Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Revolutions

Because that's what they are - if I ever manage to adhere to any of them for longer than a fortnight there will have been a revolution - in my brain.

The drink's gone already so there is No 1 to be broken - will I last more than 6 weeks? Check back with me and see mid February!

The three stone I want to shift off my middle (and various other floppy parts of my body) invariably get tackled with the greatest vigour and seriously good intention. But then...well February has to be gotten through doesn't it? And how can anyone get through February without the comfort of food? By which I mean comfort food of course - bread and butter, ice-cream, biscuits , chocolate, chocolate, crisps, chocolate. I have to lose weight though because all my clothes are ridiculously tight and I can't afford new ones.

Resolutions to be a better person; a good neighbour, a trustworthy worker, a compassionate friend and to be empathetic and charitable towards others - no matter where they're coming from. I make these resolutions every morning of my life but I'm human and a very flawed human at that so I invariably have broken these type of noble ideals before I even leave the house with dark mutterings about ungrateful, slovenly males.

Resolutions to write more on a daily basis have been kept over the last few years - and it brings me great joy so that's one I have successfully kept and will hopefully continue to keep. I must examine my logic around writing (if ther is any logic to it!) Maybe I could apply my thinking there to the other things I want to happen in my life.

A resolution to read more and to tell more stories to more children - well I'll keep that one easily enough.

And a resolution to keep myself surrounded with family and friends who love me despite the fact that most of them haven't the slightset idea what is going on in my fevered little cauldron of a brain!

Thank you all for reading - and a Happy 2012 to each and every one

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Christmas post - a little late and rather long!

I got a special kiss this Christmas Eve – and nobody actually touched me.

I travelled to Donegal – my Donegal, my beloved Kilcar – on Friday December 23rd. The second part of the journey was terrifying. Up to about 4pm it was grand – moseying along the M1 with John Kelly on Lyric FM playing the best Christnmas music on the planet, delighted work was over for a week. But once I hit exit 14 for Derry I was in trouble.I normally belt along (within the speed limit of course) from that exit to the Roslea turn – it gets much slower after that as my urban eyes and reflexes adapt to country roads.
It was a squally evening, constant dirty showers of rain - not helped by the fact that my middle-aged varifocalled eyes are particularly challenged by drivers who refuse to dip their headlights. I’ve only driven this road alone perhaps a dozen times and I certainly won’t be doing it again at that time of day and year. Thoughts of a burger from Melly’s Chipshop in Killybegs sustained me from Enniskillen. The flippin’ place had closed an hour early. So I contented myself with a bag of salted peanuts and rang Jemser for directions to the house we had rented. He had travelled up earlier in the day with son #2.
‘When you pass the Haven and come over the brow of the hill, with Kilcar spread under you and Sliabh Liag in front of you, take the first left in Bavin and ‘tis the first new house you’ll see’. And I’m supposed to be the writer in the family.
‘So, first left after the Blue Haven?’ I queried.
The battery in phone died and I faced my bete noir. That bloody road between Killybegs and Kilcar, I’ve claimed since I started driving that it is worst part of this particular journey. I’m used to straight well-lit roads, lots of traffic, traffic lights and roundabouts not these unlit terrifying twists and turns, swoops and dives, dips and climbs of the windiest steepest road in Ireland. And manic young male Northern drivers.
I missed the Blue Haven – a large pub/guesthouse/restaurant. It was closed, unlit and therefore to my urban eyes unremarkable. And before all the Donegal ones start commenting – I have no sense of direction, poor spatial awareness and know no geography! I ended up at the junction for Kilcar and Carrick and knew I had to turn back. I actually turned back twice before I finally found the ‘first left after the Haven’- mainly because to me every house set in off the road looks like a left. I went astray.
I arrived and the ‘how did you do thats’ began – if I knew I wouldn’t have done it in the first place! The house is stunningly beautiful – a new build fitted for comfort and convenience. I was immediately in love and delighted that the economic downturn that makes such a rent accessible to us. Son#2 was thrilled to see me – Christmas could now begin and he had been dying to show off the house to me – to show me all the things he knew I’d love. They had a big fire in the grate and big smiles on their face to greet me. It was like a big warm hug. That coming home feeling.
The house is extraordinarily comfortable and we all slept well; I woke early and thrilled to the view from the window. I was glad later I had savoured it, for the day closed in – as it only can in the wilds of Donegal and all day there have been sheets and gusts of soft fine rain drifting ahead of and whirling with gusts and gales of wind that howl down the chimney; the wind surely knows how to blow up here, but it was housetrained by the warmth and smell of a turf fire. I love that smell.
I decided to make scrambled eggs for brunch. A treat. When I cracked the first egg into the pan I laughed. It was a double yolk. Double yolked eggs always remind me of Mam, and I called son#2 to show him the yolk and to tell him Mam’s story.
One week before Christmas some time in the early Seventies, when in our house there were six children under the age of ten and the family was particularly broke one week. Not our 2011 kind of broke – we almost always have access to credit. Real broke. Suburban weekly waged no land broke. No money in your pocket and no way to get any broke. There was money coming of course – my father was always employed and his wages mercifully arrived every Thursday.
This particular evening- perhaps it was a Wednesday - there were a few slices of bread for our tea but there was nothing to put on it. There were three eggs in the fridge so she decided to do us ‘egg-in-bread’; yummy - a slice of fried bread with a circle removed into which an egg is broken and fried. Half a slice of egg-in-bread would have to do us. She was upset; she wanted to give each of us our own slice of egg-in-bread. But it had been a tough year.
When she cracked the first egg it was a double yolk and it lifted her heart for now there would be four nutritious yolks to share between her six children. She cracked the next and it too was a double yolk. She thanked her God in prayer. But when the third and final egg from the fridge was cracked and it too was a double yolk Mam decided it was a miracle - her God would always provide for her and hers.
Mam wasn’t overly religious, she went to Mass and raised us loosely in accordance with Catholic teaching and after she lost her only sister she certainly became more convinced of a life after death. In the last terrible year of her life her faith gave her comfort and acceptance. I envied her that faith, it is not mine. But when I saw that double yolk this morning it made me smile and think of Mam – feel loved by her, hugged and kissed for Christmas. Welcomed home –many many miles from that house where with Dad she reared us, fed us, dressed us. Loved us.
I cracked the second egg and son#2 and I both roared with delight. Another doubler!
‘Mam, Mam!’ he exclaimed, ‘let me do the next one. Oh Mam! – it’ll be too weird…’ carefully he hit the egg on the side of the pan and yes, it was a third double yolk.
Coincidence? Another miracle? Voices or signs from another dimension? I don’t care what it was. Son#2 and I jumped with delight and hugged each other, he shouted ‘Hiya Nanny!’ with that grin of his that lights up his whole freckly completely Irish little face. I felt my heart and soul well with a wave of love; that emotion most of us only ever feel on a couple of occasions every year – and always to do with family.
The day meandered on and Mam has never left me – everything I did seemed blessed with the feeling of love, putting up a few Christmas baubles and lights, chatting with Jemser and son #2, laughing at the dog’s antics – I even got a snooze on the couch! I haven’t had a snooze on the couch on Christmas Eve since…well, never! And now son#1 is about to arrive and although the girls can’t be here physically I certainly feel very close to them emotionally.
We will gather in Drimreagh for ‘the feast’ in a little while - a Christmas Eve tradition started many moons ago by our beloved Teresa Cunningham. And the kisses and hugs, teasing laughter and song will go on - and family will continue to arrive – in one way or another.

