The Ocean At The End Of The Bed.

It’s late. The house is asleep or pretending to be. The smelly dog has padded down the stairs beside me in the almost dark and taken up his guard at my feet. Why is it so easy to believe that the dog can read my mind?

I have a thousand words swimming at the front of my head fighting for daylight and bright red warning lights burning at the sides telling me to self-edit, to just stop now and let it be.

I was away. We were in France. It was paradise. Almost.

We arrived at a wood cabin just in time for an Atlantic sunset. Down three steps and six leisurely paces from our door took us to a rickety picket fence and beyond that a thirty foot drop to the beach. The water was still warm, lapping turquoise and gold over tangerine sand. It was, truly, that good, like an ad for a perfect holiday.

We went to bed, toes pointing west, and the tide came in.

Waves crashed against the cliff, Ka-Boooommm, and dragged back sand, ki-shhishhhhhhhh.

At the top of the tide the waves hitting the cliff reverberated through the dune, across six paces, up three steps and rattled the house.

Ki-shhishhhhhh-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle.

The draw back from each slapping wave sounded as though it was pulling the very ground from under me. The wind rose and a loose shutter took to banging in time.

Ki-shhishhhhhh-Pullll-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle-BANG,  Ki-shhishhhhhh-Pullll-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle-BANG,  Ki-shhishhhhhh-Pullll-Ka-Boooommm-rattlerattlerattle-BANG…

I lay awake with the certain knowledge that we were about be be tipped into the ocean, that feeling of spiders scuttling about in my chest. I listened closely for the ultimate sound that should send me dashing to throw my children out the windows. I listened and calculated, how long to drop thirty feet, how far to sink, and tried to breathe and dared not think the words it-will-be-alright.

Now. I have to go back and just typing that makes my head spin.

When I was eight my mother took a holiday with her girlfriends and my father brought my four year old sister and I to a seaside hotel. There’s a long story there, obviously, but it’s not mine to tell. We can skip to me, trying to get to sleep in a hotel bedroom. It was, I think, our fourth night in the hotel, my fourth night in any hotel and it still felt strange. My Dad had gone downstairs to the bar. My sister was asleep. I had read a few chapters of Black Beauty. It was a lovely hard back copy from a collection of children’s classics. My mother had bought them from the travelling salesman who sold her the World Book encyclopedia and she kept them all in the breakfront bookcase which was her pride and joy. The book retained the smell of pledge furniture polish. It smelled of home.

I had a bedtime ritual. Oh Angel of God, my guardian dear, and now I lay me down to sleep and if I die before I wake and then God bless Mammy and Daddy and Everyone Who Loves Me and then I said to myself, Holy God will take care of us, it-will-be-alright.

Then my Daddy was shouting Get Up, Lynda, Get Out Of Bed and I did what I was told and rolled out unto my feet and he was lifting my sister from her bed and urging me towards the bathroom and my feet were burning because the ground was hot and it was dark but I could see the orange light outside the curtains.

We went to the bathroom window and he lifted me out to the ledge and I looked down and saw a cluster of men holding their hands up and telling me to jump and I worried that my nightdress would billow out but I did what I was told and I jumped and, after a second, they caught me. My sister was dropped behind me and we were bundled to the other side of the street and wrapped in stranger’s coats.

There was heat, infernal heat and flames and sparks falling but mostly I remember a roaring noise and staring at that bathroom window waiting to see Daddy come out. He went back in you see, to save a baby. There’s another long story there. We had played with her all week on the beach. He went back through our room and tried to get down the corridor to her room but he couldn’t make it. He didn’t get her. They never found her. She was so little, I suppose there was nothing left.

Eventually, he came out the same window.

We were on the six o’clock news and the front page of the newspaper.

We don’t talk about it.

I don’t know what the triggers are. It’s not every holiday but some. It might have been the smell of Malibu sun cream or the hot sand or the booming noise. I don’t know.

I am so, so glad to be home. In a house that doesn’t shake and has a shitload of smoke alarms. I’m sorry I ruined my Husband’s holiday because I couldn’t speak.

It wasn’t all bad. The cheese was smelly, in the best possible way, and the wine was red and plentiful. I nearly have a tan. Well, many freckles. I have dozens of photos to show you but not tonight.

There are reasons, I’m sure, why I shouldn’t publish this post but I can’t, in my sleep-deprived state, remember what they are.

Now, to sleep.

Thanks for listening.

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Ha’penny Memories.

memoir, nostalgia, arnott's,

A red carpet has been laid across Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge today to celebrate its 2ooth birthday.

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/dublin-s-ha-penny-bridge-reaches-its-200th-birthday-1.2652569

It’s a little snippet like that, half heard on the radio during the school run, that can send you spinning back in time.

