Monday, 25 May 2020

MARIA EDGEWORTH: A WOMAN AHEAD OF HER TIME


                      
TODAY'S column is a bit different. It should be, I suppose. After more than two months at home, holed up with family, I am different. This awful virus has changed people's lives and perhaps none of us will be the same again.

Because of our new, more remote world I've been online more than ever before. It was while I enjoying some digital museum tours (don't knock it 'till you've tried it), that I discovered a heritage society in Ireland I didn't know existed.

Based in Edgeworthstown, County Longford, the
Edgeworth Society promotes the town's heritage and history, in particular the writing of Anglo-Irish author Maria Edgeworth, (1767-1849). One of 22 children, she began by writing short stories, and her Letters for Literary Ladies, was a feminist essay pleading for women's education reform.

But she's probably better known for her novels. Her first, Castle Rackrent was published in 1800. It established the genre of the 'regional novel' and Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen were both said to be admirers. It was then I realised we have a couple of her novels in the house!

The Edgeworth Society runs an annual literary festival, with short story and poetry competitions. This year, I entered the short story competition and was delighted to place 2nd.

So, for today, I'll finish with a link to my story,
Mollie on the Edgeworth Society's blog.

Until next month, I hope you keep in touch with family and friends, and mostly, I hope you stay well.

Sharon xx

                                                          *

Please drop your comments you in the box below. (Comments are moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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Sharon. xx

Monday, 27 April 2020

WHATSUPP: CAN YOU FEEL THE VIRTUAL HUGS?

                         What's up on WhatsApp? These days? Everything.


Ring-ring, ring-ring.
The Mam (on Messenger): Hang on, wait a minute, I have to enter my code. God, what is it now? I have it written down. There it is, I can see you now.
Me: I can't see you. Actually, I'm not sure what I'm looking at.
The Eldest enters the kitchen: Nanny, just move your thumb away from the camera.
The Mam's face appears.
Me: There you are, I can see you now. Don't move anything. No, I mean, you don't have to freeze, you can move your face. Just don't block the camera.
The Mam: Of course I won't block it, I don't even know where it is.
Me: So, what did you get up to today?
Long pause.
The Mam: Well, I've just managed my first video call. That was exciting.
                                                               *

Me: We're having our book club on Zoom.
The Boy: Do you know how to use it?
Me: Nope.
The Boy: I can download it onto your laptop.
One of the book club girls (yes, we're all women, but we refer to each other as girls!) texts into our WhatsApp group, offering to invite us all in on her account, because it's a professional one and we won't have to keep logging back in. That evening, she sends us passwords and because I've still no idea how it works, The Boy logs me in.
There's six of us in the book club. Our faces are arranged on screen in two vertical rows of three. We look like the Brady Bunch.
There, the similarity with the 1970s TV show ends, because we're all drinking wine. The girl who was due to host us, is offering around bowls of crisps and olives. We laugh, delighted to see each other. It's surreal.
                                                               *

Days pass. I walk, I write, I read, I watch Netflix. I try to avoid the news. I clean and cook and develop an interest in gardening, despite the fact that I've no idea what I'm doing. I don't sleep properly. I haven't slept properly since all this began.
                                                            *

Ring-ring, ring-ring.
Close girlfriend: Hi, wow, I didn't realise my WhatsApp video function actually worked.
Me: *Peering closer* Are you in bed?
Herself: Yeah, but I'm grand, just a bit tired. I thought I'd lie down for a few hours.
I know exactly how she feels. Her husband wanders in to fetch something.
Herself: Look who's on the phone, come say hi.
He leans in, beams at me. How's himself doing? Grand, I say, he's working in the other room. They're our closest friends and I feel a sudden rush of love for them. He waves goodbye and leaves again. 
Herself: Any news?
Me: I cut The Boy's hair this week. With one of those electric hair cutting thing-ys.
Herself: Ah Jesus, don't do that to the poor lad. Remember when you cut his hair when he was little? It looked like you put a bowl on his head.
We crack up laughing at the memory. It's enough.
                                                              *

Me: I can't get into my gallery on my phone.
The Middle One: Show me. *Takes my phone.* It won't let you in because you've too much on it. Also because your phone's a hundred years' old.
Me: I bought it three years ago.
The Middle One: Exactly.
Me: What can I do?
The Eldest: Here, I'll do it. You'll have to go to Files. Jeez,you've tonnes of videos on your phone.
There's a puzzled silence.
Me: I know what they are. They're all the funny videos people are sending to my WhatsApp groups.
The Eldest: Yep. *Shakes her head in disbelief.* There's dozens of them.
Me: They're hilarious. I mean, have you seen...?
The Eldest: I'm deleting them.
Me: OK.
It takes quite a while. I'm astonished my phone was even turning on. When she's finished, I put in a video call to The Mam.

Ring-ring, ring-ring.
The Mam: Hang on, I've to put in my code. I just have to find it, it's around here somewhere.
She doesn't have WhatsApp. Probably for the best, I consider, as I wait.

                                                           *



Can anyone else believe a whole month has gone by? Here in Ireland, we're still on lock down. I've forgotten what it's like to be in close contact with people who ARE NOT MY IMMEDIATE FAMILY. (Yes, capital letters in my head too ;)

As always, I'd love to hear from you. Please drop your comments you in the box below. (Comments are moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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Please share today's column and thank you so much for reading, I appreciate it MASSIVELY. 
To get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. 

To find out more about me, click on the links/information at the sidebar on the right.


Wishing you all good physical and mental health,             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 30 March 2020

CORONA-VIRUS LOCKDOWN: THE DIARY OF A DEMENTED IRISH WOMAN



                                                  When life gives you onions, make soup.

HERE'S a prediction: right now somebody out there is writing a book about the Corona Virus of the early 21st Century: Covid 19. In a year's time, it will probably be available from all good book shops. I'm not actually writing it: somebody smarter than me is doing that.

As I write this, I've no idea when all this will be over, when normal life will return, when our economies and our societies will recover. It's hard to think that far ahead. But from now on, I know there will be life Before Corona Virus and After Corona Virus: BC and AC, perhaps.

