer holidays as I do every year, relishing the freedom and the relaxed routines. And of course in late June and early July, the weather co-operated. It actually felt like summer, which is always a bonus.

But as July soggily seeped into August, the weather reverted to type. Night after night I watched as that nice John Eagleton apologised on behalf of God for the endless weather fronts waiting out in the Atlantic for their turn to move Eastwards always managing to arrive here around mid morning.

But early in August I still had a reserve of energy and enthusiasm for this holiday lark. We did the Dead Zoo, the local library, the bus into town – all good old fashioned and free fun. I even did a marathon expedition to some strange kids wonderland and waterpark in Drogheda which I still have nightmares about. The kids loved it and I felt sure I had bought myself enough positive karma to see me through till that magic date of the 1st of September.

But I had forgotten the annual horrors that are lurking in the final two weeks of summer holidays: namely the shopping for school shoes and school books.

Ok now lend me a soapbox for a moment. I have two kids, two years apart. One going into 4th class, the other into 6th. This year I have managed to pass on just two books from one to the other. That’s right, two books. Why? Workbooks, that’s why. In my day (and probably yours too), we had Text Books. Text books had text but they had questions too. We wrote the answers into our copies. Copies that cost 2pence halfpenny. But not in post Celtic Tiger Ireland. Oh no, our little darlings now fill in the answers in the text book sorry workbook. So instead of having to write out a whole sentence, they just fill in the gap. Apart from this being of dubious educational benefit, it is surely very un eco friendly. Does John Gormley know of this current practice in our Junior Schools? And if he does, what is he doing about it. I expect that he should be at this very moment beating a path to Mary Coughlan’s door. Workbooks, I ask you! Lack of Work books they should be called.

Shopping for school shoes is another special kind of torture. It is the only time in the year when I seem to remember an important nugget no doubt gleaned from a Penelope Leach book during pregnancy, “it is vital to have your children’s feet measured regularly.” So off I go, along with what seems like every parent in the country to the local shoe shop to have feet measured and spend exorbitant sums on sturdy school shoes. The shop is always crowded and hot. While we wait for attention, the little darlings take a look at the shoes on display and announce either of two things. They hate all of them or they like this one – which is from the Toddler range. When the assistant finally appears with the foot measuring yoke, I look at the little darlings feet and realise they are wearing their oldest, most pungent runners which are most likely hiding socks with holes. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Oh only ten days to go. What started off as a relaxed routine in July has deteriorated now into no routine at all. The little darlings won’t get out of bed till mid day. While I am having lunch, they are having breakfast. They won’t get dressed. Afternoon visitors are treated to the sight of my pasty faced mini pre teenagers wandering about in PJ’s and hoodies and giving the house an Adams Family feel. They are eating lunch in the middle of the afternoon and dinner is getting later and later every day. Myself and himself don’t know if we are coming or going.

Only ten days to go…. Only ten days to go…. I just can’t wait to make a few school lunches, and get stuck into some homework!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

MY FAVOURITE DREAM

Today my blog is going to function as a dream journal because last night I had my favourite dream. It is my favourite dream because I wake up feeling really positive and uplifted and because each time I dream it, it is different. Basically my favourite dream involves me finding a new room or annexe in my house that I never knew existed before. When I first started having this dream, this unexplored part of my house was accessed by going under the stairs – that was a big problem – the under the stairs is very cramped and small. But more recently I tend to discover a door in the landing that I just always thought was a cupboard or else what we thought was a wardrobe in one of the bedrooms turns out to be a door to a whole new room or sometimes set of rooms.

But last night what I discovered was the very best yet. I first of all discovered that there was a ramshackle greenhouse in an unexplored part of my garden (my real garden has no unexplored parts by the way). This greenhouse was big and had an overgrown vegetable patch. We were delighted to find it because we had found 2 kittens and an adult cat that needed to be homed and we figured that this greenhouse would be the perfect place to keep them while waiting to find new homes for them. I also dreamed (in my dream) of restoring the vegetable patch.

As the kitties played about at our feet (the whole family were with me in this exploration, also unusual) I discovered a door in the wall in one end of the greenhouse. I opened the heavy wooden door to find myself inside a very cute and charming room. The first thing I saw was a circular pine dining table and chairs. A place to write I thought. The walls were exposed brick. There was also an old fashioned, squishy, chintz sofa under a window. In an alcove was a very small TV. There were two doors off this room – one led into a tiny galley kitchen and the other into a bathroom. My eldest daughter was squealing in delight and proclaiming that this would be a perfect place for her and her boyfriend. But I announced in a clear and firm voice, that this room was mine. This would be the perfect place to write and explore the stories in my head.

