“You too have a song inside. Listen to it”.

This is the prompt that has been given to me as a ‘to do exercise’ after I recently joined a local creative writing group.  It is supposed to inspire me to write something. I have sat and thought about it for three days now and have come up with nothing. 

I started writing this blog as a kind of living diary. My purpose was to share memories and feelings that my kids could read in their future, something that might capture what life was like for me, their mammy as a child. They only know me as ‘mother’. They have no idea what I was like as a girl, unencumbered by husband, children. They only know what I tell them.

I admit that the blog has been censored. I generally write about events that focus on the positive, lovely times that I remember, but there are also times/events that I have left out. Darker and less gilded. Should these stories be also told? To the people in my life I am a woman of many labels. I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother, niece, colleague, acquaintance and friend. I live a life, ordinary and quiet. I am a socialist at heart and have played my own personal part in fighting against perceived injustices throughout my lifetime.

I am quite a shy person, although most new people I meet don’t realise this about me. I do not function well in large groups, but prefer intimate conversations where similar interests can be explored leading to wondrous and breath-taking discussions. I am unafraid to discuss the feelings that can lead to the depths of despair, and into the darkness that can surround us as humans at various times throughout the course of our lives.

I have experienced loss of the greatest magnitude, and understand the search for meaning and relevance in a secular world where the religious maps that my ancestors benignly bestowed upon me have left me sometimes emotionally unequipped and without a paddle. Moral compasses shift and tilt, and the bedrock of my Irish religious heritage has become like quicksand. I have nothing to hold onto. I don’t believe in it anymore, and I acknowledge that there is a huge freedom in that.

However, when you let go belief, tradition, history and habit, you have to be strong in your resolve. While I know what I want to consign to the past, I am unsure of what I want to nail my flag to in my future.

This creates a relentless search for knowledge, to read more, to learn more, to know more.

I have joined this new creative writing group to challenge myself, and to see if I can be ‘prompted’ to create words that are not about my past. I am not sure if this will happen, and I am also not sure if I will ever be able to write anything that is not prefaced by a glass of wine.

During my days there are a myriad of thoughts and words that race through my head, but I never jot them down. Pour me a glass of wine at 9pm, and lead me to a laptop. I cannot be silenced.

I do believe that I have a song inside me, but it is never going to be a popular chart topper. It is always going to be my own voice, questioning, asking, and wondering.

If I write the words will you create the lyrics and hum along with me?

(This is not my submission to the group).

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.

Words and language.

I caught a TV series recently following child geniuses in their quest to be the best according to MENSA, the high IQ society. It has been fascinating. The programme followed several contestants throughout the heats allowing the viewer to catch a glimpse of these wonderful children, their parents and their guardians come under pressure to perform and make a particular grade. I am not sure how I would feel if this were a child of mine, and thankfully I never had to make decisions like this. One set of parents moved from the UK to Italy when their child was three years of age in order to enrol him in a particular kindergarten that was very educationally focused on child geniuses. It’s quite extraordinary the sacrifices that some people make for the sake of their children.

One thing that struck me about the competitors was their extended and eloquent vocabulary. One 12 year old participant who eventually won the competition, moved to England from India three years ago with her non English speaking Tamil family in order to enhance her ability to speak English. It is her 2nd language yet she has been the world Scrabble under twelve champion twice already.

Her vocabulary was so extensive. I envy that. I adore words and I love adding to my personal ‘repertoire’ all the time. Some people collect stamps, I like to collect words. I store them up inside my head in a beautiful mariner’s trunk that is lined with imaginary colourful fabric and cushioned boxes. All the special words that I rarely use in every day conversions get stored in here.

Whimsical words like ‘serendipity’, ‘fortuitous’, ’juxtaposition’, ‘murmur’, ‘myriad’ and ‘enchanting’ are words that are beautiful in their expression and sound, but are not for general conversation. ‘Reprehensible’, ‘ghastly’, ‘quintessential’ and ‘languid’ are other words that I would love to use daily but I don’t. Using words like these in my experience create divisions, as some people need them to be explained and understood in their context. When I have to explain the definition of a beautiful word that I am using for the sheer joy of using it, I feel that I am somehow being pretentious to the person who doesn’t understand its meaning. I usually give the explanation by using another word to replace the one that I have used, and I have been asked on numerous occasions why I didn’t use the simpler version in the first place.