There is something about that bridge, its narrowness, the steep slope, its intrinsic prettiness embellished by the romance of history. They combine to give you (or at least me) a frisson of excitement. It’s that little thrill, I think, that makes the memories stick. I’ve crossed it more times than not holding my grandmother’s hand. That was her regular route; from her bus stop on the quays to her favourite shop, Arnott’s department store on Henry Street. The self-service cafe in Arnott’s, bustling and smelling of vegetable soup, was our haunt. Granny liked a chocolate eclair and mine was a coffee slice.

She would complete her errand, buy a spool of thread perhaps or curtain hooks, and then lead me on a leisurely stroll around the furniture department. She might purchase a small treat for me, new socks or vests, and then her own treats. She took great pleasure in owning high quality teatowels, dishcloths, table runners and napkins. These were the small props that re-enforced her position as an excellent housewife. These are hers:

nostalgia, memoir, ha'penny bridge,

They work, these small, collected things.

They remind you who you are and what matters to you.

You can hang your hat on them.

You can cling to them.

memoir, nostalgia, arnott's,

Back, then, across the bridge  to the bus, ‘one and a half, please’, and home to make the dinner.

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Against The Clocks.

dandelion seed head. clock, parenting, gardening,

I am sore and I am exhausted. The balls of my feet ache from hunkering down, my knees are pebble-dashed black and blue, the base of my right thumb is skinned and the dimple in my right butt cheek has clenched to what must surely be dimple record-breaking proportions.

Husband and I worked our arses off yesterday. Seriously, the combined circumference of our posteriors must surely be significantly reduced. We rose at the crack of dawn to wage war on our weedy front drive. We hit the dirt at 6.00 AM as the birds were waking and the slugs were taking cover. It was an unexpectedly beautiful day. (I heard at the school gate that the crew filming Star Wars in West Kerry had to ship in water for rain machines yesterday as they had scheduled a stormy scene. Someone ought to have told them that you can’t schedule Irish weather. That’s why we talk about it so much)

weeding. parenting, mania, compulsive, teenagers

I expected we would go back to bed with coffee by 9.00 but we hit a rhythm and carried on for eight hours.

That’s not exactly the truth.

I hit one of those manic, must-keep-moving days and Husband knows, after all these years, that he is better coming along for the ride. Or, perhaps, he stays by my side to mind me, to do the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively.

Would it horrify you if I said that, even after eight hours of dedicated extraction, there are still dandelions in the front drive? The so-called lawn would be better-titled as ‘buttercup border‘, ‘clover corner‘ or ‘dandelion dale‘. That is fine, doesn’t bother me at all, but those dandelions and buttercups are determined to annexe the driveway and I must defend my path to the outside world. This problem, like so many, could be solved with money. Six tons of proper gravel would see us right. In the meantime we resort to channelling my mania. Mid-morning, we resigned ourselves to a losing battle, had an inspirational bowl of yogurt and took a sideways approach.

We planted better weeds.

We dug up the most obnoxious offenders and replaced them with seedlings of Verbena bonariensis. The theory is that these butterfly magnets will stretch upwards and outwards to fill the spaces and distract the eye. If weeds were gut flora, Verbena are the Lactobacilli.

dandelion seed head. clock, parenting, gardening,

A couple of Husband’s legendary cappucinos sparked a further moment of genius.

We have planted 5 ornamental cherry trees out there, 1 plum cherry, 2 lilacs, 3 acers, a contorted hazel, a wedding-cake tree, a precious walnut and a tiny Magnolia stellata that hasn’t grown an inch since the day she was watered in. (Yes, we could have saved all that money and bought the six tons of gravel but where would be the fun in that?) The weeds encroach upon our babies with heartless ferocity and we can’t keep up with clearing them.

So, here is my cheap and rather brilliant solution. I raided my cardboard box mountain (many Amazon deliveries) and fashioned collars to fit each tree, thus:

cardboard collar suppresses weeds around young trees

We cut and cleared circles around each tree, watered them, fit their new collars and dressed them with a think layer of mulch.

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If I could patent cardboard tree-collars, I could afford to buy gravel.

I retired around 4.3o to a radox bath. My gratitude for the existence of epsom salts knows no bounds.

Iron your own school uniforms‘, I yelled down the stairs at the teenagers and, guess what, they did. A new era dawns.

I managed to roast a small but tasty corn-fed chicken before folding myself into a chair for the Antiques Roadshow. Husband rubbed voltarol into my lower, lower back (a.k.a. arse) and I rolled quietly into motionless sleep.

I woke around 4.00 AM, possibly because the effects of the voltarol had worn off. Raising my head ever-so-slightly I saw the moon shining orange like a marigold. I lay there pondering life, my own sanity and the value of anti-inflammatory cream.

I’ve been thinking a lot about adolescence (and the adolescents in my care). In the interest of fairness, I’ve tried to recall what I was like at seventeen. I was a very good girl. My school report officially declared me ‘mature beyond (my) years’. I lived at the arse-end of nowhere and had little opportunity to find trouble but yet, when that chance came my way, I took it.

