Monday, 25 June 2018

THE IRISH FOR FOOD


      
                                                                  The Joy of Food.



I HAVE fond memories of eating livers, hearts and kidneys. My offspring still gag when I mention that.


Before anyone else has heart failure, I should add that the organs all came from animals. In 1970s Dublin, offal was the cheapest protein you could buy. As a young child, I assumed that everyone else ate stuffed pigs hearts or lamb kidneys. 

I also assumed that everyone ate Coddle. Coddle, it turns out, is a peculiarly Dublin dish. It has its roots in Dublin's Georgian tenement houses: those once-fine houses which were abandoned by the wealthy Anglo-Irish and rented out to poor Dublin families.

As families of up to a dozen or more people all lived in one room, women were forced to cook one-pot meals over an open fire in the grate.


No doubt it morphed a bit down the years. By the time my mother was making it, it was a one pot delight of sausages, rashers, liver, potatoes, carrots and onions: a kind of stew that simmered in a stock until cooked. The fact that everything except the carrots were white, never bothered me.


Turns out, lots of people never ate offal or Coddle. 


As I discovered when I started college, and my circle widened to include people born and bred outside the narrow confines of the capital. Friends who grew up on farms, where free range chicken and their own beef and lamb were everyday fare. But you didn't have to be a Culchie* to eat steaks and chicken on a regular basis: you just had to have money.


Meat, apparently, was dear. The better stuff, at least. In 1970s Ireland, we didn't have the intensive single-product farming we do now. And we were only starting to enjoy the benefits of the European Union (EEC as it then was) after we joined in 1973. Things don't change overnight.


I was recently reminded of how far we've come on our food journey, when the lovely Myrtle Allen died. In 1968, she opened the Yeats Room restaurant in her home, Ballymaloe House, serving beautiful and seasonal produce from her husband's farm. The rest is history.


But it took a while for the standards being set at Cork's Ballymaloe, to trickle down to the rest of us. And food my own kids take for granted, was either unavailable, or outrageously expensive in Ireland. 


In 2018, we're overloaded with TV chefs preaching the value of eating in season. In Ireland, we always did. We didn't have a choice. In Winter, we had tubers and cabbages and potatoes with every meal.

None of your fancy roasted parsnips and carrots. Vegetables like parsnips and turnips were boiled to wilting, mashed together and slathered in butter. In Summer we ate salads.

An Irish 1970s salad, of course: Butterhead lettuce, tomatoes, onion and hardboiled eggs. The salad dressing was white, gloopy stuff that came straight from a bottle.


My mother made waves in our neighbourhood when she learned to make a French dressing: hunting down the Dijon mustard in a specialist delicatessen and buying the olive oil in the pharmacy.


As far as we were concerned, nobody except the 'continentals' actually used olive oil in their cooking. Here in Ireland, olive oil was only used to treat earache.


Salad teas though, were a huge thing. Winter and Summer, you could have as many people as you wanted in for 'tea' in the evening. ('Dinner' was normally served at lunchtime - then we discovered Europe and lost the run of ourselves.)

But while salad teas always included fresh tomatoes and free range eggs (there were no other sort), it also included a lot of stuff from tins. Beetroot only came in a tin, and for some strange reason, it didn't occur to anyone to make a fresh potato salad, so that too was scooped from a can.

Ditto something called 'Russian salad', the details of which I've completely wiped from memory. On the upside, and for reasons best known only to my family, salads also included bowls of Tayto cheese and onion crisps.**

Simple food wasn't always processed, of course: often the exact opposite. I remember one Summer, my family took a fortnight's holiday in an old farmhouse in Wexford.

Every morning, the Dad would head off early to the harbour, to catch the fishermen landing their morning's haul. He'd buy fresh mackerel directly from them. For 13 evenings IN A ROW we ate fried mackerel with new Irish potatoes and a green salad.

On the last day, the Dad went hunting with a local lad - a first and I think, last, for him - and they shot a couple of rabbits. That evening we all ate rabbit stew. I'm not making any of that up.

We drank milk with most meals. Years later, I asked my mother why. "To help fill you up and because we believed it was good for you," she said. I rarely make dessert for my own family, but we had them every day. Jelly and ice cream, apple tart or stewed rhubarb with fresh cream or custard, fruit salad (exotic fruit from tins, to supplement the more ordinary apples, oranges and bananas) and semolina or rice pudding.

My own kids had never heard of rice pudding. In the same way that the only pasta we ate came from tins, shaped like alphabet letters and smothered in tomato ketchup, the only rice we had came in tins, covered in sweet, creamy sauce.
Which was why potatoes graced every dinner plate.

Cheese was beyond simple. There was a choice of Cheddar (red or white, mind) or the plastic, processed stuff, that might have been cheese, but might well have been something else entirely. The first time I saw an exotic cheese was in France, and I remember trying to put a mile of sniffing distance between me and it.

A couple of weeks ago, Dublin hosted its annual Taste of Dublin in the Iveagh Gardens: a four day celebration of the best of Irish food and drink, with tastings and market stands and cheff-y demonstrations.

We flocked to enjoy Champagne and craft beer, chocolate-dipped strawberries and artisan chocolate, organic vegetables, country farmhouse cheeses and posh handmade sausages. The notions of a nation which only discovered quiche about 30 years ago.

