Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Another Bloody Referendum............

I wrote this before the second Lisbon Referendum. It's still valid!

A Pint over Lisbon

Confucius and Solomon, pals for years, meet every Friday evening for a pint in their local hostelry and discuss the problems of the world.
One cold Friday evening in January 2009 they sat on their usual stools delighted that the pub had regained its pre holiday season peace. In companionable silence they pulled on their pints and watched the six o’clock news. There was a piece on the proposed second referendum on whether we should or shouldn’t sign up to the Lisbon Treaty.
“Remember,” said Solomon, “the last time out? I tried to read it. Now I got past the preamble but I got a little lost somewhere in Title Three. I think it was around about subsection D.”
Confucius nodded and contemplated his drink. The Magi walked in and settled themselves at the bar. Nods and grunts all round.
“How’re the men?” greeted Solomon, “We’re just discussing Lisbon. Again.”
Balthazar groaned and called “Three stout, Tommy”
“Lord, I lost the will to live after Title Four section 2, subsection (ii)” says Melchior.
“I think they’re getting their own back on us for sending that turkey to the Eurovision,” Gaspar looked up the bar at Confucius finishing his pint. “Well, boss – what would you do about the whole thing?”
“It’s simple really,” sighed Confucius. “Read it with the blind man’s eye, listen to the debates with the deaf man’s ear. Then make up your own mind. It won't make any difference. Solomon, your round I think.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

A little incident today made me feel a little sad – and completely embarrassed. At about four pm I walked through the office I am incarcerated in from 9 to 5. It’s a big office - with many vacant seats in recent years – but there are still around fifty people working in the area.

The floor is divided into individual screened workstations and to talk to someone you really need to stand up and talk over the screen or move into their desk space. I hate talking to someone when I can’t see them, I was never one for long phone conversations but with Skype I don't mind. I’m an animal who needs to read body language. I blether with my hands going like the clappers for dramatic effect and I’m told I have a very expressive face (which is a bugger if you’re telling little fibs!). Jemser always knows when I’m getting depressed or melancholic before I do because he sees it in my face before it hits me.

Anyway I had a big red face on me this afternoon because I had been walking around with my skirt caught up in my knickers. Jesus! Like a big child (which I am of course). The last time I'd used the bathroom before my discovery was about one o’clock. Three hours of pottering about my area! Up and down the centre of the floor to the tea station at least twice plus I walked up three flights of stairs to visit our HR section. It was only as I left HR that one of my colleagues came running out after me to inform me of my state of undress. We roared laughing as I fumbled about adjusting my attire – isn’t it great that we can all laugh like kids at silly things?

Years ago, in the not always that good old days, we all sat in much smaller offices without screens and I swear if you sneezed everybody would comment. We noticed each other – a new item of clothing would be commented on, we’d chat briefly on and off during the course of the day both work related conversations and other minor natters. It was mostly friendly banter and you certainly wouldn’t get away with wandering about all afternoon with your knickers showing!

Although technology has made life easier in some ways it is also increasingly isolating people. We have evolved until now as social creatures who both need and enjoy the company of most of our fellow human beings. But at the moment we all appear to be permanently locked on to some device - computer, laptop,mobiles, IPhones, IPads social media sites and on and on and on. Staring ahead of us at or down at a winking screen totally caught up in what we are doing to the exclusion of others. All living in our own tiny universes. Can this be healthy? Apart from saving me from making a twit of myself at an earlier stage if we lift our heads and look to connect with others we can have a laugh or a smile and a chat - both guaranteed to lighten ones mood and important for both mental and physical health.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Kennedys of Glandore Road

About a month ago I blogged about having to make a decision between two pieces of work, two sets of characters, two novels I have been tinkering with. I wanted to concentrate on one of them, stop shilly-shallying and move it along briskly - I know I can do it once I actually apply myself. Eventually I plumped for 'The Daisy Killer' a novel that is based very very loosely on my grandfather's life. I had mentioned the novel to the last surviving member of my grandfather's family - my lovely uncle Tom Kennedy. Tom was delighted , I told him I was inventing an affair for Grandad in Detroit - a city where he worked for some years in the 50s. 'Well, he deserved it,' said Tom, 'I'm sure he would have a good chuckle over it.'