I spent an annual fortnight with my father during summer holidays which, in fact, meant two weeks of liberation with my older cousins. I drank bottles of Ritz (eurgghhh, burp) and got drunk, but only once or twice because I don’t like to lose control. I got in a car with a guy I had just met at a disco and let him drive me to the side of a lake at three in the morning. I might have been raped or murdered but I wasn’t. I was  kissed soundly and delivered safely to my aunt’s house. Was that just luck?  I like to think that I had good judgement. Surely, everyone thinks they have good judgement and, if you didn’t, how could you tell?

My parents didn’t police me. They agreed on little back then but they were of one opinion that I could only benefit from loosening up at bit. They may have been right about that.

Over and over again I have come up against a brick wall when I ask myself the question, ‘what would a responsible parent do here?’. I am forced to cast around for reliable advice, I’ve been known to pay for it, and then I rely on that good judgement.

This raising of a person from fresh-minted babe to full-grown man seems to be something of a three-legged marathon with an unpredictable and arbitrary finish line.

I thought we were tipping along at a decent clip, a good team, the end-point coming into view around the next corner. Then some fool stuck their leg out and tripped us up and I fell flat on my face. I don’t know how to get up again. I want to roll to the sidelines and say, ‘carry on by yourself, pet, you’ll be grand’.

But, that’s not right, is it? Pity they don’t make voltarol and radox baths for hurt egos and bruised hearts.

I am exhausted and I am sore.

From my back garden this morning:

dandelion seed head, clocks, parenting teens, anxiety.

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1999.

SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Long QT syndrome, sick baby, angry teenager.

This post is too long, not at all funny and all about me. You might want to give it a miss or, at least, make a cup of tea before you start. Husband: do not read this at work (don’t say I didn’t warn you).

When Teenage Son was Newborn Baby Boy, I held him in my arms and felt a fissure open inside me.

I will worry about this boy for the rest of my life.

Those were the exact words that sat in my head and they felt like a weight, like a bump you might get from a cupboard door; sore but also reassuring to press your fingers against. Like a reminder that you do still have a head.

Seven weeks later we were drowning in the detritus of new parenthood. Baby Boy was like one of those Aborigine children whose feet don’t touch the ground until they can walk. He never went down. He fed and bathed and slept in my arms. That, in itself, didn’t bother me. In fact, I was loath to lose even a minute of holding him but we were running out of food and clothes and sheets and space to sit down.

SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Long QT syndrome, sick baby, angry teenager.

It was Good Friday so Husband had the day off work and we decided to clean up the apartment for the Easter weekend. Husband put Baby Boy into a baby carrier against his chest and did the vacuuming while I launched myself at the laundry mountain. We were pretty happy.

Baby Boy fell asleep and Husband lay him, on his back, in the freshly laundered Moses basket and went downstairs to the garden. I was inside the door of the next room, diligently working my way through the ironing. Baby Boy wasn’t in my direct line of vision but I had only to tilt my head by forty-five degrees or so to the right to check for a small hand or a leg rising above the side of the Moses basket. I couldn’t believe my luck. I might also have been slightly peeved that Husband had successfully settled my nursling in his own bed.

I pressed a couple more tiny, blue check, baby shirts before padding softly across our creaky floor to have a peek.

Baby Boy was lying with his eyes wide open and fixed on some unknown middle distance. I had that horrible moment when you think your baby isn’t breathing and you wait and tell yourself, ‘he’s fine’. Every mother does that at least once, right?

But, you know what, he wasn’t fine and he wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t blue but he was very white. I lifted him, not into my arms but holding him out from me in my two hands. His arms and legs hung limp and his chin sank down between my thumbs. I looked into his eyes and said his name but he didn’t blink and he didn’t cry and he didn’t breathe.

Then I screamed, or maybe bellowed is a better word. Not a high pitch, more like a desperate cow calling a calf. I shouted his name and shook him and told him to wake up. I don’t know how long, less than a minute I’d guess now although it was long enough for Husband to hear me and come running up from the garden.

And then, just as Husband barged through the door and I said ‘he’s not breathing’, as if to bloody spite me, he did. He came back.

He stiffened in my hands and he fixed his gaze on me and he screamed back at me.

My very next thought was, ‘did I imagine that?’

We called a taxi and went to the hospital and did our best to explain what had just happened in our halting Italian. The University Hospital in Padova is outstanding. We felt safe from the minute we walked through the doors. The paediatric neurologist was a woman called Professoressa Laverda. If you can picture Judge Judy in a white lab coat you’re pretty close to seeing this woman. There was no way she was letting my boy leave her care until she figured out what had happened.

Professoressa Laverda quizzed me over and over and until I was convinced that she didn’t believe me and I was almost equally convinced that I didn’t believe me.

They ran E.C.G’s and tests for reflux and tests for epilepsy. They weighed Baby Boy repeatedly, three or four times a day, and measured his limbs, the circumference of his head, the distance between his eyes. He learned to smile in response to all the faces and instruments held before him.  Every night, reliably from 8.00 PM until 1.00AM, he wailed inconsolably. After that I lay him beside me in a narrow camp bed and we slept, sort of.