On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, life in Ireland is pretty normal. Everyone is at work or college or school. Creches, playgrounds and clubs are up and running. Pubs and restaurants are open, shops are particularly busy. It's true that we have a fair idea of what's coming. We've seen what's happened in China and what's happening in Italy and Spain. People are starting to stock up on store cupboard essentials - many are even panic buying: tins of stuff, pasta and rice, and strangely, toilet rolls.


On Thursday, March 12, our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announces that all schools, colleges and theatres are to be shut that evening. The St Patrick's Day parade, due to happen the following Tuesday, has already been cancelled. Work places are already starting to send people home. Those who can work from home do their best to get on with things. My casual, part-time job in one of our national institutions is gone for the time being. 


The Eldest, a primary school teacher, The Middle One, who's studying animation in college and The Boy, a fifth year, secondary school student are now all at home. All sport is cancelled, so The Boy's hurling and football training and weekend matches are gone. I tell myself it could be a lot worse. We're very lucky: we have a decent sized house which means everyone has their own space to work. Also, my children aren't small: if I had to home school, I'd be found out. I take a deep breath. We can all do this. It'll be grand. What's the worst that can happen?

Day 1: Friday.
The Husband goes out and buys a coffee maker: a barista-style machine that makes espresso and cappuccinos. I am deeply sceptical. I'm also very fussy about my coffee and I love the way my local coffee shop makes it for me. On the upside, we're heading into a long weekend: Monday will be a bank holiday.
The weather is great and there is a holiday feel about everything.
I suggest a walk down by the sea front and there's immediate agreement. Off we go: me, The Eldest, The Middle One and The Boy. Look at us, happy family, exercising. As we walk down by the strand, we nod and smile at people we know. This will be so good for us, I think. We'll truly bond as a family. Like people did in the war.


Day 2: Saturday.
I test out Video chat with my mother. We've decided that it's not safe for her to come over during this time, as my dad is in a high-risk category. As they are both over 70, it's better for them to stay away.

It takes her a few minutes to connect, but we can't see her. The Eldest talks her through it and we have her on screen. We all feel ridiculously proud of this small achievement.
After the video call, I decide to colour-code the bathroom towels (hand and bath), so that nobody shares towels. I also announce that all frequently-touched surfaces (tables, work-tops, handles, taps, light-switches, loos) will be sterilised every day.
I am restocking the upstairs bathroom (we're lucky enough to have a guest loo downstairs) when I discover we have a ridiculous amount of loo rolls. We didn't stockpile deliberately, there was simply no communication when we were all shopping. The Boy stacks all the packets like giant Lego blocks, takes a photo and shares it with his friends. One of them suggests he sells some on eBay. I tell him not to be daft.


Day 3: Sunday.
We're not overly religious, but we normally head to Mass on a Sunday. As all the churches are now having services behind closed doors, we go onto the website and watch it via video-link instead. Technology is really having its moment, isn't it? I say afterwards. The Boy gives me a despairing look. Whatever, he mutters. The Eldest, Middle One and I go for another walk, trying to maintain the required 2 metres between us and everyone else out walking.
That evening, it's announced that all pubs and clubs are to be shut down.


Day 4: Monday.
Because it's a bank holiday, everything still feels relatively OK. The husband has decided it's better not to go to the gym, so he is using the ancient treadmill in the house. Because The Eldest has the biggest bedroom, that's where the treadmill is. It's fair to say she's not delighted by this. But it's a Small Sacrifice, so it's grand.

Also, because there's suddenly so much cleaning and we have the whole colour-coded towel thing going on, there's a lot of washing. Not as much as the normal stuff (tracksuits and hoodies and GAA kit usually feature heavily on the washing line) but loads of cloths and towels and bed sheets. After a few days of this, the novelty wears off and I feel like we're running a Bed & Breakfast.
I go for a walk in the morning, but feel the need for a decent screen break and fresh air after lunch. I decide to tackle the garden, pulling away all the weeds and grass under the old swing beside the apple tree. I rediscover the paving stones we put down years ago. I vow never again to neglect the garden.
I get a text from my hairdressers to say they're closing down for the moment. It doesn't matter, I mutter darkly. Who's going to see me? 

Day 5: Tuesday.
St Patrick's Day is marked not with the usual parades and festivals, but with tiny mini-parades around the country. All day families post hilarious videos of their kids dressing up and parading up and down the driveway. On Twitter, a family with some of their animals, parade proudly through their farm yard.
Here, The Husband gives us half-hourly updates on the virus. To escape, I read the coffee machine instructions and manage my first cup of cappuccino. I am immensely proud of myself. With practice, I know that I could be a professional barista. Once everyone wants cappuccinos. And nobody wants fancy heart or leaf designs.

Newly buoyed by the coffee, I politely tell The Husband I don't want to hear anything more about the virus. I'm just trying to relay the seriousness of it all, says he. How important it is to stay home.
That evening, the Taoiseach makes a brilliant speech about why it's so important for everyone to follow the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines right now. He wants to 'flatten the curve', so our health system won't be overstretched. Basically, we all have to stay home. The Husband turns to me. See?, he says.


Day 6: Wednesday.
Now that The Long Weekend is officially over, I tell everyone that it's vital to establish some sort of normal routine. The Boy will work in the living room, at his desk. His teachers have agreed to send work online - some will even do the odd, video class. This is good, I think. I'll hardly see him, except for the end of the day.

I tend to underestimate the amount of energy he has to use up. He and The Husband go play a game of tennis at the courts in our local park. This becomes a morning routine, until stricter measures are introduced a week later and the park rangers close the tennis courts.
The Middle One is doing college classes via Google Hangouts. The Eldest has signed up for about a dozen short, online courses, to keep herself up to speed on everything she can in the world of the primary school teacher. She also renews her provisional driving licence and gets insurance on her dad's car. When they both get a spare half hour, they go off for a driving lesson. They are still talking to each other when they arrive back, which is a win.


Day 7: Thursday.
The Boy examines his hands and announces he may have developed some sort of deadly skin infection. I diagnose Extremely Dry Skin, thanks to the excessive hand washing, find a tub of medicated body cream and suggests he use it twice a day.

