Monday, 20 July 2020

LOCK-DOWN REGRETS: I HAVE A FEW



                            Illustration by Analiese Culliton Illustrations (Facebook/Instagram)



IRELAND is now coming into its fourth phase of what our government calls 'reopening the country'. I won't get into the politics. Whether I agree or disagree with any part of the national plan so far, is not important. If you're looking for controversy, head over to Twitter. Not my Twitter account: that's all rainbows and unicorns. Obviously.

What I've been thinking about lately, now that things are approaching The New Normal, is how completely out of step I seemed to be during the different phases of lock down life.

By out of step, I don't mean I was heading across the country when everyone else (who didn't have to travel further for essential work) was staying within a five kilometre zone of their front door. Nothing as radical as that.

It's just that, I didn't seem to do what everyone else was doing. Not because I was trying to be different. Just because I seemed to have other priorities.


Let me use the initial lock down period as a way to put things in context. Our whole country closed down overnight. Schools, colleges, creches, hotels, theatres and cinemas, restaurants and pubs, non-essential shops. Supermarkets, cafes (if they sold food), pharmacies and hardware stores remained open.

Thousands of workers, who'd previously spent hours in traffic, suddenly found themselves on laptops at their kitchen tables. The result? Eerily quiet roads, nobody on public transport, and yes, cleaner air.


And with it, the emergence of a new kind of animal: the second-chance cyclist. Bicycle shops were deemed necessary, as most do repairs, and the sales of bikes rocketed.

Suddenly, our quiet roads were full of people who hadn't been on a bike since their Chopper days, (remember ET?) and were determined to lose their extra weight at the same speed as their saddle sores.

I wasn't one of them.

The other outlets that did a roaring trade, were the hardware stores. I put this down to a number of reasons. One, thousands of people lost their jobs when the country shut down. Some, sadly, will never return to what they were doing before Covid-19 struck. And they wanted to keep busy.

Two, the Things To Do In Life list had suddenly shrunk. For those who weren't working on the front line (medical people, grocery store workers, delivery people) our lives were now, more than ever, at home.

We'd spent years glued to shows like Desperate Houses and Room to Improve, wondering what it would be like to have wood-burning stoves, open-plan living, and one whole wall of our house replaced with glass. 


But as the builders weren't allowed to work either, we had to make do with our best DIY efforts. I know people who finally stripped away their '90s dado rails, and cleaned and painted their houses and apartments from top to bottom. I hugely admire them. But I can honestly say that not a single lick of paint touched any surface of my house. I'm not proud of this.

Judging by the culinary masterpieces all over social media, thousands of people took up baking. For a while, flour was as scarce as in our local supermarkets, as oranges were during the war. I have this on good authority, not having been alive during the war. Or even within a generation of it.


And I knew it would become one of those war-time-on-the-home-front stories, when The Mother phoned me one day, to tell me the over-sized bag of flour she'd ordered from her local shop three weeks previously, had finally arrived.

I dutifully collected it and brought it home. The Middle One and The Boy set to baking, out-doing each other on a nightly basis, with a constant rotation of biscuits, cakes and sometimes, even bread.

I made a conscious decision not to deprive my offspring of improving their skills, and left them to it.

There were bigger lockdown surprises. One that will have massive (hopefully positive) long-lasting consequences, is how many of us welcomed new family members. I'm not talking about the number of babies born: I actually predict an explosion of births from December onwards.  


Nope, I'm talking about the huge number of new, bought or rescued dogs. People who'd never before taken the plunge, but found they had time on their hands, and all day to train and walk a new puppy.

When I wasn't tripping over them on my walks, I was liking them on my friends' Instagram accounts: cute pictures of pedigree pooches and magnificent mongrels. 


I have never owned a dog. My non dog-owner status remains intact.


My regrets, then. I regret I didn't recapture the feeling of freedom you can only get on a bike. And I regret that parts of my house, still has paint peeling off the walls and ceilings. I don't regret not baking. Nor do I regret not getting a dog: that's a commitment I'm not ready to undertake.

I did more gardening than I'd usually manage. And even some clearing out. Not Marie Kondo-style clearing out, you understand.  


I also wrote nearly every day, including a couple of short stories. I came second in a national short story competition. I read, I watched Netflix, and after The Husband bought a coffee maker, I learned to make a decent Cappuccino.

Small wins, but they are mine.

                                                      *


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Sharon. xx

Monday, 22 June 2020

'At the Stroke of Nine O'Clock': Interview with author Jane Davis.




GOOD MORNING, ALL. This month, in place of my usual column, is an interview with author Jane Davis. Her new novel, At the Stroke of Nine O'clock, will be published as an e-book mid-July and is available now for pre-order.

John Green says that writing is a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don’t want to make eye contact while doing it. Is that how you see yourself?
Definitely. I was always the quiet middle child in a family of seven. It’s not that I don’t want to make eye contact, it was more a problem of never being able to get a word in edgeways. Eventually, the one who’s been labelled the ‘quiet one’ stops trying. I think that’s why I always have more going on inside my head than comes out of my mouth. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in writing dialogue for characters who are braver and more outspoken than I am.

What’s the story behind your latest book?

The short answer is that At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock is a timeless tale of sex, class and murder.
The slightly longer version involves what may have been coincidence, or simply an indication of the times. What happened was this: I read three biographies back to back, and in each the subject had a connection with Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Great Britain. I turned to my bookshelves for a yellowed paperback that has been in my possession for over thirty years. Ruth Ellis: A Case of Diminished Responsibility? I’d forgotten that the book begins with a foreword by co-authors Laurence Marks and Tony Van Den Bergh in which they reveal how, during their research, they both discovered that they had various links to players in the story of Ruth Ellis, if not Ellis herself. One of David Blakely’s other lovers. The partner of a psychiatrist who had treated Ruth Ellis. The brother of the manageress of the Steering Wheel club who had thrown Blakely and Ellis out for having a drunken fight on the premises just days before the shooting. The Catholic priest who, while serving as a prison chaplain sat on the Home Office committee tasked with deciding if Ellis was fit to hang. The list goes on.
But even those who had never met Ellis had an opinion about her, and all were affected by her demise.

What is the most significant event for you in the story and why?
The most significant event happens after my story ends. Within two years of Ellis’s execution, The Homicide Act 1957 became law, limiting the death penalty by restricting it to certain types of murder. It was followed in 1965 by the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act. Changes of this magnitude aren’t brought about by one person’s case alone, but reading about the many tragedies that befell Ruth Ellis’s children and family members served as a stark reminder that the prevailing penal system punished (some might say condemned) not just those found guilty, but those they knew and loved.

How did you choose to structure your story?
I knew that whatever structure I chose, the book had to end at the precise moment of Ruth Ellis’s execution. Executions in the UK took place at 9.00am. It was quite by chance that I read how Big Ben stopped one evening in August 1949 at 9.00pm. Five and a half years – that gave me a workable timescale. I set about researching what life was like for women in the post-war era. Dual standards were very much at play. Women were punished for daring to step outside the restricted confines that society had decided they should remain within. Sex outside marriage, divorce, and children born outside wedlock were huge taboos, but these things were happening. Property and titles were inherited by men.
Work-wise, there were few options for women, particularly working class and upper class women. Having stepped up to the challenge of the running industry and keeping the economy afloat once again during the Second World War, women were gain expected to hand their jobs back to the men and get back in their kitchens.


Are there any similarities between this book and your last release Smash All the Windows?
I’m gunning for the press again, I’m afraid. In At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock, I describe how the press of the day created a frenzy around murder trials, speculating about what the murderers did immediately before and after they killed. Ruth’s was newspaper gold, and her story made all of the front pages the day after a month-long newspaper strike. “Six revolver shots shattered the Easter Sunday calm of Hampstead and a beautiful platinum blonde stood with her back to the wall. In her hand was a revolver…” Bam! The public was hooked by the story of the blonde hostess (and a divorcee), who shot her racing-boy lover in cold blood. You had this unreal situation where tickets for Ruth’s trial at the Old Bailey changed hands at upwards of thirty pounds. The fact that this tragedy was treated as entertainment is horrific. Ruth was a young woman, a mother of two. She may have done little to defend herself, and that appears to have been her choice, but nobody really tried to discover why she did it.

