Thursday, October 31, 2013

Leather Arse - or how I survived Izal toilet tissue.

Maybe it was only in the Ireland of the fifties, sixties. But OMG! Seriously, OMG! Those Izal toilet rolls were like sandpaper.

I'm sorry to offend anyone's delicate sensibilities. But come on here! How did any of us survive the agony of this sadistic faux-tissue - which had the consistency of heavy duty tracing paper - while scraping our tender backsides?

We are wrecked today, I'm telling you, spoiled, ninnified and sissified with our wimpy Cottonelles and Cashmeres.

You had to be a really tough dude(tte) to withstand the rigours of such a primitive wiping. I would roll and tweak and twist the sheets to soften them. In our house, newspaper was sometimes preferred to the Izal. Newspaper softened when manipulated, unlike the vicious Izal. The only downside was that newspaper clogged the toilet so you had to stuff it up your shirt to conceal it from the parents as you obeyed nature's call.

And oh, did I mention Izal stank? Yes it did. Of Dettol, I think, the disinfectant that stung our cuts and abrasions after we fell.

And it was SHINY. Imagine shiny, hard toilet tissue that stank like Jeye's Fluid and you'll get the picture.

Imagine what it did to our butts.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Risk Taking

Goodbye Cara the caravan

What forms us? What forms me?

Our stories surely. All the little stories of our lives. The bursts of joy, the hell holes of sadness, the reactions to casual cruelties, the love, the hate and all emotions in between. Though some say it's all boiled down to two: Love and Fear.

I write of my own childhood events, the memories so crystal clear. These are what made me with all my flaws, my strengths, my talents. My thirst for knowledge, my passion for language and Irish culture, my obsession with writing. Even my addictions. Whether they are bred in the bone or habituated as a coping mechanism, who's to tell and why speculate as to the origin. Sometimes things just ARE. I live with them. I accept them. I make changes, often kicking and screaming, I make changes. And I chance and risk take.

Over an unexpected lunch with friends in town yesterday we discussed risk-taking. Chance taking. How do we ever know unless we attempt something new - no matter how foolish, no matter how idiotic sounding. This couple take chances. The started several businesses that failed and then struck success with the final business started twenty years ago which they sold last year. This year they head off to Florida for the winter. To try it. And see if they like it.

I take chances - I bought Cara the caravan a few years ago to gypsy my way around the enormous island of Newfoundland, one outport at a time.

The fantasy of this idea came up against cold, hard reality. I've never changed a tire in my life or charged up unliftable batteries overnight or cleaned out a portable toilet system or pumped in potable water to a tank. I was not about to start. I'm simply not that type of pioneer woman.

Cara is leaving me in a few days into the custody and care of a man who does all these things and more and will take manage her. Our lessons are learned in practice and not from lectures. But I never would have known about my own inability if I hadn't taken the chance on her.

Now I do.

No regrets.


Monday, October 28, 2013

One Sunday Morning in Youghal - Part 2 of 2

Some of the family with progeny from that time in Youghal (babies missing presumably with other mothers)

See Part 1 here.

You'll know later why this whole day is so vivid in my head. It's hard to believe today, but the mothers would line up all those pushchairs (strollers and prams) outside the church door so any mewling infants or gurgling toddlers strapped into them wouldn't disturb the holy faithful inside.

Then we all trouped in to the vast, incensed, candle-lit space. The men were all on the left of the church. Us women and boys younger than five? six? sat on the right. My first introduction to segregation of the genders.

The organ thumped, the voices of the choir soared above us, the altar was packed with clergy: monsignors, curates, priests, altar boys, swanning about in lace and damask and gold embroidered vestments. The children on the women's side were restless, holding their whinging selves in, while mothers frowned alarmingly at them, picking the younger ones up and holding them tightly like a strait-jacket if their behaviour looked like it might escalate into an embarrassment.

Toys and entertainment or food were not allowed to distract them. And off-site child pens unheard of. We were in the presence of Holy God and all his angels here below. And you needed to learn young, and fast, that Hell awaited any misbehaviour in His eyes.

All those men crowded fetchingly on the altar of The Lord, crashing their thuribles, loaded with incense, and their aspergills, loaded with holy water to be sprinkled on the unclean. I knew the names of everything. I was one of those “Why” children whom my father indulged. Endlessly. In church, I would recite the long complicated names of everything holy to myself along with their definitions. Today I would be called a geek. It kept me amused through those long bouts of endless Catholic liturgies.

When the ninety minutes were up, the last gospel read, the last blessing in that strange language of Latin bestowed upon all our sinful heads and the last collection taken up by the solemn men of the Holy Confraternity we were free to go. We could hardly wait. All restraint was gone, us children plunged from the church in a mass of arms and legs and whoops, leaving our parents to pull up the rear with some snoring or fretful toddlers in their arms and now rocking the abandoned babies in pushchairs and prams crying outside the church doors.

We raced down the steps of the church, shouting, landing on the footpath, some of us turning to wait for the parents who had promised us ice creams for behaving ourselves in the presence of Holy God who watched us all the time and never got bored.

What did we hear first? The terrible thumps, the screeching of brakes, the screams from the top of the steps, too many screams to count. I turned back to the road. And it was just for a moment but I saw. A pair of legs underneath the front of the car with lace trimmed ankle socks and black patent shoes. And behind the driver's side another pair of legs with grey knee high socks and sturdy boy's oxfords. The legs were very still. The driver's head was on the steering wheel, his hands locked in place on each side. He looked frozen. There was blood, there was lots of blood. On the car, in the road. I felt my own blood leave my head and my legs went weak. A strong arm went around me, a hand covered my eyes.

“Come away, come away now,” my father dragged me off, still covering my eyes. His voice sounded strange, strangled, “ I want you to forget all about this. And remember you have to look both ways before you cross the road. Always.”

Years later, I asked him about it. He was upset I had remembered it. He had tried to protect me. Yes, both children, a brother and sister had died. Apparently they had spotted their grandmother across the road from the church and ran to meet her. They were 12 and 10 years old.

On the previous day, the dead boy had shown my little brother how to do cartwheels on the strand.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

One Sunday Morning in Youghal - Part 1 of 2

Youghal Church

There was a whole pile of us there outside the big church in Youghal. Parents and their children. Many children. I was eight and the eldest. My mother was run ragged from the two younger ones and the baby, I could see it on her face, her tight lips, the notch between her eyebrows that only appeared when she was particularly cross. She rolled her eyes a lot at her sister and her friends, all surrounded by their own children, some crying, some pulling, some just snivelling in anticipation of the hour and a half of torture coming up.

My father was with the menfolk, all off to one side, all smoking Gold Flake and Players. No filters then. You could hardly see the men's heads with all the smoke. I loved to be downwind of this, hearing the strike of the match on the pink sandpaper of the box, the smell of the sulphur, the first expulsion of smoke from my father's mouth. I would breath it in like perfume.

It was an impressive church. About ten wide shallow limestone steps leading up to a large apron in front of the huge main doors which now stood open, waiting for the faithful and the High Mass celebrated at 10 o'clock every Sunday morning.

We had arrived in a series of pony and traps from our rented seaside cottages off to the east of us. Now with that novelty over, all the children were restless.

'Would you hold your brother's hand?' my mother snapped at me. My brother was tumbling cartwheels on the top of the steps. It was a new found skill he had learned on the strand the day before from an older lad. He couldn't stop. One hand down, second hand down, legs in the air wide apart, drop first foot on the ground, then the second, then the hands, he was delighted with himself. He had the envious attention of all the other kids on the top of the steps. Until I raced up and grabbed hold of his hand on one of his downturns and yanked him down the steps and over to my mother. He fought me like the devil, screamed to our mother I was hurting him, I was the meanest sister in the world. Mummy turned on me, told me to: stop whatever I was doing just stop it how was she always telling me to stop it just stop it where was my father he would straighten me out in a hurry.

My oblivious father and his friends carried on smoking, roared laughing, clapped each other on the back chortling about the match they would all be going to on the local hurling pitch later on in the afternoon, their backs to the womenfolk and their childish concerns.

Now as if choreographed, they all crunched their cigarette butts under their brightly polished shoes and doffed their caps and hats as they headed up the steps and into the huge golden cavern of the church.

The mothers struggled and tugged and dragged the pushchairs up the steps of the church, wrangling their other children together in one untidy meandering uncontrollable mess.

At the top of the steps my mother dove into her handbag and threw a bit of black lace on my head.

'There now,” she said, “You're old enough.”

See part 2 here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Writerly Thoughts

I saw this on the web today and related so very well.

I was musing on this and thinking back to yesterday and some good memories, you know how that is, some lovely memories that are spoiled and tainted by subsequent events with the same people. I do this kind of thinking in the car where no one can see me. For sometimes I cry and think how did something so lovely go so very lopsided, how did such happy times become so overshadowed?

Even writing about it later stirs up the same thoughts. And the writing is poorly formed, too emotional. How do others manage damaged memories? Do they allow the scarring to overpower them or compartmentalize it? That is, just remember the goodness in completeness or believe it to be a false front in light of later nastiness or poor behaviours?

Does anyone know what I'm talking about?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Winter's Arrival

Behind me

The cold fingers of winter stir around me. I bank the fire high. And look out the window at the racing blue water, white-capped, while some lingering foolish lupines on the banks of the road bob in the now brisker more serious gusts, reluctant to shed the last vestiges of their summer azure.

Leo hauls down more wood from the lot way over the top of the back hill. The barn is full. We have more than enough, I think securely. Not enough yet, says Leo, you forget we need enough for eight months of stove. Eight months of stove, I think. How comforting the rhythm of those words. How comforting indeed that Leo has the wood management skills that I lack.

For it is here. Every year, and particularly in this past glorious Indian Summer, I think: winter will creep in unnoticed. Before we know it.

Oh, we know it alright.

It has arrived in a sunlit fanfare of multi-coloured leaves flying off the trees and the chilling white foam of the waves pounding noisily on the beach stones.

In front of me

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Continuing Unravelling of the Tapestry

I don't have a picture of her. She was beautiful though. That kind of sexy beauty that can make other women hate you. For the men loved her. I'd yet to meet one in our circle who wasn't reduced to a stuttering mumble when she was around. For if she walked into a room, the rest of us females would be wallpaper. Instantly. It was the voice. The tight jeans. The heels. The way she walked. The way she spoke. The way she laughed, loud, deep-throated, seductive. Did I mention she was blonde? Yeah, that too. With dazzling eyes. Downright gorgeous.

She was caustic. She suffered fools really badly indeed. Did I mention she was funny? She was hysterically funny. And bright. She had her troubles, don't we all. She and I bonded over our estranged daughters. She had one too. Heads together, we commiserated, yanked out some private memories of holding their little baby selves and never quite understanding the pain that would be inflicted in later years.

I think the most attractive side of her was her complete unawareness of how gorgeous she was. Truly. And she liked her women friends.

"How do you do it?" I said to her once when there was a crowd of us around. The men, as usual, hanging off her every word. Her witty, sharp, biting words.

"Do what?" she said, astonished, "Do what? Speak up, do what?"

Captivate, I wanted to say. But didn't. She wouldn't know what I was talking about.

"Laugh for me," she whispered to another dear friend a few days ago, "I can't laugh anymore."

Rest easy, dearest Donna. Your three years of dreadful suffering are over now.

And you were still angry as you left us all here today.

I wouldn't have expected anything less of you.

Acceptance is for sissies.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Old schoolhouse, Sherkin Island, West Cork, Ireland.

Fans Any reader of my blog would know that I am a voracious reader. Not as voracious as some, other tasks/projects/ideas/commitments prevent that. Most of my good friends are readers. Most of my family too, come to think of it. We bond over books. Discuss books. Pass along books, quote to each other from books. My parents were good readers. There were always books in our home growing up. My mother adored Dickens. My father, for years, was a book-of-the-month- club kind of guy, and also regularly hauled home a pile of library books. Then more children appeared and he couldn't find the time, he told me. And teevee. Let's not forget that stranger in the living room. Kicked reading and socializing to the curb. More's the pity. A reading home rears reading children.

But us stubborns cling to the books and the discussions that move around them.

"I'm dying for you to read Wayne Johnston's new one," said my new friend yesterday. We are both fans of Wayne, it turns out. Except for his second to last. We both agreed it was a bit of a let down. Maybe he lost it.

NF couldn't contain herself. She was bursting with it:

"Oh I hated 'The Son of a Certain Woman' (his latest). I want you to read it. I want you to defend it. Prove me wrong."

Now, this is what I love about books. Passion. There's no in-between.

And a quote from my 2013 reading list?

Here it is. It's from "Martin Sloane" by Michael Redhill
P11-12 - "It's only when you're old enough to understand that the past is gone forever that you begin to store your own life."

I know my family and I felt that way this past summer. It was time for just our memories. The past was gone. It was time to open some new files. And we did. And we still talk about it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Putting it Out There.

When I put stuff out there, it nearly always comes back. I'm talking nice stuff. I try not to do nasties to anyone, but sometimes I can be a blithering idiot and hurt people without knowing it, know what I mean. Vestiges of my own insecurities still rearing their butts up to fart in my face. Graphic, sorry. But true. Don't tell me you're perfect? Oh sorry, of course you are. My bad.

So after this massive road race, well massive to me, I wrote this article for the newspaper about how us stragglers are considered a nuisance in these events. All hail is given to the Chosen Few who do 20 miles in 20 minutes. Well, I exaggerate slightly. Water stations get taken down after the Chosen Few have passed and even the roads are returned to the vehicular masses and then us stragglers get shoved on to dangerous, cracked and heaving sidewalks with traffic lights and by now angry motorists who have had to delay their important doings by a couple of hours and view us as handy targets on pedestrian crossings for their rage.

So this Really Important Person contacts me and says, I loved your article, I agree with you and all you said in your article, and hey, let's meet and brainstorm and enlist a whole big gaggle of us oldies/physically challenged, etc., and storm the bloody race next year in FULL GEAR, they don't know who and what they're messing with, right?

Hell, I said meekly, YEAH!!!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Calming Crafting

I sometimes wonder why others don't take up pursuits that would bring them relief from anxiety or sorrow and gift them with diligence, curiosity, utilization of imaginative powers, relaxation, focus, and best of all something tangible to show for it at the end of it all.

The above afghan took me a while. One of those projects I started and shelved and moved on from and moved back to. I'm one who can't sit down and do nothing while gawping vacantly at a screen. I enjoy DVD sets of various top-notch shows, admittedly much later than everyone else who have cable service and derive a "buzz" that is engendered around a successful series during its original broadcast. But I also don't suffer the barrages of advertisements they endure either.

I finished this afghan, pictured above, while watching the second series of "Homeland" one of those truly great shows.

Whenever I see one of my creations in someone's home, I often reflect on what I was doing when making it, what TV series or movies I watched with it, what marathon phone calls attended its making, what gorgeous sunny strand was I banjed off on or what beloved family members' conversations took place around it or what trips and visits it made with me.

This one will be gifted tomorrow, appropriately enough on Canadian Thanksgiving. I have I-corded (a form of 3-dimensional embroidery I kind of invented) the initials of the couple on each end. They've been married 45 years (from their teen years) and are one of those couples that engender warmth, respect and love around each other and those who are lucky enough to be in their circle.

Like me.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Blog Jam

I was immeasurably delighted recently to receive an email from a 90+ year old uncle who has recently embraced the web. I have long wondered as to his whereabouts and distance from our tribe but am overjoyed in this day and age that we can reach out and touch long vanished family members and friends. And so easily.

How wonderful it is that our US neighbours are finally getting what we have long taken for granted here and in many other countries: health care not tied to personal wealth or status. Declaring personal bankruptcy or dying because of the cost of life-saving cancer treatments or surgeries or "pre-existing" conditions is completely unacceptable for any citizen of any so-called civilized country.

My potatoes were harvested by a good friend today (pictured above). My own potatoes. Thrilled doesn't cover it.

Indian Summer continues unabated in this enchanted land out here on the edge of the Atlantic. Smiley faces everywhere and shorts-wearing runners. Oh, yeah.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The world on my table

Olive oil, carrying riches from far away Italy. A little puddle.

Now simmering gold at the bottom of the silver pot.

The spices thrown in: turmeric, garam masala, coriander from India releasing a bouquet so rich, just enough to close the eyes and breathe the fragrant air.

Onions, local, ginger from China, garlic, local, all shredded, kissing the spices briefly before tumbling playfully around with them.

Carrots, local, holding the summer sun pressed tightly along their lengths. Cut in chunks and sent into the playground, now wearing coats of all that has gone before them.

Then the stock, lovingly made with the bones of forgotten roasts a month - maybe two - ago. 5 cups.

Simmering on the wood stove for, it doesn't matter. An hour, two.

Withdrawn then, nose hovering above, catching all these blended magnificences, unique yet now together.

Then the coconut milk. From the Caribbean. Folded in. Softly whisked.

Pureed into a red bowl.

Gently bottled up. Labelled. Dated.

Sunshine from around the world.

Asleep now.

To awaken in the short days of winter.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Elder Project

Now and again I forget I'm an elder. Well actually, most of the time. I truly do. I was discussing my elder project with Grandgirl recently and commiserating with her on some of the truly sad stories I have heard from old people when she said: "Grandma but you are an old person!"

"Well so I am!" I replied, in shock and a kind of awe.

Don't get me wrong.

I truly enjoy being an old person. I'm so very fortunate I have my health in reasonably good array. I don't put all my energies, as so many do, into fighting off the signs, the dyeing of the hair, the belly lifts, the chin tucks, the eye-lifts, the $100 anti-aging creams. Not my style - but Namaste if it is yours. Age must be embraced I feel and not denied. Perhaps all this denial is a fear of death. But it will come, botoxed or not, right? I'd rather you saw the ravages of age on my own deceased corpse. Truly.

"There she goes," you might say, "But hats (purple, please) off to her, she lived every bloody minute of it, didn't she? She's all worn out and not rusted out."

Which brings me to this project I've been given due to the play I wrote which covered the same topic. Elder abuse. I won't be talking to elders about this but to schools and other venues around the province in order to shed more light on this pervasive and heart-wrenching subject.

I've been doing the index card thingie to make sure I cover all aspects of this rampant problem in our society. There are far too many index cards. Physical abuse is the least of it.

And as I was jotting down the aspects of emotional abuse(one of the very worst forms in my opinion) on one of these cards, I realized that I, too, have been a victim of this subtle and insidious form of abuse. Some who were very close to me have withdrawn their affection from me. Without rhyme or reason. And it hurts. Badly. The most recent form being when I reached out yet again and was rebuffed, basically, with if I had behaved myself better they might have phoned me but now they wouldn't.

And I only realized this was abuse when I was preparing the workshop.

I think one of the major problems in elder abuse recognition is either the trauma not being recognised at all, or a mindset of such denial for it is deemed far too appalling to contemplate.

I've just proved my own case.

And I don't like it.

Not one bit.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Tiny Delights

I have a small mirror ball in my dining room that hangs off the wrought iron chandelier.

When I come down early in the morning the sunlight refracts in tiny shards off this ball and drowns the floor, ceiling and all the walls in little sparks of light. It is fairyland. It is magic.

I stop in awe for several minutes.

I say:

"Well, hello Sun! Good morning to you too!"

Thursday, October 03, 2013

This is it.....

“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “Have a nice day” and “Weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?”. Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…”
― Timothy Leary

Yeah, that's me alright. Trying to fit in.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A New Pair of Glasses

Yeah, that's how I'm trying to see life lately.

I've carried this philosophy into my home too. I changed things around yesterday. Old formations of furniture, bits and pieces. I don't have much here, never did. I keep it simple. But sometimes it's not simple enough. So I make it even simpler again.

I've always suffered episodes of free floating anxiety, since I was very small, usually a precursor to depressions that in the old days would cripple me or drag me back to the bottle. And the battle. But I was reading something about different approaches to old themes that keep cropping up again and again in my life, the big one being abandonment. I'm tired of those old violins. I think these sickening old themes are dead and buried but they're not. The smelly corpses protrude up through the soil and give me a death grin. (Graphic. Sorry.)

But I make a gratitude list every single night and it sings those corpses back to sleep.

And sometimes I feel like I'm going mad all alone in an alternative universe. Until people who care about me remind me of who I am.

And I look at the gifts I've been given. And if I forget, or they get stolen, I am reminded.

To reclaim and polish them up.

And put on the new glasses. And keep them handy.