I head out for another walk. When I come back, I discover that The Husband has done some random grocery shopping. I say random, because the food press is now full to bursting with tinned beans and peas, and packets of rice and lentils. He's also bought a weird amount of onions and black and white pork puddings.
The Boy offers to take an inventory of everything we have. This was obviously what it was like during the war, I think. Except there were ration books and soldiers off fighting and nobody had to stay two metres apart from anyone else. So, not really like the war.

That evening, I make a cottage pie, but instead of minced beef I use black pudding. You could write a Corona Virus cookery book, The Eldest suggests. Really? I'm a bit flattered. No, not really, she says.

Day 8: Friday.
It's been a week since we all went into semi-isolation. I tell my family that much as I love them, I'd appreciate if they could limit their kitchen times to regular break and lunch hours. Rather than everyone floating in and out all the time, talking at me as I try to work. I'm going for a passive-aggressive tone, and I think I nail it.

Meanwhile, my phone seems to be having a nervous break down. I give it to The Eldest and beg her to sort it out. It's ancient, she says. (It's about 3 years old).
She discovers that the dozen WhatsApp groups I'm on, are overloaded with a week's worth of videos, jokes and GIFs: everything from self-isolation humour to tips for how-to-get-through-the-next-few weeks without losing your mind.
The Boy bakes scones that evening and munches his way through quite a few of them as we watch Ocean's 11 on TV.


Day 9: Saturday.
It's starting to feel like Groundhog Day and I realise I need to do something different. I suggest a  family outing in the Phoenix Park. The Husband does a quick online search and sees that although the grand house at Farmleigh (formerly belonged to the Guinness family, but long since in the care of the State and open to the public) is closed, the grounds are open.

We get into the car and I drive us into an eerily quiet city centre, right up the quays. The Phoenix Park (the largest walled park in Europe) is worryingly busy, but I keep driving until I come to the turn for Farmleigh. It's reassuringly quiet. We last about 10 minutes, before The Boy announces that he'll see us back at the car. I'm baffled. He gives me a hard stare and reminds us that he's about to turn 17 and doesn't want to spend every minute of every day with his family. Time to tone down my expectations. 
Later, there's news of hordes of people in Glendalough, a popular walking trail in Wicklow. The Government closes Glendalough.

Day 10: Sunday.
I have another video chat with my mum, and make her promise that she won't go to the shops anymore. But I'm right opposite the shops, she argues. I can see how busy they are. I wear disposable gloves. Please don't, I say. She finally agrees. It's grand, she says: I can ring them and ask them to drop whatever I need over to me. I decide to say nothing. 

I text a few friends to see if they'd like to video meet for coffee, when we break from our various jobs mid-morning. They're all up for it. I suggest it to The Eldest and The Middle One, both of whom have their own laptops. What do you think we've been doing all this time, they wonder. You know a group of you can get together online, The Middle One says gently. My book club wants to do this, I tell her. I've to download something called the Party App. It'll be grand, she says.
After dinner, I switch on the TV. A few moments later, there's a loud bang. The TV is broken.

Day 11: Monday.
The Boy is 17 today. Happily, grandparents and a couple of kind aunts have remembered and sent cards. The Husband is nowhere to be seen, and I discover he's taken the car. Strange, I think, as I come downstairs, hang out two lots of washing and put on an egg for breakfast. We've enough food, he's not going to the gym, and he's working from home. 

As everyone starts to surface, they all have ideas about what a new TV should look like. They've researched the sales, the shops doing deliveries and installations. The Husband arrives back and I relay the information. He tells me he's already bought a new TV from Tesco. For the first time we have a Smart TV, so The Eldest can run her Netflix account on it.  
After breakfast, The Middle One finds she's locked out of a vital computer programme and I phone our long-time IT doctor, hoping that he's still making house calls. Could he sort her out, I ask, and while he's here, could he help us hook up the new TV? There's a couple of things we're not sure about. He tells us how it's going to work: we will leave a list of everything he needs, and we'll stay out of the rooms he's in. He'll wear industrial strength gloves, and we're not even to bother to offer him tea.
After dinner, I find 17 birthday candles for the cake and we video-call my parents to sing Happy Birthday with us. I open the tin of sweets I'd hidden for today and The Boy and I binge-watch Season 3 of Frasier on the laptop.

Day 12: Tuesday.
After writing for the morning, I take a break after lunch to get some much-needed fresh air. I decide today is the day I'll transform my garden. I manage about 40 minutes of vigorous weeding before I need to stop and have a cup of tea. Do you notice anything different, I ask The Husband, when he takes a break. Um, you got your hair done? he ventures. I glare at him. He tries again. You DIDN'T get your hair done. The garden, I say. He looks out. Uhm, yeah, looks great. I sigh. I can't see any difference either. 
Later, The Middle One and I lift our broken TV off the TV stand, and move them into another room. Very carefully, we slide the new TV out of the box and screen-side down onto the coffee table, to screw on the legs. It takes ages, as the screws keep slipping out before I have a chance to tighten them in. I think I probably invent some new swear words. Finally, we have it ready and between us, we manoeuvre it into the corner.

Day 13: Wednesday.
The Eldest finally cancels the trip to Budapest she'd planned with friends for Easter. Because the airline didn't officially cancel the flight, they all lose €400: she's only entitled to a refund of €12 Government taxes. The Middle One had planned to go to Dingle in Co Kerry for the annual world-wide animation festival, but it's officially cancelled. She's officially devastated.
Our lovely IT doctor comes out. Beforehand, I sterilise everything and leave an envelope with his fee on the hall table. We all stay out of his way. He shouts goodbye as he leaves and we call out our thanks.

Day 14: Thursday.
The Boy has a video class with one of his teachers. We know because there's a handwritten do-not-disturb sign on the living room door. A friend in the book club puts a note in the WhatsApp group to say that a woman we know has had to close down her coffee shop and has given her a huge amount of coffee beans. I feel upset for this woman. She represents all the businesses, big and small, that have to take this hit.
My book club friend hangs a bag of the coffee beans on the door of my house. I make a note to thank our coffee shop owner, and we all make a promise amongst ourselves that we'll go and support her when she reopens.

Day 15: Friday.
I stop work at 11am for a half hour video chat with an old school pal. Her eldest is studying for his finals in medicine right now: by May he'll be working in one of our hospitals.