I assume you tried?
I have just finished reading The Five, by historian Hallie Rubenhold. This may sound strange, but I saw parallels between the victims of Jack the Ripper and Ruth Ellis. Some of ‘the five’ had made bad choices, but those choices were forced upon them by circumstance. They abandoned children turned to alcohol, they took up with men they would not have considered taking up with had they been able to support themselves. The difference is that while those choices landed the five in the path of a killer, Ruth herself turned killer.
Rather than tell the story in Ruth’s voice, I wanted to show how much she had in common with many women of her day. That’s why I chose to tell Ruth’s story through the lives of three very different women, all of whom have experiences that in some way mirror Ruth’s, so that by the end of the book, each has a reason to say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ I hope that’s also the reaction most readers will have. With social changes, the removal of many of the taboos and barriers Ruth faced would have made the lies she told unnecessary. I like to think that Ruths living today won’t be driven to the same point of despair. Help would be available.

Blurb
London 1949. The lives of three very different women are about to collide.
Like most working-class daughters, Caroline Wilby is expected to help support her family. Alone in a strange city, she must grab any opportunity that comes her way. Even if that means putting herself in danger.
Star of the silver screen, Ursula Delancy, has just been abandoned by the man she left her husband for. Already hounded by the press, it won’t be long before she’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Patrice Hawtree was once the most photographed debutante of her generation. Now childless and trapped in a loveless marriage, her plans to secure the future of her ancient family home are about to be jeopardised by her husband's gambling addiction.
Each believes she has already lost in life, not knowing how far she still has to fall.
Six years later, one cause will unite them: when a young woman commits a crime of passion and is condemned to hang, remaining silent isn’t an option.
“Why do I feel an affinity with Ruth Ellis? I know how certain facts can be presented in such a way that there is no way to defend yourself. Not without hurting those you love.”

Amazon

Find Jane @ Jane's Website
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Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of nine thought-provoking novels.
Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.
Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards. Smash all the Windows was the inaugural winner of the Selfies (best independently-published work of fiction) award 2019.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.

                                                             *

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. πŸ’š)

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Sharon. xx

 

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. (The story is also temporarily pasted in below).

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


Sharon xx



                                                                      MOLLIE

‘SHE’S A REAL BEAUTY. I know I’m always saying it, but it’s true.’ Robert runs his hand along the length of the dog’s back and looks up at the elderly woman across from him.  
‘Now, you’re clear about the tablets and the eye drops? Do you want me to go through it again?’

Chrissie makes an irritated sound and shoves her wispy grey hair under her woolly hat.
‘I’m not a fool, Robert. I know what to do. So will she be all right, then?’
‘She seems happy enough, she’s certainly not in any pain.’ He pauses. ‘She’s a good age for a Beagle, Chrissie. I haven’t seen many that make it this far.’
‘Hmmph, she’s lived this long despite you, so.’

The vet laughs and lifts the dog down from the table.
‘There you go, Mollie. Good to see you both looking well, Chrissie. And if you have any questions, just phone Leah.’

Chrissie rolls her eyes.
‘Come on, girl.’ She shuffles out of the room and makes her way slowly over to the reception desk. A young woman beams at her from behind a computer.  
‘Robert says only to charge you for the medication. So, that’ll be,’ she peers at the screen, ’€32.17.’ She looks up. ‘You know you can get some of that back on your pet insurance, right?’

Chrissie takes out the exact change from the pouch at her waist and slaps it down on the counter.
‘You’re new. You must be Leah.’
‘Yes, I am.’ She smiles again. Chrissie checks the harness on the dog.  
‘Come on, girl, home we go.’ She gives Leah one last look before she turns to leave. ‘Clueless.’

The train is quiet when Chrissie gets on. The other passengers are scattered around the carriage, all of them on their phones. She sits beside the window, the beagle at her feet. The train pulls away from the station and she turns to look out at the view.

In a few minutes, she will see her old house. Its garden backs onto the railway line. She and John lived there, raised their son, JJ. He rings her once a week and tells her she should come out to Australia to visit him. She’s told him she can’t, she won’t leave Mollie. He’s a good man, but he doesn’t understand. And she’s not sure about his Australian wife. She’s loud, laughs at everything.

When she reaches her stop, she asks a student who’s standing with his bike, to hold the train door open for her. She is slow to get up from her seat, and once or twice she hasn’t made it, the train pulling away too soon, forcing her to get off at the next stop and walk back.

She pulls her wool scarf a bit tighter, as the wind whips along the platform at DΓΊn Laoghaire. The ticket seller nods to her.
‘How are you, missus? How’s Mollie doing? What did the vet say?’
‘She’s got years more to live.’ Chrissie walks through the open gate and Mollie wags her tail.
‘Like yourself then.’ The young lad gives her a cheeky wink. Chrissie chuckles, then starts to cough.

‘You don’t smoke, do you?’
‘Yeah, do you want one?’
She shakes her head, still coughing.
‘I bloody don’t. Why do you think I have this cough?’ She waves a hand in his direction. ‘Don’t smoke.’  
He grins.
‘See you later, missus.’

Back at her one-bedroom, ground floor flat, Chrissie gives Mollie a couple of dog biscuits. The beagle eats one but lets the other fall to the floor. Chrissie picks it up and puts on the kettle but doesn’t bother making tea.

Outside, the first huge rain drops splatter against the window. She turns on the heating and lowers herself into her armchair, hunting around in the cushions for the TV remote.
‘Just in time for our favourite show, Mollie.’ She pats the side of the chair and the dog lies down, her body warm against Chrissie’s legs.

Later, when she wakes, Mollie is still there, her body colder and stiffer. With an effort, Chrissie lifts the dog onto her lap.
‘You’re a good girl, Mollie.’ She stays there a long while, her tears disappearing into the dog’s fur.  

In the morning, she phones the vet.
‘He’s with a patient at the moment, can I take a message?’ Leah asks.
‘No, I have to talk to Robert. It’s important. I’ll wait.’
Leah puts her on hold.
‘Mollie died yesterday evening,’ Chrissie says, as soon as Robert takes the call.
‘Ah, Chrissie, I’m so sorry. Are you all right?’
‘Of course I’m all right, why wouldn’t I be? I didn’t die, my dog did.’

There’s a brief silence.
‘What would you like to do, Chrissie?’
‘Well, I’d like to bury her, but I don’t have a garden.’ She clears her throat. ‘I’m not sure what to do.’

‘Why don’t you bring her in?’ Robert’s voice is gentle. ‘Cremation might be an option. It’s nicely done, Chrissie. And you can keep her ashes, if you want.’  
‘Yes, all right.’
‘That’s OK?’
‘I can bring her in this morning.’ She hangs up and looks over at the dog. ‘How am I going to carry you? We didn’t think of that, old girl, did we?’

‘You all right there, missus?’ The ticket seller is on a smoking break outside the train station. ‘Don’t be at me, now. It’s only the one.’ He drops the butt and grinds it underfoot.
‘Here, I’ll carry that onto the platform for you.’ He gestures to the bag which she carries in front of her, both hands clutching it. ‘Me gran has one of these old carpet bags.’

‘It’s a hold-all.’ She hesitates. ‘You can carry it for me if you’re very careful. Don’t drop it.’
‘Yeah, no bother.’ He takes the bag. ‘Jesus H.’ His eyes widen. ‘What the fu...’ he catches her eye. ‘Sorry, what the hell’s in here?’
‘Are you going to carry it for me or not?’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ He hoists the bag as carefully as he can. ‘Which platform?’
‘Towards town.’

He takes a quick glance around.
‘Mollie not with you today?’
‘Over here will do.’ Chrissie clicks her fingers and points to a bench. ‘I’ll sit here.’
‘Chill out, missus.’ He puts the bag on the ground beside her. ‘There, all right now?’
‘Fine.’

He mutters something and walks away, hands crammed in pockets. She lets out a deep sigh and waits for the train. A young man, 30s, Chrissie thinks, walks down the platform and sits on the other end of the bench. She takes in his dark suit and smart coat, his neat haircut. JJ used to look like that when he worked here.

Now he works in some computer company, where everyone’s allowed to wear shorts and tee-shirts. He’ll be phoning her tonight. She’s not sure whether to mention Mollie. She knows how he’ll be. Briefly sympathetic. Then there’ll be more pressure to visit ‘down under’. He sounds like JJ until he slides into Australian like that.