I was delighted and told Tom I'd be dedicating the book to the Kennedys of Glandore Road and more particularly to him. My lovely Uncle Tom died last night - a young man, he was only in his mid sixties and he joins the rest of the Kennedys of Glandore Road somewhere outside of this dimension we know. They all died young these Kennedy siblings, Norah in her forties, Mam - Elizabeth in her fifties and Tom - the baby of the family - in his sixties.

But by God did Tom enjoy life! He was the a firm believer in living in the moment, rarely worried and always got by. He reared four lovely children in Swords, where I now also live, and his family were always close. He adored his wife Margaret and they were well known about the village - enjoying socialising with others - they have a wide circle of friends and loved a good meal, a few drinks and lively conversation. Tom was a great raconteur - he always had a yarn for you and if he met you out at night nothing suited him better than a chat and a pint - he'd dodge out for a fag and possibly a bet over the course of the evening-he delighted in taking money from the bookies! He was very like Grandad in his gentleness of manner, in his courtesy and respect. A lovely man.

Tom and Margaret were like Darby and Joan - they went everywhere together and were great pals as well as lovers and parents. My heart is sore at the thought of how Margaret must now be feeling. The other half of her gone. But he is truly only gone in the flesh. For Margaret is surrounded by their loving children and many grandchildren. And in every one of those children and grandchildren Tom lives on. In a word, a look, a smile, a laugh.

I could ramble on for hours about Tom, tell loads of stories about him but there is one that I feel is particularly apt for it shows his sense of humour - that which kept him buoyed up even in the darkest days and nights of his illness. Tom's Dad, my Grandad- died when I was about fourteen. Grandad had been in the printing game as had his father before him and Tom was also involved in printing. In the funeral car Tom sat in with the driver and I sat behind with my mother, grandmother and other elderly relatives. Tom lit up his ubiquitous cigarette and started to regale us all with stories about his Dad - a man he loved very much. Grandad had been very friendly with the Kirwan family - a long established undertaking firm in Dublin . At one stage they were wondering how they could go about advertising their business and brought up the subject with Grandad. Grandad promptly came up with the legend 'Kirwan's Kosy Koffins Make Korpses Komfortable'. My mother, the driver and I all burst into laughter - smothered quickly by the look on the Great Aunt Norah's face. That was Tom - a man who celebrated life and enjoyed every minute he drew breath. A life lived in the only way it should be - fully.

Coladh Samh Tom - I'll miss you. x

Friday, February 17, 2012


Took the eleven year olds to The Muppets this evening. Only fault in the movie was that there were too many humans singing and dancing and acting like idiots. The Muppets themselves were superb - Miss Piggy, Kermit, Fozzy, Gonzo, Animal - all the gang. It was like meeting up with with old friends again and made me all nostalgic for the late 70s and early 80s. I could kill Viko Nikci though - his screenwriting workshop (brilliant - if you ever get a chance to do it) has flippin' ruined movies for me by making me observe each scene and seeing the way it is structured. The same thing happen with novels when I started writing fiction. It becomes like homework instead of just absorbing the images and words.

Meself and Jemser are like Waldorf and Statler at this hour of our lives - sitting on the couch criticising things on the TV - I can see us tottering into our dotage like that; and it's nice. I'm still allowed give out about him though - about stupid things like the fact he is a lazy male and whether drying clothes on radiators blocks heat and significant differences in standards of hygiene. He can give out about me opening windows when the heat is on and not putting the lids back on anything properly. I can grump away at him and he can grump back at me. And I'm glad we made it this afar, to still be good pals after twenty four years together. And all the rest of that lovey dovey stuff. The Muppets have made me all soft and 'aaaaaaahhhh'.

When I started writing my one regret was that I had left it so late in my life to start - all the hours I couldn't get back that I spent plonked in front of the TV watching a lot of rubbish. Not all of it was pap I suppose - the Muppets were clever as was Spitting Image, Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in The Crown, the Forsythe Saga, Upstairs Downstairs, adaptations of Austen, Hardy and Dickens - were all quality. But oh my lord - there was the awful Dallas and Dynasty and Falcon's Crest. And soaps. No wonder we all drank so much - you'd have to be half cut to sit through that lot on a winter's evening - Big Brother keeping us all anesthesised with flickering images of false lives.