The Taoiseach gives another speech, asking people not to go beyond 2km of their homes, unless they're travelling to work. Queues for the shops are now very long and very stressful. We could try online shopping, The Eldest suggests. I know they're asking that we leave the slots for older people who can't get out, but we could deliberately take a date that's weeks away. I agree, we could do that. It seems like everyone has had the same idea, because we try three different stores online and there are either no available dates for the next two months, or the websites keep crashing. 
I miss my parents. Video chats aren't quite the same as tea from the same pot and warm hugs.


Day 16: Saturday.
Given that we're trying to avoid shops, I have to plan meals carefully. There are sausages in the fridge, which I'll tray bake with onions and potatoes. And there's plenty of frozen vegetables. But there's definitely too many fresh onions.
We could make onion soup, The Boy suggests. I'm not making onion soup, I think. My eyes would never recover.
Happily, The Boy offers. Not only does he produce a massive pot of the stuff, but he makes garlicky, cheesy croutons to accompany it. It's a lot of work, he admits afterwards. But it's delicious.

Day 17: Sunday.
The clocks go forward at midnight on Saturday, so I wake an hour later than usual, my own body clock unadjusted on the first day. I get a call from a friend who tells me a funny story about a friend of hers who tried to connect to a group chat using Zoom on her son's account, and ended up in the middle of a conference call with his workmates instead.
She asks if I want to meet her (physically meet her!!) for coffee in the village green. We just have to make sure there aren't too many people around, and make sure to stand two metres apart. She's only meeting one person at a time, she explains.
I realise that after 17 days of hardly seeing anyone apart from my family, this is possible. If we're VERY careful. We're meeting at lunchtime on Monday.

Day 18: Monday - Today.
I'm almost giddy with excitement.
Take care, stay safe dear reader, hope you check in with me next month. xx

                                                          *



Hello again. How quickly the world changes, how weird it all feels right now.
I'd love to hear your isolation stories: you can comment in the box below. (Comments are moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
πŸ’š)

I'd love if you SHARED today's column. But only if you'd like to. Either way, thanks so much for reading it. I appreciate it MASSIVELY. If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Solemn promise: your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. 

To find out more about me, check out the links/information at the sidebar on the right.


Until next time, I wish you all good health.            
Hugs,
Sharon. xx


Monday, 2 March 2020

LEAP YEAR: THE MYTHS, THE MADNESS, THE MAGIC - AND THE MEN.





LAST SATURDAY we celebrated the leap year with the madness and excitement of people carefully saving up those quarter days.

Of course, I can understand why those poor sods born on February 29th, are so thrilled when their real birthday rolls around every fourth year. I often wonder what that must be like the rest of the time. Do they celebrate on the 28th? Do they wait until March 1st? Or do they feel that their special day is somehow swallowed into time, sucked out between the months for no other reason than to keep the calendar on track?

'I know a lad who's actually five today,' The Boy tells me on Saturday. I wait for the punchline. 'He's three years older than me.'
Do the jokes ever get old?

But the real reason the leap year makes the news (it even trended on Twitter), is because February 29th is the day women around the globe propose to their future spouses.

One of my favourite romantic movies is, wait for it...Leap Year. Yep, that cheesy rom-com starring Amy Adams and Mathew Goode. An American girl (Adams) decides to fly to Ireland to surprise her boyfriend (here on business) by proposing to him on February 29th. She ends up totally lost, and ropes in local, unattached man (Goode) to help her complete her quest. I won't say anymore: suffice to say it's predictable, and no less wonderfully sappy for that.

The tradition, if Irish legend is to be believed, is actually Irish. It dates back to the 5th century when Irish nun St Bridget (her feast day is February 1st), complained to St Patrick (March 17th!) that women were waiting too long for a man to propose to them.

Being a practical sort, she made a deal with St Patrick, that on this one day in February every four years, a woman could propose to a man. Women were expected to wear either breeches or a scarlet petticoat when they popped the question.


Other Leap Year traditions can also be traced back to 1288, where the Scots passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage to a man in a leap year. The law stated that any man who declined a proposal on this day would have to pay a fine: anything from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves. To be honest, I prefer our explanation. St Bridget was a woman ahead of her time.

But let's be real: this is the 21st century. And it's become quite acceptable for women to propose to men, or other women, whenever they want. Or you know, not propose at all. Most people now live together for a number of years before even considering marriage. Many never bother to take the plunge.


That said, this is a column about the romance of the day that's just passed us for another four years. So, for the craic, I'll share something I stumbled on recently in the famous American women's magazine, McCall's. The article was dated January, 1958 and was bravely titled: 129 Ways To Get A Husband. Here's a list of my top ten favourite suggestions:

1. Have your car break down at strategic places.Presumably, you'll either meet the man of your dreams, end up phoning a mechanic or you know, get yourself murdered.

2. Read the obituaries to find eligible widowers.
And do what, I wonder? Turn up at the funeral? Hello, random grieving stranger, I'm free every Tuesday and Saturday for courtship.

3. Ask your friends' husbands who the eligible men are in their offices.
Read it again, girls. Not your friends: their husbands. Because this is 1958 and presumably only the men have decent jobs.

4. Become a nurse or an airline stewardess: they have very high marriage rates.
Because what other reason would you have, to go into these professions?

5. Be friendly to ugly men: handsome is as handsome does.
Imagine being a man in 1958. Would you have been pleased or insulted if lots of single women were suddenly friendly with you after this article came out??

6. Get lost at football games.
Hahahahahahahaha.

7. Get a job demonstrating fishing tackle in a sporting goods store.
Have you ever seen the bait? I mean, some things just aren't worth it...

8. Learn to paint. Set up your easel outside an engineering school.
Don't you love the ideas that manage to be sexist and just plain mad at the same time?

9. Stumble when you walk into a room that he's in.
Because it's important to let him know that you're clumsy AND attention-seeking.

10. Go back to your home town for a visit. The wild kid next door may have become a very handsome bachelor while you were away.
And they've been pining away, just waiting for you to come home and rescue them from their single state. You're saving them from themselves. In fact, you're probably doing the whole of humanity a service.