We've come a long way from overcooked vegetables. We know how to make a decent avocado toast (I admit I'm not a fan). And we're not afraid to sprinkle our salads with olives and seeds and toasted nuts.

But at a time when every food market and grocery store boasts a staggering array of breads, I remember my nana's homemade soda bread, and am determined to beg my own mother to make the rich, dark, yeasty brown bread of my childhood and teen years: delicious with hot-off-the-pan potato cakes.

And I still miss stuffed lambs' hearts.

                                                             *


* Slang word for an Irish person born in the countryside. (There's plenty of slang terms for city-born Irish!)
** Popular Irish-made potato chips.



Dear reader,

I hope you enjoyed this month's column. If you've stories about food when you were young, I'd love to hear from you. Just pop them in the comment box below, with your email address (which doesn't appear). Comments are moderated, so it may take an hour or two to see them. 

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Enjoy the last few days of June,     
Hugs,
Sharon. xx


 

Monday, 28 May 2018

SUMMER TIME...AND THEY'RE MAKIN' A LIVIN'


                                                 Students: the joys of a summer job



THE MIDDLE ONE has finished her first year in college. She is just starting to luxuriate in lie-ins and lazy days, when I remind her that as a college student, she has a duty to get a summer job. Preferably one that pays. Because we are not a bank.

The last bit resonates particularly with me, as it's exactly what my own parents once told me. They didn't mind me being stroppy and student-y, once I was able to pay my own bus fares.


She doesn't look too happy when I raise the idea. In her mind, summer means endless days with friends, pizza parties and ice cream and lots of reading, drawing and lazing around. I tell her that at 19, it also means a JOB IN THE REAL WORLD. At least for a few months.


She manages to secure a job in one of our big department stores. On her induction day, she tells us that the store is so big, she'll probably spend her summer getting lost. The Eldest, who worked there last summer, is sure of it. Google Maps was invented for The Middle One.


We await news of her first shift, with interest. She spends it in the massive bag department. As she doesn't yet have the proper uniform, she's told to dress in black. "The trouble with that," says she, wearily, "is that customers think you're a manager. And they ask you everything. And I knew nothing!"


What she does learn is that she's great at customer service. She's a 'people person'.

"My granddaughter asked me to get a particular bag for her," an old lady tells her. The Middle One gives a polite nod.
"Do you have a description?"
"Well, she's just as pretty as you are," the old lady replies, beaming.

After a moment, she realises her meaning. "Oh, the bag! Sort of square, maybe round. With a clasp." She gazes out at the vast array of clutches and satchels and shoulder bags, then links her new young friend. "How about we look together?"

The following day she's assigned to changing rooms.
"That sounds easy," we say later. Her look is stony. "It involves returning everything that customers tried on, that they don't want to buy. I spent the whole day wandering around the store, looking for things. Have you any idea how many different pairs of jeans there are for women?"

This sounds like a rhetorical question, so I say nothing.
"There's short leg, medium leg, long leg, low waist, flares, boyfriend jeans, high waist, baggy, skinny..."
"Stop! We get the picture!"
"You can't hang anything back in the wrong section."
The eldest starts to laugh, and has to turn it into a cough.

The main thing she's asked for, in such a huge shop, is directions. "Which is fine, if we're talking about where the lift is," she says, "but they keep moving all the clothes around, so I never know where anything is."

"So what do you do?"
"I take a fair guess. I figure if I can get them a bit closer to where they're going, someone else with rescue them. There's plenty of us to ask."

To date, her newest skill is folding! Thousands of tops and jumpers, all neatly arranged and displayed on stands. Sometimes, she spends hours doing that.

As an artist, pursuing a college degree in animation, the kindest thing I can say about her bedroom is that it's creative. In a sort of Omigod-the-whole-room-just-imploded kind of way.

In her entire life, I don't believe she's ever folded a single item of her own clothes. I learned long ago to step back. But it's reassuring to hear that she knows how.

                                                        *



Dear reader,

I can't believe May is almost over! We've had really mixed weather here in Ireland, but we saw a bit of sun this month, so if you were visiting, I'd love to hear from you!

If you're a regular to This Funny Irish Life, then you know I always encourage you to SHARE the column, if you liked it. (Scroll down to the buttons below!)
 


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Find sample chapters/all buy links for the Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type @ Tirgearr Publishing

Wishing you a wonderful month.    
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 30 April 2018

MAY MADNESS



      Cold, wind-blown, makeup-free, and a ten minute drive from the heart of Dublin city centre!

WHEN I tell people that I live in Dublin, just a ten minute drive, or train journey, from the heart of the city centre, I get mixed reactions.

'Dublin is fine during the week,' they say, 'but it's nice to get away from all that noise and congestion.'


This is usually from people who spend two hours commuting to work. And I know that sounds smug. It's my attempt to fight condescension with passive-aggression.


For a start, Dublin is actually very small. The city centre, that is. You can walk around it in a day. And I often did. You try be the mother of a daughter with staggeringly narrow feet, and see how easy it is to get shoes. When she was little, I could give you the inside track on every shoe shop, within a five mile radius of O'Connell Street.


Secondly, I live right on the coast. In five minutes, I can be down at the beach, getting my salon blow-dry, extra blow-dried. Or, I can be striding along the nature reserve, where height allows for staggering views of the coastline all the way out to Bray Head, in County Wicklow. 


