A Ray of Sunshine and a Free Bench.

I’ve indulged myself for a few weeks in writing up an account of our weekend in Paris. It has been such a joy, not just because I succeeded in mentally air-lifting myself to a bistro in Montmartre, but because I wallowed in the freedom to write exactly what I wanted to write. I simply sat at the keyboard and told myself to ‘just get it down’, that’s all, nothing more. It’s not fancy but it’s honest and it says something, I hope, that I needed to say.

My desire was to package up something that we might take out in our dotage to read and remember a time when life was full to bursting. I gave it to Husband for his birthday, yesterday.

I also got him a book from Shakespeare and Company. I included a note in my order (there’s a space for notes in the online order form – of course there is!), thanking them for the tea and biscuits they gave us and they sent back a sweet handwritten note.

Honest to God, I think I left a piece of my heart behind in that shop. Can I just show you the packaging of their parcel? Look at this:IMG_9796

Would that not make any book-lover’s heart tick a little quicker?

Again, the online order form has some options to request a few little extras, a spritz of perfume, a poem typed up on the shop’s old typewriter, or just some random scrap of wordage they think you might like…

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It is surely for these small moments of contact, even virtual contact, with flesh and blood book people that independent bookshops MUST continue to exist. I’m not trying to sell you anything, well, I am, but I have nothing to gain other than that they continue to exist.

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The Paris write-up is far too long for a blog post. It would run to twelve blog posts, I think, which strikes me as ridiculous. Also, as I said, it is (even) more self-indulgent than my average blog post and includes minute details of no interest to anyone other than us.

The Paris write-up, which I titled A Ray of Sunshine and a Free Bench (it makes sense when you read it, I hope), does contain some photos. Most were snapped on Husband’s phone and some were taken by kindly strangers. This one is my favourite:


Hope life is treating you all kindly this murky Monday morning.

PS. Teenage Daughter made iced buns for her Dad yesterday and there is just that one left over and now I have to eat it. Oh, woe is me. #dietshmiet

Sultanabun goes to Paris.

If you follow my Instagram you know that Husband whisked me away to Paris for our wedding anniversary. I write that now, as if it was a normal, run of the mill occurrence but trust me, this was HUGE. I can’t remember when last I’ve felt such a surge of unadulterated excitement.

Not only did he bring me to Paris, he willingly carried all the heavy stuff and never questioned my lengthy list of things to do and places to see.

Number one, naturally, was Shakespeare and Company. This photo was taken less than 90 minutes after the plane touched down at Charles de Gaulle. You can probably tell, I’m almost crying with joy. That feeling lasted for pretty much the entire three days.IMG_2430 (2)

Around lunch time on Saturday, Husband quipped, ‘this is going to be a very long blog post.’

I started writing this morning and got to 1600 words and I haven’t even got as far as stepping inside the bookshop…IMG_2515

…I can’t imagine that any of you will ever want to read it but I have to write it because I need, really need to remember as much as I possibly can. I need to wrap up this weekend and carry it with me for the rest of my days. It was that good. It will sustain me, if only I can hold on to it.

So, forgive me if I’m not here too much for a small while. When I’ve got all the words out of my head I’ll try to decide what to do with them. All I know for now is that I have to write like the bejaysus before it’s all just a blur.


These are the spoils: IMG_9370 (2)

À bientôt, mes amis,


Paris ’92.

IMG_7961Just once, a very long time ago, I ran away.

I was twenty. Husband, who then went by the name First-Proper-Boyfriend, was eager for us to meld into an item, a fixture, a permanent ‘we’.

I was less eager. I was scared. I didn’t want to hurt him and I didn’t want to break up.

So, I ran away. I ran away to Paris.

I got a strip of four black and white photos, gave two to Boyfriend for his wallet and the other two to the passport office. I telephoned an au-pairing agency and convinced them of my passionate interest in childcare and the French langauge. I bought a large blue suitcase and I packed it.

I have a very distinct memory of sitting on that Aer Lingus Cork to Paris flight. I had such plans. I would learn to speak French with flair. I would learn about wine and cheese and Art and how to tie a scarf. I would leave my shy, awkward self in Cork and find a new me. This was my first big step to becoming an independent woman of the world.

My confidence lasted all the way to the car park of Charles de Gaulle airport where I accidentally sat in to the driver’s side of my host’s car instead of the passenger side. Jean-Luc, laughing as he hoiked my massive blue suitcase into the back of his teeny-weeny Renault, kindly re-assured me that their previous, English, Au-Pair had made the same mistake.

Every weekday, I took care of three small, beautiful boys. I couldn’t get over how gorgeous they were and was stupidly enamoured by the fact that they spoke fluent French. The boys couldn’t get over the fact that I, stupidly, didn’t.

Every Saturday, I was free to explore Paris. I hated the metro so I walked everywhere. I queued for the Louvre and stood, unimpressed, in front of the Monalisa. Sacre-Couer, Notre Dame, Jardin du Luxembourg, l’Arc de Triomphe, Georges Pompidou, I ticked each off my list with a thrilled sense of self-improvement. I spent a small fortune on a  green leather wallet in Galeries Lafayette. I sat for a portrait in Montmartre. The Musee d’Orsay stole my heart. I loved it so much that I stopped ticking my list, left my camera at home and just went back, week after week. I would bring a book and sit on the balcony with an enormous glass of grenadine-tainted juice imagining myself metamorphosing into a true Parisienne.

Every Sunday, Jean-Luc and Carol’s extended French/Spanish/Vietnamese family gathered for a meal which lasted  six or seven hours. The aperatifs, the wines, the wineglasses and the Armagnacs were debated and discussed loudly and with great good humour. Everyone brought food, everyone hugged and laughed and talked, everyone helped clean up. They can’t all have been that nice, can they? Well, they were nice to me.

I had never before seen a large, extended family behave so warmly. I had never before seen a family gathering end without a row. Polite kisses on each cheek and a promise of Bastille cake next week, how simply wonderful?

I had never before lived in a family that behaved like a team. I had never seen parents have quiet discussions, make descisions and live up to promises. I had never heard parents argue loudly and then make up, loudly. I had never before seen a couple tidy out the basement together or hold hands while they watched a film. I had never before seen a Husband walk downstairs every morning and pad back up again with a cup of coffee for his Wife. I hadn’t, before that summer of ’92, known what a happy family looked like. I don’t think I believed that a happy family was a truly possible thing.

That’s what I learned in Paris. I learned that melding into an item might be a very good thing.

Paris did change me. I left some of my cynicism behind. I may never be described as chic but I do know how to tie a scarf.

I flew home in First-Class thanks to Jean-Luc’s brother who worked for Air France. I drank champagne alone. I felt like a new person.

I felt ready to say yes to a permanent ‘we’.

I still have that green leather wallet in my bag. It’s battered now and stretched, the zip is broken and no-one else knows how to hold it without letting all the coins fall out. It’s filled with library cards, loyalty cards, a few old passport photos and some notes my kids wrote to me. It has travelled everywhere that I have. A little bit of Paris with me always.

I have a tremendous sense of owing something to Paris. Something bigger than I know how to express. I thought that now was a good time to say it. IMG_7962