At times, you have to admit that the only good thing about the '50s, might have been the clothes. But maybe I've just seen too many Grace Kelly movies.

Anyhoo...you've snagged your man. Now what? If all goes to plan, and he doesn't get in there first, you've four years from now to get yourself ready for the next Leap Year. February 29th, 2024. Mark it in your diaries.

Because we women all follow the rules, right? ;) 


                                                                             *

Hello again. How's it going? Here we are, back for another month: another column. 

If you like, you can comment in the box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
πŸ’š)

I'd love if you SHARED today's column. But only if you'd like to. Either way, thanks so much for reading it. I appreciate it MASSIVELY. If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Solemn promise: your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. 

To find out more about me, check out the links/information at the sidebar on the right.


Have a great month,           
Hugs,
Sharon. xx


Monday, 3 February 2020

A Mouse By Any Other Name: Childhood Pets





THE BOY is putting away a massive plate of scrambled eggs before school, when he stops, fork poised mid-air, and frowns towards the window that overlooks the back garden.

"Is that a...are they actually...wow, on the patio." He grins and returns to his eggs.

I turn and see a couple of well-fed, neighbourhood cats mating on our doorstep. 
"Could be worse," I say, swivelling back around. "They could be fighting, or killing birds. We'll er, give them some privacy."
The Boy shakes his head but says nothing.

The truth is, I've never seen that particular animal activity, except maybe on TV. I'm from Dublin, as were my parents and grandparents. We don't have any pets. There are a myriad of reasons for that. One of us has a tendency to allergies. Another one isn't all that keen on dogs.

Mostly, pets can be expensive and time consuming. As I'm the person at home for most of the day, most of the responsibility would fall to me. I refuse to take on a pet if I'm not sure I can properly commit.

We did try goldfish for a while, some years back. No matter how carefully I changed the water, added the water softener (or whatever it was the pet store owner sold me) and followed every instruction, they died. We decided it was unfair to shorten the lives of any more goldfish.

My own brothers and I didn't have any dogs or cats when I was growing up. But we had hamsters: one at a time. I'm not sure why. I have a feeling we were told hamsters are solitary creatures, and like to be on their own. But given my own mother's feelings, it may have been her way of coping with a rodent in the family.

No matter how often we encouraged her to pet Snuggles (when he finally died and we replaced him, we actually called our new hamster Snuggles 2), she gently but firmly declined. She might even have shivered, but we were too young to notice.

Which made the day that she rescued Snuggles from sure suffocation, even more heroic. The house rules regarding the hamster were simple: when he was not in his cage, he was allowed the run of the hall, sitting room and little-used dining room. Once one of us was with him to keep him safe and out of trouble.

We marvelled at his ability to jump up onto the armchairs in the sitting room and delighted when he wriggled in behind a cushion. We could see him moving across to the other side and we watched and waited for his little head to pop out again.

Except it didn't. We pulled the cushions away to discover that our hamster had found a tiny hole in the back of the chair and had squeezed himself in. We could see the shape of his little body, moving behind the taut, nylon covering of the chair back. We did what all children do: we ran straight out to our mother.

"The hamster's where?" She stared at us. We took her hands and dragged her in to look. She examined the tiny hole. She sighed, clicked her tongue. "Get me the big scissors."

I ran and found it. She took it from me and very carefully cut around the back of the chair: a hole big enough for one of us to fit our two hands and grab our pet.

There was no way to re-stitch the chair, so she taped it up as best she could, covered it with the large cushion and turned to us.
"Two things: don't let Snuggles onto the furniture. And don't ever tell your father about the chair."

Years later, my parents finally replaced the old suite of furniture in that room. As the delivery men brought in the new sofas, and loaded the old stuff into the lorry, my dad noticed the torn chair.
"What the hell happened to the chair?" he asked. My mother smiled.
"Wear and tear, I suppose. Isn't it a good thing we're getting them replaced?"  

It wasn't the only time that little hamster faced danger and survived it. In fact, if my youngest brother is to be believed, he faced it regularly. There was a fair age gap between the youngest in my family and his two older siblings. And for his first two years of school, he arrived home a full hour before us. 


It was years later, as adults with our own families, that the youngest made a confession over a Sunday lunch. 
"Do you remember Action Man?" he asked, as we tucked into my mum's roast dinner. We did. Action Man was the boy doll. The acceptable action figure for boys in the 1970s and '80s. He came with a limited variety of outfits: soldier, jungle soldier, adventure pilot. You get the picture.

"Our Action Man had a parachute," our brother continued. We nodded, wondering where this was going. It was a scrap of material, as I remember. Not actually a working parachute. Because why would a doll need that?


"I used to put it on Snuggles and then parachute him off the landing (upstairs) straight down into the hall."
"What????" I looked at him, aghast. "That wasn't a real parachute."
"Well obviously I figured that out when I got older."

The other brother burst out laughing. My mother looked distraught.
"I never knew you were doing that."

I should add right now that the hamster was never hurt. And both hamsters lived to their maximum age, slipping away quietly at the end. Well-fed, well-exercised, well-loved. Even if the love of a very small child, was a bit misguided from time to time.


As I finish this column, I notice a squirrel in our garden. When he stands on his hind legs and holds something between his paws, I remember our hamsters doing the same thing. He moves suddenly and disappears at speed into the top of the apple tree.


I see him regularly. Along with the neighbourhood cats, the foxes that are increasingly forced to take refuge in people's gardens, the birds that are starting to flock back after the winter.


Spring is finally here.

                                                                                *

A belated St Brigid's Day (February 1st in Ireland) and warm wishes to you all.  

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Happy reading and have a lovely February.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 6 January 2020

WELCOME TO THE '20s.





IT'S NEW YEAR'S EVE, 2019 and the radio is on as I get lunch. I can't even remember what I'm listening to, but being new year's eve, there's lots of end-of-year stuff being talked about. Round ups, the best of, the worst of. I'm only half-listening.

And then an item grabs my attention, an interview with two women who make their living advising the rest of us how to declutter our homes and organise our lives. I'm a sucker for this: forever on the lookout for the magic wand solution.