My mother flew out from Ireland, to bring me tea I suppose and fresh underwear, and I was grateful. A kind lady in the Irish Embassy in Rome, who had helped me find an obstetrician, phoned the hospital every day to check on our progress. Of course, every time the nurses station received a call from l’ambasciata they needed to call La Professoressa which probably didn’t help my case.

About eight days in, the paediatric cardiologist decided to run a twenty-four E.C.G. holter. Electrodes were positioned on Baby Boys chest, covering more or less all of him, and attached to a walkman-sized tape recorder. All we needed to do was take note of when he was awake or asleep.

I fed him and settled him in my mother’s arms and went for a shower. I can still remember the bathroom. It was huge, big enough to wheel a child’s cot around. There was a small, old-fashioned bath in the middle of the room and a tiny, modern shower, clearly an after thought, squeezed into the corner behind the door. The window was always wide open and there was no lock on the door; there was no way I was going to imagine myself at a spa hotel.

I got dressed and went back down the corridor to our room where everything looked exactly as it had when I left except my mother who  was looking decidedly bothered. After an interlude she told me that the holter recorder had slipped to the floor and the tape had fallen out. She put the tape back in but then, on reflection, thought she should tell me.

Gathering my courage, I called for Professoressa Laverda. ‘È caduta’, I said, it fell, and la professoressa flicked her eyes, Judge Judy style, between me and my mother. I couldn’t think of the Italian phrase , è colpa mia , it’s my fault, so I said it in latin, mea culpa.

I can still see her now, standing there, looking at me long and hard and it was as if something shifted between us and she could suddenly see who I was. She took the tape and left.

A few hours later, a small crowd of doctors and students gathered inside the door of our room. This was a teaching case.

Baby Boy had Long QT Syndrome, a condition which predisposes the patient to irregular heartbeat leading to fainting, seizures and, potentially, death. A research group in Milan was, at that time, studying the connection between Long QT and Sudden Infant Death (SIDS). They were beside themselves with excitement to have a live (thankfully) case right there in front of them. Baby Boy was labelled a ‘near-miss’ for SIDS.

The meagre three hours of tape had shown up two episodes of what they liked to call  chaotic heartbeat.

It was with a sense of some urgency that Baby Boy was hooked up to an elaborate heart monitor. I was cautioned sternly that he must be hooked up to the alarm every moment that he was asleep.

Later that night I was walking the wailing, colicky infant up and down the corridor. Trust me, colic has the power to distract you from a heart condition. Doctors, nurses, mothers and grandmothers all reassured me that breastfed babies did not get colic. Well, this one did. With bells on.

There was an American woman with a very sick baby at the far end of the corridor. She had been living on an army base in Germany and was sent by ambulance to Padova, that’s how good this hospital was that just happened to be the one on our doorstep. Anyway, I was overjoyed to have someone I could chat with and I wandered down to tell her the latest news and pass the colicky time.

Her baby had Edward’s syndrome. He was fifteen months old even though he hadn’t been expected to survive fifteen days. She was a perfectly ordinary woman, lovely to chat with and extraordinarily kind to me. She loved her son and found joy in their closeted days together. He was a sweet and smiley bundle. But, they were never leaving there together. However many days they got in that room was very likely all they would ever have. She calmed me and made me feel like the lucky one. Hell, I was the lucky one. Could I have been any luckier? I was holding the near-miss in my arms.

The hum of our voices lulled Baby Boy into a half-sleep and I sat down, still rocking him, and talked some more.

Do you think something awful happened? No, a nurse passed the window and saw me sitting there with Baby Boy at least ninety percent asleep in my arms. She came in and lambasted me. Didn’t I know he had a serious heart condition? Hadn’t I heard the doctor? Didn’t I know he could die?

I shamefacedly returned to the monitor feeling perhaps a smidge less fortunate.

Husband and I were trained in paediatric CPR. Baby Boy was weighed a couple more times so that a regime of medications could be calculated. A cardiac monitor was ordered for us to bring home. We rented it for 500,000 Lira per month and, yes, even in Lira that was a huge amount of money.

Two weeks after Good Friday, we walked out of the hospital with  some expensive equipment, a complicated prescription and a small miracle.

The monitor was a mixed blessing. We could leave the strap around his chest all the time so that we only had to plug him in when he fell asleep but that got hot and uncomfortable in the summer so we switched to strapping him when he was asleep, which usually woke him up.  As Baby Boy got bigger, he often pulled the wires out, waking us and our downstairs neighbours with a loud alarm. There were a few unexplained alarms, but he was always fine; alive and kicking.

