Monday, 9 November 2020

WHY REALITY TV IS THE PERFECT ESCAPE FROM REALITY

 



FOR the first time in my life, I am in love with reality TV. It's been a long time coming, as the idea of watching real people basically being themselves on the small screen, has been around a while.

I clearly remember the first time Big Brother aired (a group of random, publicity-seeking strangers thrown into a house together, encouraged to bitch about each other and be as obnoxous as they liked, before voting out the least popular person every week, until Last Person Standing.)

All this, while sleeping in communal bedrooms and being constantly watched in real time, by millions of viewers. I knew people who would watch for hours as the contestants ate, slept, watched TV (in the Big Brother House), painted their toenails or picked their noses. I thought it was the laziest TV EVER.  

But I am a convert to certain reality TV shows for one simple reason. Almost all reality TV being aired right now, was actually made pre-Covid. Remember that world? The world of meeting people in pubs and restaurants, cinema on a Friday night, theatre and music festivals, busy shops where you didn't have to wear a mask, crowds gathered around buskers on the street. The ordinary stuff we took for granted, but now seems like another lifetime, can be enjoyed in some small way on the small screen, where for an hour at a time, I can pretend that the world is still like that. 

These days, I can't get enough of shows like First Dates Ireland, Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bake-Off. I know people have been watching all this for years - I regularly see Strictly trending on Twitter when it's on - but in my pre-Covid life, I'd trawl the channels for a good movie. The last thing I wanted was a reality show, I reckoned I had enough of my own reality. What I wanted was escapism. 

Now, when I'm watching a couple of strangers meet for their blind date meal, I feel like Will Smith in I Am Legend, where every evening he watches recorded news shows, from before the rest of the world was wiped out by a virus, leaving him all alone. It sounds a tad melodramatic, but you get the idea.   

At a time when our country is in Lockdown, I watch in envy as couples - dressed up for an evening out - meet at the bar for their pre-dinner drink and actually kiss or hug in greeting. I hang on their every word as they're served beautiful plates of sculpted food: little heart-shaped molds of potato, morsels of meat and wonderful vignettes of vegetables, all decorated with drizzles of sauces. Yes, I know, the food looks AMAZING. Why the hell wouldn't it look amazing, when I haven't been to a restaurant since I-can't-rmember-when? 

But what's even more amazing is that they're doing stuff we long took for granted. These complete strangers don't just share face to face conversation in beautiful surroundings, they share food! From one plate to another! I am green with jealousy, and at the same time I'm DELIGHTED for them. I laugh at their jokes, I silently will them to like each other, so that there'll be a second date. By the end of the meal, I am so invested in these lovely people, that when they speak to the interviewer, I am DEVESTATED if they confess there was no spark. 

Strictly Come Dancing is a whole other delight. I get why it's so popular. Viewers love the dancing and the music, the fabulous costumes and the chance to vote for their favourite couple. It's fun and vibrant and bursting with energy. Mainly, it's the complete opposite to most people's lives right now. 

During the week I found myself watching The Great British Bake-Off. I don't know what year it was made, but it was in the middle of a heatwave and in the Bake-Off tent, they were having a back-to-the-80s theme. I watched in awe as six talented amateur bakers, made 80s-themed icecream cakes - from scratch - while wearing cold-water-soaked cloths around their necks in a bid to stay cool. 

The crazy thing is, I don't particularly like baking. I tend to leave it to my very capable kids. If - again, pre-Covid, pre-Lockdown days - we were having a dinner party, friends knew I'd far rather an offer of dessert, than flowers or wine.

But I find I can't tear myself away from programmes where people come together, in a big white tent during the Summer, to do something as uplifitng as making a gorgeous cake. That's why I'm so drawn to it. During these awful, weird, worrying times, it's uplifting. It's hopeful. It's a promise that one day, soonish, things will be normal again. 


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Hello there. I hope you're keeping well and managing to stay relatively sane at this time. Thanks so much for reading today's column, I appreciate it MASSIVELY. I'd love if you shared it (the sharing buttons are just below!!)  

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Sharon. xx
 

Monday, 12 October 2020

LIVING OUR LIVES INSIDE OUT





A COUPLE of weeks back I made the bold prediction that this Winter in Ireland, fashion would be all about the coat. 

Obviously, I know that every Winter is about the coat. Most of us have cold Winters. Here in Ireland, our Winter months also tend to be quite wet. Which makes a decent coat or jacket less of a fashion statement, and more of a necessity. 

But for those not familiar with how we're dealing with Covid in Ireland, I'll breifly fill you in. Right now, we're in what the government calls Level 3. I won't bore anyone with the exact details (in fact, I'd probably have to go and look them up) but it's basically life half way between Level 1, where things are so close to normal, you'd hardly know there was anything strange happening, and Level 5 which means the whole country is in lockdown. 

So, schools remain open, most college students are studying online from home (except for practical work), shops are doing a bit of careful business and restaurants and cafes are allowed to do takeaways and outdoor coffees and dining. 

Have you ever seen outdoor dining in Ireland? It's a bit like year round swimming in the Irish sea or the Atlantic ocean, depending on which side of the country you live. Grand in the Summer - I'd stretch to lovely if we get a heatwave - but a test of everything that makes you Irish when the weather turns against you.  

Hollywood star Matt Damon was a regular swimmer in Dalkey on the east coast of Dublin while he found himself stuck here during lockdown earlier this year (and speaking as a Dubliner, there are far worse places to be locked-down) but he'd have to dig deep down to plunge into the Irish sea in the middle of December. Then again, the guy single-handedly made it back from Mars, so maybe it wouldn't pose a problem. 

During the day, temperatures at this time of the year float anywhere between 9 and 15 degrees celcius so a few rays of Autumn sun is enough to send us all out to pavement cafes. But on two days last week, while the tail end of a storm threatened to overturn the patio furniture, I passed a couple of places where those far hardier than me, hunched under battered umbrellas and chatted over  rain-soaked coffee cups.  

Which brings me back to outdoor dining. The real thing: at night.The kind of thing you see all the time in the Summer all around Europe, in countries that boast Mediteranean Lifestyles. And while we're both proudly Irish and proudly European on our little island, it's important to rememember that we are in fact a rather attractive rock in the Atlantic ocean, and we've never really done the outdoor dining thing. So it's fascinating to see it suddenly become a thing. And to see how we embrace it.  

As Autumn turns to Winter, I reckon year round sea swimmers might have a bit of an advantage, because they're hardier than the rest of us, who genuinely think that submerging yourself in water during the freezing winter months should involve a hot bath, low lights and a glass of wine.  

For the hot bath and glass of wine types amongst us, the more innovative cafes and restaurants aren't simply arranging tables on the pavements or setting out picnic benches in the carparks. They're investing in awnings and patio heaters, and as the colder nights close in, we'll brave outdoor versions of our favourite eateries, where waiters serve blankets and hot water bottles along with food and drink.  

The upside of all this, will be that choosing what to wear, will be all about deciding how to be warm, as opposed to trying to figure out niceties like casual, smart-casual and dammit-I've-put-on-weight-since-I-last-wore-this-fecken-dress. 

In fact, I'd go as far as to say that you could probably meet a friend for coffee or a couple of mates for dinner, wearing your pyjama top and nobody would ever know. All people will see this Winter is the long, warm coat or cool puffa jacket, the snug boots, the hat and scarf and stylish gloves.

And I will make one more prediction for the coming months. Whisper it (or shout it from those picnic benches): thermal underwear will be a thing. The Canadians and Scandinavians made it cool years ago. Go on, embrace it. Mine's on order. ;) 


                                                        *


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Monday, 14 September 2020

SEASONS OF MISTS AND DREADED FRUITFULNESS




THE OLD APPLE TREE in our little garden fruited early this year. Early and generously. The boughs are literally dropping to the ground with the weight of the apples. And also because the tree hasn't been pruned in 10 years. In fact, the branches are so low, I have to remember to duck when I'm cutting the grass. But I digress. 

Where was I? The apples: slightly sharp, green and blush in colour. They started appearing sometime during the late Summer although I can't remember precisely when. But we started picking them in early August. Each day since, the apples have grown and ripened. As I write, we have three massive bowlfuls on the kitchen counter. 

The only reason I dutifully fill these bowls with as many apples as I can reach, and even check the grass daily for perfect (non-wormy, non-bird-eaten) windfall, is because of a deep-rooted guilt. Imagine the absolute WASTE if I left them to fall and rot, or stay on the tree and rot, or whatever they'd do if we didn't collect them. 

A part of me - and I HATE myself for having to admit this - absolutely wishes our apple tree wasn't quite so bountiful. I know that's probably a sin or something. At the very least, a crime against nature. Even if it's all in my mind. 

But every time I haul out the ladder to unburden the branches, I wonder what on earth I'm going to do with all this fruit. I've offered it to a few family members, of course. They've turned me down. There's various reasons for that, and I won't take it personally. One person likes a certain type of apple, and sources it from a particular shop. Another doesn't eat apples. 

I had considered offering the apples to some of the neighbours, but because our houses were all built in the early 1930s, on land formerly owned by a large estate, lots of people have similar trees in their gardens, which were once all part of the same orchard. 

'Make compot', one of my brothers suggested. Excellent idea, I thought, as I wondered which of my offspring I could persuade to peel and slice all those apples into a pot. Then I wondered how much room I'd have in my freezer for it. 

And I wondered too if I'd use it. Or if, in six months' time when I suddenly needed the room in my freezer for another packet of frozen peas (which I actually use), would I be tempted to throw it out?

I just said tempted, OK? I'm not saying for one minute that it's a certainty. Just, I need to figure out if it's worth all the fuss. Because the thing is, I'm not terribly interested in baking. Unlike loads of people I know, it doesn't relax me. In fact, it tends to make me quite stressed. All that weighing and rolling and folding. It's like pilates, only with weight gain rather than weight loss at the end. 

Also, and this is an important factor, with the exception of the men in our family (all two of them), nobody eats crumbles or tarts. And the only time I eat stewed apple, is if I make a small amount of compot to accompany pork. None of the rest of my family is interested in baking with apples, either. If, on the other hand, we had a tree that produced chocolate chips, it would spark a small land war.   

Meanwhile, the four tomato plants that we threw down in hastily assembled compost trays on the patio, are ripening at a pace I can manage. Tomatoes don't trigger the same love/hate feelings in our kitchen. They're a lot more versatile. And when we have a glut (which has happened), there's always lasagne.

Nor does it matter that we don't grow them from seed. When I pluck those tomatos off the vine and throw them into a salad, I am, in my own head SINGLE-HANDEDLY SAVING THE PLANET.  

Which isn't an admission of smugness. Because obviously, I understand that I am completely deluded. That said, if I ever manage to grow a full, fruiting tomato plant FROM SEED, I will be unbearably smug. You have been warned. 

Which brings me back to my feelings of guilt about the apple tree. It has stood in our garden for who knows how long? It is older than our house. I imagine the people who lived here decades ago, and their delight every Autumn when the apple tree fruited. They'd probably prepare to store some of the apples for the winter, and turn the rest into tarts and crumbles and apple jam. No doubt there'd be whole days set aside for jam making. 

When we first moved to our home over 25 years ago, I loved that we had an apple tree in the garden. In my mind, our children and I would count down the days until we could pick the apples. Together, we would make our crumbles and our own secret-recipe jam. It was probably in the same fantasy as planting our whole front lawn as a wildflower garden and growing so many vegetables in the back, that I'd never have to buy any. 

In the end, reader, I managed the wildflower garden. I'll have to be content with one out of three. If anyone who knows me personally, happens to be reading this and fancies some organic apples, let me know.  


                                                                                 *

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Monday, 17 August 2020

HOME-MOVIE MEMORIES



WE DIDN'T get a holiday this Summer. It's not a big deal, as we've been lucky enough to get a family holiday every year since The Eldest was just a baby. As going abroad wasn't on the cards during a pandemic, we did briefly toy with the idea of holidaying in Ireland - and it got me thinking of my own Irish holidays when I was a child. 

There's one aspect of those holidays that live on in the shape of old home-movie footage: my dad’s beautifully shot 16 millimetre films. In particular, one from a very early childhood holiday.  

Because long before anyone could make instant videos on YouTube or Tic Toc, a small amount of amateur film makers, documented an Ireland my own children can hardly imagine. And it was in the Summer of 1974 that Paul Black made a name for himself in a small corner of West Cork.   


That was the second Summer my parents and my uncle and aunt, rented one half of a farmhouse in the picture-perfect village of Rosscarbery, for a fortnight’s holiday. The big Georgian house was home to a farming couple and their five children, who were relaxed and welcoming. Our holiday was simple: we were either at the beach or on the farm. The days were endless, our freedom unchecked.

We didn’t care that for the second year running, my dad carted around a tripod and heavy recording equipment, checking the light or reminding us not to wave at the camera. We had no interest in it. We had sandcastles to build, new born chicks to discover, fields to run through.

I can honestly say that none of us gave it a second thought until the evening my dad invited everyone, including our hosts, to view a film he had shot and edited the previous year, on our first family holiday in the small town by the shallow estuary. In the grand old living room, with its high ceiling and wooden sash windows, he and my uncle Ken erected a makeshift screen from a white bed sheet.

We assembled after dinner, the adults settling into the sofas and armchairs, the farm children and we Dublin kids sprawling on the rugs in front. All of us unsure what to expect. As the curtains were pulled tightly across the windows and the lights turned out, an excited hush fell. And then the first image flickered onto the makeshift screen: an opening shot of Rosscarbery bay, the camera pulling back to reveal a panoramic view.

It quickly became clear that this was far more than a simple home movie. In fact, it wasn’t a home movie in the traditional sense, as the film-maker's own family hardly featured in it. The 20 minute film, which was carefully shot and edited, set to music and narrated by its producer, was an homage to the West Cork town, its people and their way of life.  

My dad had captured footage of our hosts’ old fashioned mixed farm. He had also filmed farmers from miles around, bringing their milk in urns on tractors to the local creamery. All of it was interspersed with the scenery of the surrounding bay and countryside and a narrated history of the area.

As familiar faces from all over the town and surrounding county appeared on screen, our host family sent up a cheer of recognition and another warm round of applause. Afterwards, the farmer came over to my dad and shook his hand.
      “There’s just one thing now I’d like you to do,” said he. “Show it again tomorrow night. I want to invite one or two relatives to come see it.”
My proud Dublin dad readily agreed.

The following evening, he and my uncle made their usual visit to the local hotel for a couple of pints before returning to the house for tea. By that stage, the word was out. As they left, most of the farmers drinking in the hotel bar left with them.

By the time they reached the house, the long driveway was filled with people arriving for the show. Inside it was standing room only. As a very young child, my only memories of that warm Summer night were the good-natured shouts as people saw themselves, perhaps for the first time on a big screen, cheers and thunderous applause when the film ended.

My dad was asked to show his film twice more on our holiday that year. Once was in the local hotel, where the owner poured free drinks for him and uncle Ken all night. The other time was at the local convent. The Sisters had caught wind of it, and my dad was summoned to let them see it too.  

We holidayed in Rosscarbery for four more years, and each year my dad recorded more, weaving the new footage into the original film. Despite being very young, it was that second year I remember best.

Two years ago, my dad suffered the first of two devastating strokes, which have left him unable to speak, read or write, paint or play piano. Those lovingly-made amateur films are something we will always treasure. They were his moments of movie-maker fame.  

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Please drop your comments you in the box below on this week's blog. (Comments are moderated, so they won't appear immediately! Your email address won't appear at all. πŸ’š)

Please share today's column and thank you so much for reading, I appreciate it MASSIVELY. 
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Sharon. xx

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.

                                                      *


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

Monday, 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’.

                                                             *

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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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Sharon. xx

Monday, 27 April 2020

WHATSUPP: CAN YOU FEEL THE VIRTUAL HUGS?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                           *



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

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

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


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