Sunday, November 6, 2011

Beaks, bodices, ghouls n goblins

It’s been a while, too long. So like the couple from Date Night we were away off into town. After a day of chauffeuring the kids to all their social engagements, it’s our time. Sometimes it just feels like too much effort, far easier to assume the position, lounge in the couch groove in track suit bottoms with a glass of wine and a packet of Kettles and give out about the plasticity of the presenters on X Factor. Stuffed, plucked and buffed they are. All shiny like the wood floors the nuns made us buff, as kids, in my old primary school, Scoil an Linbh Iosa. That smell of lavender wax still brings me back to times-tables and conjugations. Quay Street Halloween weekend, on the other hand, was as far from X Factor as you’ll get, a cacophony of hoots and hollers, all manner of shapes and sizes and crooked non-veneered teeth. Standing outside Neachtains we take in the sights, sounds and smells. A team of fully grown oompa loompas make their way to the nearest watering hole. Witches, zombies and the beardy guy from The Hangover, complete with strapped on baby, soak up the atmosphere and the pints. There are wigs, warts, wands, beaks, bodices, ghouls and goblins, truly a night for abandoning the self, a chance to go out and play dress up. Free the Id, I say. My equivalent of dress up was, however, merely longer earrings and higher heels. And a bit a’ lipstick. Pathetic, yip, I know. I don’t get out much. A lady beside me at the bar is decked out in Miss Havishamesque wedding dress with what appeared to be the end of our garden stuck to her front and back, a plethora of twigs and branches that Eanna Ni Lawhna would have been proud of. I am concerned she is standing quite close to the fire. So is she. The clue ‘Fund’ hangs from her waist. Miss Hedge Fund cautiously moves away from the fire and says to her friend ‘I’m headin’ and takin me bush with me’. And so she did. Behind me a zombie orders two pints of Guinness and a vodka and Red Bull. At the bar there is a raven. She lifts up her beak every now and then, complains about the heat and takes a sup from her drink. The taxi driver who drove us home told us of how he had lived in eleven different countries, from Niger to Syria, Italy to Morocco and is now well and truly settled in Ireland. Despite the weather, despite the economic challenges we are so lucky, he reckons. It remains to be seen. Last weekend, in Galway at least, very few gave a jot about Greece or impending budgets. The place was hoppin. We’ll have more a’ that, thank you very much.      

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Full (Irish) Monty

I was watchin Monty Hall in Connemara the other night and thought, this lad’s havin a laugh with the turquoise water and the blue skies of Roundstone. Monty man, you stole the summer from us. How come him and his dog got all that weather? Nathin left for the rest of us. It’s one of two things, I pondered; either there’s some serious CGI going on or Roundstone and surrounds were stuck in some 80’s time warp when summers were much better.  I want his job. He gets to arse around in a boat scouting for dolphins and whales with his trusty dog Rubes by his side. Catch the odd fish here, swim with the odd dolphin there, go for a few pints with the locals, come home cook your catch outside in the sunshine, blah blah blah to the camera...ya I could do that. And let’s face it ladies, he’s easy on the eye.

We, on the other hand, didn’t arse around in a boat or catch our supper on our family escapade to Roundstone. Recently off the cuff we headed off on a Sunday morning to stay the night there before heading to Aran for a day trip the following morning. Mainly, to satisfy the Youngest’s fascination with a B&B, the concept of which she cannot get her head around. ‘Will we have to use their family bathroom...where does the family eat?’ she wonders. The bean an tí was most welcoming, serving us freshly made scones and tea. Himself reckons they were even better than my own. TMI, should have kept that one to himself. Deployed methods to tire out the three included a trip to Dogs Bay and the playground. Suitably shattered that evening I looked forward to a steaming bowl of mussels and a glass of quelque chose.  We didn’t make reservations. So around 7ish we wandered downtown Roundstone to check out the local hostelries. Two of them of them finished serving food at 7, although the signs outside said they were serving until 8. The other was fully booked and we were told to try the cafe next door. No mussels and I’m like a weasel. ‘Won’t the lady in the B&B be able to cook for us?’, the Youngest suggests. Well if her dinners were anything like her scones we might have been best served bribing her to throw an extra spud in the pot for us.

The following morning we were treated to the full Irish. No complaints there. We headed off to Aran and I hoped to see the dolphins I’d seen before on my last trip to Aran some years ago. Alas, they must have been otherwise engaged with the dolphin equivalent of Irelands Next Top Model hosted by Monty Hall. Bikes hired and away off to see the Dun Aengus. On route we stopped for a swim and I couldn’t feel my limbs afterwards, freezin. I’m nursing a cold ever since (such a wuss). So, we returned from Aran with achy legs, three singing Leprechauns, two colds and memories of a fantastic trip. And no one up-chucked in the car. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Is it back to school time yet...?