The medication was a beta-blocker but I can’t remember the name of it. That’s really surprising because we discussed it endlessly. The dose was tiny, obviously, and the pharmacist crushed adult tablets and weighed a few milligrams on to pieces of paper which he then folded into neat parcels. Every six hours, 6.00-midday-6.00-midnight, either Husband or I would carefully open a little postage stamp-sized parcel and carefully mix the powder with water. We were then to draw the mixture into a syringe and shoot it down the back of Baby Boy’s throat.

The powder didn’t dissolve and we could never get all the granules into the syringe. We switched to pouring the powder in the top of the syringe and adding water. Baby Boy spat it and dribbled it and puked it back at us. We knew we weren’t getting it all in.

Regular blood tests showed, over and over, that Baby Boy wasn’t getting the full dose. They increased the dosage slightly but there was always the risk that we would get it all in and that would be too much.

Once a month we went back to the hospital to have a twenty-four hour E.C.G. holter fitted. The problem with that was that his chest was too little to accommodate both the holter and the alarm electrodes so, on those nights, we sat watching him all night. For about six months the holters picked up those chaotic episodes and then they became less frequent. He was growing out of it.

Despite the nervous exhaustion, I was never happier. I was living my dream (with unexpected wires attached). I have memories of the three of us sleeping under a mosquito net with those wires stretched across the pillow. And, the three of us on a blanket at the outdoor pool with the monitor under a towel beside us. When Baby Boy started walking, at nine months, I cut holes is his sleepsuits and he pottered around the apartment in the mornings with wires trailing behind like a tail. I was besotted with him. I could not fathom how I could have produced such a gorgeous child. Italians stopped me in the street to admire him and he lapped it up. He learned to make a perfect ‘ciao, ciao’ with his little hands. We met Professoressa Laverda on Sunday afternoons, taking her passegiata around the town square. She always sent her regards to l’ambasciata.

We were ecstatic when the doctors decided to stop giving him beta-blockers but less so when they also decided we didn’t need the monitor any more. It was the end of my security blanket.

We all go about our daily lives with a mental barrier firmly in place against all the terrible things that could happen. You couldn’t be thinking about them all day long; you would crack up. I think that anxiety, as a chronic condition, is brought about by a weakness in that barrier.

Baby Boy’s near-miss knocked a couple of bricks out of my mental barrier. There were lots of nights, even when he was six or seven, that I asked Husband to go and check him because I was too afraid to do it. His QT is just inside the limits of what is considered normal. A cardiologist in Dublin reassured me quite forcefully that, ‘normal is normal, someone has to be the high end of normal, that’s how statistics work.’ Yes, well, you know what they say about statistics.

Still, weeks and even months pass now when I don’t think for a second about heart monitors or beta-blockers. Eventually you learn again to fill the gaps in the barrier with distractions.

But then, this weekend, I was transported right back to Good Friday, 1999. It was as if a portal opened up and my brain flooded my body with messages of ‘this is exactly like then’. I felt the same fear, the same vortex of panic and disbelief. I paced, actually paced because I couldn’t sit and I couldn’t stand. If only someone could have put a baby into my arms. All I could do was hold my phone in my hands, press my thumbs against its face and whisper, ‘come back’.

The worrying still feels like a reassuring bruise. The bad things don’t happen when you are worrying. They happen when you are reading, or ironing, or writing blog posts about dandelions.

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Never Too Early For Fairies.

Rainbow Fairies. Little House On The Prairie. True Stories. Make Believe.

My Granny was habitually early. People consider punctuality a virtue but it’s not necessarily so. Being early for mass meant that we sat much longer than required on the hard benches of the church. Being early for the bus exposed us for longer to the freezing wind and the neighbour’s curiousity.

early. punctual. anxiety. waiting

Granny’s clock-watching drove my Mum crazy. If Gran wanted to get the 6.30 train back to Dublin she would tell Mum that she was aiming for the 5.30. She would insist on being dropped at the train station an hour early, to get her ticket and use the bathroom and buy the newspaper and get a good non-smoking, forward-facing seat close to the restaurant carriage. Like as not, she’d wouldn’t be able to resist hopping on to the last seat on the 4.30 train. You see, it wasn’t the bathroom or the newspaper or the quality of seat that mattered, it was the being early.

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My mother, perhaps in rebellion, became the World Champion of Tardiness. She seems to believe that, if she has an appointment at X O’Clock, then as long as she leaves the house by one minute to X, she will defeat laws of physics and travel to her destination in exactly zero time, leaving her one minute to change out of her magic ruby driving shoes and check her phone messages.

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I have long, tedious memories of hanging over the school railings, waiting. I invented waiting games. I would decide that Mum was sure to arrive after the next orange car passed. Nope. Following that, I might determine that she would surely arrive before twenty more cars drove by. Thirty. Still no sign of her. Fifty?

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To be fair, I am sure there were days when she was there, on time, as the melee of screaming girls  packaged themselves into cars, slamming doors and driving away. I just don’t remember those days. I remember the long, quiet, tedious waiting days.