That said, the East coast wasn't the place to be during this Spring. None of us will forget The Beast from the East and Storm Emma, in a hurry. In our house, the pipes froze. We had no hot water. Or any water upstairs, for that matter. The snow meant we couldn't get a plumber. Try to imagine three women in the one house who couldn't wash their hair. It wasn't pretty.


But when our coast is not being battered by arctic winds and freezing temperatures, I walk that nature reserve. It's me and the dogs. Not my dogs, you understand. Other people's dogs. I live in a village where they almost outnumber people.

Which is fine, once you manage to avoid tripping over their leads, stepping in their poo (not everyone pooper-scoops, folks!!) or being jumped on by something roughly the same size as a small horse.


They're not the only animals on the reserve. But being on the coast, it's mainly sea birds and um, coastal-loving trees and plants. I never claimed to be an expert. Unlike a friend of mine. I love walking with her. She brings her dog (a gentle, slightly nervous chap, of whom I'm genuinely fond) and her knowledge.

She grew up in the real countryside and knows all about species of heron and storks, and the Latin names for wild flowers. It's impressive.


Dogs and birds aside, the natural world has decided in recent years, that our little village is The Place To Be. In particular, our garden. 


As somebody who doesn't actually keep pets (for lots of practical reasons) I can understand why, in the past, squirrels and hedgehogs felt free to roam our little patch of suburban green, happy in the knowledge that they'd be left alone. 


Then the fox arrived. I notice him for the first time when our garden is under inches of snow. H
e's quite a respectable-looking chap: shiny of coat and plump of belly. Which makes me think that somebody (or quite a few somebodies) is feeding him.

It certainly isn't me. I'm distinctly uncomfortable with a wild animal sniffing around the patio door, or settling down in the middle of the flower beds for a good scratch and an afternoon snooze. 


But a few short weeks ago, we discover that our fox is actually a vixen. And overnight, she has given birth to six cubs. The whole family are living under our garden shed.
At first, we wait, enthralled, as the proud parents (it's not an immaculate conception) play with their tiny offspring, just yards away from our kitchen door. Dinner time resembles Wildlife on One, and The Husband starts to sound like David Attenborough.

But as the cubs grow, I see a dystopian future. I might leave the kitchen door open for air, and suddenly find myself over-run by wild animals. The cubs will grow up and return en-masse to breed next summer under our shed. Soon, there will be a community of foxes living in our garden.

I phone the council. "Ah we don't deal with foxes, love. Not in people's gardens. Try the DSPCA."*

I phone the DSPCA. There is a stunned silence as I explain the problem. "We protect animals. We don't kill them," says the woman. I tell her I don't want them killed. I just wondered if they could take them away. Maybe release them in the countryside. Y'know, where they're actually supposed to live.

"No, I'm afraid we don't do that. You could wait until the cubs are reared, and they all move on. Then you could put chicken wire around your shed. Oh, and if you want to feed them, they like dog food."
I thank her and hang up.

To date, I'm still on fox watch. The weather hasn't been brilliant, so I haven't really been out in the garden, although The Husband has planted this year's tomato plants on the patio.

Summer time is different. Some years ago, my middle-class, suburban conscience, tricked the lazy side of my personality into believing that my garden should be a haven for birds and butterflies, and especially bees. Simply put: I let all the wild things grow.


So our family of foxes had better decide to move on. And leave me and my ahem, well-planted garden to its notions.

Meanwhile, I can safely report that mother and babies are thriving.


                                                                              *

*Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
#May #Wildlife #Dublin #Foxes

Dear reader,

I hope, wherever you are, you're starting to enjoy some sun. I'd love if you SHARED 
today's column using those little sharing buttons below. 

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.
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   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
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Find sample chapters/all buy links for Going Against Type @ Tirgearr Publishing

Wishing you a wonderful month.    
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 2 April 2018

Guest Author, Jane Davis


Good morning from Dublin.

Today I'm delighted to welcome award winning author, Jane Davis, whose new novel, Smash All The Windows, will be released later this month, and is available now for pre-order.

I asked her how Smash All The Windows came about.








Author Jane Davis


Write about how Smash all the Windows came into being? It sounds so simple. 

