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 Telifís 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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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

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 bairín 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 púca**: 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

 

Monday, 16 September 2019

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD NEIGHBOURS





I'M ABOUT to lay my cards on the table: brace yourselves.

I have always had mixed feelings about neighbours. They're a bit like family: you can't always choose them. It might be taboo to admit it, but you don't always get on with the people on the other side of the garden hedge.

I was lucky growing up. Our neighbours were generally kind and tolerant, turning a blind eye as we scrambled over garden walls to retrieve lost balls, and later, minding spare keys and turning a deaf ear as we partied. My parents' neighbours were also friends.


It was when I spent my first Summer working abroad as a student, that I was forced to rely on the kindness of strangers: neighbours I'd never met.

I was 20 when I arrived in Paris to crash in my aunt's apartment. It was my first time away from home and my aunt was away much of the time. My adventure started a few days in, when I locked myself out.

I'd stepped briefly into the hall, to throw a bag of rubbish down the chute, when the door slammed behind me. Not only were my keys inside, but so was handbag with my money, bus pass and work swipe. And I had to get to work. Arriving late, or not at all, was not an option.

I considered my choices. I was eight floors up and there was only one other apartment on the floor, rented by an elderly couple I'd never met. Until now.

I rang their doorbell. After a few minutes, the door opened on the latch. A puzzled, wrinkled face peered out.
'Bonjour,' I said, in my best school French. 'Je reste avec ma tante.' I pointed to the door behind me. 'Jai oublié mon key.'

The elderly Parisian woman looked completely bewildered. But by some miracle, she realised I wasn't a threat and unlatched the door to let me in. After I shook hands with her equally baffled husband, I pointed to their balcony doors: identical to the ones in my aunt's apartment across the hall.


They nodded, having established there was no point trying to talk to me: I
wouldn't understand them. I stepped out onto the tiny balcony. Between there and my aunt's balcony, with its open doors, was an L-shaped ledge. Eight floors up.  


I slipped off my shoes and threw them over to the balcony, then tucked my long, summer skirt into my knickers, and swung one leg, then the other, onto the stone ledge. As I began to inch my way along, I risked a downward glance and saw that a small crowd was gathering in the street below.

I reached the other balcony, climbed over and waved to the neighbours.
'Merci beaucoup,' I shouted. I thought they both looked a bit older now, but it could have been the distance. From the ground below, my audience applauded. I hastily reassembled my skirt, and gave a small bow.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself wrong-footed yet again. Newly wed and with a small baby, I realised the walls of our lovely new townhouse were fairly thin. We didn't know our new neighbour, except that she seemed to come attached with very musical friends.

I finally met her. The small girl was six weeks old and hadn't slept for about three nights in a row. Neither had I. At some stage on the third afternoon, she finally succumbed. Still in my pyjamas, I crawled back into bed and closed my eyes. Then the noise began on the other side of the wall.

I sat up in bed. Clearly, my neighbour had dismantled a door so they could all dance on it in hob-nailed boots. Door dancing: it was a thing. Just not in modern suburban town houses, as far as I knew. The small girl stirred and threatened to wake.

I struggled into a dressing gown, grabbed my keys and ran next door. I knocked loudly. Nobody heard. The door dancing continued, accompanied now by lots of jiggy Irish music and enthusiastic hups. I glued my finger to the doorbell.

Finally, a young woman appeared: boho style, long blonde hair, warm smile.
'Hi, can I help you?'
'Stop making noise.' Sheer exhaustion and baby hormones had reduced me to short sentences. A tear may have slid down my cheek. 'I live next door. I have a new baby. I just got her to sleep.'

She looked stricken.
'I'm so sorry. And congratulations on your baby, that's lovely news.' I felt like the most unreasonable neighbour on the planet. 'Leave it with me,' she said. Moments later, there was total silence. The small girl and I slept.

Our neighbours moved some time later, their building work on their new house apparently complete. And within a few short months, I was back at work, writing features at a national newspaper.

'That singer, what's her name, has just moved into a new house in Rathmines,' my editor announced one morning. 'They've a new album coming out: see if you can get an interview. The house is fabulous.' It was all about the photos, I knew.

I secured an interview at the house, and read up a couple of recent articles on them, which included some grainy, black and white photos of the band.