To my renewed astonishment, neither woman has a magic wand solution. One of them declares that she's tempted to take down all the Christmas decorations and get on with THE BIG CLEAN. Given that our own Christmas tree has only been up a few days (we just about made it in time this year - don't judge), it's definitely not coming down until January 6th.


The other woman reveals that she's always decluttering. Every day she clears something out of her house. I'm surprised there's anything left. Just as I'm starting to think that you could drop this pair into any decade during the last 60 years, and they'd probably be doling out the same tips, one of them starts to talk about energy.


Did you know that when you pull out a sofa and vacuum behind it, it changes the energy of a room? Not the dust levels, apparently. The actual energy.

By the time the interview ends, I'm a convert. Energy is clearly my trigger word. I start to throw around the phrase so often, The Middle One begs me to leave her out of my 'latest craze'. This from the girl whose bedroom is such a mess, I tell her I'm astounded she has the energy to get out of bed in the morning. She manages to climb over the mess and give me a quick hug, before closing the door in my face.

As the first few days of 2020 trickle in, I try to ignore the endless print and online articles, the tombs of conflicting advice about diet, exercise and beauty regimes for the twenties. Already, my stress levels are rising. Not the start I'd wanted.

But as the last of the mince pies disappear, and the madness of the festive season finally begins to fade, I meet up with friends. We all have advice overload, and it's time to sort the good from the bad. The pressure is real. It's not just the start of a new year: it's the beginning of a new decade.

One woman is doing dry January. Then she'll see if she can continue it for the rest of the year. Another wants to take up running. A third person is going to start yoga.

One has embraced Veganuary: going vegan for the first month of the year. Suddenly, hoovering behind the furniture  doesn't seem like a major achievement.


Another friend arrives late, orders her coffee and sits down. What are we all talking about, she wonders? We fill her in. Well, I know what I'm doing for 2020, she says, I'm looking after my mental health.

We sip our coffees and await further nuggets of wisdom. Finally, somebody prompts her. What sort of stuff will she be doing to look after her mental health? She lathers jam and cream on her scone.

By doing whatever makes her happy, of course. She lifts her cup. Happy new year.

                                                    *



Wishing all my lovely readers a very happy new year from Dublin. 

Drop your comments in the box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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Happy reading: let's hope 2020 is a very good year for us all.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 9 December 2019

MY 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS


                                                 Deck the halls: just get it done on time.



I'M A GREAT one for putting things off.

Everything, really. Forms I have to fill out, bills that need paying, shopping that needs to be done. This blog. It goes live at 7.30 GMT. I've one eye on the clock.

Christmas is a prime example. Obviously, you can't 'put off' Christmas. I know: I've tried. But you'd be astonished at the amount of people who insist on celebrating on December 25th. Like, millions of them. And if you celebrate yourself, as I do, it's very hard to fly in the face of all that tradition. And certainty.

So every year the same thing happens. No sooner have I brushed away the cobwebs after Halloween, (these would be real cobwebs: I'm always amazed at how many there are!) than the Brussels sprouts and chocolate Santas appear in the shops.

For the first month, I ignore them. In fact, I am Grinch-like in my disdain. I tut as the cereal bars and pot noodles are replaced with rolls of festive wrapping paper and greetings cards at the tills. I mutter darkly about the mind-numbing effects of two full months of Christmas songs. 


And then the first Christmas card arrives. It's always from my aunt and uncle. My aunt is as organised about the festive season as I am disorganised. Whilst I'm still reminding anyone who'll listen that Christmas is ages away, thanks very much, she has cards written, cakes and puddings made and carefully stored and the Christmas tree up by the start of December. I haven't a hope.


But that first Christmas card is my annual wakeup. I can't pretend any longer: it's time to embrace the madness. I mark out 12 days on the calendar and spring into action.

Day 1: Tidy the house. This mainly involves trying to find boxes for all the DVDs that are left lying around(yes, DVDs, very 2009 I know, but there you go) and storing them where we'll probably never find them again. It also means putting all my summer clothes into a box at the back of my wardrobe (I'm an eternal optimist) and yelling at everyone to tidy their rooms. This last bit never works.

Day 2: Hoover everywhere. Incredibly, the Halloween cobwebs are back and I have to vacuum them off the ceiling AGAIN. I also curse the dark green, wool carpet that runs through all the bedrooms, along the landing and down the stairs, and wonder for the billionth time why we don't have wooden flooring upstairs as well.


Day 3: Make lists and tackle the gift shopping. I find myself waiting outside a well known Irish bookstore ten minutes before it opens. My strategy is ingenious: I ask for help. The staff are lovely and I spend enough on books to almost warrant a small bank loan. Stay more or less on budget (books don't count) and come home feeling efficient and smug.

Day 4: Wrestle the Christmas tree down from the attic. And before you say anything, I know a real tree is gorgeous, but one of us is allergic to the pine needles so it's a non-runner. Our fake tree is massive. It comes in three huge pieces, which have to be slotted together, before its branches are unfolded and fanned out. Visitors who mistake it for a real tree are served the good biscuits.

Day 5: Discover the Christmas lights from last year are in a huge knot. After an hour of wrestling and swearing, I give up and buy new ones. I find all the decorations and unleash my creativity. Much later, I discover the head of one of the wise men from the crib is missing. I wonder if I can find a single wise man. (Anywhere;)

Day 6: Make the Christmas stuffing. I like to get this done in advance, because (a) quite a lot goes into it and (b) I like to make extra for the turkey and ham pie I make for the 27th. It involves much sweating of onions, chopping of chestnuts and dried apricots and ridiculous amounts of fresh herbs. Once cooked and cooled, I wrap it and freeze it. All my kids prefer my mum's stuffing, which is your basic breadcrumbs and dried herbs mix. 


Day 7: Realise I have no Christmas cards written and write them all in a mad panic. In a blinding moment of logic, I write and send the foreign ones first. But I've still missed the Christmas deadline. Everyone likes getting Christmas cards in the new year, right?

Day 8: Wake up in a sweat after a nightmare, where it's Christmas Day and I have forgotten half the gifts I need. Realise that despite my lists and grim determination on Day 3, I HAVE FORGOTTEN HALF THE GIFTS I NEED. Go out and buy some more stuff. Am now definitely over budget.

