Monday, December 12, 2011

ALL THE PERFUMES OF ARABIA..........








Some of the most bizarre and ridiculous ads on TV at this time of year are the highly stylised mini movies aimed at enticing us to purchase our loved ones expensive perfume or after shave/cologne.

Warning – here comes a bit of a rant!

I hate perfume. To my sensitive and sophisticated nose, perfumes are an aberration. Nature does scent far more beautifully than we mere men and women ever could. Think of the smell of an old rose, of lavender or of lilac... sublime fragrances that are pure and natural and blissfully beautiful. Now think of running the gauntlet through the cosmetic department of a large store – keeping speed up and eyes downward muttering “no thanks, no thanks” as very startled looking ‘consultants’ in white uniforms proffer a spray of Poison or Opium.

Ok – I have just read that paragraph back and it sounds very '80s. Do department stores still do that kind of thing? Do Poison and Opium still exist? Have they been relegated to granny presents yet? Anyway you get the picture.

“So”, I hear you ask “what perfume do you wear?” I don’t. No siree. Perfume makes me sneeze, makes my eyes water and I am sure interferes with the delicate balance of energies in my aura!

But that said I do have a signature smell! Oh yes, I douse myself liberally at least once a day in Spanish cologne! Not baby cologne.. oh no, only the real deal which is found in Spanish supermarkets where it costs a few Euros for a huge litre bottle. For evening wear or when I want to feel a bit glamorous I sparingly use a bottle of magic scent I had specially made up for me in Glastonbury some years ago. Ahh Glastonbury – hippie heaven where they know all about protecting ones aura!

Anyway I do believe that smells are important; on ourselves and in our homes. As anyone who has tried to sell a house knows, the enticing smells at home are that of baking and freshly brewed coffee. Being the Domestic Goddess that I am, I am happy to report that those aromas do regularly infuse my living space.

For other times, I use natural aromatherapy oils in a burner or scented candles. “Scented candles” I hear you say. Oh yes but not just any scented candles – oh no. There is a high degree of discernment required in the purchase of scented candles. Proper natural scented candles don’t generally come very cheap, they are not usually in jars with lids or as plug ins or yokes that spurt every time you walk past. No, my dear readers, scented candles must be of high quality in order to enhance your home. They should add to the sensitive aura of our living spaces and not function to blanket the air in headache inducing chemical fug.

I am glad to say that there is one brand of candles that I love, that gently whisper their natural fragrance and therefore do not interfere with the aura of my home. These candles are Irish and made in Wicklow and are marketed under the name of Max Benjamin. As I type these words there is a gentle hint of cinnamon and cloves in the air from the flickering jar in the corner. Perfectly complimenting the flickering lights on the Christmas Tree and making me want some mulled wine...

Max Benjamin’s latest product is a range of handwash, shower gel and body lotions and the nice people at the company (knowing how much I love their stuff) have given me a couple of samples to give away. So leave a comment telling me what your favourite scent is and why and I will pick two winners at random on Friday.

For more information on Max Benjamin check out their website.

In the meantime – is anyone off to Spain soon? My stock of cologne is running dangerously low!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

STOP - I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF THE BAD NEWS

We have a looming ’austerity’ budget, a possible ‘Address to the Nation’ by our Taoiseach (which is clearly not to tell us that all is well), and apparently we are facing possible economic Armageddon with the demise of the Euro. Has anyone else had enough of this current tidal wave of bad news? Our media is just full of the gloom and doom – from individual stories of hardship and pain to the ‘celebrity’ economists who are currently kept fierce busy as they whizz from TV stations to radio studios. “ Agghhhh” I want to scream. “I have had enough. STOP!” I have reached saturation point. I can take no more.

This morning I dipped in and out of radio programmes but could find nothing to raise my spirits. I had gone to bed last night having stupidly watched both RTE’s Frontline and TV3’s Vincent Browne. Thankfully I cannot remember my dreams but my spirit was still sagging from the avalanche of awfulness that is, apparently fast approaching us.

So having walked the dog through a beautiful morning sunrise I came home to bake for a bit and then I took refuge in Twitter. “Please cheer me up” I cried, well I tweeted but you know what I mean. “Tell me how you distract yourself from the negativity without spending a fortune.” And Twitter being Twitter soon my screen was filling up with wonderful cheap ideas to protect your sanity and to balance the negativity. I just had to share them.

So here they are.. in no particular order, the very best suggestions on how to raise your spirits when all around you seems to be going south!

  • Reading a book by an open fire
  • A walk by the sea, (Dun Laoghaire Pier was a particular favourite of twitterers) followed perhaps by a Hot Port
  • A long soak in a hot bath – candles, wine and a book are optional extras.
  • A coffee in your favourite cafe (with cake) and a spot of people watching.
  • Blast your favourite music loudly and dance like a mad thing around your kitchen or office.
  • The Botanic Gardens – free and full of squirrels
  • A browse in a charity shop or around car boot sale – you never know what you might find.
  • A good natter with a friend.
  • A visit to your local library – free books and a repository of all kinds of interesting information.
  • Make a big pot of stew which you then devour followed by a tin of Quality Street (a very retro feel good idea, but I love it).
  • Switch to Lyric FM
  • Learn how to crochet and make something nice.
  • Birdsong
  • Visit an animal sanctuary and help out – walk the dogs or pet the cats etc.
  • Watch ‘the best of wipe-out’ clips on YouTube
  • A cycle in the Phoenix Park which apparently is only €10 for 3 hours – free deer, birds and monuments.
  • A walk in the mountains – remind yourself of just how really beautiful Ireland is.
  • Time spent with a pet – borrow one if you don’t have one of your own.
  • Finally, join a choir and sing your heart and lungs out.

I would have never included the choir suggestion as I am not much of a singer, but last weekend I was lucky enough to be part of the #twitterxmassingle. For those of you not on Twitter, this was the brainchild of one Brenda Drumm who within a week put together a choir, musicians, producers and technicians and last Sunday we all came together to record a very special version of Wintersong. The single will be released on Twitter in the coming days and will be available for download. All proceeds going to the Neonatal Unit of the National Maternity Hospital in Holes Street. I will be blogging in more detail about this when the song is ready to buy. But let me tell you that as someone who was intending just to help out in some capacity last Sunday, I ended up ‘in the choir’ and did my best to sing along. And I can tell you it was the most uplifting and fun experience I have had in ages. So yes I say – think of joining a choir to lift your spirits along with your voice.

So there you have it... some of the best ideas that Twitter offered me to cheer me up. Sex was also mentioned but whereas I happily concur that this is an instant pick me up (no pun intended) for the boys, there are a myriad of other factors to be taken into account for the wimmins... basically that is probably a different blog post.

But if none of the above rings your bell, get yourself on Twitter – there’s a whole load of people waiting to entertain and make you laugh. They’d cheer a body up ! Thank you Twitter friends for sharing your wisdom.


Photo by www.sherwood.ie of Lough Dan in Co Wicklow - one of my very favourite places to walk.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

IS THAT IT?


As I cruise effortlessly (yep, no effort required) towards the completion of my half century my mind has been exercised recently on what I have learned thus far and what I need to change for the coming decades.

I am a very lucky girl (?) as my oldest friend lives right across the road from me. We have known each other since we were both 7 and .... wait for it.... we are exactly the same age. We will both celebrate our big 50 on the 11th January 2012 (stick that in your diary now – although I promise I will give you plenty of reminders beforehand). So my pal, Rita and I have spent many hours discussing what being 50 means. It is an ongoing conversation and we have not come to any great conclusions just yet, but there are two small things we agree on... so far.