It was such a perfect room. I am still excited about having found it – even if only in my dreams!!

Have a great Sunday!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

MY 5 TRUTHS ABOUT WRITING


It really is true what they say about writing.. It’s like everything else, the more you do it, the easier it comes. So, after 6 weeks or so of erratic writing due to kids off school and so called ‘summer time’ I am really struggling. I am trying to get a piece together for Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Writing Competition which they are running in conjunction with their Mountains To Sea Book Festival and I struggled for 2 days trying to come up with a blog post From My Kitchen Table. That has never happened before. This led me to wonder about writing and having spent the last year or so, trying to get more serious about it I have come up with 5 Truths About Writing. They may not be your truths but I thought I would share them anyway:

Truth No 1
Writing is like exercise. If you don’t practice often (preferably daily) you get rusty and it becomes difficult.

Truth No 2
You can go to classes on writing, read books on writing and go to workshops on writing, forever. They are enjoyable if you are interested in the process of writing as most of us are. But at some stage you actually have to pick up the pen or open the laptop and start writing. I also have a sneaking suspicion that there comes a stage when you need to stop ‘learning’ and start ‘doing’.

Truth No 3
You do need quiet to write. It is impossible to write with noise and distractions all around. Although I still harbour my dream of my writing cabin under the hawthorn tree at the end of the garden, I now realise that if I don’t have the kitchen table to myself, I can take myself and my laptop up to my bed where I can make a fairly comfortable nest and where I can write in the quiet.

Truth No 4
Editors and real journalists are not in fact scary people waiting to shout at you for your ‘unprofessionalism’ or your cheek for having sent them a piece of work. Twitter has helped on that one, where you can converse with all manner of ‘professional’ writers. But I think I have finally realised that if you have a piece of writing that you feel is good, it probably is. Keep working with it and sending it out into the print media universe and it may well find a home!

Truth No 5
Don’t take rejection personally. Or more usually don’t take being ignored personally. Although I still really don’t understand why radio stations, magazines or newspapers can’t just send a quck email saying ‘no thanks’.

So there you have it. None of my Writing Truths are earth shattering or original. Most are common sense. But it has served me well to write them down and share them. And voila I have a blog post!


Photo by Muffet on Flickr

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Who Do I Think I Am?


Last night I watched one of my favourite programmes “Who Do You Think You Are?” whose subject was Irish actress Dervla Kirwan. I love this programme at the best of times and have vowed if I ever come into serious money I will engage the services of ‘professionals’ to uncover Who I Am!

I know a little about Who I Am and my story is not that unusual in Ireland. My family tree really contains elements of the contradictions, passions and tragedy of relatively recent Irish history.

My father’s family were typically peasant farmers from Laois in the Irish midlands. In order to carve some kind of future for himself my paternal grandfather signed up with the British Army to fight in the First World War. He saw service in France and later in India and his stories were of no interest to me at all, when he used to relive his days as a Cavalry man over ‘tea’ in our house. How I wish I could have just one of those mealtimes back now!

My mother’s parents both came from North Cork, from the town of Fermoy. My grandmother by all accounts came from middle class family of teachers. She grew up in the grounds of Colman’s College in Fermoy where her father taught. She had a university education (very unusual) and qualified as a teacher of Mathematics and English. Her husband, my grandfather was probably the most colourful of all my grandparents. His name was George Power and from some old photographs I have, it is clear that he was a handsome man who stood over 6 feet tall. He joined the IRA as a very young man. His father (my great grandfather) was a tailor and also a noted Republican in Fermoy. His mother however (my great grandmother), Elizabeth Vernon was British (born in India) and most likely the daughter of a British Army officer who would have been stationed in the town.

During the War of Independence, Cork was a hotbed of IRA activity where Michael Collins developed his guerrilla tactics which were eventually successful in gaining Irish freedom. My grandfather was in command of 3 battalions, Fermoy, Castletownroche and Mitchelstown and as such must have been a bit of a hero in the locality. He worked with Michael Collins and also with local leader Liam Lynch and as such was as the forefront of activities during the War of Independence. There are family legends about him being involved in the capture a British General and also of how he himself was captured by the British, only to escape again through a toilet window.