Whether it’s one of those weird recessive genes that sometimes skips a generation, or merely a reaction to all that time watching out for orange cars… I lean heavily towards punctuality. That’s an understatement. In fact, it’s a downright lie. I am chronically and incurably early.

It’s a boring affliction. I rush about in a panic and worry that I will be late just as much as the genuinely late person…I just do it with time to spare.

The result is that I, and the people attached to me, spend far too much time in that most soul-destroying of activities…waiting.

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At the cinema, I watch every trailer and wait for the movie to start. I arrive too early to parties and stand awkwardly waiting for the room to fill. I have, no word of a lie, sat with my children in the car waiting for their school to open. I have learned to be comfortable sitting alone in coffee shops…waiting. I have been the first person on the train, right next to the coffee cart, facing forward …waiting.

Remember last week when I told you that I put all my seedlings out too early… and lost them all to a late frost. That wouldn’t be the first time.

 

Of course, earliness has advantages. I WILL get those concert tickets, or the early-bird bargain or the bird’s-eye view. When we went to see Billy Joel, I was practically sitting in his lap.

But it’s not about all that stuff. That’s just like Granny’s newspaper and forward-facing seat. The point is to be prepared. To be ready for anything. The point is to be early so that when life, as it so often does, throws some unscheduled crisis into the works, I have an advantage. Time.

Time, considered by many to be their enemy, is my most reliable ally.

So, I set my alarm and pack a good book and prepare myself for waiting. The hope is that, when the catastrophe comes, I will at least have time on my side.

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This weekend, I brought my family on a forest walk to see the bluebells. Take a good look at the photograph above. All that those green plants…bluebells. Sigh. Yes, I was too early. We walked farther and farther into the woods in hope of discovering a glade in full bloom. There were a few flowers, dotted here and there, but the big show is still a few weeks away.

As it turned out, we had a glorious afternoon.

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The girls searched for fairy dwellings.

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The dog ran around gleefully. Have you ever seen a gleeful Cockapoo? It takes some beating, I can tell you. There was no possibility of photgraphing him…he was just a furry blur of glee for the duration.

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We were early for bluebells but exactly on time for wood anenomes (Anenome nemorosa). All the way up, at the top of the hill, we found the perfect  sunny glade. We sat on the forest floor and laughed at the dog and took a few selfies and lived in the moment.

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Life surprises you.

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Hyacinthoides non-scripta.

 

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Moving Right Along…

Phew. That last post took it out of me.

When we left the hospital we walked (or, in my case, crawled) straight back to our building site. We had four weeks left to get out of our lousy rental and into our new home. My miracle baby cried mercilessly. I carried her everywhere in a sling, bouncing constantly as I cajoled carpenters and pleaded with plasterers. I snatched sleep in micro-naps, perched on the edge of the builder’s wheelbarrow. I was asked to make 752 (or thereabouts) decisions a day about doorknobs and architraves. I was threadbare.

My feelings about Small Girl’s birth were a confused mess of anger and relief. I never found time to figure them out.

Hemingway untangled the knot.

I feel a sense of resolution. The combination of reading and writing has spring-cleaned the inside of my head. It feels good.

I’m ready for new things.

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Husband and I have not had a night away from the kids since before Small Girl’s dramatic entry to our lives. It’s time to start planning. I’m hoping for one night, maybe even two, in a quirky hotel room. We’ll need good food, that goes without saying. Something interesting to look at would be good so that we don’t have to talk about the kids the whole time. Bookshops lift my mood, clothes shops don’t. We can manage one, short, cheap flight from Cork but don’t want to waste time travelling. We probably can’t afford to do this until the Autumn, possibly even Autumn 2017 (yep, we don’t get out much!) so I have plenty of time to enjoy the research. All suggestions are welcome.

I mentioned my quest to The Grey Eye, over at Life as we see it (my very first WordPress follower!) and she created a super post just for me. Read about her Top 10 Romantic Destinations. There are some great ideas here. I’m leaning towards Amsterdam.

That may be all a pipe dream but, in the mean time, we have a huge treat in the offing. We have booked tickets to the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival at the end of May.

 

Food, words, gin, food, words…all in one of my absolute favourite places to spend a Sunday. Yeay! Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait. I’ve booked into Prue Leith‘s talk. Did I say that I can’t wait?!

Another link I would like to highly recommend is to this Irish Times feature on Helen Dillon‘s house and garden in Dublin. This, my friends, is the dream. How she can bear to bid it farewell is beyond me.

 

Just one more link, and I am very proud of this one. Middle Girl has set up a book review blog. I’m nervous about letting her loose on the internet but she is very passionate about this. Everything is being filtered through me and I am watching like a tiger-mamma. I’m crossing my fingers that the WordPress community will be as kind to my girl as it has been to me. I’m also hoping that the reading plus writing formula will help my pre-teen to untangle her own goings-on.