Firstly is that we have vowed to never ever ask “is this it?” From her on we intend grabbing life, taking every opportunity offered, doing stuff for the hell of it and moving ourselves out of our comfort zone on our regular basis.

The second vow we have made is that from now on we will always have a bottle of champagne or proscecco in the fridge. Why? Because we’re worth it. It’s our version of wearing your good knickers every day!

So when my dear husband phoned me yesterday to ask if I was up for a trip to the Opera that night Rita’s wisdom floated to the surface. Opera? OK – so far I would have never really been that taken with Opera but at nearly 50, maybe I am finally old enough to appreciate it. And it was in the Grand Canal Theatre and I love the Grand Canal Theatre. “OK”, says I to him “let me see if I can organise it.” Babysitter, dinner for kids and organising a lift to the Dart for myself was organised in jig time and I raced to get suitably glammed up for a Night at the Opera. We were going to see La Traviata. A quick call to the mother who is a serious Opera Buff and I had an outline of the story.

It was like Date Night. He met me in town and we had time for a drink at the bar before taking our seats in the auditorium. I relaxed as the wine did its work and I settled down giving myself over to the music and the spectacle. Within ten minutes I was asleep. I came to again towards the first interval when the hunger pangs began to gnaw.... I of course had no time for dinner.

Sensing the danger of a hungry wife, who is generally a grumpy wife, himself went off to get me some interval ice cream. The sugar worked and as the production began again I concentrated on following the action. I really did try. The RTE National Symphony Orchestra were great. The singers could definitely sing. The leading man bore a disconcerting resemblance to Neil Oliver, that cute Scottish guy who presents Coast on the BBC. But while the music enthralled the majority of the audience I could feel my spirit soaring up and around the auditorium looking for diversion while physically I gave in to sleep again. By the time I came to for the second interval, I was really hungry and hoping that himself was as bored as I was and that we could knock back our interval drinks and head out for pizza. But although he wasn’t exactly waxing lyrically about it, he was determined to stay. I texted my kids wondering what was happening on I’m A Celebrity..

So, the morning after the night before, I can now categorically state that I do not like Opera. It leaves me unmoved, totally. Seeing Aida performed live in Verona is now off my bucket list. My mother is trying to come to terms with the fact that she has, in her words, a Philistine for a daughter.

As we headed for the chipper, I thought how proud Rita will be of me; I moved out of my comfort zone and jumped at an opportunity without much hesitation. Although the experience did leave me asking – “is that it?”

Photo of The Grand Canal Theatre plaza at night by Damien Synnott on Flickr

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

THE ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

NOON - 24th November - THANK YOU DAY
The winner of the Thank You Book is Alison Wells!
Congratulations Alison...
And HUGE THANK YOU to the Irish Hospice Foundation for the prize and for the wonderful concept of THANK YOU DAY


Just for today I will not worry

Just for today I will not anger

Today I will do my work honestly

Today I will give thanks for my many blessings

Today I will be kind to all living things

I love these principles. They are the 5 principles of the healing art of Reiki. You can keep your commandments, - these are my kind of ‘rules’ mainly because they are not rules but aspirations and they focus on the positive.

I would love to be able to tell you that I live by these tenets. I do try. I usually fail. Wouldn’t it be great to ‘never worry’? I find the ‘being kind of living things’ the easiest to accomplish – particularly kindness to living things with four legs – they tend not to give backchat which definitely makes them easier to be kind to! ‘Giving thanks for my many blessings’ is probably one of the easiest to forget to do regularly and although it sounds easy, it takes a little an effort to achieve.

I often think back to the first few months after I ‘retired’ from the world of full time work to become a stay at home mother (or lazy sponger according to Emer O Kelly). When I no longer had to race at breakneck speed through my days, juggling childcare, domestic chores and the demands of full time working, I suddenly began to notice the small things that previously I had been blind to. I began to get glimpses of the world through the eyes of my children. Like a cartoon character slowing down, the background of my life suddenly became vivid and wonderfully eclectic. I began to notice the small things that lent colour and texture to my days. I made a list. I called it My Simple Pleasures.

  • A warm fragrant bubble bath before bed.
  • Coming home to find my cats all curled up and content in various corners of the house.
  • The silence that slowly envelopes the house, as humans and animals take to sleep.
  • Fresh bed linen.
  • A walk in the rain
  • Watching the birds feed from the feeders hanging from the tree just outside the window.
  • The smell of baking.
  • The taste of chocolate cake about 20 minutes after it comes out of the oven.
  • The comfort of knowing that everyone is in on a stormy winter night.
  • The chatter of family conversation over Sunday roast.
  • Seeing a washing line full of washing on a bright and breezy day.
  • Coming across a squirrel while on a walk in the park.
  • A warm sunny summer afternoon spent reading in the garden.
  • Our postmen – who seem to always be cheerful.
  • Going for a walk and realising that Ireland is still a country where strangers often smile and say hello as they pass by.
  • Fridays – no homework, no cooking and no school lunches till Monday.
  • Coffee and a scone at the kitchen table, while reading the paper, having completed the weekly marathon of grocery shopping.
  • How beautiful my garden looks on a frosty bright winter morning.
  • A sunrise walk on Dun Laoghaire Pier.
  • Listening to my kids deep in childish conversation, oblivious to my presence.

If I am having a bad day or am just feeling down, I sometimes take out this list and remind myself of these little things that make life worthwhile. I am determined to never again be so harried that I miss the beauty and simple pleasures that are all around.

The Hospice Foundation has cottoned on to this ‘attitude of gratitude’. They say that “gratitude is good for you” and that there is scientific evidence to back this up. So, in their wisdom they have designated next Thursday 24th November as National Thank You Day and to help us to practice gratitude in our day to day lives, they have produced a Thank You Book.

This book is a journal, full of blank pages in which to record your own gratitude, your thankfulness for the things which make you smile, which lift your spirits, which make your life good. To help you get started there is a wise and gentle forward written by Roisin Ingle and the first few pages feature simple messages of gratitude from some well known personalities.

The nice people at The Hospice Foundation kindly sent me a Thank You Book so I could test drive a daily practice of gratitude. “Piece of cake”, I thought, “I’ve done Reiki don’tchya know, I know all about this gratitude stuff.” Well two weeks in, let me tell you it’s not quite as easy as it might seem.

I began by placing my lovely Thank You book on my bedside table in order to record my gratitude for good things that happened at the end of the day. But one week in, I found that I kept recording variations of the same thing. “Today I am grateful for my warm, cosy bed.” “Thank you for the gift of a good night’s sleep.” Then there were a few nights when I was so tired getting into bed that I just couldn’t manage to record anything. So I have now taken my Thank You Book and placed it on my desk. The idea being that first thing in the morning before I turn on my laptop, I take my journal and I record a simple pleasure.

They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit so I guess I am starting again now. So I hereby undertake for the next 21 days I will write down at least one thing every morning. After that it should be a walk in the park! And hopefully I will have shifted some gear in my brain which will cause me to look at life, most of the time, with a ‘glass half full’ mentality. Ohhh I wish that didn’t remind me of chocolate! But there you go – my entry for today. “Thank you for chocolate – especially Green & Black’s Mint Chocolate.” Gosh – I hope I am doing this right!