The War of Independence was one of the bloodiest periods of Irish history with atrocities being carried out by both sides. It is important to note that the IRA I refer to at this time had a mandate from the Irish people to fight for freedom from Britain who had been ruling our country for hundreds of years. I have no wish to in any way romanticise this period of history but I do feel that in the interests of political correctness, we are reluctant to say that these brave men, who fought the (then) mightiest nation in the world and won, were heroes.

I cried as I watched Dervla Kirwan last night, being taken to places in Cork where her grandfather was involved in fighting. These men, farmers, shop keepers and tailors (like my grandfather) were brave and heroic beyond comprehension. So too were the families and communities who supported them.

Thanks to them, I live in an independent peaceful Ireland. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Note: following the War of Independence and the signing of the Treaty, Ireland entered one of the most tragic periods of her history. Those who had fought against all the odds to have the British withdraw from the country, were deeply divided on the terms of the Treaty which Collins and others had negotiated with the British Government. Many felt that Collins had sold out as what was obtained was not full freedom. However Collins felt it was the best that could be achieved at the time and he believed that it would lead eventually to full freedom. Following the truce and signing of the Treaty, Ireland tore itself apart during a violent Civil War which divided communities and families. It sullied the success of the War of Independence and left a nightmare so dark that those involved in both conflicts often never talked them. My grandfather left the country and went to England, only returning shortly after the outbreak of World War 2.


PHOTO OF GENERAL MICHAEL COLLINS, who was killed by Anti Treaty forces in his native Cork on the 22nd of August 1922.

Who Do I Think I Am?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Changing World Beyond My Garden


Thanks to Jayne at A Novice Novelist for the inspiration for this blog post. Jayne’s latest post is entitled ‘A Moment From My Window’.

Back in 2002 when the Photographer and I came to view this house, there were two major things that we both fell in love with. One was the long room extension that the previous owners had added to the back of the house. This room is now our dining room and it is where I write From My Kitchen Table. I love it because of its size and also because it has one full wall of windows overlooking the garden. And therein lies the second big attraction of the house. Our garden is south-west facing and overlooks a huge field belonging to a local boys school.

When we moved in first we could see the school buildings clearly but now it is a view we only have in winter when the trees at the bottom of the garden are bare. But I love the fact that we are not overlooked and knowing that we are surrounded by lots of birds, foxes and greenery. However last summer we did decide that we needed to reduce the height of some of the trees as they were robbing the garden of light in the late afternoon.

On Monday work started on upgrading the sports field into proper football pitches. The ground apparently needed to be levelled. So each time I came into the dining room, the view from my garden had changed. At one stage it looked like I overlooked a tilled farm field as a tractor chugged up and down the brown furrows trailed by a flock of seagulls. Then the big earth movers moved in and the noise increased dramatically. They continue to roar up and down, pushing great mounds of earth and forcing new landscapes daily. Yesterday afternoon it was time to remove some of the huge trees which were blocking light and would be inaccessible once the new football pitches were complete.

Mia and I blocked our ears as the giant machines pulled up some trees by their roots. Their leaves gave one last rustle as they fell through the air, in slow motion, back to the earth. Life and death. A continuous cycle. It was uncomfortable to witness. We had wandered onto Watership Down. We talked about how the foxes and other wildlife would be hiding while these huge monsters stalked their world. But it will soon be over and the fields will be planted with grass which will be minded for a year or so until they become pristine football pitches where generations of boys into the future will learn about being part of a team.

Then the animals can return to take up their part in the tapestry of life in the fields beyond our back hedge! But for now the world beyond the garden is full of diesel fumes, the smell of earth, the roar of heavy engines and dreams of better days ahead.
Photo by The Photographer of the view from beyond the hedgerow at the end of the garden

Friday, July 23, 2010

LAZY DAYS OF SUMMER

Well Hello... it sure feels like ages since I have spent any time at my own Kitchen Table.

Summer time and all routine has more or less vanished out the window. The days seem to take on a shape of their own each morning. Each one different. My youngest two are getting older and so whereas my summer days used to be filled with making picnics to take the local park or to Glenroe Farm in Wicklow, this summer it seems they have often made their own plans with friends and I am required to drop and collect with great regularity.

