Category Archives: happiness

The Bernie Chairs

 

The pair of Queen Anne peacock covered chairs sat absurdly in a room for years that held no truck with frivolities. It was a spartan room with no embellishments, and the corniced ceiling and large window contributed to the chill that was always present in this mostly unused room in my mother in laws house. The peacock chairs were the most colourful and exotic items in it.

The chairs arrived in Bernie’s house after her sister Mary died. Bernie had enough chairs already, but she had lived through the Second World War. She had learned from an early age the value of everything, and didn’t dispose of things that were useful and functional. Her early life of frugality shaped her into the no nonsense woman that she later became. I loved her dearly.

The chairs had been purchased in Arnott’s department store in Dublin sometime during the 1940’s after Mary had married and moved to Monkstown. Arnott’s was an upmarket store. Their furniture and carpets were expensive and out of the reach of many people, so to say ‘I bought it in Arnott’s’ immediately elevated you into a particular class. It had cachet. This was important to Mary who had married Vernon, a business man with prospects, and who had moved to an affluent area of Dublin, far away from her upbringing in County Limerick. Arnott’s also had a ‘hire/purchase plan’ where you could pay for goods over a period of months or years, with added interest – but the neighbours didn’t need to know that.

The interior of Mary’s house was extravagant, filled with fine furniture and carpets when I visited in the early 1980’s. In contrast, her sister Bernie’s Terenure home was comfortable, but was spartan and frugal. It reflected the simple country woman that she was. She was completely unlike her sister Mary who loved fancy things. Bernie had also quietly bought her carpets in Arnott’s when she moved to Dublin during the late 50’s. She paid cash up front for quality and longevity. She was never interested in the latest fad or fashion. Her husband was a civil servant in the department of justice. Not as exciting or as fancy as a business man. She never compared her life to others and she envied no one.

According to Bernie, her sisters ‘Arnott’s’ chairs were upholstered several times over the years as Mary loved to follow fashion, and by the time they arrived in her house shortly after Mary’s death when her possessions were distributed amongst her family, they were covered in a garish cherry red silk fabric with purple peacocks in the background that was evidently expensive, but in my opinion was seriously vomit inducing.

These chairs sat unsurprisingly unloved in that room in Bernie’s house for a long time. They were never to be thrown out though, despite their overcrowding a room that already held plenty of chairs as they were ‘quality’ and were still functional.

Years later, in my own home I began to feel seriously unwelcome in my living room by my then teen aged children and their never ending stream of pals, who would happily gather on sofas, drop their coats, bags and books all over the room, empty the fridge, and claim ownership over the only TV in our house. In order to avoid conflict, I decided to convert an unused upstairs room and create a den for myself where I could simply escape to.

Junk was cleared out, walls were painted, and new curtains were hung. It was lovely, but the cost of a new sofa was beyond my budget at the time.

One Sunday afternoon while having lunch with Bernie, I mentioned my new escape room plan while lamenting my lack of finance for the desired new sofa. Bernie immediately offered me Mary’s ‘peacock’ chairs deciding that they would be perfect for my new room.

I was horrified, and desperately tried to wriggle out of accepting them. It didn’t work, and a week later the chairs arrived via a laughing brother in law who was openly delighted l that I had inherited the horrible chairs.

Dismayed, I looked at them and wondered how anyone had ever sat on them without feeling nauseous.  I phoned a local upholstery service the day they arrived.

The chairs were removed and the upholsterer later telephoned and told me that they were the oldest chairs that he had ever worked with as they still had actual horse hair in their seat cushions. He offered to buy them from me, as he told me that they were of exceptional quality. I declined his offer as I could never sell the gift that Bernie had so kindly given. The cost of re-covering them was also hugely below the cost of a new sofa.

They arrived back re-upholstered in a lovely cream coloured chenille fabric that complimented their handsome Queen Anne shape, and they subsequently lived a long life in my den. They have moved over the intervening years, and Bernie enjoyed sitting in them in various spots around the house, shouting at Munster rugby matches on TV, having her tea served on a tray, or simply dozing with a blanket over her knees.

She died four years ago in her 94th year.

People who come to visit my home remark on these lovely chairs all the time. They are positioned in a small nook, bathed in natural light that lends itself to reflection or reading. I have had the merriest of day dreams sitting and reading in them. I have cried and laughed in them, and I am so glad that I own these two lovely chairs that are a historic nod to my husband’s past, but are very much part of our present life.