If you want to experiment with the ‘attitude of gratitude’ – believe me it really does make a difference – check out www.thankyouday.ie

STOP PRESS: To mark Thank You Day the Irish Hospice Foundation have given me another copy of The Thank You Book to give away from My Kitchen Table. To be in with a chance to win this gorgeous book which will kick start your own gratitude habit, just leave me a comment. A winner will be chosen on Thank You Day which is 24th November. Good Luck!

Monday, November 14, 2011

MIRIAM O CALLAGHAN & WOMEN ON AIR

I have written before about Women on Air – a great bunch of women who believe we should have more female voices on the airwaves in Ireland. I am on the organizing committee.

Women on Air began as a one off seminar to encourage and educate women on making themselves available to broadcast media. Such was the success of that first event just over a year ago, that Women on Air seminars are now regular events. However our most interesting seminar is happening this week and is open to all… and like all WOA events, the lads are most welcome too.

So if you have ever wondered how top broadcasters and journalists juggle family life with a high-flying career, now's your chance to turn the tables and ask the journalist those very questions. On Wednesday night we'd be delighted if you joined us to hear Prime Time's Miriam O'Callaghan talk about her life in broadcasting. Everyone is welcome to this Women on Air event at Independent Colleges, Dawson Street, Dublin 2 at 6pm on Wednesday. To book your €6 ticket (cash or card) please just follow this link: http://womenonairmiriam-ehometext.eventbrite.com/.

We're looking forward to seeing you there!



Thursday, November 10, 2011

WINTER SYMPHONY

Winter lunchtime in a grey, dank and murky Dublin.

The Concert Hall swallows us up,

gathering us into the elegant auditorium.

We settle ourselves into our seats,

making nests of our heavy winter coats.

The Symphony Orchestra filter out onto the stage.

Men and women, looking like they have been randomly gathered up from various jobs around the city.

A motorbike mechanic, the chairman of the board, a banker, a lollipop lady, a school mom, a hairdresser…..

Their musical apparatus is all that sets them apart.

The cacophony of tuning up, of muted conversations and shuffling of feet dies away.

Hushed anticipation.

Instruments raised, they become one,

As music bursts forth like some magnificent fireworks display.

Firey notes of red and orange glow as they land all around us.

Electrifying the air.

Transporting us away from our grey city to icy Russian landscapes.

And then gentler tones of soft greens and blues float up into the air.

The conductor knitting up the airborne notes into a multicoloured fabric of sound.

Softer and softer until all that is heard is a lone harpist.

Dropping gentle notes like raindrops splashing onto a glass lake.

Crystal clear drops of ancient music catching the light and scattering vivid rainbows here and there.

The motley crew of musicians are transformed into mystical creatures,

Clothed in satins and velvets of deep hues.

Russet and ochre.

Purple and gold.

As they shower us in this lyrical magnificence.

A wholly unexpected and sublime joy.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

OICHE SAMHAIN

This piece was featured on RTE Radio 1's Sunday Miscellany Programme last year.
I will again be featuring on Sunday Miscellany this Sunday - 30th October - with a piece on Owls! Tune in after 9am news.


Halloween, Oiche Samhain. In its original form ‘as Gaeilge’, the name holds a hint of the magic and mystical mayhem that to me is what today, the 31st of October is all about. Of all our feastdays, Halloween is the one that links us most closely with our ancient Celtic and Pagan past. Today carries echoes of ritual and belief stretching back over hundreds and hundreds of years. Halloween speaks to a very deep and primitive part of my soul. I love it and always have.

Nowadays a lot of our Halloween traditions and customs have been overlaid with American style elaborate decorations and costumes. The old cry of “have ya any apples or nuts” has been replaced by the chorus of “trick or treat” which will ring through neighbourhoods tonight. But like buns becoming cupcakes top heavy in sugary frosting, Halloween may be somewhat overdressed but its origins are firmly based here in Ireland where fairy lore and a fascination with the ‘other world’ has always been a part of who we are. It is a celebration of the unknown, of the spiritual and speaks of the Irish penchant for eschewing authority and our love of a bit of occasional anarchy and chaos.

To this day I have absolutely no memory of ever having had a childhood birthday party but I have very clear recollections of my youthful Halloweens. Each year I dressed up as the same thing – a gypsy. I wore a long, multicoloured skirt, a head scarf and huge ‘clip on’ hoop earrings. But best of all, my mother applied eye shadow and kohl to my eyes making me a very glamorous gypsy indeed.

The Barm Brack is an important part of Halloween and in the 70’s it came with a whole array of bits to choke on. There was a rag for poverty, a bit of a stick indicating you would be beaten by your spouse, a coin for prosperity and of course the best prize of all was the ring. Mother would slice up the brack on the plate, keeping each slice firmly in place while my brothers and I, made our choice. The ring was immediately discovered, bulging from the cake, wrapped in greaseproof paper. Oh the excitement.

Once tea was over and darkness had fallen it was time to brave whatever ghouls and witches were abroad and head out to collect our store of apples and nuts. As autumn tipped into winter, the nights were cold and our breath made little clouds of condensation ahead of us. The air smelt of damp, decaying leaves overlaid with a whiff of gunpowder from bangers and the scent of distant bonfires. As we moved from house to house we passed other neighbourhood kids, their faces hidden behind garish plastic masks. Who were they? Did we know them?

Once the cold got the better of us and our bag was sufficiently heavy with its feast fit for any squirrel, we headed home. In the light of the house we investigated our booty just in case someone had sneaked in a chocolate bar. Usually they hadn’t. So we munched on monkey nuts as we recounted the nights events to the sound of ongoing bangers exploding outdoors.

I carry the memories of my childhood Halloweens with me to this day and relive them each year, as I hand out sweets and chocolate to my neighbourhood’s children. My own girls are now too old to have me accompany them around the houses and mobile phones mean they can contact me if they need to. Last weekend we decorated the hall and front garden with large spider webs, cats, ghosts and witches. I usually don my own witch’s hat as the light fades on this the most magical day of the year. But maybe for tonight, I will search out some huge hoop earrings and a headscarf! Either way, I can’t wait.


Photo by Paul Sherwood - our front door on Oiche Samhain

Saturday, October 22, 2011

HANDBAGS AT DUSK

What do you think of when you think of the Queen of England?

What is the image comes into your head?

Her slightly bend frame? Her permanent rictus looking smile? Her classic wave? Or do you, like me, see her in her sensible shoes and clutching tightly onto her Royal handbag? I have often wondered what she carries in there, seeing as though Royalty apparently don’t carry money and she has ladies-in-waiting and all kinds of other minions to cater for her every need. I’d love to have a furkle in Lizzy’s bag. But I digress. The point I am actually trying to make is that to me, the Queen always carries what I consider to be the quintessential handbag. A square, solid, sensible bag designed to clasp firmly in your paw!

Now, I’m as much of a bag woman as the next girl, but have never been a fan of the handbag per se, always preferring a long shoulder strap to facilitate the draping of said bag around my person (and my preferred option is a strap long enough to wear across my body thereby allowing both hands to go about their business unhindered by bag duties). But I don’t know any woman who would dream of going out without her bag. For us girls, bags are an essential part not just of our wardrobe but of who we are. You can tell a fair bit about a woman from her bag... but you can do a full character profile by analyzing the contents of said bag. And right there is one of the most interesting things about women and their bags. Why is it we get so uneasy when someone else delves into the depths of one of our most personal spaces? Early on in our relationship, the photographer learned that only in a case of life or death should he ever delve his masculine arm into the inner sanctum of my bag. Kids are not permitted inside either. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.... please tell me I’m not.