Anyway once the babies came there was precious little time for television - or anything else outside of work and family. When I look at it now at a slight remove my reading tastes and habits changed completely over the twelve to fifteen year period that I was wrapped up in rearing the boys. I read mostly crime/horror novels and even then only for a half hour in bed at night - anything weightier I couldn't handle. I was convinced I lost half my cognitive function with the placenta after each birth, Nuala Ni Chonchuir calls it 'nappy brain'!

So there y'are a ramble through the television of my late teens, twenties and early thirties. Sad isn't it? Groucho Marx said 'I find television very educational. Every time someone turns on the set I go into the other room and read a book.' And wasn't he right -a waste of time - makes me - and many of us out to be right Muppets. do d' dooby do.........

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Write. Right?

My Wednesdays are supposed to be devoted to writing. Or at least reading well in an attempt to improve my writing. But every Wednesday since Christmas I have found it imperative that I wash windows or strip all the beds in the house, go on trips with my eleven year old or even tackle a huge pile of ironing. Why?

I'll tell me why. I'm afraid. No matter how many people tell me my work is good or even 'no worse than a lot I've read' - I kid you not! I veer dramatically from thinking I might have some talent to wanting to shred everything I've ever written. And all that in the space of an hour. Imagine the swings in a week, month, year. To make it worse I don't know which I'm more afraid of. The work being ok or the work being crap. I also don't know if I will ever ever believe any compliment about the work - I always find some reason why somebody might be kind to me.

It can be very tiring - all this self-doubt. Even more tiring than actually writing. Which is why I'm making this a very short post and going off to indulge in a little snooze and some more contemplation of whether I should write more or not. Ah - procrastination - some people call it life!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Virgin Trollope......

Couldn’t resist that title - coined by my lovely friend Suzanne Rogers who hasn't read any of Joanne Trollope's books but got tickets for her in conversation with broadcaster/journalist Sinead Gleeson in the lovely Pavilion theatre in Dun Laoghaire and invited me along. The evening was part of DLR's Libraries Voices Series and Joanne was promoting her new novel The Soldiers Wife - I started it last night and am already hooked.

It was a joy to hear Joanne's modulated English voice read her work. It is a gentle, pragmatic and unassuming voice - much as I had always suspected it would be. Joanne Trollope has had seventeen books published, makes me wonder why I'm clapping myself on the back! Such dedication. I have read eight of those seventeen and her remaining books are on the bucket list. I think that like Mary Wesley and Anita Brookner Joanne has great clarity of vision into the mindset of middle-class Britain. Fascinating insight into that British reserve and in all the things not said as much as what's said. A fifth generation niece of Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope,'the real Trollope' as she describes him, she grew up surrounded by books and I'd imagine has a strong sense of belonging in the world of British letters. She was a really lovely speaker - if you ever get the chance go to hear her.

Sinead Gleeson was relaxed with her and I felt as if I was eavesdropping on a conversation between two friends who hadn't seen each other for some time. They are both warm and funny women and very amusing about John Terry and FA soccer (Joannes's a Chelsea supporter). Joanne grew up with no television and had books as companions during long winter nights and equally long summer days. At the moment I'm torn between ranting about televison or religion as 'the opium of the people'. Both have been damaging to society - and helped in other ways - and both are of course driven by money, power and and in the case of television - greed. Except for Sesame Street. taht was a worthwhile show.I digress. As per.

On popular culture and the lure of immediate celeberity status I loved Joanne's comment about soccer's WAGs 'There is a price to pay for that title' she said. Indeed there is. And she wondered if when a footballers career is over due to injury or age and the ludicrously big amounts of money stop flowing what kind of adjustments had to be made in those relationships.
An interesting woman - would love to sit and natter with her for ages.
Maybe her next novel. I'll buy it!

Monday, February 6, 2012

What the Dickens.....?

On the eve of the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens it seems apt to throw my tuppence worth into the pot.

I didn't grow up in a bookish house - in fact there were no books in our house bar school books and any books I brought home from the library. Books were a luxury we could ill-afford. My father, now aged 78, proudly claims he has never read a book (and I believe him), my mother- sadly departed - read in her youth and didn't reach an old age in which she could start reading again.I know my three brothers find it difficult to concentrate on the written word. Two of my sister now adults read but had no interest in books in their teens. I send recommendations their way regularly, having a fair idea of what they like. So I didn't 'discover' Dickens apart from movies until he was presented to me when we studied Great Expectations in school for our Intermediate Certificate.

