Tag Archives: People

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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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.

Taking things for granted…..

As people, I believe that we can all take things for granted without thinking too much about them. Things just ‘are’ in our lives, and we accept them and rarely give them too much thought. So many actions/interactions that we encounter daily can have an emotional impact on us, and I know that I have been guilty of not really thinking about the implications and consequences that they have on me personally.
Life can sometimes be so busy that we can get hopelessly lost in the myriad of tasks that we think have to be completed in order to provide structure and meaning to the day. I realise that with time on my hands I have become much more reflective than I have been in the past. I have a lot more time to ponder as I am not so caught up with a rigid time schedule. The studying and reading that was so focused and time consuming during the past few years no longer dominates my time. Now I find myself deliberately taking time out to consider what pleases me and what doesn’t.

After a year of mourning the death of my mother together with all the ancillary tasks that managing her estate entailed, I began to look for employment as soon as the New Year began. I scrutinised websites and agencies and updated my CV with the intention of going back to work full time after my five years in College. I applied for a couple of positions that I believed would suit me and my particular skill set, and I was so enthusiastic about my prospects that I even purchased new interview clothes. I never even made it to that stage.

While facing into my disappointment I took some time to think deeply about what it was that I was so upset about. Not being given a chance to put myself forward was the biggest difficulty that I had to deal with, but on reflection I wondered if this was about my ego and nothing else. I believe that I have great qualities, but the fact that I never even got to showcase them? How very dare they!

Imagine a scenario where I had been interviewed and given one of the positions that I applied so enthusiastically for. It was a 38 hour week in an area a fair distance away from my home. There would be morning and evening traffic to consider and selective early starts and late finishes.
Sometimes not getting what you want provides a clarity and certainty that you hadn’t considered beforehand.
Not being granted an interview made me take stock of my situation and my current life. While I moaned in the short term, I took time to examine the long term and I realised that I don’t actually want to work long hours and be away from home 40 hours a week and possibly more with travel.

My husband is retired, and while we live a small life we manage comfortably on his pension.

We don’t spend money unnecessarily, drive two modest cars, and we have never been the type that has to have the latest trend or fad.

We take several mini breaks during the year and generally enjoy a life without timetables and rigidity.

We come and go as we please (with kids grown up and flown the nest) and enjoy spontaneous lunches out at the coast and picnics in forests when the humour takes us.

We have our own rhythm and we enjoy it, and although I would like to work I don’t want it to cut into this lovely way of life that we have. I also don’t want to leave him alone for eight hours every day as there are only the two of us at home now. Being rejected for these jobs has made me recognise how precious and special this shared life is, and I am so glad that I have had the time and space to realise what it is that I want, and what it is that I don’t want.

I have taken for granted the absolute pleasure that a day without time constraints can bring.

I have taken for granted the fact that I do not need to work outside my home in a paid capacity to be happy and content.

I have taken for granted the fact that I actually like spending time with my husband even when we have nothing to say to each other.

I have taken for granted the fact that we are financially secure enough that I don’t need to provide another income to our household.

I have taken for granted how extremely lucky I am that I have choices about how I live my life with my dear husband and partner of over 35 years.

I have taken for granted the simple pleasure of simple pleasures.

The past five years have provided me with a top class education and qualifications, but it has also been the toughest time in my life as I have lost my much loved sister and mother. Deciding not to take things for granted is the best way forward for me at this moment in time, and appreciating the simple everyday pleasures that shape my days is the greatest realisation that all this reflective thinking has achieved.

Destiny can be many things and can wear coats of jewelled enticing colours, but it can also be there sitting plainly, quietly under our noses if we could only just recognise it.