     The novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press’s reaction to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television.
     For those who don’t know about Hillsborough, a crush occurred during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, killing 96 fans. A single lie was told about the cause of the disaster: In that moment, Liverpool fans became scapegoats. It would be twenty-seven years before the record was set straight. 
     Elizabeth Strout tells her writing students, ‘You can’t write fiction and be careful.’ But none of us exists in a vacuum. The pain I saw on the faces of family members as they struggled with the question was raw. And so combining two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators – I created a fictional disaster. 
     The previous year, en route to a Covent Garden book-reading, I’d suffered a fall. The escalator I normally use was out of order. Instead we were diverted to one that was much steeper, but I was totally unprepared for its speed. When I pushed my suitcase full of books in front of me, I was dragged off-balance. Fortunately, no one was directly in front. I escaped relatively unscathed. But the day could have ended very differently. 
     My disaster shared many elements with Hillsborough. Because both incidents happened before the explosion of the internet, voices weren’t heard as they would be today. Someone in management was new to the job. Things had ‘always been done that way’ (such a dangerous sentence). Facilities dated from a time when human space requirements weren’t understood. Risk assessments hadn’t considered multiple failures. It was also important to reflect the extraordinary pressure endured by the Hillsborough families by perpetuation of the lie. 
     But new difficulties surfaced – from far closer to home. In May 2017 came the London Bridge attack. This was where I’d set my novel. I witnessed the bouquets of red roses spanning the width of the bridge, the messages written on photographs of the victims, all those beautiful, devastating obituaries. But should I let this later disaster shape the story I was writing? 
     I’d already realised that if I wrote a book about blame, it would do an injustice to the many individuals who behave heroically in the most terrible circumstances. Added to which, there was one clear message in everything I read about accident investigation. Any finding that an individual is responsible is likely be biased and will fail to identify the real cause of the disaster. 
     Then in June 2017 came the Grenfell Fire, the most heart-breaking tragedy of recent years, not only because of the scale of the devastation, but because it quickly emerged that the spread of the fire could have been prevented. Inadvertently, in avoiding writing about Hillsborough, now I risked giving the impression that I was commentating on two London disasters. And, of course, having made a decision to write about un-blame rather than blame, I was seriously out of step with public opinion. 
     Fortunately my novel focuses on the disaster’s emotional fallout. My task was to capture all of the guarded memories, the hidden sorrow of a man who mourns not only the loss of a daughter but his unborn grandson, the daughter who must assume position as head of the household, the sculptor who transforms his grief into art, the sheer heroism involved in getting up day after day and going out into a world that has betrayed you.
     The beating heart of the story isn’t the disaster, but human resilience and the healing power of art.
 


   


Blurb
It has taken conviction to right the wrongs. 
It will take courage to learn how to live again.
For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.
Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.
If only it were that simple. 

Tapping into the issues of the day, Davis delivers a highly charged work of metafiction, a compelling testament to the human condition and the healing power of art.
 
Written with immediacy, style and an overwhelming sense of empathy, Smash all the Windows will be enjoyed by readers of How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall and How to be Both by Ali Smith.

Smash all the Windows will be released on 12 April, but you can pre-order it now for the special price of 99p/99c (Price increases to £1.99 on 12 March. Price on publication will be £3.99).

The Universal Link is books2read.com/u/49P21p

From 13 February to 10 March, US readers can also enter a
Goodreads Giveaway for a chance to win one of 100 eBooks.





About Jane Davis


Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of eight 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. 

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’.


Also by the Author
Half-truths & White Lies
I Stopped Time
These Fragile Things
A Funeral for an Owl
An Unchoreographed Life
An Unknown Woman 
My Counterfeit Self

Contact

Website: https://jane-davis.co.uk
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage
Twitter: https://twitter.com/janedavisauthor
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/janeeleanordavi/boards/
Press enquiries: janerossdale@btinternet.com
High resolution photos available from https://jane-davis.co.uk/media-kit/ 


                                                                                      *


Dear reader,
Many thanks for stopping by, and please 
SHARE today's column via the sharing buttons below. 

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.
   1. NEVER MISS my fun, personal column + updates/guest author posts!
   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Find sample chapters/all buy links for Going Against Type @ Tirgearr Publishing

Wishing you a wonderful month, and I'll be back in May with my personal column.  
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 5 March 2018

LET THE MARCH SNOWS BLOW


                                      When the weather's so bad that the country shuts down...


NOT SINCE the dying days of Communist Russia have Irish people witnessed the kind of scenes we were exposed to in recent days.

But this time it isn't from the comfort of our living rooms, as we watch television coverage of thousands of people, thousands of miles away, queueing for the last loaves of bread, or scouring empty supermarket shelves for the last tin of soup, whilst, outside, icy winds blow and snow thickly falls.

This time it's up close and personal. Because as the small island on the edge of Europe braces itself for the so-called Beast from the East, we Irish do what we do incredibly well. We panic-buy.

Within a single day of Met Eireann's* warning of the predicted snow storm from Siberia, there isn't a litre of milk or a loaf of bread to be had in the local shops. A day later, as the first snow falls, our local supermarket is vegetable-free. Not only have people bought everything in sight, but icy, snowy roads mean supply trucks can't get to the East coast.

We hunker down. And we're not disappointed - especially in the East and South of Ireland. Snow like we've never before seen, settles overnight: dry, powdery stuff that usually has no business in this damp little corner of the world.

Within days, The Beast from the East becomes Storm Emma. By now, the whole country is now on Status Red, and we're all warned to stay indoors for 24 hours.

By this stage, it's looking pretty good for kids. You can see it from their point of view. There's no school or college, because everywhere is closed. Roads are eerily quiet. Public transport the length and breadth of the country shuts down too. Travellers are forced to sleep in airports. Tourists are baffled.

There is snow: lots of it. As it's a pretty rare sight in this country (our last serious snowfall was 2010), there's snowmen to build and hills to slide down on old mats and black plastic bags. For those of us who don't lose electricity, there's binge-watching of favourite TV shows.

And for those of us who don't make it to the supermarket on time, there are no vegetables for dinner. The fact that The Boy doesn't have school or broccoli, goes a long way to compensate for all his sport being cancelled.

It isn't all snowball fights and hot chocolate by the fire, of course. That would be far too hygge for us. This isn't Scandinavia. Basically, we don't really cope that well with snow.

For a start, once things start to get really bad, we stop gritting the roads. This is true. And it's something our unfortunate tourists try desperately to come to grips with. Pun intended.

There's news footage, of one bewildered couple trying to make it across the country (East to West). Except they can't get to Dublin Airport, where they have their car. There's no public transport and taxis have stopped running. I hope they hole up in the best hotel they can afford, order room service and binge-watch feel-good movies.

Meanwhile, closer to home, or to be precise, at home, the pipes to our water tank freeze. Luckily, we have cold water in the kitchen, which comes directly from the rising main. Not so luckily, we have no hot or cold water in the rest of the house, and no flushing toilets.

By the end of Day One, we are all sick of the sight of each other. By the end of Day Two, we are fast becoming sick of the smell of each other. By some sort of miracle, the start of the thaw brings warming pipes, and the problem resolves itself. That there are no burst pipes, is a cause for celebration and showers. 

At the height of the storm, the weather forecast is the most hotly anticipated programme on broadcast and social media. And all kudos to our meteorologists: they're having their day in the sun. Or rather, the snow.

Despite the Irish obsession with the weather, most forecasts consist of "patchy cloud and scattered showers", or "rain and scattered showers" (technically two very different things, apparently), or my favourite, "sunny spells and scattered showers".

Now, in an arc worthy of any hero's journey, these same weather people become national treasures, as they take to our screens, to update us on the latest temperature drop, or upgrade various parts of the country from a Status Yellow to a Status Orange, and finally, to Status Red. Stay indoors. Do not come out. You have been warned.

In years to come, Spring 2018 will be remembered by many, for different reasons. A group of our Oscar nominees can't fly out to attend the Oscars. And a group of our Winter Olympians can't make it home...because of the snow.

By Saturday, the real thaw begins, and we shovel snow from driveways and venture carefully to the village. No power in our local supermarket, and as yet, no fresh deliveries, mean brisk business for the smaller shops.

But we are lucky. We live by the coast. And whilst we bore the initial brunt of the storm, the snow is melting fast. If we had to survive for a few days on frozen vegetables, we had warmth and light.

And when our water returned, we also had shampoo.

The Beast from the East is gone. Storm Emma is no more.

Let normal service resume.

                                                             *

#BeastfromtheEast #StormEmma #snow #Ireland #Dublin #March

*Met Eireann: Irish National Meteorological Service. 



D
ear reader,
Wherever you are, I hope Spring is just around the corner. Please 
SHARE today's column via the sharing buttons below. 

If you'd like to get THIS FUNNY IRISH LIFE FREE via email every month, enter your email in the Follow by Email box at the top right of the page.
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Find sample chapters/all buy links for Going Against Type @ Tirgearr Publishing

Wishing you a wonderful month,   
Hugs,
Sharon. xx


Monday, 5 February 2018

My Perfect Valentine's




                                          It's all about the love: and the pictures to prove it!



ONE OF MY favourite moments in Miss Congeniality (you know the one: Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, American cop goes undercover in beauty pageant) is when fellow contestant, Miss Rhode Island, is asked to describe her perfect date.

"That's a tough one. I'd have to say April 25th, because it's not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket," replies the guileless 21 year old.

St Valentine's Day is almost upon us. In Ireland, we will buy millions of cards and flowers, scoff copious amounts of chocolate, and fill restaurants all over the country, on a cold night in mid-February. 

I have reached a stage where I wouldn't eat in a restaurant on Valentine's Day, if somebody offered me a free meal. The reasons are not what you might think. OK, so, they are what you might think. But consider the following:

1. Do restaurants serve special 'Valentine meals' and hike up their prices accordingly? Tick. 
2. Are they full of young couples, many on first dates, who are determined not to be alone on what we insist is the most romantic day of the year? Tick.
3. Will you be bombarded by flower sellers coming in to flog wilting roses?
Tick.
4. Do you risk witnessing cringe-worthy, exhibitionist marriage proposals? Tick. Tick.

Despite the cynical tone (I know, I know), I don't mind any of the above. On any other day of the year. But on Valentine's Day, we all have to pretend.
It's like any occasion where we're forced to conform and behave a certain way.

Take Christmas. Are you gathered around the table/fire/box of Quality Street* with your family? Is everyone smiling and joking and reminiscing about Christmases of yore? Well, why the hell not? What's wrong with you?

It's the same with New Year's Eve. If you're not out partying with friends, getting drunk, and killing every last verse (there are verses!) of Auld Lang Syne, then you have failed, I tell you.

Birthdays? Anniversaries? Copy and paste, lads. You need to celebrate. Feck it, you need to go wild. YOU NEED TO HAVE FUN. And you need the photos to prove it.

The last bit, in particular, is a lot to expect. Thing is, when I go out, say, to a restaurant (which isn't often, you understand), I'm so damned grateful to have somebody present me with a plate of food I didn't have to cook, that I thank them, pick up a knife and fork, and tuck in.

The fact that I never, ever remember to photograph it all first, is, I realise, social death. Other people share beautiful platters of food and wonderfully-lit arrangements of wine/candles/flowers. Me? I have a half-licked plate of pasta and a lipstick-stained glass before I realise my faux-pas.

The other thing I do wrong, is talk. I try not to, obviously, but I can't help myself. If I'm out with The Husband or The Family or even a group of friends, I tend to talk. And you know, listen, obviously. There's a whole two-way thing going on: chatting. But when I stop to think about it, I get a bit self-conscious. Fewer people indulge now. Conversation is a bit like smoking: less and less tolerated in public.

Unlike sharing your food/drinks/selfies via your phone, with everyone you know, and plenty of people you don't. And that's the crux of it: the reason I won't do all the socially expected things on Valentine's Day. I'm just no good at it!

I suppose I could practice. At home, first. That way I wouldn't embarrass anyone, least of all myself. I could take photos of the meal I'm cooking tonight. I haven't decided yet what that'll be.

But even then, the pressure will be fierce. The food will have to be aesthetically pleasing. No burnt bits or gravy slops on the edge of the plate. The table will have to set properly. We usually just plop the cutlery in the middle and everyone helps themselves. Sometimes, there are no napkins. Gasp! It'll never work.

Does that mean I'm going to ignore Valentine's Day? What do you think I am? Of course I'm not going to ignore it! If The Husband is reading this, please put me down for a small box of artisan chocolates. I'm not greedy.

But my perfect Valentine's Day?
* I will get some exercise.
* Nobody will get bad news.
* I will write. Well. Or even well enough.
* The Husband will suggest we go to the sort of film he normally hates. And I love. (OK, so that's 2 things).
* And in the best tradition of beauty pageant answers, I will channel Miss Rhode Island: if the weather is fine, everything else is a bonus.

You might even get a photo on the day.

                                                                               *



*Brand of chocolates.

Dear reader,

Happy February from Dublin. Please feel free to 
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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.
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Wishing you a wonderful month, and a very happy St Valentine's Day, regardless of what you do.  
Hugs,
Sharon. xx


Monday, 8 January 2018

NEW YEAR, OLD ME



                                            2018: Maybe 'as good as it gets', is good enough.



HAPPY new year, all, and welcome to 2018. We've survived the holiday season (in our house, a traditional Irish Christmas), enjoyed the fireworks displays and suffered at least one rendition of Auld Lang Syne. So far, so good.

But if you're looking for a column listing my new year's resolutions, then click
here to see last year's ones.

This year I've made none. 


Now before anyone dismisses me as a cynic (I can see you tutting and rolling your eyes. Yes, you! ;) let me explain. Each year I set myself impossible tasks: 
      I will get thinner,
      climb a mountain,
      run a marathon,
      start baking my own cakes.

I will read far more books than I already do, I will get up at 6am to write. I will declutter my house and stop shouting at my kids for making this impossible.


Each year I set myself up to fail. Ever been in Ireland in January? It's cold, it's grey, the days are short and everyone's broke after the excesses of December. It's not a month to try to lose weight.

And despite my wild notions, I can't see myself climbing a mountain, running a marathon or decluttering my house. Although I have to say, if someone were handing out awards for self-awareness right now, I reckon I'd be in with a chance. 

On the plus side, I might read more books (if I'm curled up by the fire with a hot drink and a generous slab of chocolate). But my family and friends know to bring dessert when they come to dinner. And 6am is still night time, thanks very much.


This year, though, I think I've finally figured it out. If I cut out the noise, if I don't sweat the small stuff, if I concentrate on what's really important, won't life be better?


It may not be cleaner, or tidier. If I stop fussing about being able to see the colour of the carpets, nobody else I live with, will notice. But unless the place is actually dirty, does it matter?


It means ignoring the guilt. We Irish are brilliant are guilt. I know people who should have degrees in it. And we set ourselves up for endless grief.


What do you mean you never go to the gym? Don't you want to look after yourself? So what, if you HATE sweating in public! What do you think you'll be doing once you hit menopause? And speaking of menopause, have you any idea how quickly you'll pile on weight if you don't start training now for that marathon?


So here's one resolution I might actually keep: 
from here on, I refuse to feel a single nano-second of guilt. 

Next time I berate myself for not being better than me, I will channel Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in 'As Good As it Gets'. Life isn't perfect: but there's always fresh rolls.

So I'll eat those fresh rolls. I'll treasure my loved ones. I'll wear my good clothes. I'll see my friends often. And I'll write every day. But not at 6am.  


I think this year I might win.  

                                                                               *


Dear reader,

A very warm welcome and a wonderful happy new year from Dublin. Please feel free to 
SHARE today's column via the sharing buttons below. 

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.
   1. NEVER MISS my fun, personal column + updates/guest author posts!
   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Today is the last day of my publisher's HOLIDAY SALE. My Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type is just 99c/99p at #Amazon.AMAZON USA 99c
AMAZON UK   99p

All buy links @ Tirgearr Publishing

Here's hoping 2018 brings you peace, happiness and very good health. 
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 11 December 2017

HOW LIFE GETS IN THE WAY OF WRITING



                                                         Stuff happens in threes: fact!


THINGS happen in threes. Seriously. Scientific fact. One based on years of meticulous research and general observation by me. And my mother. And her mother before her. And, er, all my friends.

Births, for example. You never hear of a single birth. Start any conversation about babies, and before the topic has been exhausted, you’ll know of three newcomers to the world. Seed, breed and generation.


Deaths are the same. A certain dread, here, mind you. Great aunt passed away? You’ll be shaking out the good black coat for two more funerals before a fortnight is up. Because you’ll only have to mention your great aunt, and there’ll be tea and sympathy and details of another funeral. You’ve met the person twice, but you go. You hold your breath and wait for the third death. No matter who it is, no matter how tenuous the connection, you make it count. Three. Done now. No more.


It’s no wonder we are obsessed. Everything from fairy tales (Four Little Pigs, anyone?) to interior design (nobody advises arranging things in twos). Such thinking seeps into the pores of everyday life. Until we make the belief a reality. Too deep? Moving on. Where was I?