I absolutely loved it despite its long-windedness and Dickens's many caricatures. I feel Mr Dickens really understood people and as he can tend to be mawkishly sentimental his writing appeals to my 'aaah' side. Many of my fellow students thought it a most boring piece of literature, preferring the problem page of the 'Jackie' magazine as reading matter. Then I read 'David Copperfield' - another tale/life to immerse myself in. Dickens characters really leap off the page for me - my sense of melodrama heightened and satisfied in reading his work.

The next one I read is one I return to again and again. 'The Old Curiosity Shop', I don't care what Oscar says (and I'm a big Oscar fan) I still cry every time I read of the death of Little Nell. Imagine the impact it must have had on readers when it came out first! Readers who weren't constantly bombarded as we are by visual and auditory stimulation. When I read 'The Old Curiosity Shop', I am in the shop; for Charles Dickens took me by the hand and brought me there, introduced me to all his amazing characters and told me their tales. Ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. And Charles brought all their stories to his readership, people readers could identify with - just as Shakespeare in his day brought all the great stories of the world and staged them for the ordinary populace - many of whom who could read. I went on to read many more of Dickens novels (although not them all - they're on the bucket list) Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol would of course be great favourites and I am re-reading Hard Times at the moment.

When I left school and started my boring administrative job it was only the promise of Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy when I got home that made the day bearable. Another author I liked during the 80's was American horror writer Stephen King. I think King's thumping great reads are in the same vein as Charles Dickens in that they too are big books well populated with myriad characters who are managed muscularly within the plot of the novel.

I think my own writing has been influenced by Charles Dickens - I certainly hope so - and if not then I am glad to have read him anyway, to have walked the world of Victorian times in his company as he exclaims on the odd behavior of some and the valiant nature of others.

Happy Birthday dear Charles, happy birthday to you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Where I Write

A friend told me recently she had been thinking of me as she watched a movie about a writer who worked at a desk overlooking East Hampton in Long Island. I laughed. If only I could have a big mahogany desk overlooking the Hamptons. It's such a lovely idea, staring out a window at Natures beauty in one of the most expensive areas of the world.

I write in scraps of space and time. I can edit, hone and rewrite in the evenings sitting with the family but to get that first draft down I need to be on my own - no interruptions. Sometimes during the paying job's working week I get up early (not too often anymore mind!) I often sit up long after the world is asleep and write wrapped up in a duvet in my sitting room in the silence of the night. I unplug all electrical appliances barring the laptop - if it's poetry I'm working on I use pencil and unlined paper and play with the words that way, scratching out, arrowing words up and down, juggling.

At the weekends I will sit propped up in bed for an hour or so and write before I rise. If I get up and dressed suddenly all sorts of ridiculous domestic trivia seems to get in my way (I'm lying - it is called procrastinating!). On my 'writing day' - the unpaid day I have stolen for myself from the working week I head to one of the many libraries in Fingal (I especially like Rush) and read and write there for three or four hours. This morning I spent in Fighting Words and now I will write sitting by the fire in my living room for several hours. I have to stop before 8pm otherwise I won't sleep and be exhausted in work the following day. Jemser will cook dinner - a little worried about him actually, he cleaned the deep fat fryer yesterday (it was carcinogenic it was so dirty) and said he got great satisfaction from it! You'd want to see it - it is pristine, looks like it just came out of the box, son#1 and I tease him terribly about it.

Sometimes at weekends when I can find a few hours together I sit on a chair in my very untidy unused box-room with my legs stretched over to the single bed. I tried getting rid of the bed and putting in a desk - but the desk (a small battered pine kitchen table) became the receptacle for every bit of rubbish in the house and I had nowhere for visitors to sleep - or for myself to sleep when Jemser attempts to frighten the whole estate with his snoring. So the table was dumped and the bed went back in. The room is so small it can only take a single bed, a chair and a bedside locker. That room is where I wrote most of 'The Heron's Flood' available here - I occasionally write in coffee shops while waiting to pick up sons #1 or #2 from some activity. I have written in my car with Lyric FM on in the background. So I suppose at this stage, yeah - definitely - I can consider myself committed to writing. I probably should be committed when I re-read how I fit it in, maybe dedicated is a better word.

Whatever. But whether one writes in a twenty million dollar house in the Hamptons or a cold tiny boxroom in a 3 bed semi-detached in Dublin the only way the work will be done is by applying ones fingers to the keyboard and ones bum to the seat. Worldly wisdom for the day.