Day 9: Wrap all the Christmas presents. Decide I'll manage with the single roll of Christmas paper left over from last year. Wrap the first few gifts and run out. In desperation, wrap the rest of the gifts in torn out sheets of paper from old magazines, tie them in ribbon and pretend it's The Latest Thing.

Day 10: Bribe the kids into some Christmas baking. Promise to help them clean up afterwards. Regret this promise much later on in the day.


Day 11: Do the food shopping. This takes at least two of us, not because I buy enough to feed an army (I do) but because I'll forget half the stuff I need unless I have one responsible adult offspring with me. The Eldest is a good bet.

Day 12: (Christmas Eve) Cook the ham. There's no room in my oven on Christmas day with the turkey, roast spuds, a dozen different vegetables and the stuffing. So I bake the ham on Christmas Eve and warm up slices in the oven on Christmas Day. Hoover the house (AGAIN!) Clean and set the fire in the sitting room. Go out for some hot chocolate with my family.


Finally, it's December 25th. I'm up at stupid o'clock to start cooking the turkey. The day passes in a blur. By the time I curl up in front of the fire for my annual viewing of It's A Wonderful Life, I'm just relieved I survived. Until next year.


Happy Christmas, everyone.


                                                      *



A lovely warm welcome from Dublin. Huge thanks to all my readers in 2019, I massively appreciate your support.

If you like, drop your comments in the box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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To find out more about me, check out the links/information at the sidebar on the right.


Happy reading and see you in 2020.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

 

Monday, 11 November 2019

GAY BYRNE: MEMORIES OF THE LATE LATE SHOW


                              The owl: part of the iconic opening sequence of The Late Late Show



THERE was no sex in Ireland before the Late Late Show. Did you know that? It's true. How we all came to be, is neither here nor there. Because there was no sex. There was no contraception either. Definitely no condoms.

Or at least most people claimed they never saw one before the Late Late host, Gay Byrne famously tore open a small packet on his weekly, live TV show and held up the small piece of rubber for the nation to view.

Last Monday, Ireland's best known and much loved radio and TV broadcaster, Gay Byrne died.


He passed away at the age of 85, following a long battle with cancer and was laid to rest on Friday after a huge funeral Mass in Dublin's pro-cathedral.

But others have written Gay's obituary and have done it with great eloquence. This is a personal tribute.

Gay Byrne was the soundtrack to my childhood, my teenage years and my young adult life. I grew up being allowed to watch the Late Late on a Friday night, staying up later and later, the older I got. I can't remember what age I was when I was able to stay up past the first ad break, then the second.

But by the time I was old enough to argue with my dad (a state which defined my teenage years), I was also watching the whole of the second-longest running TV chat show in the world.

That's worth repeating. The Late Late Show, which is broadcast live every Friday from RTE's* Studio 1, is the second-longest running TV chat show in the world. Started in 1962 and hosted by its Dublin-born master of ceremonies Gay Byrne until 1999, when he passed the baton to Pat Kenny.

With the very infrequent occasion where it was chaired by a guest host, the show's current host, Ryan Tubridy is only the third person ever to sit in that chair. 


But Gay Byrne was the original. And because of a rare combination of natural ability, genuine curiosity (a must for any broadcaster), relentless hard work and professionalism and a real understanding and warmth, he reigned over Irish broadcasting until recent years.

I rarely heard him in the morning on radio, as I was at school and later on, at college. But the Gay Byrne Radio Show ran five mornings a week and almost every child of my generation will remember having sick days, where they sat at home in a warm kitchen and listened to Gay chat to the nation.


In turn, the nation opened up to him. In the early days, they wrote letters. Actually, if memory serves correctly, it was mostly women who wrote letters. Later on, they phoned in. And out poured their stories.


"I grew up listening to the Gay Byrne Show and watching The Late Late," my mother told me after we heard the news that he had died. After a minute she qualified it. "I mean I learned about things. About what was going on in Ireland, what other people were thinking and feeling and doing. He got to everything."


Everything meant stuff that a predominantly Catholic Ireland wouldn't discuss. Given that sex education in Catholic schools (most schools) in the mid 1980s, consisted of the absolute basics followed by a lecture on the importance of no sex before marriage, homosexuality was a criminal act until 1993 and the last Magdalene Laundry (for "fallen women") didn't close until 1996, the Late Late was ground breaking.


What Gaybo* famously understood was the need for balance. That was true on his radio show, but even more important on his long running TV show. Growing up, I gravitated to the mix of the light-hearted and sometimes ridiculous, at other times serious and important issues Gay put out there for scrutiny and discussion.


I loved when comedians like Billy Connelly, Brendan Grace, Brendan O'Connor (I think Gaybo actually gave O'Connor his first TV break, but I might be wrong) and Tommy Tiernan guested on the show.


But I also learned about ordinary people like me, some of whom had had extraordinary experiences. Gay listened closely, asked deceptively simple questions and crucially, was never uncomfortable with silence. Because he knew that his guests would fill those silences with things they'd never planned to reveal.

He presented other shows down the years, but he became synonymous with the Late Late. In my childhood home on a Friday night, tea was only made before the show or at the ad breaks. And if the house phone rang during the show, you knew that somebody had died.

Gay Byrne's death trended on Twitter for two days after his death. My own kids, who mainly associated Gay with the annual Late Late Toy Show when they were little, and with some of his later radio and TV shows, were sad but slightly baffled.


They have grown up in a far more modern and tolerant Ireland. One where people can now buy contraceptives without a doctor's prescription, where they can divorce, where there is same-sex marriage and where Irish women can for the most part, legally and safely have an abortion in their own country. They have also grown up in an era of multi-channel TV, smart phones and the Internet.


I remember everything from homosexuality to affairs and abortion being talked about on the Late Late Show. At a time in this country where nobody else would talk about, let alone interview people who could talk about their own experiences.

I remember giggling through a show where the two producers of The Joy of Sex were invited on to discuss their outrageous video.

Maybe there was no sex before The Late Late Show.


Thanks for everything, Gay. Rest in Peace.


*RTE: Radio TelifΓ­s Eireann. (Ireland's national broadcasting station).
*Gaybo: An affectionate term for
Gay Byrne.