This stops me writing in the way that I would love to. I have thousands of words stored in my mind that burst with colour, feeling, texture and excitement. I ‘think’ them all the time, but I don’t use them in my everyday speech as I don’t want to appear grandiose. I don’t want the people that I come into contact with to feel that I am using another language, and I don’t want to sound like I am trying to be impressive.

Simplicity has its place in everyday speech, and using language without being ‘flowery ‘is a way of communicating and being generally understood. However, I believe that there is a beauty and eloquence that is getting lost in our modern language because of the many words that are not regularly being used and spoken.

I wonder if I will eventually start a secret club that meets and ‘exchanges’ words in an undisclosed cavern where the password to enter will be a word that is the beautiful equivalent of a simpler version that is understood by many ?

Would anyone else care to join?

Destiny may be appreciating that it’s more important to be simply understood by many rather than being a linguistic marvel to few.

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.

Dublin- Smithfield.

Growing up in Dublin, I remember Smithfield Square in the North City area of Dublin as a market. It was a place of traders, fruit and vegetable merchants, and horse fairs. It had a particular character and feel, cobbled and weather-beaten, but it was beloved by many hard working people who were there earning their living . It was regarded as a major trading  marketplace for Dubliners.

It was a run-down sort of place in the 70’s and 80’s, dilapidated and neglected. Small lock up premises bordered the square on three sides where trade was plied, and vans and horse drawn carts were in and out delivering and collecting. Business was conducted daily and the square was a hive of activity filled with many colourful characters selling merchandise.But at night time the place was deserted and empty. Irish Distillers were located on one side of this square, but the traders were the life force of this inner city square during the day.

Old Smithfield

There was also a horse fair on the first Sunday of every month. This fair was as old as my grandfather could remember and I regularly took trips in with my Dad to watch the trading of horses, donkeys, and other animals during the 60’s and 70’s. It was a bustling fair where horses, ponies, goats and chickens were kept in makeshift pens with other domestic animals. Walking around the square on those Sundays was an experience filled with sights and smells that I will remember forever. I had to hold on tightly to my father’s hand in case we became separated because it was crowded by hundreds of people.

Dublin changed, and during the late 1980’s a new city plan was created to redevelop the area. There was a sustained outcry from the people who traded there, but the lockups started to disappear and become boarded up as leases were not renewed. Trade shifted to the more expensive  ‘Official Fruit and Vegetable covered market’ off Capel Street and the square became more forlorn and neglected.

The horse fair continued on the first Sunday of each month though, despite repeated efforts to close it down.

Developers began to buy up properties on the square in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I clearly remember reading a proposed plan for the area, where it was imagined that it would become a grand piazza or square, modelled on an Italian vision where new urban dwellers could ‘cast their gaze over the space as they sipped their cappuccinos from their apartment balconies during their leisure time’. Coffee culture was unknown in Dublin at that time, and most of us didn’t even know what a cappuccino was or what it tasted like.

The developers created wonderful artistic impressions in their sales brochures of this new fabulous lifestyle that they were attempting to sell to Dubliners. It all looked amazing. People talked it up, and there was such a buzz about this new European style apartment living.

All looked and sounded great except for the fly in the ointment.

The one thing that ruined the sales palaver about ‘coffee on balconies’ and ‘gazing across the rooftops of Dublin’ was the obvious smell of horse manure that would pervade this idyllic space every four weeks without fail.  (In my opinion there was a greater whiff from the sales patter than there ever was from the horses.)