She’s almost eleven, a voracious reader, a musician and an extraordinarily thoughtful young person. If you know any young people of similar interests please tell them to take a look at Treehouse Reads. This guy is the Guardian of the treehouse:

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Five Rounds With Hemingway.

Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. Post-traumatic stress.

This is not a book review.

Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. Post-traumatic stress.

Round One.

Husband and his school contemporaries often mention their English teacher. The man, by all reports, was something of a legend. He fed his students a diet of modern novels, mostly American, and they devoured it. I’m still trying to catch up with his reading list.

I wouldn’t have enjoyed A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway when I was fifteen. I can’t say that I liked it much now. It’s dreadfully depressing. The theme, it seems to me, is life is shite. The ending is as miserable as any ending could be. That’s the point, you see, the ending is miserable. Life is shite. I suppose that would resonate with an adolescent boy. I, on the other hand, have always read to escape that knowledge.

Luckily enough, as the consequences might have been dire, I never did read Hemingway. Until now.

Round Two.

The boy who loved Hemingway and the girl who loved Fitzgerald arrived at Milano Centrale railway station with two enormous suitcases and a diamond ring on her finger.

The train was packed and they couldn’t find seats. They stacked their bags between the carriages and sat on them, holding hands, watching the mountains and lakes and station names flicker past. Brescia. Verona. Vicenza. Soave.

Men were sleeping on the floor all down the corridor. Others stood holding on to the window rods or leaning against the doors. That train was always crowded.

It was April. They were lit up, burning with courage.

Round Three.

Feltrinelli International provides Italian university students with the classics.

I read every single book in the English language section. Secretly pining for a dose of Jilly Cooper, I brooded through two pregnancies with Dickens, Dumas and Wilkie Collins. La Feltrinelli also featured, naturally enough, books set in Italy. Under a Tuscan Sun, Italian Hours, Italian Neighbours…I read them all. But, never Hemingway. A Farewell To Arms wasn’t published in Italy until 1948 as it was considered detrimental to the armed forces. I have to wonder whether Hemingway was still persona non grata in that region. Anyway, I didn’t know Hemingway had  walked the same streets and travelled the same train lines.

Obviously, I wasn’t blown to pieces by a mortar bomb. The combination of a hot bath, baby oil and a marble floor landed me on bed rest. You never can tell where calamity is lying in wait for you. However, just like Lieutenant Frederic Henry, I was the happy recipient of contraband to my Italian hospital bed. It would be nice to say it was a copy of Corriera della Sera and a fiasco of Chianti but rather, it was a box of rice krispies and a Hello magazine.

Round Four.

He was nervous when the doctor said she would induce labour that evening. The baby was small-for-dates, she said, and needed to come out.

This was the end of the trap.

Nervous, but not terrified. He didn’t think she was going to die or anything. No-one ever does.

People don’t die in childbirth nowadays.That was what all husbands thought. Yes, but what if she should die? She won’t die.

His wife was assessed by the doctor (‘everything’s looking good’), by the midwife (‘you’re an old pro, you know what to do’), by the tea lady ( ‘fourth baby? It’ll fall out of you at the first push’) and he was reassured that this baby would come easily with just the tiniest bit of encouragement.

‘I don’t think you’ll need the gel,’ said the membrane-sweeping doctor.

‘I doubt you’ll need a second dose,’ said the gel-inserting doctor.

‘You’ll be gone by morning,’ said the tea lady.

‘This way you won’t need the syntocinon drip,’ said the second-gel-inserting doctor.

‘Will you have some toast?’ said the tea lady.

‘Would you walk up and down for a while?’said the mid-wife.

‘Let’s put up the drip and it will be all over by lunchtime,’ said the drip-putting-up doctor.

‘Would you sit on the yoga ball?’ said the mid-wife.

‘Will you try taking some gas?’ said the mid-wife.

‘I love your playlist,’ said the mid-wife.

‘Is she moving along?’ said the doctor.

‘No,’ said the mid-wife.

‘I need to take my lunch break,’ said the mid-wife.

‘More gas?’ said the next mid-wife.

‘She’s getting tired,’ said the first mid-wife, back from lunch.

‘Baby is getting tired,’ said the doctor.

They stood, the mid-wife and the doctor, muttering over a heartbeat monitor. Not progressing. Distress. Theatre.

‘There’s something wrong,’ whispered his wife.

‘They know,’ he said.

‘Can I have the epidural now?’ asked his wife.

The doctor nodded and left to prepare herself.

So, another doctor came and turned his wife on her side and just as he held a syringe to her spine, she groaned.

‘No.’

‘What is it, sweetheart?’

‘No.’

Alarms rang and hearts stopped. The smallest heart in the room really did stop. Bodies tilted at full speed through the door.

‘Crowning,’ said someone.

‘You know what to do?’ asked a senior mid-wife, pushing knees to abdomen.

‘Yes,’ said the younger mid-wife, and threw herself across the bed as if the pregnant belly was a tube of toothpaste.