                                                                               *

Hello from my corner of Dublin, and a warm welcome to my monthly column.

Feel free to drop comments in the comments box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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To find out more about me, check out the links/information at the sidebar on the right.


Happy reading and take care.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 14 October 2019

THE REAL HALLOWEEN



        Halloween screams: the modern festival is fun, and a far cry from its origins in Celtic Ireland.


"DO YOU like the devil?" A young woman hunkers in front of her four year old son and earnestly asks him the question in the middle of the shop. It's not an everyday question, but this is not an everyday event. The woman is buying her child his Halloween costume and right now, he's wavering between the little red devil costume and the Dracula.

Pop-up Halloween shops are relatively new in Ireland, and The Middle One has secured herself a part-time job in one, for the month that's in it. (That's actually herself above, in her shop uniform!) It sells festive decorations and a large range of costumes for children and some for adults. But despite the bigger variety of costumes, in Ireland, the traditional ones remain popular. And there's a good reason for that.

A thirty-something American woman recently told me that Halloween in Ireland is very dark.
"It's a lot more about dressing up and decorating your house and going to parties and having fun in the States,"she said. She didn't approve of Irish Halloween: it went against her Christian beliefs.

Here's the thing: Irish people celebrate Halloween despite our Christian beliefs. Obviously, we're no longer an homogenous, Catholic country. Some of us practice other faiths. Others don't practice any at all. (Although it's interesting that when Christianity was embedding itself in Ireland, its leaders knew they had to replace pagan festivals with religious ones. November 1 is All Saints Day and November 2 is All Souls Day in the Christian calendar.)

But Christianity never replaced Halloween. It simply sits alongside it. Because it doesn't matter whether we're devout Catholics or complete atheists. Most of us mark Halloween because we understand where it comes from. Rooted deep in our culture, in our stories and folklore, and in what we still teach our children at school are the origins and meaning of Samhain.*

Dating back 2000 years, Samhain is an ancient Celtic festival, which ran from October 31 to November 1, and marked the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter: the half-way mark from the lighter part to the darker part of the year. The county of Meath claims to be the birthplace of Halloween, in fact. If you look at its wealth of ancient burial sites: Newgrange, Loughcrew, Knowth and Dowth, it's not hard to see why.

Importantly, it was believed that the veil between the living world and the otherworld was at its thinnest during this time, allowing spirits to come back into the living world. But while we were keen to welcome back our loved ones that had passed on, we knew that other, unwelcome spirits could also come back. 

So we dressed up in scary costumes and wore masks, to disguise ourselves as evil spirits, and ward away the real evil spirits. The Samhain feast was laid out for our ancestors, and as they were in no position to eat it now they were spirits, the food was shared amongst the poor. 

The bonfire was the centre of the Samhain celebrations in the Celtic lands during the early Christian era. Some traditions had every house in a village extinguish the fires in their own hearths (perhaps to make them less inviting to roaming spirits) and relight them with burning embers from the communal bonfire (which they may have brought home in hollowed-out turnips).

This is one of the stories behind the Jack-o-lantern: the turnip carrying the glowing ember from the bonfire, would eventually become the pumpkin with the candle inside it. 

It was the Irish who brought Halloween to other parts of the world, including the United States. And like all other festivals, it grew and changed. Disney costumes may be part of the modern Halloween fun, but have nothing to do with the original festival. But it hardly matters.


What remains on this island, is a willingness to listen to and enjoy the stories and folklore that Irish people still enjoy at this time of year. My earliest scary story outside of the fairy tale books of my childhood, was of the Dublin Hellfire Club. Located in the Dublin mountains, it was built in 1735 on a Neolithic passage tomb, and was used by a cult made up of Lords and noblemen to practice immoral acts and hold black masses to summon Satan.  

The fact that the club was a burned-out ruin, didn't stop us swapping stories on October 31, about the notorious poker game in the club one stormy Halloween. The high-class group of friends gathered to play poker and allowed a passing stranger to take shelter within. Inviting him into the game, they realised their mistake after one of the players bent to pick up a dropped card, and saw the stranger's feet were in fact, cloven hooves.

A similar story is linked to Loftus Hall on Hook Peninsula, in County Wexford. This is probably the official setting for the legendary poker game, but good stories are always borrowed and embellished.

I know young people from rural areas around Ireland who claim to have seen and heard the banshee, the old fairy woman who heralds the death of a family member. The fact that young, educated Irish people don't actually believe the old pagan myths and legends is neither here nor there. They still enjoy being open to the possibility of spirits, especially during this transitionary time.

Symbolic food is also part of Halloween. In ancient Ireland, boys would dress up on All Hallows Eve (October 31) and go 'souling', or begging for soul cakes, which would be offered for the dead. Eventually, this became the modern-day trick-or-treat.

Still served at Halloween in Ireland, is barm brack, sometimes called bairΓ­n brack, a sweet, sultana bread, buttered and served with tea. Traditionally, various objects were baked into the bread, including a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring.

Each item carried a meaning to whomever received it. Whoever got the pea would not marry that year, whoever got the stick, would have an unhappy marriage, the rag brought bad luck or poverty, the coin brought the opposite, Whoever got the ring, would be wed within the year.

If single women didn't get lucky with the brack, they could always try Colcannon. A simple meal of mashed potato stirred through with chopped cabbage or kale, the only other added ingredients were butter and a ring. Whichever woman got the serving with the ring, would marry.
Not that any of this matters when you're eight.

And it's children who really appreciate the festival. It's children who will dress up in scary costumes and hideous facemasks, who will trick-or-treat, who will swap stories of the banshee and the pΓΊca**: the fairies and ghosts that live on in our culture. It's children who'll beg to go to the local bonfire - and who'll hold sparklers up to the night sky. And so the traditions live on.  


Happy Halloween.



*Pronounced 'sow (rhyming with cow)-in'.
** The Irish spirit that can bring good or bad fortune. Pronounced pooka.


                                                                                  *
Wishing you a massive hello from Dublin, and a warm welcome to my monthly column.

Feel free to drop comments in the comments box below. (They're moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. 
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Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. 

To find out more about me, check out the links/information at the sidebar on the right.


Happy reading and take care.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx