Category Archives: Miscellaneous

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.

Time

The perpetual clock counts down the seconds of my life 

as it silently ticks on
marking the era I spent here in between birth and death.
Time marked by childhood joys and innocent times
growing older, taking a lover, becoming a mother.
The seconds pass by inexorably.

Joyous events have left their invisible stain as did the tragedies.
My sister’s clock became motionless too soon.
Time arbitrarily stopped it and forever changed the lives of those who loved her.
There are no illusions when you know the ending to the story
yet still I rise every day unencumbered by the sound of ticking.

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.

Gone is the saddest word…..

Every time I opened the door to her home I was met by a scent which was unique and personal. It was her house, containing her life and her memories. It wasn’t a bad smell, it was simply distinctive. I have excellent olfactory senses despite being a smoker which is rare as everyone tells me. Senses are dulled and ruined by cigarettes but mine have somehow escaped intact. My sense of smell has always been good. It can detect foodstuffs that are no longer fresh despite the “best before date”, and with cooked food I use my nose as a gauge which decides whether I will eat it or not. If there is a hint of suspicion that it is not the freshest, my nose guides me. It has rarely let me down.

I am also great at identifying scents and fragrances. I can catch a whiff as someone passes, and will be able to “name that brand”. It’s like my X factor talent. I love perfume, and wear it every day. I sniff uncontrollably and unconsciously all the time taking in smells around me.

I clearly remember an early morning flight from London some years ago when I sat in a seat on board the aeroplane with my face occasionally pressed through the seats in front of me trying (without success) to identify the “scent” of the business man who sat there and who smelt divine. After several visits to the men’s cosmetic counters in Dublin department stores over the course of that summer I eventually “found” the smell, bought the product, and still continue to wear it regularly despite it being marketed as a “man fragrance”. Calvin Klein- Escape. It’s a musky fragrance that warms and changes as your body goes through the day. I never tire of it.

Two years ago as my dear and much loved mother in law became frail and unequipped to live alone; a sleep over rota was put in place by her family. I stayed over every Thursday night. I had my own key, and every week as I let myself in, I was enveloped unconsciously by the odours of her house. Not a perfume as she never wore it, just the smells that settle in any house that are distinctive to the person who lives there.

When I would come home the following morning, unpacking my clothes I could smell her lingering scent as I put them out for washing. I never really thought about it.
When she died and her house was subsequently emptied of all her possessions before it was sold, I felt really sad clearing out clothes and recalling this wonderful woman who I would miss forever. I took a couple of little keepsakes to remember her by, and I have them in my home so that she is somehow amongst us in the things that held meaning for her. I miss her all the time. She was a very special woman and I loved her dearly.

Time moves on and as a family we continue to cope with her loss. She was 94 when she died and she lived a great and long life although we miss her all the time.

There was a leak in my own house recently. It wasn’t major, but water poured into the hot-press and soaked all the linen and other paraphernalia that was stored inside it. My husband pulled out all the towels and sheets that were stored there and set them to dry on radiators and clothes horses after the leak was fixed. I was away when this happened although I knew of the catastrophe as we were in touch by phone.

I arrived home later that same night. The house was in darkness and I knew my husband was in bed. As I opened the door and stepped inside I could “smell” his mother. It was unnerving and completely unexpected. Her distinctive smell was in my hall. I don’t believe in ghosts but I was completely unbalanced by it.

I walked through the downstairs of my house but couldn’t figure how or why I was “smelling” her. I turned out lights and made my way up the stairs as the scent grew stronger and stronger. As I turned on the landing, I immediately spotted the small Blarney woollen blanket that she used to cover her lap with when she was cold draped across our banisters. I didn’t realise that my husband had rescued it from her home and had stored it in our hot press. It was just another item amongst all the other bits and pieces that were pulled out and dried after the leak.
The moment really shook me. I believe that up to then I had coped well with her death, carried on, missed her, yet remembered her. But in that minute on the landing as I lifted and snuggled into her blanket, holding it to my face and inhalling her unique scent, I understood that ‘gone’ is really the saddest word as I realised unhappily and sadly that I will never smell her again.

Destiny can be about acknowledging special people like Bernie Morrissey whose scent and memories linger on.