A Happy Christmas to all - and to all, a good night.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Story Queen's Christmas Tale

I am full of love and good cheer this afternoon. I went over to Balbriggan Library to do a story-telling session with the lovely children of North County Dublin where I was warmly welcomed by the lovely Assumpta Hickey and her staff . The library was beautifully decorated - complete with tree, lights and sparkly things. An imitation fireplace was in place with a certain gentleman’s red trousered legs protruding from the chimney.

Of course as soon as Queenie landed to the smiles of the children nothing would do her but to peer up the chimney and have a shouted one sided conversation with the great Santa Claus. We entered into storytime with my personal favourite ‘Baby Owls’ by Martin Waddell, then rambled through ‘Stickman’ and ‘Adam saves Christmas’. Then we had a little break and a chat about Santa and what he might bring. One little chap informed me he had THREE Christmas trees and a little princess wanted to know could she wear her dressing-up costume next time she came. We discussed Christmas gifts and how many hugs and kisses one should give ones parents to ensure their sound mental. We discussed the importance of being nice to one another. All nice schmaltzy stuff.

I finished off the Christmas session with (natch) The Night Before Christmas’ – more for the parents than the children  - the language, though beautiful, is archaic and many of the terms would mean nothing to today’s smallies. Then I distributed Story Queen stickers and placed my crown on each little head in order to transfer a very special Story Queen dream into each mind for tonight’s bedtime. The children escorted me to the steps and I made a gracious hand waving exit. They loved me. I loved them.

So home I came full of good cheer and heart bursting with love of mankind, realising that the saying God is Love is really the wrong way around. Love IS god. And the trusting simple love of little kids is the purest love of all. Nothing can beat the delight we get in giving pleasure, time and assistance to our fellow beings, particularly the children in our lives. It is what differentiates us from animals and brings us closer to the sublime. Home, family and contentment are what we all strive for. It is not always attainable, it has to be worked at and sometimes it fails – but try we must.