The man looks up from his phone, catches her staring and gives a brief, polite smile. She looks away. The gates at the line crossing start to close, signalling the approaching train. Chrissie stands and reaches for the bag, willing the train to hurry so she won’t have to stand too long. Already her neck and shoulders hurt with the weight.

‘Can I carry that on for you?’ The man puts away his phone just as the train pulls into the platform and screeches to a stop, the nearest carriage a few metres away.
‘Ok.’ Chrissie nods. ‘Please, be careful with it.’ It’s so heavy, she feels she owes this polite, well-dressed young man some explanation. But she can’t tell him it’s her dead dog: people can be squeamish.

She grabs hold of the door and steps onto the train, makes her way to the window seat. The man follows her, places the bag carefully at her feet and sits across from her, near the aisle.
‘What’s your stop?’ He gestures to the bag. ‘I can take it off for you.’

She studies him for a moment.
‘Sandymount. Thank you.’
He takes out his phone, ending the conversation. Grateful, she turns to look out the window. Young people don’t make small talk on public transport, she’s noticed. Chrissie doesn’t mind: she’s never liked small talk. 
It starts to rain again. Vaguely, Chrissie remembers some mention of a storm on the news. There seems to be a storm every other week now, and they all have names. She doesn’t remember storms having names in the past. But Spring in Ireland is unpredictable.  JJ tells her they’re having lovely weather in Sydney: like a decent Irish Summer, he says.

Unconsciously, her hand goes to the bag. Already, she knows she won’t get another dog for a while. Mollie has been her companion for 16 years, since John died. But she prides herself on her practicality. Having a dog is good for her. It gets her out of the flat, she meets other dog walkers. And if she’s truthful, she likes coming back to her old neighbourhood to see Robert.  

A woman boards at the next stop and takes the seat next to her. Chrissie starts to move the bag out of her way.
‘Let me.’ The man slides it across the floor, tucking it in beside him. 
‘Thanks.’ The woman sits and folds up a small umbrella.

Chrissie concentrates on the view, waiting for the familiar glimpse of her old garden. She wonders if the current owners have a dog. Mollie used to dig up everything in the garden, until she trained her only to dig around the apple tree. Each Autumn, it would still produce small, sharp-tasting apples that were perfect for tarts and crumbles.
'It’s Mrs Devine, isn’t it?’
‘Sorry?’ Chrissie turns to look at the woman beside her.
‘Mrs Devine?’ The woman smiles uncertainly. ‘I used to live on your road. I’m Breda Slattery’s daughter, Jennifer.’
Chrissie frowns, trying to place her.
            ‘I babysat JJ sometimes, before I went off to college.’
            ‘Yes, yes of course, I remember.’ Chrissie isn’t sure what to say next. ‘Do you still…?’
            ‘Oh no, I’m just visiting Mum. She’s in the local nursing home. How’s JJ?’
            ‘Great form, thank you.’
It’ll be the stop after this one she thinks, as the train pulls onto the platform. She wonders how she’ll manage the fifteen minute walk from the station to the vet. 

The carriage door opens and a few people get on.  
            ‘So do you still live around here yourself?’ 
            ‘Hmm? Oh, no, I live in DΓΊn Laoghaire now.’
The man opposite stands abruptly and grabs her bag.
            ‘No, not this one, the next stop.’
He doesn’t look back, but hurries across the carriage and steps off the train seconds before the doors slide shut.

‘Isn’t that your bag?’ Jennifer stands quickly but is thrown backwards as the train starts to move.
‘Yes, it is.’ Her eyes sting with sudden tears, just as a laugh bubbles up. Shock, she thinks. Robert will have to make her sweet tea. Or maybe Leah will.
‘He’s running away, do you want me to call the guards? We should stop the train.’ She reaches for the emergency button.

Chrissie puts a hand on her arm.
‘No, leave it. I’ll make a report in person. When we get to the next stop, just hold the door for me.’
‘Of course.’ Jennifer looks upset. ‘Was there much of value in the bag?’
‘Sentimental value.’  
‘Still and all, would you like me to go with you?’
‘No, really.’

Jennifer looks doubtful.
‘I’d be happier if you weren’t on your own.’
Chrissie holds her eye.  
‘I won’t be. I’m going to visit my son.’

                                                                 THE END.



                                                                        *

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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