Me head is melted. This summer there were times I’ve said to myself I’d rather be in the bog footin turf with the midges than refereeing the wrangling and bickering between my three. Mentally exhausting, no? You know the score, it starts off all jovial. They master the act of seducing us into thinking that they’re getting on, then all hell breaks loose and it inevitably ends in tears.  I never get it right, I ‘always listen to her’ and I ‘never blame him’ and ‘you’re just the worst mother in the world, d’ya know that’. Cue stomp up the stairs. Cue door slam. And then the kids follow suit. The Small Man is sportin’ a tude like no other. I know, I know,  all part and parcel of behaviour as he sourly kills time queuing to get into the Adolescent Club. The girls are sick to the back teeth of each other. I am ready to go to bed before they are most nights. I envy their inestimable energy. This all very normal sibling grating is however coupled with the wish-we-never-moved-back remarks thrown into the mix. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and I’m damned if we had a choice. Consequently, my retort is when you’re 18 you can live where you like. To top it all there has been the weather, and only the one type at that. The less said on meteorological matters the better. You would think that being born and raised in the West of Ireland that I am now immune to rain in all its guises. The slanty rain, straight down rain, the big drops rain and the misty betwixt n between rain. However, getting out for a run with the wind and the rain lashing against my face, tunes in my ears is my lifeline to sanity and until they go back to school those have been rare as hen’s teeth so the lifeline was spread thin. Bad weather and boredom can foster creative endeavours or breed tetchy underbellies or both. Shenanigans in the kitchen included the three deciding to make pizza from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals but in reality and without the aid of a fandangled food processor or a crew to abet it’s a good thirty minutes to take everything out of the presses and two hours to clean up more like. After seeing the fantastic Super 8 they decided to make their own videos and house subsequently trashed to make sets with sheets and cardboard and my one and only good lipstick was decimated. There was fun had and no one lost an eye, that’s always a bonus. The pizza didn’t taste half bad either. Roll on Thursday, I'll be whooshing them out the door, back to school and back to some shape of a routine. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Where were the Swans hangin?

We pass our removal truck at the ferry terminal, the lads’ cab curtains closed as they snooze awaiting the ferry after ours. The crossing was so calm, the sea like a mirror. On our boat there were tired parents carrying shattered children, ready like us for the last part of their journey once they disembarked in Dublin. Irish and second generation Irish heading home to see parents, friends, relatives, endeavouring to keep their connections. We arrive home, the birds getting ready to start the day shift, dawn not yet broken. There was bread in the press (the press, not the cupboard), milk and beer in the fridge and a welcome bunch of flowers. The folks had been out to give the house the once over, what a treat. After our 4 hours kip the removal truck squeezed up the laneway,  the driver and his helper  like long lost members of the family. One of them said he didn’t mind the trips to England and France, said it gets him away from the wife and kids for a while. It's mayhem. The boxes just keep coming. The kids decide to get stuck in, utter bedlam. Dejá vú. Paper, bubble wrap, boxes. In the midst of all of that the Tesco man rings looking for the house and I try to give him directions. He arrives, scratchin his head. ‘Where would you like the groceries, Mrs?’, ‘Anywhere you can find a spot’, I replied. I was delighted with meself, that being the foresight to order the groceries online from England and have them delivered at home in Galway (isn’t the web a mighty yoke) but bewildered at the same time as to why in all that’s good and holy did I order 5 tins of kidneys beans? I also now have enough Flahavans and rice to last the year. Poor Mr Tesco Man struggled to inform me about what was out of stock and replaced over the noise of smashing crockery as the kids did Greek wedding practise. I may never move again. Order needs to be restored.

Outside our back door now resembles a Smurfit packaging warehouse.  All we’re missing are a couple of forklifts and a few clipboards. It’s amazing after you have been away for a while that you see all the things you didn’t see when you lived in a place. I guess it’s selective, you choose what to ignore. Five years ago we laid a patio at the back of the house, all by our ownselves, nothin fancy. It remained unfinished, don’t know why. I think we ran out of something, patience perhaps, that and lack of some class of a tool or another. The slabs had been stacked and remained there in situ for the next 5 years. David Attenborough would have had a field day with all the creepy crawlie squatters. So, with the help of our entomological visitors,  we finally almost finished it. This time we ran out of slabs. Himself asked me why we didn’t complete the project then. That’s us, half a job. Wouldn’t happen in Thame, God no. Meanwhile the curation of the empty walls with the ghostly outlines of our old photos may have to be outsourced. ‘Where were the swans hangin’? Himself asks.  It’s like a jigsaw puzzle and I was never any good at those. Another job left unfinished, for the moment.

It goes without sayin we didn’t return for the weather. The summers are certainly hard work here compared to where we lived in Thame in terms of entertaining the kids. With camps and activities more competitively priced, coupled with sunnier weather, it makes for a less arduous summer for those looking after the ‘I’m-bored’ brigade. Be bored, that’s what I say. It’s your summer holidays, you’re supposed to be and should be bored most of the time. Ironically though, we didn’t have the luxury of popping in for a dip in the sea when most needed. We couldn’t have been more inland. Here, the wonderful grey Atlantic is on our doorstep and the kids for the first time this year (in between showers) braved it, sans wetsuits out in Blackrock. They lasted about 20 mins. I was well impressed with them. I baulked, just too damn cold. Next time I will be braver, treat it like penance.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hair clips and Cheerios

I am struggling to corral my reflections and emotions about going home. This last week has been a long time coming. The questions about when and why we are going back, you must keep in touch, how kids adapt, how we will all readjust, how difficult it will be for Himself commuting, how brave we were for giving it a go. Friday’s final assembly at the kids’ school was a heartbreaker. The Y6ers all saying goodbye to their primary school years, the teachers milking it, giving them a right good send off. I could not look at The Small Man without welling up as his new found friends and he reached an emotional crescendo. They were inconsolable especially our Small Man and his Italian friend who returns to Italy the same day we go back to Galway. I could see him fighting back the tears all day. You just know it with that face they make. We are such cruel parents putting them though this again, just a year after they said goodbye to their Galway friends. The girls just let the floodgates open big time in the school playground, the tears unstoppable as they hugged and embraced their buddies. The teachers and staff of St Joe’s compiled leaving scrapbooks for all three with messages from their classmates and photos from throughout the year. Birdboxes, cricket matches, school plays, sports day, the big trip to Woodlands. I could not bring myself to open it until Sunday night. They are treasures I hope they will value as the years push on. I certainly will. Friday night I went for a drink with the women, the Tay n Tunes crew and the rest of the ladies I have gotten to know, their parting gifts so thoughtful.  Pots of Towersey jam, black bean soup receipe (truly honoured!) poetry books and the rest. We will endeavour to meet up when they come over in August. We arrived in a place, submerged ourselves in the community, we were welcomed with open arms and this makes the leaving all the more difficult. 

The melancholy has abated. Thoughts and emotions of leaving and goodbyes are replaced with excitement about going home. The past few days have been a whirlwind of bubblewrap, paper and boxes. Last year the night before we left I huddled with the kids and  cried my heart out, our house was no longer a home but an empty shell. Last night I sat in the sittingroom of the house here, bare walls, minimum furniture, it was like water off a duck’s back. No connection to this abode whatsoever. Today in the vacant rooms I stood and admired the collection of hair clips and Cheerios left all over the house, before the kids hoovered them up. The black line of our furniture is left on the manky beige carpet, now ready for the next round of tenants who will occupy the house. Good luck to them. I just want to get going, now ready to go home. We will all have to readjust, settle back in, even though we are going back to what we know, where we are from, our own house, where we fit. Our two girls always have each other, to mull over things together; so lucky. It helps. They just want to bring their friends back from England so that the girls at home could meet them all. The Small Man, in that no man’s land between child and adolescent, is tetchy and ego centric be times. He is apprehensive about meeting up with his old friends, will they have changed much; he reckons he has. They are also a year older, I tell him and reassure him that their personalities will be the same, just as his is. He certainly has had experiences this year that they will not have had and vice versa. That’s what makes life interesting, the sharing of stories, the recounting of particulars about those you have met. A line from The Wallflowers song One Headlight springs to mind ‘I aint changed, but I know I aint the same’ and that’s how I feel about my experiences this year. We have all grown, the kids inside and out. I hope for the transition to be as calm as the Irish Sea we now cross on our way ar ais trasna an uisce. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shakespeare, breakfast roll man