Here endeth the lesson. Now, where did I put my Santy hat………

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lovely libraries

I sat in the beautiful library in Rush this morning – an old church converted with great sympathy and sensitivity by Fingal Couny Council as a facility for the citizens of the area. The church’s external structural appearance is as it has been since it was built; walk indoors and you find a thoroughly modern library, with the clean lines and aesthetics of the 21st century. This,  combined with beautiful wood paneling and shelving (oak I think), glass, off white and red seating areas , creates a very peaceful space. The late winter sun shone through glorious stained glass windows and ensured that the hush throughout the library was honoured with dappled multi-coloured sunlight. Wonderful.

I think it is a fitting use of a space that was originally built as a place of worship but was also always meant to be a place of community, a place where people could gather and be silent for a while. The acoustics in the church/library are fabulous too. I’d love to attend a carol singing service or any other kind of choral event there. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to hear again voices raising the roof in harmony and celebration? What are songs but musical stories? Perfect in a library.

On top of all that beauty there is of course the very reason for the libraries existence - thousands upon thousand of words hidden between the covers of books. All any one of us has to do is open a book and begin to learn. I asked a distinguished author once if he had read any so-called commercial women’s fiction, he’d read one or two he said but in general he avoided the genre because he learned nothing from it. I suppose a lot of that fiction has to so with emotion around a love affair; and men don’t seem to ‘do’ emotion around love affairs – or perhaps they do but they don’t bother analysing it in the minutiae that we females do. Generalisation of course but……. am I making any sense?

Speaking of genres, yesterday we went enfamille to dublincity (103.2)fm to talk on Jimmy Kinahan’s afternoon programme. I read from my book, the Jemser sang a couple of songs as did son#1 and pal and son#2 was assistant producer. Jimmy asked me that difficult question -what genre was my book? I hesitated because that was one of the reasons I couldn’t get a publisher to back ‘The Heron’s Flood’ (available here ); it does not  slot neatly into any genre. It’s not a crime or psychological thriller – although there is a murder in it; it’s not misery lit – although both of my protagonists have had their share of misery; I don’t think it could be classified as ‘chick lit’ (I don’t know enough about fashion, sex or the art of shopping); it’s not literary fiction – I’m not quite there yet and may never get there unless I get more time to both read more and read better; I  facetiously call it ‘hen-lit’ as I thought it would appeal to hens like myself – in other words the fiction buying public!   

We had a great half hour with Jimmy and the boys in particular blew the socks off those listening. I do be fit to burst with pride when I hear them sing, they are really so talented We got a laugh to because Jimmy mistakenly called their song ‘Angel’s Roost’ ‘Angels’ Delight’! Of course we all immediately pictured that smooth viscerally pink desert. But we didn’t laugh and I didn’t interrupt anyone, then or at any stage –as is my wont, Biddy Butt-In kept her trap shut! We’re a family of pedants really – I think the males are all worse than me but they say I’m the Queen of pedantry. Reminder to self and all – the Story Queen is appearing in Balbriggan library this coming Saturday December 10th at 11am for a special Christmas story telling session with the lovely children of Balbriggan and surrounds. If you have an under 7 in your life bring them along – it is always a great session and best of all like everything in Fingal Libraries -it’s free!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Light up..........

The Christmas lights in Swords were switched on last week and it makes the village look so pretty. Some bah-humbug creature was standing behind me at the ‘lights on ceremony’ and he grumbled ‘The country’s going down the drain and the bloody council are spending money of feckin’ fairy lights and feckin’ dancing bears’ – the latter a reference to the excellent troupe of children’s enterainers who amused the local children as they waited in the cold for the magic to begin. Mr Grumpy was late middle age (natch) and a dapper little chap ( why are grumpy old men always dapper).

Now I take his point but for the Universe’s sake mister lighten up a little. Let’s keep a little pretty magic about the place to gladden the hearts of the smallies and to welcome home for Christmas all our sons and daughters who have had to leave our shores for work elsewhere. We may have less money and more worries but we’re still a damn sight better off than 90% of the world’s population.

Because at the moment – with our politicians telling us we have to tighten our belts, pay our debts (not that I personally accumulated ANY of this debt) and grin and bear it; and the constant battering of our eyes and ears by hysterical reportage in print, on radio, televison and d’interweb, it is hard to keep a positive outlook and live simply in the moment.

I’m not starving in the moment, nor am I cold. I’m not without shelter or love. I’m one of the lucky ones. So I will try to live as a child does for the next few weeks. Look forward to Christmas. To spending time with family (even if we are killing each other!). To exchanging small gifts and cherishing each other, eating together, laughing together.  

And clapping with delight at a dancing bear and some sparkly lights on a village street.