Everyone in my family simply refer to them as ‘The Bernie Chairs’

 

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Life in a goldfish bowl

 

Living life in a goldfish bowl you are contained in a very small space. This can be a good thing as you can feel protected from influences outside the bowl. As a metaphor for life though, it’s a wakeup call (for me), as life in the goldfish bowl also inures you against the wonders and challenges that occur in the world outside the bowl.

If you were accustomed to living in the ocean for years, you developed strategies that protected you against predators and danger. Your survival skills were at the ready and you were always prepared to protect, react, and survive. Life outside the bowl also taught you how to communicate and help others who assisted you in being a member of the community of swimmers who were part of the greater ocean and who faced the daily challenge together and collectively.

By my own admission I retreated into a goldfish bowl. Loss and inertia overtook me and I retreated into a small and lovely goldfish bowl. I have inhabited it for five years now.

It’s easy to delude yourself into believing that you are living a life inside your gilded goldfish bowl, because there are no challenges. Life just goes on with the same beautiful plants and landscapes that are always lovely and unchanging, but I am slowly dying of boredom and stupor.

Terrifyingly I am attempting to crawl up the sides of my bowl and cast myself back into the ocean. I am older, slower, and not as vigorous as I once was, but I believe that with a bit of support from the greater swimmers out there, I will make it.

The Presidents Daffodils.

My Mother was a ‘townie’ (inner city child) in her day. She spent her early years in Manor Street just off Aaron Quay in Dublin, and she had a pal from school whose mother worked as part of the domestic kitchen staff in Arás an Uachtaráin (house/home of the President of Ireland) which was located, and still is in the Phoenix Park which is one of the largest enclosed parks in Europe.

Kids had wonderful freedom back in those days, and as a youngster my mam cycled everywhere. She told a great story about a day when she cycled up during the holidays to play with her friend in the Arás. These two small girls were in the garden when the President came out to walk. He asked my mother if she liked flowers, and when she replied that she did, he plucked several daffodils which were in bloom and told her to bring them home to her mother and to say that they were a gift from him. My mam popped them into the basket on her bike and headed home. At the gates of the Park, one of the gate keepers stopped her and asked her where she had gotten the flowers. She truthfully answered that the President had given them to her. He didn’t believe her and threatened her with the police for stealing flowers from the park. After lots of tears he finally let her off to cycle home the short distance to Manor Street and to give her mam the flowers. Every Spring when I see daffodils growing in the lands throughout the Phoenix Park I am reminded of my mam and her lovely story. How sweet of the then President, Douglas Hyde to send flowers from his garden to my grandmother.  

Sink or Swim

As we go through life we encounter many obstacles. We stumble over them, we navigate around them, and we plough on forward. It’s a one way street. Reflecting back on my life, I recognise that there have been many boulders along my path, and I know that I have steered my ship through many stormy seas.

Like many others I didn’t get a life raft and I had to learn to swim with sharks in order to survive. (forgive the overuse of metaphors in this piece of writing).

I realise that many of the blocks in my lifetime have been caused by people, their actions and reactions, their opinions and their viewpoints.. When you are trying to muddle your way out of a situation that largely affects you and only you, the decision to sink or swim is down to your own desire for survival.

In my late teens, the transition from being a single girl about town to being in a relationship was a new adventure for me. It suddenly wasn’t just all about me and my own endurance. Amazingly I was thrust into being the other half of a ‘couple’. Thinking and acting as one as we ventured forth into marriage and a grown up life where problems were shared instead of having to go it alone.

As a parent, passing on wisdom to my children was part of the job that I signed up to on giving birth. At times information and advice was well received, and at other times it was scorned and ridiculed. It’s always difficult to find a balance, and I understood (but not always liked) this awkward conundrum between parents and their offspring.

Like many others I’m sure, I have a passionate and overwhelming love for my now adult children, and I have attempted to protect them throughout their lives. Sometimes I have been over zealous and controlling (when they were teens) and other times I have been ill informed about particular circumstances and defended them when I should have taken a step back and listened to others. In my defence, I usually reacted about what I perceived was unjust behaviour and acted upon it even when it turned out that my offspring were at fault. Like me, they have flaws and are imperfect.

Time has moved on, and my children are now fully grown and are on their own pathways through life. They are in charge of their own vessels and have had to learn to steer through life for themselves. Their dad and I are fully present in their lives, and I know that we are a supporting influence in matters of importance.