Who remembers the anger in this country when the late Brian Lenihan insisted that “sure everyone partied through the Celtic Tiger years”. We all looked at each other and declared indignantly “I most certainly did not party.” But we know who he was talking about. Yep, he was most definitely referring to the women with more money than sense who paid huge sums of money for the latest designer handbag for which they had to wait months, on a list in Brown Thomas. Can you imagine their excitement when they finally got the phone call to tell them that the latest Gucci bag had arrived with their name on it? No? Well me neither.

If your bag says a lot about who you are, I guess I am generally big and cheap! For casual wear I like a roomy bag, generally an unstructured shape that can mould itself against my hip in a decorous manner. When attempting to look a little more business like I tend favour a satchel type bag, although it should be said that as I buy cheap bags, I probably achieve more of an unsuccessful business like look! Finally I have one or two small bags. These are specifically only ever used when I fly with Ryanair. They have been chosen carefully so that I have quick access to my phone and money while in the airport but which can then be squashed into my cabin bag in order to get past the eagle eyed staff at the boarding gate. Or if its winter they can usually be hidden under ones jacket! Ohh the feeling of power when you know you have duped Ryanair and their SAS type boarding procedures.

I did once spend a lot of money on a bag. It was during my black phase and although I was going to a wedding, I was aware that I was running the risk of looking like a grieving widow. I thought a nice, sophisticated bag would be just the thing. Silver, I thought would be nice and so splashed out about €100 on a sparkly handbag to add a dash of glamour to my look. I actually still think it’s a nice bag but I also still smart at the slagging I got at the wedding from my so called friends, one of whom is a classic handbag connoisseur. They thought my silver bag was hilarious... in fact I think the Queen was ever mentioned, as in “doesn’t the Queen have a handbag like that”. To this day my very expensive silver sits sadly in my wardrobe, like a sad butterfly who only lived for one day.

Maybe it’s time my handbag went out again... and I have just the event for it. Next Thursday, 27th of October, Heavenly Handbags, an auction and sale of pre-loved bags takes place in The Lost Society, Powerhouse Town Centre, Dublin 2. This event is being jointly organised by Boots and The Hospice Foundation and will raise funds for Childrens Hospice Homecare. Along with bags there will be pampering and wine and tasty canapĂ©s. Doors open at 6pm and tickets are only €20 from Boots in Grafton Street, Stephens Green SC, Dundrum SC, Swords Pavillion and Donnybrook. Grab a few girl friends and get along... it should be fun and you would be helping a great cause. Oh and if you see a lovely silver handbag give it a wave....and don’t laugh!

Photo by Chris P on Flickr

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

PUTTING THE BROADS INTO BROADCASTING

This night exactly one year ago, I was preparing to take my courage in both hands and get the bus into town to attend a seminar which was aimed at promoting Women On Air. The bus wasn’t that scary in the end – in fact I think bus ceilings have gotten higher making them far safer for me. I distinctly remember in the 80s I used hit my head off the roof regularly. But I digress. As I approached the National Library, the voice in my head was going great guns with really helpful stuff like “what the hell are you doing?”, “you’ll know no one”, “are you going to announce to all these smart career women that you are a suburban housewife with delusions of being a writer?” and finally “go home you big eejit.”

But one foot kept placing itself in front of the other and so I landed into the lecture room trying my best to blend in with the background. As I took a seat I found one friendly face – Eleanor Fitzsimons – a real journalist and writer and someone I had met just once before. To this day Eleanor remains one of the best women I know and that’s not just because she gifted me a little bit of credibility on that day last year.

As I listened to the great presentations by Helen O’Rahilly and Helen Shaw, the little voice in my head was still asking, “why are you here?” The honest answer was that I was not entirely sure. All I was sure about was that I love radio.

Before I reached the dizzy heights of being a housewife, I worked for a national charity as their Public Relations Officer. In that capacity I had done interviews on Morning Ireland, Today with Pat Kenny and (God Bless Him) Gerry Ryan. On retirement to the world of domestic goddessship I occasionally emailed programmes with views and had done phone interviews with Marion Finucane and Gerry again. I had recorded some pieces for Sunday Miscellany and Lyric FM. In the months immediately before that first Women On Air gig, I had begun doing occasional panel pieces with East Coast FM in Wicklow. All of that experience qualifies me as nothing other than an opinionated woman, albeit one with plenty of life experience. It also confirmed the fact that I love radio... but still I felt very much a fraud sitting with all these career women and very experienced journalists.

The effervescent Margaret E Ward, founder of Women On Air didn’t seem to think I was a dinosaur or “big eejit” and neither radio producer Helen McCormack who I also met that night. In fact Helen asked if I would come in to be a contributor on the Tom McGurk programme which she produced on 4FM.

I floated home that night last year. Not only had I enjoyed the event, especially the networking afterwards, but I had been accepted, as me! And that is what is special about Women On Air. Along with presentations by industry experts and leaders, it is a supportive and encouraging forum encouraging any women who wish it, to find their special voices. I am passionate in my belief that we need to hear more women on air. We need to put more broads into broadcasting! More importantly we need to hear from women from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all qualifications and from all kinds of kitchen tables.

I still love radio, have done some more work with 4FM, am a regular on East Coast FM’s Morning Show and still contribute to Sunday Miscellany. I am also now on the organising committee for Women On Air (you gotta give something back). So if like me, you are wondering about radio, get up and get involved. Leave a comment and I will make sure your details are on the mailing list for future events.

In the meantime – Margaret E Ward – take a bow for a great idea. We’ve only just begun.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY WOMEN ON AIR!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A LESSON IN MOTHERING - FROM A CAT!

Consider this post a third instalment in our ‘Adventures in Kitty Fostering’ series. After the stories of Hector and Maggie, we took a break in order to facilitate a smooth transition back into school routine etc. But once October arrived, I knew in my heart that it was time to check out if our friends in the DSPCA had need of foster families again. Not surprisingly they did and when I phoned them last Friday, I made a spur of the moment decision to provide a temporary home for a little family.... Moma cat and four 10 day old kittens. It should be said that poor Moma is only a kitten herself – not yet a year old.

So we now have a total of ten 4 leggeds sharing our lives and our home. The latest arrivals, like their predecessors are installed in the kid’s sitting room which is a bright sunny room in the front of the house. The nice people in the DSPCA provided us with a crate in order to coral the kitties as they get older. So inside we have made up a comfy bed with plenty of space for Moma to recline and feed her babies. I should point out that I am calling her Moma because after a couple of try outs we have yet to find a name that suits this magnificent feline. I am not happy about that.. I would far prefer that kitties in my care all have suitable names. But as TS Elliot famously said “the naming of cats is a difficult matter, it isn’t just one of your holiday games”. Her kittens however have all been given monikers appropriate to the season. So we have Samhain, Salem, Gandolf and Merlin. However the problem with their names is that they are totally interchangeable as each kitten is identical – jet black and so we have no idea who is who.

Anyway last night I was given a lesson in how magnificent cats are by Moma cat which left me feeling very silly altogether.

As they seemed to be all well settled into their new environment and as we had handled the kittens a wee bit without any difficulty, I thought it was time to attempt to get a photo of the four little bundles of blackness which I could post on Twitter and Facebook. (The online community love cats).