No pushing or panting or breathing at all. Just brute force. Fingernails leaving five moon-shaped scars on a tiny scalp.

‘The cord..’

‘Can you get it?’

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Round 5.

‘I’ve never read Hemingway,’ said his wife as they perused the shelves of her favourite bookshop three days before Christmas. She ran her finger down the spine of a pristine hardback and looked at him with longing eyes.

It’s thirty years since he read A Farewell To Arms. The book he read was about the stupidity of battle, the futility of war. He doesn’t remember the nineteen pages of vividly described labour at the end of the book. That brutal scene wasn’t all that disturbing for a fifteen year old boy.

He didn’t know then that he would marry a girl and bring her to Italy and get her drunk on way too many fiascos of Chianti. He didn’t know then that he would stand and watch his dark blue infant daughter being dangled upside down and unwound from a stranglehold of umbilical cord.

He couldn’t have known then that he would have to hold his wife all night long after she got to the end of that book.

When you’re fifteen you think that life is shite. When you’re forty-five you know that the ending is miserable. But we hang on in there. What else can we do? We cling to life by the very crescent moons of our fingernails.

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The baby was handed first to him.

‘Good girl,’ said the doctor, patting his wife’s leg.

‘You did well,’ said the mid-wife, tucking in her sheets.

‘Will you have some toast?’ said the tea-lady.

‘Oh, Lynda, she’s so pretty,’ said the boy who loved Hemingway. He lifted the log off the fire and the ants ran away.

 

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The Thrill Of It All.

I wept when I finished this book. Copious tears ran in sheets down my face, down the valleys of my wrinkles and over my chin. Don’t let that put you off. It’s a funny book, but, it set me to thinking.

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I may place myself in the woo-woooh nut-job category by writing this but…

I’ve always felt there was a hole in my life where there ought to have been a brother. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t something I dwell on or think about very often. It’s just that every odd year or so the thought re-surfaces. It’s always there, I haven’t grown out of it. It’s just something in me. A space, a gap, a tiny void.

You see, I had a brother.

I had a brother but only for two days. Twenty-six weeks, I think, and two days. I hardly remember anything at all because I was very little, maybe five or six. I remember my father cooking breakfast for my sister and I because our mother had mysteriously disappeared. He made T-bone steak with fried mushrooms. I remember waiting in my Granny’s house and thinking they would bring home a mewling bundle in a white blanket. They would sit me in Granny’s chair, the one with low arms, and hand me the bundle carefully for a photograph, like when my sister was born. But they didn’t.

That’s all.

So anyway, I’ve often thought how nice it would be to have a brother. He would probably be a bit smarter than me and way cooler. He’d know which bands to listen to and how to download music for free. He’d recommend books. He’d encourage me to take risks and he’d promise to catch me if I fell.

The brother in my head has the voice of Joseph O’Connor.

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I’ve been reading Joseph O’Connor’s books for twenty years now and they never disappoint. I guess I picked up the first one out of curiosity. I wanted to know if Sinead O’Connor’s big brother was a good writer. He is, exceptionally so. Joseph O’Connor is one of those writers who chats as if he’d just dropped in for coffee on a Tuesday morning. He speaks my language. He tells a good story. He makes it look easy.

The Thrill Of It All is a book about a gang of kids who form a band. It’s about music and musicians. It’s about how music makes you feel better. It’s about how music makes you better at feeling. It’s about lives with great big gaping holes in them. Chasms.

Joseph O’Connor has been the voice in my head telling me how music can bridge the gaps and friends can fill the holes.

As life would have it, I have some really cool and uber smart brotherly types in my life who do encourage me to take risks and have caught me more than once.

I’ve sat on this post for a week. It has taken a fair old whack out of me.

I’m off to surf pinterest and not be thinking too much too much.

 

 

A Tale Of Two Handsome Princes.

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Once upon a time there were two handsome princes who wanted to bring their girlfriends out for a slap up meal. Sadly, they were student princes without the necessary cash to actually pay for food. (Aside; these princes belonged to a debating society so they owned their own tuxedos which was of great benefit when wooing women but no help at all when it came to paying restaurant bills)

They put their handsome heads together and came up with an elaborate plan.

They would recreate the ambiance of a charming French bistro in a tiny, grotty bedsit (ie, Chez Moi).

They raided their respective palace kitchens and stole the makings of Tarragon Chicken for four. There might have been a chocolate cake from Marks and Spencer (considered the pinnacle of luxury in 1992) and there was, clearly, a bottle of Blue Nun.

They rented a video and borrowed a VCR and a TV.

After dinner they sat, all four of them in a row, on the floor with their backs against the single bed and a duvet over their legs, and watched a movie. This was a very big treat for the girl who lived without TV.

The night was a success.

The video was Truly Madly Deeply.

One of those handsome princes got his girl, married her and has treated her as his princess ever after.

The girl, of course, has remained truly, madly, deeply in love with the handsome prince

and with Alan Rickman.

After all this time ?

Always.