Added to that, the normal chaos of life in this house, including another mouse incident, just like the one I reported here. Although this time there were four of us surrounding this mouse for an hour last night. I sometimes wish we weren't all so fond of animals. Because trying to catch a terrified baby mouse who is hiding under a very heavy chest of drawers is exhausting. Anyway - mouse was finally caught and ejected gently from the house. It is the cat who is in mortal danger now! My oven also blew up - nothing to do with the mouse I might add - but I won't bore you with the details.

We spent a lovely week in Kilkenny at Croan Cottages (would highly recommend them for a break in the countryside) where we shared our days with cows, pigs, sheep, goats, millions of rabbits, peacocks and hens (don't think I have left anyone out).

As I write this, the sky is grey and the temperature has dropped. I am really hoping the fine weather will return in August so that we can again eat dinner in the garden and spend some time worshipping Father Sun! Although yesterday on the top deck of the bus into the city with Mia we passed a Chestnut Tree heavy with green spiky baby chestnuts and I am sure that last evening I could smell just a hint of autumn. It's just around the corner - but I, for one, am not done with summer yet!


I am off now to whizz around my favourite blogs! I have missed visiting and have been spending too long twittering away!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hello Wall... Have You Met My Friend Twitter

The following short feature appeared in The Irish Examiner, today Friday 16th July 2010.


Shirley Valentine, Willy Russell’s bored and put upon Liverpudlian housewife, used to talk to her kitchen wall. “Hello wall,” she would say when returning from her grocery shopping, “it’s egg and chips tonight for tea, wall.” And what happened to our Shirley? Off she went to Greece where she fell in love with the swarthy Costas who loved her stretch marks. But I digress.

Shirley Valentine was lonely. I get that. I too am a suburban housewife, albeit of the 21st century as opposed to the 1980’s. But it can still get lonely and sometimes a woman just needs a chat. She needs to be able to vent frustrations, laugh with another soul who gets the joke or just pass the time of day.

I am lucky to have great neighbours who I consider friends, but you can’t always go barging into another woman’s kitchen whenever you feel like it. Thanks to Mrs Valentine I am very aware of the danger of beginning to talk to the wall. I have a dog and four cats and I will admit to probably sharing more with them than I should. But they are not great for feedback and they don’t laugh at my jokes.

In the past, when I felt I would die if I didn’t talk to someone, I used to invent a reason to call my husband. Sometimes I might get a few minutes chat out of him. He knew that if I didn’t use up most of the 20,000 words women apparently use every day, he would be assaulted with a barrage of conversation on arrival home. I have engaged the postman, meter reading man and the egg man in conversations that went way beyond the socially acceptable “hello, nice day”, much to their discomfort and embarrassment.

Ah, but those days are over now. Now I am never lonely. My husband has forgotten what its like to be hit over the head with a ton of unused words on his return from work and the postman, meter reading man and egg man are now quite relaxed coming to my door. And what has brought this change? Twitter, that’s what.

I have discovered the Twitterverse and it’s populated by lots of chatty women, writing women, older women, wise women, other moms, all of whom love to chat, sorry tweet. Twitter is like being at a great party where you can listen to lots of simultaneous conversations and join in whenever you wish to. We give each other weather reports – ‘it’s another lovely day here in West Cork’. We hear news almost as it happens, find out what’s coming up on radio programmes before they air and of course there are links to all kinds of great websites. You could happily spend all day twittering along. Because just as you are tiring of the Irish and Europeans, the Americans wake up and tweets tumble onto screen such as ‘morning all.. another hot one on the Cape, off to the beach.’

Ah yes, Twitter, where great women can witter on and on all day to their hearts content. But sometimes I do pause and look fondly at my kitchen wall and wonder if somewhere on a Greek Island is there a stretch mark loving 21st century Costas waiting to take me off on his boat so we can go skinny dipping in the Mediterranean. Because I would really hate to miss out on that! But in the meantime why not join the party on Twitter. Let me begin by introducing myself, I am @aurora111.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

STRANGE DAYS INDEED


The last year or two have been strange ones in lots of ways. I have felt somewhat confused and lost by the death of the Celtic Tiger. My country lost confidence – in its banks, its economy and its Government. And I lost confidence in myself, a fact that I am only realising now.