Things happening in threes. Right. The problem with that theory, is it starts to encompass everything. And it obstructs whatever the hell you’re trying to do. Like writing.


So, let’s get one thing straight. If you’ve a family, you’ll know what weekends are like: a massive black hole. All your plans, sense of order, concentration, odd socks, time itself, are sucked in, never to be seen again. It’s mentally damaging to expect too much. If you do find an hour here or there, it’s a gift. A thing of joy. If you don’t, c’est le weekend.


Mondays are different. Chez nous (that’s all the French I know) the husband goes back to work. The offspring (did I mention there are three?) go back to school and college. In a recent, typical week, Monday stretches ahead, hour after potential hour. I start to write, tucked away at my desk at one end of my kitchen, and during screen breaks, I make the dinner. By mid-morning, the casserole is ready to be cooked. I open the oven door and it falls off, crashing to the tiled floor.

Oh dear, I think. Or words to that effect. Granted, the door’s been wobbly for a while. I’ve had to be gentle with it. Coaxing it into place. But the oven is 20 years old. I take measurements and head to the nearest electrical shop to buy a new one.
“You paying for delivery and installation?” asks the man in the shop.
“Ah no, I thought I’d do that myself.” A beat. “Of course.”


On Tuesday, the new oven arrives. The old one is wheeled out. “Need to clean the floor before the new one goes in,” I say. “Work away,” says the man. I start, then pause, mid-wipe. There is a gulley, running behind the oven, where a water pipe should have been laid, then didn’t fit, and was tacked along the wall instead. And here’s Problem One: the gulley is full of water. We both stare at it. “Leave the new oven exactly where it is,” I say. “I’m phoning a plumber.”
“I think I know what’s wrong,” says the plumber. “I’ll be out tomorrow.”


It’s Wednesday. “Be prepared for the smell,” he says. He opens the outside shore, where previous builders apparently dumped bits of broken pipe and dirt. Add some grease, mix together, and drainage from the kitchen sink and dishwasher have nowhere to go. After he clears it, he pulls out the kickboards under the kitchen cupboards, and I begin three days of cleaning. There’s no permanent damage.


He’s gone when I run the dishwasher and I discover Problem Two. Now the kickboards are out, I realise that as it drains, water gushes all over the floor. I phone the plumber again. He returns, to find the hose on our 20 year old dishwasher has burst.

“We’ll install it,” says the man who sold me the oven. The nice man who installed the oven returns. “How’s the water problem?” he asks. “About to be sorted,” I say. He pops the dishwasher on a test cycle and leaves.


And I discover Problem Three. Now there’s no leaky hose, as the dishwasher drains, the water gushes out the top of the main pipe and soaks the inside of the under-the-sink cupboard.

When I phone the plumber, I can sense his disbelief. “Send me a photo of the pipe,” says he. I do. “Now, put me on speaker phone and I’ll talk you through it.” WHAT? But with lots of guidance, I take apart and unblock the pipe. When I put it all back together, it leaks slightly. “I’ll fix it tomorrow,” he says. Finally, on Friday evening, all is dry.


As I face the weekend, I’m amazed I got any writing done this week. Despite the reassurance of Three, I cannot relate to those Little Pigs. Were my life a fairy tale, I’d be the Shoemaker: the one who never finds time to make new shoes. Paradoxically, I’d also be the helpful elves who sew by night.
Meantime, if anyone needs their u-bend sorted, I’m your woman.


*This column originally appeared in: Women Writers, Women's Books.

Dear reader,

A very warm welcome from Dublin. Please feel free to 
SHARE today's column via the sharing buttons below. 

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.
   1. NEVER MISS my fun, personal column + updates/guest author posts!
   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Winding down for the holiday season? Check out the witty Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type. See sample chapters/buy links @ Tirgearr Publishing

Wherever you are, and whether you celebrate or not, I'd like to wish you a very happy, peaceful Christmas. I'll be back in 2018 with more from This Funny Irish Life.
Hugs,
Sharon. xx

Monday, 13 November 2017

SLEEP: THE FINAL FRONTIER


                      Can't sleep? Reading and a warm drink might help.



AS FIRST WORLD problems go, getting enough sleep probably comes very low down the scale. Especially if you have a house and a comfortable bed.


And until recently, sleeping the whole night was never an issue.


Even when the offspring were babies, I could do all those middle-of-the-night feeds, and slide straight back to sleep. Which is why nobody I'm a bit surprised - annoyed even - that I'm fighting insomnia these days. Or, well...nights.  

In a bid for better sleep, I've asked around. It turns out, everyone has an opinion, a tried-and-tested formula. So, in the best tradition of sharing, here's the Beat The Insomnia check-list.


1. Get up early in the morning. Hard to do, when you've spent half the night awake, but force yourself. As it happens, I already do this. Not by choice, you understand, but because I have to. I'm definitely not a morning person.


2. Avoid coffee. OK, for coffee lovers (and I am one) that sounds like a special sort of torture. Instead, don't drink coffee after 12 noon. Fair warning: never try to engage me in sensible conversation until I've had that first cup. 


3. Exercise every day. I do this a bit: usually walking. I've tried running. Really, I have. I don't want to expand on that topic in a family-friendly blog. 


4. Don't eat late at night. Fair enough, although dinner is a moveable feast in our house. Totally dependent on when people are home/when they're going out/when I remember to start making it.