Arriving ten minutes ahead of the photographer, the following week, I rang the doorbell and waited. A young woman answered: boho style, long, blonde hair, warm smile. Shock rendered me speechless as recognition flashed in her eyes. Then she stuck out her hand and widened her smile.
'Pleasure to meet you,' she said, as if our previous encounter had never happened. Gratefully, I grasped her hand and played along.

By the time our second girl was born, we had moved to a slightly bigger but much older home. Then we had The Boy. And having good neighbours became more important than ever. No more so, than the hot Summer day I struggled up the road with my then very lively, five year old son.


After I dumped two bags of groceries in the porch, I decided that a half hour of
TV for him and a shower for me, was essential. I was half way up the stairs, and half way out of my clothes, when I remembered that the groceries were still in the porch.

I ran back downstairs, just as the boy ran out of the TV room. I was in the porch when he closed the front door, locking me out of the house in my underwear.

Quickly, I scanned the road: nobody around. Then I peeked through the letter box. The boy was giggling at his joke.
'You got me,' I shouted. 'Let me in, now.'
In fairness, he tried. The problem was, in our old house, the doorknob was too high and too tricky for a five year old.

'Get a kitchen chair,' I encouraged. 'and after you let me in, I'll give you some chocolate from the corner press.'
Even standing on the kitchen chair, he couldn't manage the front door. He did, however, find the extra-large bar of chocolate. As I peered through the letter box, I could see him, sitting on the bottom step of the stairs, steadily munching his way to vomit-ville.

Despite the warm day, I was feeling quite cold now. What I needed was a spare key, and the nearest neighbour with my spare key lived across the road and three houses up.

On a normal day, I might have risked the dash across the quiet cul-de-sac, less than fully dressed. But there were builders gutting one of the other old houses: it was out of the question.

I emptied the grocery bags, wondering if I could tie them together and wear them like a sort of plastic dress. I viewed the umbrella stand. And then I spotted it. Right at the bottom, underneath a dozen battered brollies: a neatly-folded picnic blanket.

I wrapped it, sarong-style around me, and hot-footed it across the road. My neighbour wasn't in. But her Swedish au pair was. She didn't even blink when she opened the door to see me barefoot and wearing a blanket. Maybe she'd been tipped off.

I'd like to say I never locked myself out again after that. But it would be a lie. Thankfully, it's never again, been quite so dramatic.

I can only imagine my neighbours are grateful for small mercies.

                                                                                   *



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


 

Monday, 19 August 2019

HAVE EVERYTHING - WILL TRAVEL





PEOPLE who go on holiday amaze me. Not because they go on holiday: lots of people do that. I'm lucky enough to be one of them. Usually a week or ten days in Spain. I'll get to that in a minute.

No, the reason other holiday makers amaze me, is how relaxed they are about the preparations. Earlier this Summer, I had coffee with a friend who was heading out of the country the following day.

"So you're all ready, then?" said I.
"Ah yeah, we just have to check in. And pack, obviously."
I may have dribbled coffee down my chin. It was the day before and she hadn't packed or checked in? Had she never read the article, Getting Ready For Your Holidays? Did she not understand check lists or countdowns?

At this point, I'll admit I have no solid memory of ever reading an article about getting ready for your holidays. But I've read various bits down the years, and I've somehow cobbled it all together in my head. Preparation is key. Would you even consider hosting Christmas dinner for say, ten people, if you hadn't at least tidied the house, done all the vegetables in advance and had the turkey in the oven for hours? Exactly.

This year, four out of five of us in my family, flew off to spend ten days on the Costa Brava. Between us, we traveled with one large case, and two small carry on cases. And I brought everything. You needn't suspend your disbelief: they are not magical cases. I am simply the queen of packing.

I know all the usual tricks and tips. The clothes rolling, the shoe-stuffing, the packing from the corners into the middle. Everything from beach towels to toiletries and a first aid and medicine kit that would rival a small pharmacy, was crammed into those three cases. I've read the stories about cases being lost by airlines, so as always, I made sure that there was at least one change of clothes for everyone in the carry-on luggage.

Because I'm so thorough, I have to start about a week before the holiday. Don't get me wrong. I don't spend a solid week packing. But if I leave it to the last minute, there's no time to hunt down something I might need.

"But aren't you going to a proper town?" one friend asked, when I bumped into him in the local supermarket. "You can just buy anything you've forgotten."
"What do you pack when you go away?" said I.
He shrugged.
"Some clothes and my toothbrush."
Amateur, I thought.


Did he not understand the delights of sellotaping the lids on shampoos and shower gels, before wrapping them individually in (reusable) plastic bags and sellotaping the bags? Had he never experienced the satisfaction of needing something in the middle of the night when the shops are shut, and having it? Whether it was a sprained ankle, a tummy bug or a mosquito bite, I was ready.

But nobody gets all their ducks in a row. We had almost reached our departure gate, when The Eldest realised we'd left one of the aforementioned carry-on cases at security. Cue a frantic dash back through the airport, followed by a sprint back to our gate, seconds before our flight closed. The joys of air travel can't be overstated.

I have to admit, my general preparedness isn't restricted to travel abroad. On any given day, my handbag holds everything from a notebook, my current read, my purse, phone, keys and sunglasses, sunscreen and a small umbrella, to a travel first aid kit and a travel coffee thermos. I may be a frustrated girl guide, I'm not sure.


And I didn't lick it off the stones. I have great memories of holidays in West Cork when I was a child. The journey from Dublin to Cork, before we got mad money from the EU to build motorways, took a full day. At least it did, when we traveled as two families in two old cars and stopped off in the middle of the journey for 'dinner' at some hotel in the midlands.

My parents too, self-catered, and as we headed south to spend our fortnight in one half of a two hundred year-old farmhouse, my mum and my aunt even packed food and baked goods into the back of those old cars.


When it rained on the beach, each of the four grown-ups would take a corner of the large picnic blanket and unroll a heavy-duty plastic sheet over their heads and over us and all our stuff. We children, now well sheltered, would be herded to the middle of the blanket to sit it out. It was the Father Ted holiday, long before Father Ted.*


I have never heard of anyone doing that in 2019. In fairness, I never came across anyone doing that when I was a kid, except for us. As for packing, these days, unless you're travelling to Timbuktu (and for all I know, Lidl has opened a couple of stores there), you can buy as you go. Travelling light really is an option.

I prefer to travel tight. And be ever ready.

                                                                 *


* Classic TV sit-com about three priests living together on a remote island off the Irish coast.



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

Monday, 24 June 2019

SUMMER IS COMING


                                                            

SUMMER is on its way. That's the official line from Met Eireann (Irish meteorological society) and they're never wrong. OK, that's not quite true, but it's hard to get it right all the time and things can change at the last minute. But they're right about this.

It's all about cyclones and weather pressures, apparently. They can see them sweeping down through neighbouring countries and coming in over the Atlantic and what have you. The upshot of all of this intense study was a grand announcement: our Summer begins today.


I don't mean temperatures climbing to 16 degrees Celsius with a strong Easterly wind. Because the only thing that's good for is drying clothes, thanks very much. The weather experts have predicted 25 degrees this week. Maybe even rising to 30: an official heatwave.


We're not a bit cool when it comes to heatwaves. We get so excited about them that we start doing all kinds of mad things. We run out to buy barbeques and patio furniture that we'll barely use. Our parks fill with half-naked, sun-starved bodies, basking in the new warmth.

Just down the road from me, kids spend happy hours jumping into the local canal to cool off. (I've no idea how safe this is: but it happens). Small shops and businesses close up on random days, hanging hastily scrawled signs which simply read: Gone to the Beach.

Last year, the heatwave went on for weeks. It became the lead item on our nightly news and our Government issued national emergency-type warnings about heat stroke and water shortages. It was massively exciting.

So far, our Summer has been nothing to write home about. We had so much rain in early June that there was flooding. Up until a few days ago, I know people who were still turning on the central heating. Others never bothered to change out of their Winter stuff, but where's the fun in that?

I'm hanging the sign. Mine reads: Gone to the Garden. I'm probably sipping lemonade and writing something. The umbrella in the middle of the tiniest patio table in the world, is shading my eyes. I'm soaking up the Vitamin D and storing up the memories.

I'll see you next month. ;)

                                                                            *


Dear reader,

Forgive me if you see a bit of a pattern emerging here; like most Irish people, I'm obsessed with the weather. 

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. 
💚)

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. 

For all buy links for my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, click here: Tirgearr Publishing
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, 27 May 2019

THE 7 BEST REASONS TO VOTE

                                                    The Irish Election: lives on the line.

I'M ABOUT to make a sweeping generalisation: brace yourselves.
Irish people love politics. In a world where people who can vote often don't bother, and where whole generations of voters respond only to soundbites and daily dramas in high places, we live for old-fashioned elections.

I should clarify this immediately by saying that I have no idea what happens to us when we leave our little parcel of land in the middle of the Atlantic. Maybe when we emigrate, we assimilate so well that if our fellow countrymen are indifferent, so are we. I'd like to think not, but I can't be sure.

But back to the 4.8 million right here in the Republic of Ireland. Give us an election: local, general or European and we're happy out. Promise us a referendum (which is how we voted in same-sex marriage and on Friday last, how we reduced the wait for divorce from four to two years) and we're fairly ecstatic.

Never mind the nay-sayers who give out about the election posters littering the lamp-posts the length and breadth of the country. Or the thousands of us disturbed in the middle of our dinner to greet canvassers and candidates on our doorstep. Who cares if we have spinach stuck in our teeth whilst we quiz them about our appalling housing crisis and climate change. Sure don't we love to have something to give out about?

And we're a small country. Not just population-wise. Land-wise, too. So it's easy to get around. Relatively. And we tend to know everyone. That's actually the truth. If we don't know someone, we'll quiz them until we discover someone they know, that we know as well. In fact, if you're not careful, you'll find that the person you've been quizzing is actually a distant relation. Or they sat beside you in school 30 years ago. Or they know someone you know, who you rather they didn't.

And Irish politicians are particularly skilled at discovering what's known as your 'seed and breed': who your parents are, where you grew up and with whom, and most importantly what your political allegiances are.

That works both ways, of course. We pride ourselves on knowing who our local councillors and TDs (members of Dáil Eireann*) are. Because you never know when you might need them to sort something out. Or at the very least, make a fair fist of it. We expect them to be articulate, savvy and when needed, stately. But above all, they daren't forget their roots.

But lest there be any doubt about the reasons to be politically aware, and especially, the reasons to vote - here's the 7 best.

1. After you've voted, you get a sticker at the polling station which reads: 'I Voted!' You can wear it proudly for days afterwards. It's especially important to share it all over social media. Because if you don't, it obviously didn't happen.

2. You get to chat to complete strangers on your doorstep at the most inconvenient times. This can provide a number of benefits, not least of them social. A little story to demonstrate from the recent elections. The Middle One answered the door one evening to a new candidate running for local office. The young man put out his hand. "Lovely to meet you," he said. The Middle One got a little stuck on the first part of his greeting. "I love you too," she replied, before realising her mistake. To his credit, he pretended not to hear. Unlike his campaign aide who stood behind him, struggling to  keep a straight face.

3. You get to play Lois Lane on your doorstep as you interview would-be and well-established politicians on everything from dog poop on the local beach to when-the-fecking-hell-will-my-grownup-kids-be-able-to-afford-their-own-place with the state of the housing crisis?

4. For two whole months before the election, you get to examine the finer details of all the main runners, based purely on their posters. Naturally you judge them on their political strengths, policies, experience, political affiliation and their teeth.

5. Thanks to our system of voting, recounts can go on for weeks. Which provides endless fodder for the media, free entertainment for the rest of us and other things to talk about apart from the weather.

6. You can take a personal pride in your achievement when your candidate gets in. You put them there! If you're Irish, you won't forget it, either.

7. Aside from downing a Guinness, while belting out the national anthem, it's probably the closest you'll ever get to honouring your country.


* Dáil Eireann: The Irish Parliament
.

                                                           *

Dear reader,

Thank you so much, as always, for dropping by to read my column. Now, a bit of exciting June news: The Night Owl Romance Summer Fun reader event is here!
 

Ready to Win? I’ve teamed up with Night Owl Romance and other authors to bring you the chance to win a Waterproof Kindle Paperwhite (USA ONLY) & Amazon Cards (Open to the World).

 
During this event I'm going to help you find some great new books. Make sure to check out my novel, Going Against Type, along the way.

 
Enter the giveaway at:
https://www.nightowlreviews.com/v5/Blog/Articles/Summer-Fun-2019-by-Night-Owl-Romance



Lots of luck!!

 
Please SHARE today's column. 

 
 
To get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. 