During the Celtic Tiger years I was happy to be a stay at home mom. The photographer was busy and although we were never loaded or awash with money, we were confident that we would usually have enough to get us by. So he left the cave every day to go and bring home the bacon. I stayed home, tended the fire, kept track of all that needed to be kept track of for the kids and I cooked the bacon (you all know that that is only about 10% of what I and millions of other mothers do, but you can fill in the gaps yourself). I was busy at home and I also did some writing as the inspiration moved me. Latterly I began blogging. We all jogged along nicely. I was happy with my lot and content and grateful to be doing what I felt I should be doing. The photographer felt the same.

Then the world wobbled. Something called Lehman Bros collapsed and a shiver ran down my spine. I was very unsure what all this meant but I know now it was the beginning of a tidal wave of economic misfortune which eventually crashed into the side of the photographer’s business. The world had stopped. It seemed everyone was caught in the headlights of the financial collapse, frozen, unable to move. I watched the lines on his face and the shadows under his eyes deepen as day after day the phone didn’t ring and the diary glowed with pristine unmarked pages. There was very little to laugh about.

As all slowed to a halt, I speeded up in my daily chores, became desperate about getting paid writing gigs, applied for jobs I didn’t want. Round and round I went trying to cut costs, save money and think of ways in which I would help bring home some bacon. In the middle of all this chaos and deathly silence, we somehow reorganised priorities, never gave up and got by. And now as we seem to be over the worst (thank you Irish Times for saying this week that our country is coming out of recession) I am left floundering about wondering who or what am I?

This crisis of confidence was brought sharply into focus this week. We went out ‘en famille’ for a pizza to celebrate the younger two's great end of year school reports. Over dinner it transpired that Carla (eldest – 23 just) got not one but two emails of commendation to her employer this week. And the photographer also got a great testimonial from a client. I beamed with pride at my family gathered around me and tried not to hear the little voice in my head that said “what is it you do again? How is it you add value to this family”. It was a sobering moment.

I have since given it all some thought and I now realise that the slow, painful death of the Celtic Tiger has made me look at who exactly I am and wonder if I am doing the right thing or am I taking the easy option by being at home with my children. I walked away from my career and a job I loved 9 years ago because I passionately felt that I did not want to miss my children’s childhood. I also wanted to have time to pursue my own hobbies – such as writing and reiki. So now as we begin to negotiate calmer economic waters, I am glad we made the choices we did. I am grateful to the photographer for his tenacity and hard work which has kept our particular boat upright through the storm. But most of all I am very proud of my children…. And am grateful for the reminder that that was exactly why I decided to retire from the corporate world those 9 years ago. Who am I? I am a mother, a writer, a Reiki Master and a worrier. I am happy with the first three and am still working on the fourth.


Picture by the Photographer (http://www.sherwood.ie/ - not out of the woods yet....need a great photographer give him a shout) of the three reasons I retired and am 'just' a mom!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

MY WRITING CABIN


On my long and winding healing path I learned about the power of visualisation, although I think I have always felt that in order to achieve anything you have to have a very clear vision of what it is you are working towards. My healing journey through Reiki taught me that this holding of a vision is very important even if you have no idea of how you are going to achieve your goal.

The title of my blog is no cutesy attempt to lure in readers with the promise of coffee and freshly baked scones (although both are often available). No, From The Kitchen Table is so called because that is exactly where I write from – my kitchen table. I yearn and ache for a room of my own in which I could write without distraction or disturbance.

My ideal writing space would be a cabin at the end of my garden, just under the Hawthorn tree. This cabin is fully heated and insulated making it cosy in winter. It also has a little veranda running around outside for summer days. Inside my cabin is a rocking chair for thinking, a stove for brewing coffee and a desk by the window from where I could write.

I see lots of plants and a bed in the corner for visiting cats. The walls are decked in colourful batiks and hangings and paintings that speak to my soul. There is a wicker basket which holds some beautiful blue, turquoise and green throws from Avoca Handweavers for extra winter warmth. Just inside the door, on the floor are my special furry writing slipper boots. There are shelves holding my reference books, dictionaries and books of poetry. On my desk sits my laptop, notebooks, scribble pads and a large candle.

Can you see it? I am there right now. As I hold this vision and will and dream it into being I am reminded of a poem I learned at school,

The Old Woman Of The Road by Padraic Colum.

O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods against the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!

To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!

I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!

I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!

Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!

And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house - a house of my own
Out of the wind's and the rain's way.

Where do you write from?
Photo is of the old shed which is currently occupying the space for my writing cabin... under the Hawthorn tree!

Monday, June 21, 2010

SHATTERED DREAMS

It has all been a bit hectic lately and so I have not had much time for writing, blogging or visiting my favourite blogs. I intend to rectify that over the coming week - in between Sports Day, Concerts and GAA Blitzs. In the meantime here is a very little short story for your amusement. So grab a cuppa, take a seat at the kitchen table and enjoy!

__________________________________________

I stood up, smoothed my hair and crossed the bedroom to answer the phone. I made a mental note to get on to Tom again about moving the bloody phone over to the bedside table. As usual he was already fast asleep. Lying on his back, mouth wide open, snoring softly, his grey haired chest rising and falling, the picture of blissed out middle age. I caught sight of my reflection as I passed the wardrobe mirror. My soft and saggy nakedness shocked me. Was that really me? I was caught, mesmerised by the picture captured in the framed mirror. Behind my creased self, was the crumpled bed and my husband of twenty years, oblivious in the dying light of a summer evening. Through the open window, riding on the smell of freshly cut grass came the suburban evening concert of birdsong and the hum of neighbourhood lawnmowers.

I have been here before I thought. On another soft summer evening, I stood framed in a crooked wall mirror and wrapped in the same soft aroma generated by the Trinity College groundsman on his ride on lawnmover. My body was long, lightly tanned and voluptuous. I celebrated my beauty and nakedness by dancing as my lover watched from the bed. Through the mirror I kept contact with his startling blue eyes which were full of the promise of further ecstasy. I danced sensually and slowly, enjoying the sight of his body reacting as he lay sprawled on my single bed. His strong arms held his head up so he could appreciate my teasing. I danced on until he rose up and grabbed me roughly, pulling me back down onto the bed. I gave myself up to his athletic, nut brown body, burying my face in his chest. We devoured each other, noisily, greedily. Outside the day died as we exhausted our appetite for each other. Then we lay, our bodies wrapped around each other as we spoke softly to each other of the big colourful dreams that lay ahead. Futures full of fun, laughter, excitement and languid afternoons spent making love.

It had gone silent. The snoring had stopped and the outside noise had ceased. The quiet was broken by Tom, who muttered “are you going to answer the bloody phone or stare at yourself all evening?” I smoothed my hair, sucked in my stomach, and tippy toed over my broken dreams to answer the phone.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ladies & Gentlemen, may I introduce........

My friend and writing colleague (we attend the same creative writing class) Mr Padraic Murray who has just launched himself into the blogosphere with his very own blog called
Window Across Dublin Bay. Here you will find Padraic's random thoughts on all forms of life and all of it's complexities from the local to the global. All blogged about in his pithy and witty style.

So head on over and have a read of his offerings. And you know the drill - leave a comment (makes us bloggers feel loved) and tell him I sent you (gets me brownie points).

Finally, may I apologise for my absence lately. I am desperately trying to catch up on my blog reading and comments!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I AM A (VIRTUAL) SOCIAL BUTTERFLY


I regularly encounter looks of total disbelief and mild contempt from my peers who cannot believe that a reasonably intelligent, middle aged woman (such as I) would be involved in social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. On discovery of my partiality to such sites, I wait to be asked if I am excited about the new season of Big Brother. I am an intelligent, middle aged woman – I hate Big Brother. But I love my virtual life!

Twitter is probably my favourite. It is like being at a busy party with lots of conversations going on at the same time. You can join in or opt out at will. Perfect. I totally get Twitter and have many Twitter friends with whom I tweet daily!

Facebook is another proposition and can be fraught with hidden perils. Some months ago, I signed up and got a profile together. I put a few photos up, linked to some friends and writer colleagues and mainly used it to shout about new blog posts! Then I realised that no matter how careful I was with the photos I put up on my profile, others are free to post their photos with you in them and tag you. So like it or not – the image of you from the mid 80s arrives on your newsfeed. A wee bit un-nerving alright – not to mention highly embarrassing!

Then my daughter’s friends began to send me ‘friend requests’ and it seemed rude to say no. So you accept the ‘friendship’ of 9 and 11 year olds and feel like a trendy mom until your email inbox gets clogged with gifts of animals of all descriptions from FarmVille. . You are asked to mind people’s virtual sheep and goldfish. You get bunches of spring flowers and hearts sent whizzing along the internet highway in your direction. This bestows a feeling of being very busy. Sorry I can’t do dinner just yet, I have to milk the cows on some child’s farm.