5. Avoid screens before bed. I'll be honest, I try to avoid looking at a computer or phone after dinner, but I make an exception for TV. My argument is I've been watching the telly for years before bed, and it never made a whit of difference.


6. Have a warm bath. Can I just say that I'd rather run a mile than sit in a tub of rapidly-cooling bath water? Showers were invented for a good reason.


7. Have a warm, milky drink. A bit of a problem if you can only stomach the taste of milk in your Cappucino, but whatever shakes your float.

8. Read before you sleep. Bit of a Catch 22, this one. If you love a book, it's very difficult to put it down. If you hate it, why would you read it? Still, I'll have to start reading the livestock reports. 

9. Take up a relaxing hobby. Slow cooking and yoga have been mentioned. Maybe I could do both at the one time for maximum impact?

10. Don't go to bed until you're tired. Seriously? I could have written this list myself.*

                                                                            *


Dear reader,

A very warm welcome from Dublin. Please feel free to 
SHARE today's column via the sharing buttons below. (And if you have any further tips for beating insomnia, please feel free to comment!)

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.
   1. NEVER MISS my fun, personal column + updates/guest author posts!
   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Check out the witty Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type. See sample chapters/buy links @ Tirgearr Publishing

Hugs,
Sharon.



*And I did. ;)
 

Monday, 16 October 2017

On best laid plans...


Best laid plans? Sometimes life gets in the way



IT ALWAYS HAPPENS. The moment I start to take things for granted, making too many plans, life trips me up.


September hurtles along at whip-lash speed. Weeks racing towards weekends that are so busy, I find myself longing for Monday morning routine.


The last weekend of the month is looking no different. Yet, by early Friday afternoon, I begin to suspect it will be. For me, at least.


The Irish Debs is an excuse for our teenagers to dress up and party

The timing is laughable. The Middle One is invited to a Debs. For anyone not familiar with the term, the Debutante Ball is something we inherited from our English neighbours. Originally, upper class young ladies were 'introduced' to society during a season of formal social engagements.

But the Irish Debs - although still a graduate ball for all school leavers - is an excuse for our teenagers to dress up and party.


I have promised to drive her to The Boy's house early that evening. From there, his parents will take them both to the Debs venue.


I blame the peculiar feeling in my tummy, on the fact that by mid afternoon, there is no sign of her and she is uncontactable. She arrives home from college with barely an hour to spare.


     'Bus didn't come and phone's out of battery,' she says, struggling in and racing upstairs to the shower. I sit, leaning my head against a cool wall, as she begins her transformation.

I pull in, open the car door and vomit all over the road

By the time we hit the road - in rush hour traffic - the peculiar feeling in my tummy has become out-and-out nausea. Unable to speak, I roll down the window and concentrate on breathing.

     'Mum, you look awful.'
I glance at her: long white dress with sparkly bodice, shiny hair, clear, worried eyes.
     'You look great.'

It's all I can manage. We check a map and find The Boy's road. It's her first time here. I pull in, open the car door and vomit all over the road. Sweaty and shaking, I point wordlessly at the glove box.

In a 1 to 10 for first impressions, I probably score a minus 3

The Middle One grabs some tissues and I wipe my mouth, then clean the spatters off the car door. It's not pretty. I find some mints, knowing that I will be OK for a while.

The Boy's mother greets us at the door, and The Middle One introduces herself.
     'Come in.' She smiles at us both. I have a sudden vision of myself throwing up over beautiful wooden floors. I apologise, say goodbye to The Middle One, thank the mother and leave. In a 1 to 10 for first impressions, I probably score a minus 3.

I make it home. Barely. Over the next day and a half, I am vaguely aware of life going on around me. By now, I have a selfish three-way relationship with my bed, a bottle of flat 7-UP and my miniscule en-suite bathroom.

I finally re-emerge, pale, tired, incredibly thirsty and a few pounds lighter. There's always an upside.

In this country, we blame everything on the weather

'It's the weather,' my mother says, when I tell her. 'We need a cold snap: it'll kill all those bugs.' This is followed by a query about everyone else - she's worried it might run through the house.

That won't happen, I think. In another life, my mother would have been a nurse, and I learned from the best. I strip the sheets from the bed and throw them in a hot wash. I sterilise the bathroom. I even remember to sterilise the car door.

In this country, we blame everything on the weather. We're obsessed with it. Everything from frizzy hair to asthma attacks can - with some truth - be pinned on our damp climate. And we had a strange September. Hot, then cold, then mild and drizzly.

Now it's October. Ahead of a storm, we've had a warm, humid weekend. Two days of t-shirts and flip-flops. Sun and dark skies: things feel out of kilter.

Today, the whole country is being hit by Storm Ophelia. Families have stocked up on food, battened down the hatches, schools and colleges all over the country are closed for the day. 

Cold and drizzle? We're Irish, lads. And we know how to manage that.

This is a whole other mess of problems.

                                                      *


Dear reader,

A lovely warm welcome from Dublin. Please feel free to 
SHARE today's column via the sharing buttons below. 

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.
   1. NEVER MISS my fun, personal column + updates/guest author posts!
   2. Your email address will NEVER be shared or misused.
No spamming - I promise.

Check out the witty Irish romantic comedy, Going Against Type. See sample chapters/buy links @ Tirgearr Publishing

Hugs,
Sharon.