Our family is very small. At its heart, there are two parents, and two kids. We fight, argue, listen and love. As parents we have opinions on every element of their lives that we are included in, and this can produce huge discussions (where no one agrees) sulks, laughter, gaiety and tears.

They are both so different. My daughter is a listener, pragmatic, very kind, clear thinking, thoughtful and sensible (like her dad). My son is an action man, an organiser, flamboyant, caring, generous, kind and thoughtful. Their very individual characteristics are acknowledged and celebrated all the time. In this wonderful small life, we have all learned to love and appreciate, and to fully support each other no matter what else is happening.

We have recently had the most horrendous eighteen months with the most difficult circumstances that has affected us all as a family, but that has impacted on my son Andy most of all.

We have all been tested. Truth, honesty, faith in human kindness, our belief and trust in each other, and how we view those who looked at us, have been held under a microscope where strangers have gazed and judged.

As a person who has minutely examined and reflected on the response of people who live in close proximity to me and my family throughout my whole life, some of the reactions have been disappointing.

Despite my belief that friendship and loyalty are qualities to be treasured and nurtured, I am unsurprised by some peoples responses, but sadly my family have been. That’s not to say that I’ve not been shocked by others reactions, I have been and they have changed me and how I view them.

Sincerity is something that carries huge value for me, as does integrity and truth.

Blind trust these days is rarely asked, but if there is a foundation of honesty, I believe that it’s easier to make the choice between belief and doubt, and sometimes people have to make the difficult decision about which side to fall on. Truth versus innuendo/ belief versus gossip/ honesty versus lies.

Having had no life raft during the past eighteen months, it’s been sometimes difficult to keep our heads above water. As a family we paddled persistently to avoid drowning and helped each other constantly as we threatened to slip under.

Thankfully and happily things have changed. Perspectives are altered, new goals have been achieved, and future prospects are looking more positive.

To the wonderful, nurturing, trusting people in my life who I treasure beyond measure, thank you for providing support based on the person that you know, trust and love. From the deepest place inside myself I am grateful. The hope and empathy that you have given us during our darkest days as a family, has steered us through the roughest toughest seas that I have ever encountered in my lifetime.

We are navigating towards blue skies and calmer waters ahead, and we will not sink, we will swim. As a family, we will survive.

Destiny is realising that anchors are the people who stabilise us when we are lost at sea without a compass.

Capturing life… 

Sometimes there are pockets of loveliness in our days that remind us that life can be very special. There are also times that we can focus too much on the negative instead of reinforcing the positive. (I think there are song lyrics from the 50’s that echo this). It’s up to all of us to remember and to recount to others when things are good and to lay down these memories in our personal life archive.

I don’t know if it’s human nature to remember the bad stuff and to have difficulty remembering the good stuff, but this is the way that it can be for me. Tell me a sad story and I have one of equal sorrow and angst. But tell me something great, and I struggle to match it. Maybe it’s the inherent Irishness in me that finds it easier to recount a sad story, because as a people we don’t like to be boastful and full of ourselves. I have no clue, but know that alongside many others, I have dark personal tales that could curl your hair.

I also have wild and beautiful tales that could render you speechless. I tend to write less about these and have somehow consigned them to a past that I don’t boast about. Not that I was ever a winner of the Rose of Tralee or anything fabulous like that, but just other good stories have been censored and chopped from my life narrative. Archived with no code. Filed away with no yellow post-it.

My thoughts tonight are a promise to myself to try to enjoy and to capture the moments that are good for me and to simply jot them down, ensuring that they will not be consigned to an unsignposted archive. All life will end, and my own special moments will be relegated to a past that someone else might eventually read about. If my words capture how I felt at the moment that the events happened, perhaps they will light up those seconds when they are being read in the future. I have no clue if this will ever happen.

Tonight I was sitting outside a bar in the west of Ireland, having a cigarette, listening to the wonderful boom of the surf on the rocks. It was a constant noise. The barman came out and asked if I was ok. I replied that I was grand, and that I was just enjoying the sound. He asked what was I listening to as he could hear nothing. He is a local, and the music of the waves on the shore are as normal to him as the usual night time sounds of traffic on the motorway in Dublin is to me. Familiarity means that we can sometimes no longer hear the background sounds to our own lives. When I told him I was loving the sound of the waves, he cocked his head and listened. He then bustled about and made some off hand remark about the beach and the recent damage caused by storms, but really didn’t understand my pleasure in listening to the sound that is so normal to him yet so special to me.

Later on back in my room I was having a sneaky puff of a cigarette out the window. All hotel rooms in Ireland are now non smoking and one has to go outside the hotel to smoke, or puff out the window which is still against the rules yet is what I was doing. Anyway there I was, puffing away, facing the Atlantic Ocean, freezing my face off, listening to the sound of the surf, and watching huge stormy waves chase each other up the shore under a moonlit Irish sky, creating a cove of whiteness as bright as the suds in a washing machine. I was thinking that this was a truly special time. I was away with my hubby who was asleep in the bed near me, we had had a lovely couple of days relaxing and enjoying ourselves, and here we were, the two of us, juxtaposed in a small hotel in the west of Ireland, really appreciating a different background sound and rhythm to our normal life which is one lived contentedly, albeit next to a busy, noisy motorway in Dublin.

It was a memorable moment. I couldn’t take a picture to share on social media with all my family and friends as it was too dark, so I decided to write about it instead. I will re read this entry and remember this lovely night and the way that I felt. That is what archiving good memories is all about.

Destiny can be about really appreciating the actual moment that we are living in and not waiting for another one in a future that may never happen.

Family.

No one in life is born in a vacuum. No one is born who is unrelated to others. Some people are unlucky by birth and are attached through blood to people who cause them harm by abandonment, hurt, abuse, neglect, cruelty and/or shame. Others are luckier. They grow in an extended family that nurture, love, support and care. The roll of the dice is so arbitrary, and I often reflect on how wonderfully they tumbled for me.

My younger life has been documented to some degree in the stories that I have already written. The family that I was born into have been present throughout that time. I have had Parents, Grand Parents, Uncles, Aunts and Cousins who I have always known and loved. They were all there during the course of my life, and no one was estranged or apart. How fortunate I am. How lucky I have been to know and love all of these special people that are my kin, my blood, my heritage.

My maternal grandmother, ‘Sis Furlong’ had seven children. Two sets of twins and three other children. Monnie (my mam), Paddy, Elizabeth (BiBi) & Philip, Leo, Paul & Pauline. My Aunt BiBi and Uncle Phil recently celebrated their 80th birthday. They are the first set of twins and Paul & Pauline are the second.

BiBi & Phil decided to have parties for their birthday, and invitations were sent out to family and friends from all around the world to come and celebrate with them.

So recently as a clan on two different nights, in two different venues, we gathered and we celebrated. We talked, we danced, we laughed, we cried, we drank, we sang and we rejoiced being a family that is confidently and lovingly connected despite the ages and geographical distance that lies between some of us.

I watched a beautiful montage of family photos set to music, of my lovely Aunt and Uncle when they were younger. It documented their lives, their loves and their happiness. I cried watching my lovely Uncle Leo and my Mam no longer with us, but who were remembered with such love and great affection by all who were watching. I laughed, hugged and cried with some of my cousins who I hadn’t seen for quite a while, but yet we all slipped effortlessly into that wonderful comfortable place where being part of a large loving family was the biggest thing that was happening alongside the birthday celebrations. It was hard to tear myself away and to say good night.

My Aunts and Uncles have created a fantastic dynasty and there were so many cousins and their spouses present over the party days. My cousins, who I grew up with, now have their own partners and adult children who are also part of this great and extended family.

Marrying or joining a clan like this must have been daunting, but hats off to everyone who was brave enough, because everyone who did so has added to the beauty and texture that make it so very special. My cousin’s partners, husbands and wives have all become my beloved relations who I absolutely adore, and are as much a part of my kin as my own children are.

I’ve missed my mam so much over the past two years, and no one will ever replace her, but I was down in BiBi’s for lunch just before the parties started and was out in the porch having a sneaky fag with my Aunty Pauline (Monnie’s younger sister) when she chuckled and threw some remark my way. Tears sprung into my eyes, because it was like having Mam back in that moment. Mannerisms and family sayings are so unique and are absolute identifiers of kin. I looked at her and could see my mother in her eyes, her smile and her chuckle and was so very glad to be there beside her.

I truly appreciate and love all the people in my family. They are a part of my bloodline and heritage. They are my kin. I feel it instinctively, and would do my utmost in a heartbeat to answer a call of distress from any one of them to be there if I was needed. Mam was at the centre of this family and although she is no longer here, I love that her people continue to love me and include me in their family meals and get together’s. I feel privileged to be included in cousin family gatherings as I have been so much recently, and I humbly acknowledge that I am so very fortunate having such special warm and loving people to call my own. I really hope that my kids realise what a cracking family that they belong to.

Destiny can be about gazing back into an older life with the fervent hope that its values and tradition continue into the future.

Riding on the shirt tails of my sister…..  

As people I believe that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, including the gifts that we bring to the table of life. Some we are born with, and others we cultivate as we grow and mature as adults. I have often wondered is humour and wit inherent or do we learn it? I know that I practiced being funny as a child in order to be liked and included.

Growing up in a large extended family there were always lots of social occasions with siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. As children we were expected to get along with our many cousins and I think that we did most of the time. We gathered in packs at particular family events throughout the year, and while the adults partied, the cousins did so too in different ways. Looking back I believe that it was actually a training ground for me in how to move comfortably within my extended family and how to perform in a particular way.

I was an overweight child/teenager and I learned to hide my true self or to make funny rejoinders about ‘fat’ people in order to deflect any hurt that I might have felt if a disparaging joke was made. Humour was harsh and critical back then with none of the political correctness that is so prevalent today. I was the family clown.

I had a very well developed personality that people commented on. I was considered outgoing and full of life and laughter. I didn’t appear shy, and I functioned really well at all these family gatherings.

As I became an adult I had good friends and enjoyed socialising, conversation, and the general banter that carried me through job interviews, friendships, relationships and eventually meeting my husband, marriage and children.

My sister Annie was ten years younger than I was. I doted on her as a child and there are hundreds of stories as to how we were as sisters growing up. She was also part of that extended family training ground, although times had changed subtly by the time she became a part of it socially.  We became close friends as adults when I moved back to Dublin in my 30’s (married with kids) and Annie was in her 20’s.

We began to socialise and to mesh our pals. We went out. We hung around with each other and spent a lot of time together. She was still living at home with our mam, but spent a lot of time with me and my family in Lucan. She liked hanging out with us.

She was so witty and very very funny. She simply sparkled. We laughed a lot, yet we had serious in depth conversations about countless things, and I trusted her completely with all of my secrets. There was a beautiful lightness and frivolity to our relationship that I recognised and loved. It was always present. She was inherently humorous and had a sharp wit just like my mother’s.

My children adored her. She was the ‘Cool Aunty’ when they were teenagers, and I clearly remember my daughter Jayne, sitting on the bathroom floor gazing up at her as she swept her blusher brush across her cheekbones before we went out one night. I didn’t use makeup, so my daughter learned this skill from her.

I also remember the time my son Andy ‘came out’ and told us that he was gay. Annie was so supportive and cracked on about how the two of them would ‘go on the pull together’ chasing men all over Dublin. And they did.

She spent a lot of time with us, and was here at the end of nights, at the beginning of mornings, mid afternoons and evenings. She sat and joked, giggled and provided fun, humour, merriment and a general lightness of being that we all basked in.

When she married Mark, had Alex and moved to Lucan, she was even more present in our daily lives.

Of course she had bad days as we all do. She could be as grumpy as hell, but when she smiled and chuckled, we all joined in with her. Her laughter brightened our days.

When she died a light went out of my life. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true.

In the short term all laughter disappeared. All joy disappeared. All lightness and frivolity disappeared. All joking disappeared.

As time moved on, I learned how to be without her, live without her, function without her, and eventually laugh without her. I am only realising now that for so many years I rode on her shirt tails. I relied on her humour and her vivacious nature to disguise my own shyness and my inability to be myself. When I was in her company we were a double act. She was the funny, witty, fabulous girl that I never really was, but could somehow be when I was with her.

Since her death so many people tell me I have changed. They tell me I am quieter, less funny, and less witty, but I realise now that I actually never was. She instinctively possessed those qualities, and unknowingly I assumed that I was the same as she was but I wasn’t.

At the ripe old age of 54 I believe I am ok. Annie and I worked as a twosome throughout many happy years together, and without her I am continuing to live and manage life just being myself. I have my own talents, yet like so many of us I am a bundle of insecurities. I also know that without her, I am actually quite a shy person who doesn’t really like the limelight although it may sometimes appear otherwise. I also realise now that I am not that funny or witty, but am ok knowing this and I am not trying too hard to be otherwise. My kids (now adults) can be the most critical of all when I attempt to be droll or humorous… They simply tell me that I’m not – although they are not being unkind. They simply know the difference having known my sister.

Destiny can be the longest road travelled between wit and wisdom, but with laughter and joy to sustain us, that journey can be made a lot easier with the people we travel with.