So I took each kitty and placed it carefully on the sofa, with cushions strategically placed so that they couldn’t fall off the edge. I went to grab my phone for the picture. As I did so, in arrived Moma cat who took one look at the set up on the sofa, shot me a filthy look and immediately jumped up and retrieved nearest kitty. Grabbing her by her scruff, she expertly jumped off the sofa and transported her swinging bundle back to her bed. By the time she returned to the sofa I was a gibbering eejit. Picking up all three kitties I placed them back in their bed, muttering “sorry Moma cat, ...... look they are all back,....... they are fine”.

She delivered me another withering look and I went back to the sofa alone, feeling scolded, stupid and shallow. Moma cat was still scowling at me from her crate. Her expression seemed to say “they are only 12 days old, far too young to have their image posted on social media”.

I apologised again.

PS – If you have a suggestion for a name for a beautiful, balletic, sleek, jet black female cat please let me know.

There is no photo with this post for obvious reasons!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

SO HOW WAS IT FOR YOU? - JWT Reunion

Going to a reunion, after more than 25 years is a very strange experience. 7 years ago I went to my 25th year school reunion. Last week I went to a JWT staff reunion. I worked for the company from 1979 to 1985. Both experiences were similar as in both cases I was meeting up with some very special people who were part of my daily life all those years ago.

And right there is the very first thing you learn. People don’t change. Sure they may look a bit different – lacking hair or grey hair in the men and a definite softness in the face and body of most of the women – but voices, mannerisms and personalities remain intact. So that as soon as you begin talking all those physical differences fade away. Years melt and relationships seem to resume exactly at the point they left off… . even though it is decades since you have last spoken together.

At a deeper level something else also shifts… very subtly you are brought face to face with your younger self. Your carefree self, the person you were before you embarked on a life partnership, before kids, before the slavery of a mortgage. Very often your younger self is one who has suffered few traumas or difficult life events. And a reunion offers you the opportunity, if only for a few hours, to become that person again.

Sure, lip service is paid to finding out how many kids your ex colleagues/friends may have, where they live… but in reality no one really cares much about that stuff. We acknowledge that we have all moved on with life – in a myriad of different directions. But that’s not the point, is it?

The whole point of a reunion is to reclaim and revisit those earlier days. To hug the special people who were once a very important part of your day to day life. To acknowledge the fun, the craic and the laughs we shared so long ago. In the intervening years you have often wondered if you are looking back at those times through the proverbial rose coloured glasses. A good reunion shouts loud that you are not wrong. Those days were the best of times. The times you laughed loudest and longest; the times when your main concerns were in having a good time and enjoying yourself.

Life would be very boring if everything remained the same forever. We are all on a journey and so we all move on. We have all seen different things, done different things, experienced tough times and sublime joy. But the great gift of a reunion is the pause it allows in life; a pause in which you are granted the opportunity to revisit your past, to remember your younger self and to embrace her. And if you are lucky you might be able to reclaim a little bit of that more reckless, more spirited, more spontaneous you. The trick then is to ensure she doesn’t cause too much chaos in your current reality!

I will keep you posted!

Photo of old pals - Des Abbot, yours truly and Tony Fitzgibbon - decades later

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

OWL WISDOM

This is the text of my piece on Owls which featured on Sunday Miscellany on 30th October 2011.

You can listen to the podcast here. I am first up just a minute or so in.



Standing on a hill in deepest Wicklow, a north easterly wind whipping my hair into an unruly nest, I tried to run through in my head what the Falconer had told us on the safety briefing. My fellow participants on this Introduction to Falconry day were spread out in a wide arc around me. High up, in the swaying trees behind us, watching our preparations, were two Harris Hawks.

A crimson morsel of raw meat was pressed onto the top of my closed fist. I extended my arm out and as I half turned towards the trees, the falconer blew his whistle. There was the incongruous faint tinkle of bells and the hawk swooped down from the tree and expertly brought herself in for a landing on my glove.

My breath caught in my throat and I could feel adrenelin pulsing through my veins. The meat was swallowed in a second and then this magnificent bird turned its head and stared me straight in the eye. I couldn’t remember what our falconer had said – it was either never look a bird of prey in the eye or do look them straight in the eye. Apparently their eyes don’t move. So our eye movements either annoy them or calm then. I couldn’t remember which.

It didn’t matter anyway, because I was mesmerised. Completely transfixed by the stare of the hawk. This majesterial bird, a wild animal to its very core, fully capable of inflicting serious damage should it so choose, seemed to be calmly looking into the very depths of my soul.

Without warning, she took flight again, swooping through the air, on to her next piece of meat. I watched her elegant flight until it was my turn once more. Raw flesh, a jingle of bells, a rush of air through feathers and those huge talons are set firmly on my gloved hand. Again, we stared into each other’s eyes and I carefully raised my right hand to stroke this bird on her back. Whoosh and she was gone.

The Hawk Walk was thrilling, moving and deeply satisfying.

There is a standing joke in our house that gets played every time I am asked what I want for Christmas or my birthday. “I want an owl,” I say and my children groan, at my rubbish attempt at being funny. But I am serious. I am deeply drawn to owls. Up till now I have only ever seen an owl in a zoo. I have long wanted desperately to get close to one without a barrier between us.

The first owl our Falconer introduced to us was a kind of miniature model, from Chile. A daytime hunter, this owl eats insects and such like. In the windy environs of Wicklow and with the air full of swallows, our little owl was a tad nervous. Her head rotated around and turned fully to stare upwards at the sky in comedic fashion.

Next up was what I would have called a normal sized owl. She flew to my bare hand for some raw meat and then continued to peck at my skin very gently. She was happy to be stroked and I smiled gormlessly at the joy of it all.

Our session was over and our falconer led us out of the yard. But on the way out he stopped to introduce us to a huge owl who was sitting on a tree stump at the door to the cottage. He handed me a glove and carefully manoeuvred this large bird onto my arm, all the while explaining that this was a ‘rescue owl’. An owl that had not been properly looked after. Who had been feed processed meat and so now was a bit of a couch potato. She could fly – but generally didn’t bother, her hunting instincts all gone through years of being ‘a pet.’

The more the falconer explained about this bird, the more I realised I had met a kindred spirit. In my mind I could see this big ole owl and me, perched on the sofa at home, watching The Late Late Show (what else would an owl watch) and munching on some nuts or chocolate, maybe having a glass of wine. This was a wise old owl, albeit a somewhat overweight and out of condition one. I stroked her feathers which were soft and downy. She turned to look at me and we connected. Here was an owl with miles on the clock, with years of experience, who had no doubt seen things no owl should see. She wore her years on the outside.

But on the inside she was a majestic bird, a hunter and thinker of deep thoughts. We gazed at each other and our thoughts fused in the space between us. Yes, she said I am Owl. I can see the unseen. I can know the future. I can read the moon. Yes I said, I am woman. I too can read the moon. I too could know the unknowable except unlike Owl, I have forgotten how.

As I reluctantly took my leave, I pondered on the wisdom of owl and what we humans have lost in our pursuit of technology.


An Introduction To Falconry with Falconry Ireland, Woodenbridge, Co Wicklow

Thanks to Barry Lenahan for the great photos

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A MAN OF SUBSTANCE


I am sure that everyone in the ‘writing world’ in this country knows Vanessa O Loughlin and her brilliant website Writing.ie. But one of Vanessa’s very best ideas ever is the ‘Great Writing Great Places’ series which is currently taking place in various venues in Dublin. Run in partnership with Dublin City of Literature each event features writers, speaking on a specific theme and giving readings from their work on the subject.

The first of the series was Tales of Emigration which took place on board the famine ship, Jeannie Johnson on the Liffey. Last night I attended the second of the series, entitled Inspiring Lives. This event took place in the Deanery of St Patricks Cathedral and was chaired by journalist, writer and musician Dave Kenny who interviewed writers Brian Keenan and John Lonergan.

It was a masterstroke to bring these two remarkable men together on one ‘stage’ – the former prisoner who was held captive for over 4 years in Beirut and the former Governor of Mountjoy Jail. They both had inspirational tales to tell. But for me, John Lonergan was the star to the show.

Lonergan is a man with a ready smile and an open gentle face who spend over 40 years working with some of the most dispossessed, hardened and troublesome people in the country’s jails. As Governor of Mountjoy he single-handedly brought prison life out of the shadows and into our consciousness with his regular interviews and media appearances.

As I sat and listened to him speak with passion and compassion last night I was moved to near tears. “Our jails are full of broken people,” he said “sure there are the hardened, well known criminals, but the majority of the prison population are broken. They are those with mental health issues, addiction issues, and the severely socially disadvantaged.” He told us of watching whole families who repeatedly go through the prison. He spoke particularly eloquently of the women who spend years visiting their loved ones inside – the wives, sisters, girlfriends and especially the grandmothers. These matriarchs, who have often lost a son or daughter to drug addiction and are now visiting their grandchildren in prison while rearing other grandchildren. He said that unless you have visited someone you love in prison, you really have no idea what prison is about. He is right.

John Lonergan is a man of humanity, empathy, kindness and above all great positivity. I watched him carefully as he told us his stories of life within the prison service, of how he wanted to change the system. 40 years later, he admits that little has changed. He told us this without a trace of bitterness or rancour. He knows that he may have made a difference to the lives of those who were in his care during his long tenure in the country’s most infamous jail. And for him that counts. Counts deeply.

I was very moved by his contribution last night. When I came home, I learned of the impending death of Troy Davis, a man on death row in Georgia, USA. Many were calling on the US to halt the execution, including Amnesty International who felt that his conviction was very unsafe. I woke this morning to the news that Davis had indeed been executed.

America’s continued use of the death penalty and the Davis case in particular provides a stark contrast to John Lonergan’s words of courage, empathy, humanity, kindness and positivity. These are special attributes, to be highly prized. We are so lucky to have had a man such as Lonergan working within our prison service for so long. He might not have ultimately brought change to the system.. but last night his words touched me deeply. Here was a man whose values match entirely those that Ireland should present to the world. No Presidential candidate or possible candidate comes close to embodying them like Lonergan. What a wasted opportunity.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WEAVING A NEW WEB OF SPIDER TRUTH

The other night I was in bed, all tucked up and reading my book while my husband snored away happily beside me. All was still and relatively quiet (except for the snoring). Suddenly from the corner of my eye something moved. It was a spider – a large one and he scuttled across the floor And under a chest of drawers. I dug my beloved in the ribs

huh

a big hairy spider has just crawled under the chest of drawers,” I said in my best damsel in distress voice.

shut up and go back to sleep” was the response and the snoring resumed.

So I did what I normally do when my husband won’t engage with me, I grabbed my phone and sought sympathy and reassurance from Twitter.

The response was not entirely as I would have liked. I did get some kindness and understanding. Some helpfully advised me to just relax as spiders are not really into engaging with us humans. Others thought it appropriate it send me photos of huge hairy spiders and shared with me tales of spiders making nests and spawning thousands of new spiders in the night Time!

Spiders are my least favourite creepy crawly. I think it is because I usually can’t tell which way they are facing and because of the way they move – suddenly and erratically. But we do live with them, especially at this time of year when they move indoors and up plugholes to sit in our baths.

What did our ancestors think about spiders? What nuggets of spider wisdom can be found in folklore?

Most people know that spiders are linked with money. Apparently if a spider crosses your palm you will receive a windfall. The larger the spider and the later in the day your encounter, the more money that is on your way. On that basis I should be winning the Lottery this weekend.

Killing spiders is often seen as bad luck. You will be told you will lose money, your house will never be clean and in our family we believed it would cause it to rain.

There is a rhyme that goes....

If you wish to live and thrive

Let the spider run alive

Can I suggest that you learn that off – and erase from your brain the other cruel one...

Spider, Spider on the wall

Ain’t you got no sense at all

Ain’t you got no mom and dad

Squishy squashy, that’s too bad.

In Native American folklore Grandmother Spider was credited with bringing light to the world. The story goes that in the early times, all was dark because the sun was on the other side of the world. The animals decided that people needed to see so they set about bringing the sun back. The Possum and the Buzzard both tried and failed. Finally Grandmother Spider said that she would go and fetch the light back.

Using her legs she made a bowl of clay. She rolled this bowl across the world, weaving a web as she went. She found the sun and carefully placed it in the bowl and then following her web she returned, spreading light all the way.

There now – doesn’t that story change the way you think about spiders? Next time you meet one, remember she is Grandmother Spider who brought the light to the world.

However an old Wiccan piece of folklore suggested that if a witch eats a spider sandwiched between two pieces of bread, her powers will be increased dramatically. Ha – I’ve gone and spoiled it all now, haven’t I!

Hairy spider sandwich anyone?


This post comes without a photo for obvious reasons

Friday, September 16, 2011

REBELS

I have written before of my interest in modern Irish History, particularly the period leading up to Irish Indepdenance. Therefore it was no hardship to be sent by Vanessa O Loughlin of the brilliant website for writers, writing.ie to interview Fearghal McGarry about his new book, Rebels. My review is now up on the writing.ie website. Click here to read it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

REJOINING THE JWT SET


It was a cold Monday morning, the 3rd of December 1979 when I arrived at 8/11 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin for my first day at my first ever real job. I clumped up the stairs in my brand new tan cowboy boots to the 3rd floor where I was asked to take a seat in the cramped reception area. As I sat down the tiny bells attached to my new peasant dress made a little tinkling sound.

Within a few minutes I was joined by another new recruit. This girl had clearly read up on how to dress for your first day at work. Attired in a neat and conservative suit, she carried a proper handbag and removed her gloves to elegantly introduce herself. So there we were – the hippy from Dun Laoghaire and the elegant old school country girl – about to join the JWT set. If there was the sound of muffled giggling at the sight we must have presented, in our excitement we never heard it.

One of the very first things we were told on that baffling day was that on Friday we would be decamping with the rest of the company for a weekend in Kenmare for the annual JWT Staff Conference. “Saturday is Gala Night, a chance to really dress up” the sales manager announced, his eyes firmly fixed in my direction.

That first week passed in a blur of introductions, tours of the sales offices, being fitted for a uniform and the beginning of our training in the art of selling holidays. It ended in Kenmare where myself and the other new girl disgraced ourselves by sleeping it out on the last day thereby delaying the coaches to Killarney and nearly causing the entire company to miss the train to Dublin. We arrived back having learned more in that one weekend that certainly I had in the previous 17 years and with sore throats and no voices.

JWT was founded in 1961 by Joe Walsh, a tough straight talking Northerner who began by first operating pilgrimages to Lourdes. As we rolled into the 80s, JWT was Ireland’s leading tour operator offering holidays to a wide range of resorts in Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy. The company operated the first computerised holiday reservation system in Ireland (and possibly the UK) and had some very cool TV ads.

It was a young company – most of the management would have been in their early 30s at most. Joe Walsh for all his rather terrifying persona and the fact that he had no time for Trade Unions, believed very much in keeping staff morale high. He achieved this not by paying us bonuses or top wages, but by laying on plenty of entertainment and social events – and this remember was in the days before corporate ‘team building’ or ‘away days’.

There were mid season parties, Christmas parties, the aforementioned conference and departmental get togethers. And then there were the weekends in perhaps Majorca or Gran Canaria – sometimes disguised as ‘educational trips’ and sometimes just because we had free seats going out and perhaps a ‘light leg’ or empty aircraft coming home. Oh, the heady fun of it all. Joining the JWT set was not for the faint hearted.

After a year or so on the sales counters, mainly in the office on Grafton Street, I moved up to Head Office to work in Reservations. Here, along with 9 other colleagues we manned a bank of phone lines and dealt with queries from both the public and travel agents. As Ireland sank into a recession, the reservations department took on the guise of an African Souk with much wheeling and dealing to “get bums on seats” for that weekend’s departures.

From October till Christmas, the business was dead and the office quiet with many staff taking advantage of ‘winter leave’ when good ole Joe encouraged us to head off to foreign shores on some unpaid leave, but in the confidence that our jobs would be waiting for us on our return in January.

The new season’s brochure was always launched just prior to Christmas and the first airing of the new TV ad was generally on St Stephen’s Day. We hit the phones full pelt in January and so the years turned and rolled on, one into another.

They were happy and very carefree years where friendships were made, some of which have survived and thrived to the present day. Some faded in and out over the years and some vanished without trace.

This year JWT celebrates its 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion there is a staff reunion on the 30th of September. A chance to renew some old friendships, share stories and laugh at ancient memories. Like the dreaded school reunion, there is an element of fear that time will not have been as kind to me as to others. But I am burying that fear deep within my psyche and from the same depths I am retrieving my younger self. It will be her that I will bring to this auspicious event. She may even wear a new hippie dress with bells on. I just hope my former colleagues recognise her!


The JWT Reunion is on Facebook - click here


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I HAVE A DREAM


The wind is howling outside, whistling down the chimney and slightly unsettling the dog as he slumbers on the rug in front of the roaring fire. The girls are in bed and I am reading. The scent of my recently brewed coffee mixes with the fragrant smell of turf on the fire. Fatcat is sitting on the windowsill staring into the velvety blackness of the night. Does he see the canopy of stars overhead? The photographer is back in Dublin but will be joining us tomorrow for the weekend. The school bags and wellingtons are by the door, ready for the walk to school in the morning. I close the curtains to retain the heat before placing the guard in front of the fire and retiring to bed. As I lie in the bed the silence is thick, broken only by the faint roar of the waves in the distance. It’s 11pm.

11am next day and the sky is blue with puffs of cotton wool clouds scuttling across its huge expanse. I am at the table by the window, laptop open, my novel coming to life as my fingers dance across the keys. The dog is outside, exploring the landscape which is as yet not fully familiar to him. Through the window I can see the ocean and the coastline of Connemara. The ferry should be arriving about now down at the pier. In a couple of hours I will visit the local shop and purchase something for dinner tonight. The photographer will arrive by air late this afternoon. Its two weeks since he last visited and he will be staggered to hear how much Irish the girls have now learned.

3pm and the girls arrive home. I leave them to their homework and cycle down to the village shop. Dylan comes too – jogging along the road beside me. On the way I greet my neighbours as Gaeilge and stop for a chat with the teacher who is closing the school. She compliments me on my weekly column for the Irish Times. She says I am being very honest about my year of living on Inis Meain.

I haven’t worn make up all week and I probably should check that my hair dryer still works at some stage. It starts to rain... sideways. I am soaked by the time I arrive back home but invigorated by the energetic weather here.

10pm and we are once again gathered around the fire chatting about Christmas. For the first time in years we won’t see any family during the holidays but we are happy to embrace all aspects of this experimental year on the Aran Islands. Outside the wind is throwing handfuls of rain against the windows. The photographer has brought a lovely bottle of wine. We miss our Friday night take out... but all is well.

All of the above takes place in my head. I visit these scenes when I am out walking, in the bath or sometimes sitting in my car waiting for the girls to come out of school. There is something special in the air on the Aran Islands. Something which speaks to my soul, my very essence. It calls to me... faintly. I hear it and I dream of some day answering the siren call from the very edge of Europe. In the meantime I dream.... and sometimes just that is good enough.


Photo by horizons inesperats on Flickr

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

MA & THE ARROWS


On a bright sunny and warm August day in 1987 I held my tiny 2 week old baby daughter close to my chest as my breath was stolen away by the RAF Red Arrows zooming in from the west to swoop over the air field at Baldonnel. I could feel the noise and the speed right through to my bones. I had never experienced anything like it. In 1987 Ireland was a very different place and with ‘the troubles’ ongoing in the North of Ireland and so the Arrows didn’t land on Irish soil. They flew in from RAF Valley in Wales and having thrilled us with their display of precision flying, they tore back across the Irish Sea again. It was probably the first time an RAF flight had officially crossed Irish airspace since the days when Baldonnel was itself an RAF base.

The next time I saw the Red Arrows was again a special occasion. They displayed at the Galway Air Show on the 26th of June 2005 – which also happened to be my mother’s 70th birthday. My mother is a bit of an airplane nut. She loves airshows – even the more pedestrian ones. But she is a huge fan of the Arrows. So what better way for us to help her celebrate her big birthday than to decamp for the weekend to Galway and enjoy the aerial acrobatics of the RAF’s finest?

The airshow was great and the Arrows gave their usual brilliant performance. Afterwards we returned to our hotel to get ready for mother’s birthday dinner. We arranged to meet in the foyer at 7pm for drinks. So there we all were, gathered in our finery, awaiting the arrival of the birthday girl when the lift doors opened and out she stepped...... flanked on each side by a Red Arrow. Yep, one on each arm, resplendent in their red jumpsuits. I am sure mother was dressed to perfection but I only remember the enormous smile she wore as she floated towards us.

By the time we had all closed our mouths, the arrows had gone. Mother was still hovering above ground as we sat armed with our meagre presents knowing that we could never match the gift the Red Arrows had just bestowed on her. As we regained our composure, attention turned to my poor husband who is a professional photographer and who was so stunned he forgot to pick up his camera to capture the moment. He was mortified. He disappeared.

We ordered drinks and listened as mother babbled on excitedly about how charming and handsome the fliers who were her escorts were. Next thing the photographer reappeared and ordered mother up to her feet. He bore her away and the result is the photo above.

The Red Arrows were having a private reception in another part of the hotel but readily agreed to pose for a picture with mother when the photographer admitted his failure to get a picture downstairs. This photo which they all later signed is one of my mother’s prize possessions. She moved a family portrait in her hall in order to give it pride of place!

I recount this story now because two weeks ago the Red Arrows were displaying at the Bournemouth Air Show and one of their aircraft crashed. The pilot was killed; some believe this was perhaps due to his staying with his aircraft in order to direct it away from nearby houses. If true, this would not surprise me. The pilots we met in Galway 6 years ago were gentlemen and they made my mother’s 70th birthday one she will never forget. Oh and this weekend the mother is off up to Portrush in Northern Ireland for their annual airshow which promises Vulcan’s Tornedos and F16 – mother will be delighted!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

CONNEMARA

Air heavy with the sweet tang of salt and seaweed.

Riotous hedgerows bursting with orange crocosmia, creamy pink honeysuckle and purple thistle heads.

Splashes of red fushia buzzing loudly as unseen bees do their work.

A lone cow stands upon a rocky outcrop.

Water softly lapping and slapping seashore stones.

Early morning crisscross trails of the overnight transatlantic flights as they finally find the North Atlantics edge,

Each flight tearing a rip in a wraparound sky,

Of cloudscapes like celestial cities.

Magnificent castellations and turrets and cruising spaceships,

Reflected perfectly in the still water below.

The horizon folding the image at its centre.

A hurl of rain against the wall of the cottage,

Twenty minutes later a burst of yellow sunshine.

Hidden religs – uneven fields of bones and raggedy assemblies of holy relics and plastic flowers.

Agus an Gaeilge – beautiful guttural sounds gurgling in the throats of local men in the fields.

The smell of turf fires in August,

At dusk the plaintiff cry of a curlew,

And the Connemara light, especially in evening, as the sun dips below the horizon on this western edge of Europe.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

OUR WORK IS DONE.... MAGGIE UPDATE


On Saturday we will be packing our Maggie's bags and baggage and dropping her back up to the wonderful people in the DSPCA, from where we hope she will be adopted quickly to her new forever home. Our work is almost done.

As you know from my previous post Maggie was one of the wildest and most frightened little cats I have ever encountered. It took us 2 days to coax her out from under our sofa. Then another day or two to get her to start (very gingerly) to play with some feathers on the end of a stick.

It's been one small step at a time and has been a team effort in this house, to finally gain Maggie's trust. We have taught her that humans can be her friends and I hope that none of our species undoes that lesson. We had a secret weapon in our 'taming' of Maggie and that was Simba (fatcat).

I don't want to take from the great credit due to Simba for playing his part but we all know that he was highly motivated by sharing Maggie's dinner which came in jelly and is clearly a lot tastier than the cat biscuits he usually has. But it was amazing to watch Maggie relax almost immediately Simba arrived into the room. Animals never cease to fascinate me.

The first week we had Maggie was difficult. It required huge patience and I did worry that perhaps some cats are just wild and not tameable. But the joy in watching this little scaredy cat slowly make friends with us and learn the joy of being petted and sit on a knee is sublime! Really.

The DSPCA is snowed under in kittens and cats who are looking for homes - permanent and foster. Check out their website www.dspca.ie


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

MAGGIE


The August Bank Holiday weekend is the last hurrah of summer – next stop Halloween and sure then it’s Christmas. According to the Celtic calendar we are now in autumn and the August Bank Holiday roughly coincides with the ancient festival of Lughnasa, which marked the end of summer and beginning of the harvest. So how was it for you? Were you away? Did you have fun?

What’s that? Me? Did I enjoy my bank holiday weekend? Em, well, em.... it was busy and eh, different!

It is not the first time I have wondered what personality defect I have that insists on throwing complications into my life when things are chugging along just fine.

Regular readers of my blog will know that just over a week ago we fostered Hector from the DSPCA. Hector was only with us for 4 days and unfortunately was very unwell and had to be put down last Tuesday. So we were in mourning for him for a week but as we love animals and like to do our bit for their welfare, we offered our services again for fostering another kitten!

So having welcomed a new student to our home on Sunday, on Monday off we went to Mount Venus Road to collect our latest project. We were told that this kitten was in need of socialisation for two weeks and was approximately 12 weeks old. Maggie was clearly a nervous kitty but seemed OK in her crate as we gingerly carried her to the car for the journey home.

We set Maggie up in the kids TV Room which is bright and has a view of the road. We thought that she might like to watch out (cats love looking out windows – did you know that?). I took the lid off her cat box and braved her spitting at me to pet her very gently on her back. She spat and hissed and I gently continued, trying to reassure her in a low soothing voice. Meanwhile Dylan da Dog was exploding with excitement in the hall and started banging the door down. I got up slowly and went out of the room leaving Mia with Maggie. As soon as I was gone, Maggie apparently darted out of her box and under the sofa. And that is where she spent her bank holiday weekend.

So me, where did I spend my bank holiday weekend? Well most of Monday I spent feeling like a failed foster mammy, as I lay on the floor with my bum in the air as trying to understand why I could not see Maggie under the sofa. We then worked out that as the sofa was a recliner, she had climbed up into the innards where she was perched on one of the bars. So we were all afraid to sit on the sofa in case we inadvertently decapitated her.

Hours passed as I tried to talk her out. In the end my eyes hurt from the dust (you should never look under the sofa) and I had a sneezing fit which did nothing to ease kitty anxiety. Our poor bewildered student who speaks very little English arrived home to find dinner late and her host covered in dust with a red nose from all the sneezing. I did my best to explain about the kitten in the sitting room and how she was welcome to go into the room but to make sure doors were left closed and to not sit on the sofa! A look passed over her face as I am sure she fought the urge to phone Mama in Lyons to report that her Mammy in Dublin was a nutter with delusions of kittens in the sitting room!

By Tuesday we had decided to adopt a patient approach. My girls asked me endlessly what if she never came out? “Em, I replied” I guess we would have to phone the DSPCA for help.” I had visions of my sofa being ripped apart in order to retrieve Maggie from its bowels. I will admit that I was slightly worried. I will admit that I did call on St Francis for some help.

That evening I had a small brainwave. We are the slaves to four cats already. The largest of these moggies is called Simba (or more usually FatCat) and he has brought disgrace on our family on more than one occasion. He has attacked Granny when she was calling in to feed him while we were away. The blood stained trousers were kept as a souvenir of his occasional lapse in how to be a good domestic cat behaviour.

When the girls were younger their parties were fraught with danger. Simba generally had to be locked in the utility room for the duration from where he howled the house down – scaring the life out of the little girls of a more delicate disposition.

We tried behavioural therapy under the supervision of the vet who suggested feline valium in order to teach him to relax. I was instructed to give him quarter of a tablet once a day for three weeks leading up to a particular party by which time his behaviour should have been adequately modified. I don’t know if you have every tried to quarter a valium but it’s well nigh impossible. Having festooned the kitchen floor in valium shards and having nearly sliced my finger off in the process, I gave up. We decided to give Simba a valium on the day of the party. It worked a treat.

He slept through all the festivities, albeit snoring loudly and with his tongue hanging out.

He remains a cat I love dearly but whom I cannot trust especially with older people or small children. I have been known to sprint out the front door because he has wandered in the garden and is 'making friends' with an elderly couple or a young family with toddlers. "Sorry" I mutter under my breath "he is not allowed talk to people" as I struggle to lift his bulk and transport him back indoors. His teeth haven been filed and his nails kept short in order to reduce any possible damage!!!

However Simba is the only one of my four kitties who welcomes stranger cats into the house. So – back to the original story here (keep up) – I decided on Tuesday that I would bring Simba into the sitting room in an attempt to show Maggie how (nearly) domesticated cats behave.

Simba understood the brief exactly. He identified the sofa as being Maggies hiding place and lay on the floor emitting “it’s so relaxing here” vibes. It worked. After about 15 minutes a little black and white head poked out from the edge of the sofa.

It took about an hour for her to come out fully and then she was always alert and would race back to the sofa at any movement or sound. But this was progress.

So Maggie has started her rehabilitation from wildcat to domestic moggie!


We have a long way to go .... I will keep you updated!