For all buy links for, Going Against Type, click here: Tirgearr Publishing
 


Happy reading, take care and see you next month.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 29 April 2019

THE GREAT IRISH SUMMER


                                                                Roll on the Summer




THE IRISH Summer of 2018 will go down in lore as one of the great Summers. The sort of Summer that James Joyce might have imagined for Ulysses' Leopold Bloom. But rather than one perfect day, we had weeks upon weeks of perfect days.

I'm talking about the sort of days that stood up to international scrutiny. The kind that delighted our visiting American third cousins and bewildered our annual influx of Spanish students, as they tucked their rain jackets back into the bottom of their suitcases. Day after day of sun, our green fields turning brown and brittle without rain.

We did mad, hedonistic things, like eating outside. Every day! Gardens and balconies, normally reserved for growing a few plants and bracing the cold just so we could boast of the odd barbeque, suddenly came into their own. The umbrella in the middle of my tiny patio table, stayed put for months. I'd sit there, basking in 20 degrees Celsius, and declare on a daily basis that it was like Being in The Mediterranean.

The farmers had a dreadful time of it, of course. The poor animals needed grass and water. And then there was the whole food growing bit. Which was difficult with water shortages. Believe me, I'm not making little of that.


But bear with me here. For the rest of us, it was amazing! A full, long, proper Summer. We'd booked to go away for a week to Spain. I've never resented all the stress around airports and flying as much as I did, when I'd have been happy to enjoy the sun on the Costa del Dublin.

Being Irish, we still managed to discuss the weather ALL SUMMER. In fact, it was all anybody talked about. Opinion in the street was firmly divided between those who thought it was too hot..."Ah, I've had enough of it now, we need a bit of rain to cool us all down," and the rest of us who figured we were well overdue a fabulous time of it, thanks very much.

And we did all sorts of un-Irish-y stuff. After about three weeks of The Good Weather, you couldn't get a garden patio set for love nor money. Hardware shops and DIY stores were sold out. The term 'outdoor living' started to creep into our vocabulary. Garden pride and the inevitable garden envy became a thing on Facebook and Instagram. We completely lost the run of ourselves.


It even trended on Twitter. The idea of decent Summer weather trending on Twitter anywhere, might seem unlikely. But it was a thing. And we were bloody well going to make the most of it while we could. So, in typical Irish fashion, the jokes began.


It started reasonably enough, with a tweet that ran something like 'I've got two washes on the line, lads. #IrishSummer #Summer 2018'. I should explain here, for anyone who doesn't know: Irish people are obsessed with GETTING CLOTHES DRY. Which is entirely understandable in a country where it rains a lot.


But Twitter was having its moment. Another person tweeted that they had all the bedsheets out on the line. Tomorrow, they'd be washing all the big towels. The sheer indulgence of it! And then one wit added that sheets and towels were nothing. They'd taken up their fitted carpets, washed them and hung them all outside to dry.

And suddenly, thanks to the great weather, there was nothing left to wash! The guilt I felt as I looked at an empty washing line ON A BEAUTIFUL SUNNY DAY, was nearly too much for me!

I got over it just as quickly. Just as I got over the mess of the house and the fact that I'd already moved half my furniture outside. Because wasn't I living there anyway?

We've got through this Winter, and lads, it wasn't too shabby. We're nearly in May. For weeks now, we've been trying to predict the Summer ahead. We got a taste of the good life at Easter. Four glorious days, when the temperatures soared and we hastily found a few warm-weather essentials and bared our goose-bumpy skin to the sun.

A neighbour told me we're due another Good Summer. "It comes in threes," he said. "Three good years and then three not-so-good ones." I didn't like to point out that there's never been a pattern. He was on a roll. "Once you have a good Easter, that's a sign of good weather for the Summer."

It's all about as scientific as placing a small, plastic statue of Our Lady of Prague outdoors, the night before you need good weather for a wedding. But hopes are riding high. I've already bought the sunscreen. Here's to our Irish Summer.

                                                         *



Dear reader,

April felt like the fastest month on record! I hope, wherever you are, it was a good one. 

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. 
💚)

Please take a moment to SHARE today's column. 
If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, just go to the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused. 

For all buy links for my Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type, click here: Tirgearr Publishing
To find out more about me, check out the links/information at the sidebar on the right.


Happy reading, take care and see you next month.             
Hugs,
Sharon. xx