Being gay in May in Ireland 2015

Reflecting on the momentous ‘yes’ vote on same-sex marriage by a popular vote in Ireland that took place yesterday,  I remember the time that my son told me that he was gay. It took place in my sitting room one night when he was seventeen years of age. The year was 2002.

Ireland was a different place thirteen years ago. It seems like such a short space in time, but looking back from the inside out, society has radically changed since then.

Over the intervening days after he ‘came out’, as parents I hope we provided lashings of emotional support. I remember it being a bit ‘hit and miss’ at times and his dad struggled more than I did. He thought it might be ‘just a phase’. This was a path that we never thought we would have to walk, and we were completely unprepared for it.

While I was supporting him, I was also trying to cope with my own personal feelings of grief, as I silently and secretly mourned the daughter in law that I would never have, and the loss of his children that would never be born that I would never hold. How selfish of me.

A few nights later overhearing him crying alone in his bedroom believing that we might not accept his orientation was heart-breaking but pivotal in our relationship and how we viewed him as a person. We immediately surrounded him with acceptance and love and assured him of our support. How could we not. (His dad and I  quickly got over ourselves and our own feelings.)

Over the next few weeks we eventually had conversations about his own troubles and about his sadness on realising that he might never be a parent as he has always loved children, but all the while we talked about a future where many things, including being a father were possible.

I believe that we all have unconscious trajectories of how we hope life will work itself out for our children. We have dreams and hopes, and we want the best for them. We don’t want their lives to be marked by discrimination, prejudice or hatred, and naively we expect that somehow the universe will deliver.

My son’s ‘coming out’ marked a transitional period in our lives. As an Irish Mammy, I was consumed by imaginary future hardships, rejection, acceptance, and how living/working in Ireland as a gay man would be. He on the other hand was coping with the day to day struggles of being ‘different’ and coming out to his peers and how they viewed him.

Throughout this time he was still my boy, beloved and unchanged, and my extended family, but especially my mother Monnie and sister Annie were the most wonderfully supportive people when I told them. They reassured him of their acceptance and love, and I never loved my mam more than I did during that time. She never made a smart comment, lewd or otherwise as she would never hurt him. She embraced his orientation, and throughout the remainder of her life would always ask him about boyfriends, his love life etc. in the exact same way that she asked my daughter about her boyfriends and her love life. I absolutely know how she would have voted this week.

Ireland and the world has changed so much in the past thirteen years, and being gay in 2015 is not the same as it was back then. Society has changed, protocol about being gay has changed, school policy on bullying has changed, workplace discrimination has changed, and homophobia and how it impacts on people has been highlighted and changed.

I am not suggesting that it has changed for everyone, and I realise that there are still people who are gay, afraid to be themselves, afraid to be honest and afraid to ‘come out’ to their families and friends. I hope it shifts for them.

The momentous changes that I have seen taking place in Ireland over the past few years in relation to people are staggering. From a Catholic country that was bound by religious oppression and from what Rome unilaterally decreed, we have emerged egalitarian, free thinking and accepting. Perhaps being an oppressed race historically for so long, we have finally learned who we are as a people. We have survived the tyranny of oppression as a colonised country, and we have also survived the tyranny of a religion/church that is outdated, misogynistic and unforgiving.

We have turned our backs on the sovereignty and allegiance that we had to an ideology, to a church, that cast Irish women as second class citizens, who abused these women and their children, and within the protection and confines of their church denied any wrongdoing. We have at last abandoned the discrimination that forced so many gay people to live secretive furtive lives, living in fear of being exposed as being ‘different’, and this week we voted on equality to enshrine in our constitution the legality of same sex marriage.

It is not ‘Ireland’ that has created this incredible societal change; it is the people of Ireland. The ordinary, simple, wonderful Irish citizens who are united in their belief that gay people are equal in their demand for legal marriage status in their own country. I stand proud and tall with every Irish person who voted ‘yes’ on May 22nd 2015.

A ‘yes’ vote has changed the Irish landscape forever, and as the proud mother of a gay man I am so glad and thankful that my fellow country men and women voted with me at the polls, ensuring that if my gorgeous son ever wants to marry a man that he loves, he can. Little did I ever know that night back in 2002 that this was ever going to be possible.

Destiny is an ever changing road, filled with hopes and dreams that sometimes become a reality.

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.