In the intervening years when the apartments were eventually built with their balconies and their new urban dwellers, and the whole square was redeveloped, the monthly horse fair continued. There were calls from the health and safety police about animal welfare, rogue trading, and counterfeit selling. You name it; it was all happening in Smithfield on the first Sunday of every month. There were proposals to move the fair to another venue outside the city limits, but the horse traders cited old city by-laws which allowed the trading on site to continue.Smithfield horse market 2008

The market attracted all kinds. And inevitably there were people who ignored standards, and animals were traded and sold to people who didn’t have the animal’s welfare at heart. Reports of cruelty began to surface, and coupled with an influx of young lads who just wanted to buy horses as pets and urban racers, grazing them on common ground in Dublin estates, the authorities were becoming increasingly bureaucratic and wanted the whole fair disbanded. There was a gun attack in the market in 2011 and this signalled the end of the fair.

It was simply over and I have no idea where horses are traded in Dublin any more.

Smithfield has continued to be redeveloped and now bears all the hallmarks of that once envisioned grand Italian Piazza. It is a place that is on the map of all visitors who come to Dublin, and the Distillery on the corner reaps the rewards from people who pay for the tour to see how Irish whiskey is produced.Smithfield 5

I went in there tonight to see the Christmas tree that lights the square and reflects on the wonderful ancient cobblestones that hold a million memories, but for me, despite the beauty of the revamped area and the wonderful buzz of contemporary living, it has become a heartless anonymous place.Smithfield

I gazed about, and remembered the sounds that used to reverberate around it, the calls of the merchants, and the banter of the Dubliners who traded there. It is a beautiful space for sure, but it possesses no history or footprint, as that has been obliterated by the urban redevelopment practice  that has forgotten that cities need people living and working in them to survive and not just be places for tourists to visit. Walking around Smithfield tonight, admiring the Christmas tree, listening to the other visiting people who were doing the same as I was, I could have been in Berlin, Prague, or any other European city. There is sadly nothing left to distinguish it as a place that is recognisably Dublin.

Destiny can be about realising that we all need a history to know who we truly are.

Christmas……

Is it wrong to look forward to this time of year when I am constantly reminded of all those who I have lost and who will not be present with me during this season of gift giving and family oriented activities.

As the old cliché goes ‘misery loves company’ and too often I find myself spiralling downwards in a maelstrom of sadness thinking about the people who I have loved and who are no longer with me. I remember them all the time and reflect on how different my life is without them.

Some may think that I am melancholic and miserable, and although I can be, it’s not the hat that I wear 24/7.

Planning Christmas for my family, wandering through gift shops and buying presents for loved ones online has created a stark reminder of all who are no longer here with me on this planet.

I hate not buying for my sister Annie any more. Almost every time I shopped, online or in real time, I thought of her. If I dared to come home with something that appealed to me, she would ask why I hadn’t bought a replica for her.  Silly and inexpensive things mostly, but stuff that we liked and that represented our shared taste. I bought on the double a lot when she was alive.

Since her death, shopping has been a major challenge. I cannot view ‘stuff’ without thinking and wondering if she would like it. Is this feeling unique to me, or do others experience this phenomenon.

My mam who died two years ago had similar tastes, but didn’t like ‘household’ stuff like Annie and I did. She was always thrilled by a gift that sparkled and that she could wear.  My mother in law Bernie who died earlier this year had no time for “gee gaws” as she called ornaments or household embellishments, and preferred to receive the gift of a practical cardigan or something similar. She liked things that were useful to her. Unlike my mam, she never wore jewellery.

I never really thought about how shopping for gifts for people that I love was such a minefield of emotion, but I really feel it this year. Everywhere I go I am reminded of what not to buy.

Notwithstanding  these feelings I am at last looking forward to Christmas.

I am looking forward to Christmas despite not having three wonderful women that I have loved collectively for over 50 years being present with me.

I am looking forward to Christmas, sharing the day with my very dear and patient husband of over 30 years.

I am looking forward to Christmas with my adult children who will come to visit and share dinner with me, and who I have really enjoyed buying gifts for.

I am looking forward to Christmas, although it will be a quieter and less crowded affair.

I am simply for the first time in five years quietly and smilingly looking forward to Christmas…….

Destiny can silently and unknowingly creep up on you and remind you to keep on living.