As our departure draws near I had a bee in my bonnet to visit his nibs birthplace. Well given that I have spent much of the last 5 years studying his works I figured why not check out his crib. After much grumbling and giving out, like it or lump it, it was off to Stratford-upon-Avon with us. It's a picturesque village for the most part but the facade looks like a post office or public swimming pool, all red brick and tinted windows.  Not sure would the famous man of words find it aesthetically pleasing. Once inside we were guided along through a serious of short vignettes of facts and figures regarding William Shakespeare, in the voice of Patrick Stewart, Captain of the Enterprise. ‘I never knew Shakespeare wrote StarTrek’, The Small Man thinks he’s hilarious. No, but you can be sure if you poked and proded it enough you would probably find Shakespearian themes and references scattered throughout. I have to say, the kids were well impressed. The Youngest said it was better than she expected, and, no whining. Meanwhile, Himself is away off searching for monkeys and typewriters. The old house itself is just as you would imagine. Tiny windows, low ceilings and doorways, stone flagged floors, Tudor style and slightly askew. His father, John Shakespeare was a glove maker so all the tanning for leather was carried out on-site using, amongst other stuff, urine. They must have had shares in Febreze. On entering we were escorted through the various rooms by strange people in period costumes (well, they said they were costumes but I’m not so sure, they looked awfully comfortable in them). We proceeded up the rickety stairs to the room where he was born, and where he slept along with his parents and siblings, for much of his early childhood. Crowded, smelly and they still managed to produce more children. Little boys at that time were apparently dressed as girls because the belief was that the evil spirits and whatever you’re havin’ yerself would spare the boys life if they were disguised as girls. Girls weren’t worth the effort, those from the dark side priced little boys. Funnily enough, this would continue into later life for budding thespians, since men had to dress as women frequently where ladies were not permitted to tread the boards. My two girls, little feminists, not impressed. They reckon women had it rough in ‘olden times’ as they call it.

And so there he was, a young gassun, helpin his aul lad make a few gloves, fast forward a few years and he’s away off to London to make a name for himself. He pitches his plays (many of them reworkings from other writers but sin sceal eile) to a few dragons to be told ‘I’m out’. Finally he gets a backer and The Globe’s his oyster. On return to his homeplace he buys a house for himself and the missus, and also inherits the family home after his father’s death. So what does he do but lease it to a lad who turns it into a pub, the Swan and Maidenhead Inn. Shakespeare, the property developer, a breakfast roll man, hard hat, high viz, cup a’ scald in hand, truly a vision of times past. After all that, we were treated to a couple of lines from Taming of the Shrew, in the wonderful garden, by two actors. The Youngest said she didn’t get it, what on earth were they talking about. The Middle was lost too but enthralled nonetheless and we managed to run the giftshop gauntlet without purchasing. All’s well that ends well. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ag dul abhaile

My mind is yet again in a state of flux. It’s like a Rubix cube constantly twisting, without any resultant blocks of colour. The decision has been made to move back to Galway. We are among many of the casualties of the property and banking catastrophe. A mortgage on our home we can neither sell nor rent and large wads of rent in this exclusive part of England is just not tallying. The English country quaintness of Thame and surrounds comes at a high price. The property prices and rentals remain consistently high due to an unhealthy obsession with schools (education industry more like) and because of its proximity to Oxford and London. I guess our decision has been made for us but I have also come to the conclusion that you do not arrive at a right or wrong verdict. You make a judgement based on particular circumstances and run with it. It is only retrospectively can you label it as a right or wrong one. There is a sting in this tale though as Himself will now join the many others on the early Monday morning and Thursday/Friday evening flights trasna an uisce. The Shannon Heathrow route is busier than the Rahoon Eyre Square bus with all that’s commuting over and back.   I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know how this will play out. For sure, I know he is lucky to have a job, no doubt about that so I may stop such moaning.  We did the commuting thing for a year before the move. Thus I know what is ahead. There is the accentuated Sunday blues with the bag at the front door ready for early Monday morning departure. The delayed flights on the return and disappointed children are all to contend with again. I met a man from Tynagh during the week at the school, has been over here 24 years. He made the comment that there are many who during the 80’s had emigrated to England and moved back again. Now because of work and, without wanting to uproot their families, they now commute. That’s just the way it is. Just as the news of our arrival spread like wildfire, over the last few weeks so too has the news of us heading back. The account of our impending return now rolls of my tongue but yet feels like the needle is stuck. I feel like a character in a Beckett play.   

I don’t regret the year. I have made some good friends. Some I hope to keep very much in touch with and meet up with whenever I can, others I will never see again. The kind, helpful and genuine nature of many I will never forget. The year has been stressful, emotional and difficult. For my part I have learned much and those same contemplations I choose to keep to myself, for the moment. The children have relished the experience of living in a small town and all the conveniences that come with it. The doorbell here is worn out with the buddies looking for one or all to come out and play, like the way I grew up. I am hoping they can draw from the confidence they have gained knowing that they came to a new school, assimilated the different ways of learning and settled in to very established classes.  I am truly proud of their achievements. They have made some great friends and will keep in touch with a select few. The ending or not of these friendships will take its natural course. They look forward to settling into their old school, seeing their old pals, being close to their grandparents and living in their old house again. So too am I.

Accordingly, emotions are running high with all of us and the slightest thing ignites, sets us off, as our departure draws near. There will be difficult goodbyes. The underlying feeling of going home to Galway, I hope, will eclipse the farewells and feelings of sadness that come with it. Not just for the children but for all of us.