Older daughter is 22 and some of her 1.5 million friends have become my Facebook friends too. This brings a different problem altogether. I now get news of each night out, of who was the drunkest and the photos to prove it. This I definitely don’t need. They are getting older now, so this activity is beginning to slow down and my nerves are slightly less frazzled.

The worst aspect of Facebook and the one thing that is guaranteed to make someone my vintage feel very worried indeed is the Friend Request from someone you know you should remember but you don’t. This is enough to send you running off to the nearest memory clinic immediately to get an assessment of just how bad your dementia is.

Did I mention LinkedIn. No? Well that’s ‘cos I don’t get it at all. There is no action on LinkedIn. Nothing to do. And worse of all it doesn’t make me feel loved. No, not at all!
Twitterers photo by lindayshaver

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

THE IRISH TIMES

I am so pleased. The Irish Times have published a short feature by moi today! The piece is in the form of a letter I wrote to my eldest daughter when she was doing her Leaving Cert a couple of years ago. You can read it here: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/features/2010/0609/1224272115693.html

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

SOFT DAY


One of my favourite expressions comes directly from the Irish is La Bog (pronounced bug) which means soft day. It is a phrase I first heard used in the Kerry Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area). It describes perfectly the weather here today. It's not raining exactly but there is a fine, constant damp mist. The sky is grey and low but the dampness does soften edges and make colours shine. La bog ceart go leor!

On days when I am not feeling quite so poetic, soft days are known as frizzy hair days!

Photo : Tiger being the elder lemon of the cats is well used to soft days. And I, being the eternal optimist have the sun lounger ready for the return of the sun!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

THE BUS AT MONALOE CORNER

Yesterday, for the first time since the mid 80’s I took a bus into town (Dublin City). The reason for my journey was to meet up with fellow bloggers Brigid from Sort of Writing, Ann from Inkpot and Quills and Theresa from Substitute Teacher’s Saga. We had coffee, scones and lots of chat and laughter in the Avoca Café on Suffolk Street – where they really should not transport fish in the only lift in the building. But smelly lift aside it was a lovely way to pass a sunny morning in Dublin. However I digress.. this post is about the bus.

Back in the 80’s, when I last took the bus into town, it was a rough and very basic way to travel. 80’s buses never looked that hygienic or clean. They rattled and chugged their way along and I remember regular break downs.

I do remember that back then, back seats were to be avoided at all costs being positioned directly over the engine which always seemed to be straining at the very limit of it's capability. This resulted in a fume filled rear section where nausea was likely to overtake one after a couple of miles. Travelling on the back seats also was usually and worryingly very hot. I was never on a bus that spontaneously burst into flames but on many journeys that eventuality did seem to be imminent. 80’s buses also usually had dirty windows and, of course, the fug of cigarette smoke upstairs which made locating your destination somewhat difficult.

What a difference a mere 25 years had made! The first big change is that now bus stops have names. In the 80’s your stop was known as Stage 10 or whatever. But now the wise folks at Dublin Bus have christened all the stops and I am very proud to say that my local bus stop is called Monaloe Corner – how poetic is that? I almost expected Tigger and Winnie the Pooh to come bouncing and ambling along at any moment as I waited for my carriage into town.

And I didn’t have long to wait. After about ten minutes at Monaloe Corner and with an elegant ‘whoosh’ sound, my bus glided to a stop. Gone is the big step up (or was it two steps), which made boarding the 80’s bus difficult especially if one had been for a drink or three after work. No, 21st century Dublin Buses are flush with the pavement with lovely wide doors, presumably making them wheelchair accessible.

Gone was the graffiti and grimy interior. My bus was bright and cheerful and decked out in corporate coloured upholstery. There was a dedicated space for standing passengers, a huge improvement of the 80’s arrangement of standing in the door well of the second door half way down the bus where one always felt a bit vulnerable should the driver inadvertently open the wrong door! There is even a luggage hold on Dublin Bus – which in the 80’s was only found on the coach that took you from your aircraft to the terminal building at the Airport.

So – Dublin Bus – this post if for you. Take a bow. Efficient service, clean and comfortable vehicles. I was most impressed. I can’t wait for an excuse to go into town again!