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Friday, December 23, 2011

on the first day of Christmas my true love..

My tree is perfect. No gaps in the middle, no interminable, offending spindle on the top, just loads of evenly spaced branches, growing at the perfect angle to hold decorations. The downside is that to get one in such perfect shape we had to buy it on the 8th of December and it is now very, very dry. We got an early one a few years ago too and I remember my husband burning it in the garden after Christmas. There were no orange flames at all, just one big, blue flash.

Anyway, this morning it contributed nicely to the perfect Christmas scene. Nat King Cole singing in the background, mince pies warming in the oven, kids peacefully examining the contents of selection boxes just delivered by their Godmother, extremely dry but beautiful tree lit up in the corner.

“Would you mind if I just put that new dress under the tree for you?” said my husband.

What new dress? Oh. The one I chose from aeons ago, then waited until it went on sale, and then waited again until there was a special offer of free shipping. That dress? As a present from you to me?

You see, I want it every way. I want the shiny clementines and holly and all that Dickensian Christmas stuff, plus the joy and home made-ness(often resulting in home mad-ness) of spray painting our own wrapping paper, baking sausage rolls and icing a Christmas chocolate log.  Plus the twenty first century comforts of nice movies, luxurious gifts as recommended in Sunday supplement magazines and champagne.

But if ones husband is out trawling the shops for the perfect gift for a demanding and martyred wife, then one is home alone all day with the kids, realising that spending family time watching Christmas movies and eating Cadburys roses is nicer with him there too. And now the inevitable guilt has set in as I wait to see if he arrives back grim faced - no present buying success, irritating cosmetic salespeople who are baffled by his surprise at their exorbitant prices and heavy traffic or rosy cheeked - present buying success followed by festive pint and sambo in Nearys.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Price is born!

Well, the nativity play is done and dusted.  I arrived at the last minute and because of the season that’s in it and because I was carrying a baby, a kind dad gave me his seat in the front row. So I sat beside his wife and toddler who kept kicking me and saying through clenched teeth “I just kicked her” to his mum. He had a point I suppose. They got there early in order to secure seats and I waltz in late and take one. However, I thought as I smiled to myself and ignored him, I am a grown up and you are a child and I’m not moving! No matter how many times I ingratiatingly said to his parents “are you sure?” I was keeping that seat. Then joy of joys, my tired baby, instead of getting fractious and wriggly, became transfixed by the singing and angels with wobbly wings and sat quietly for the whole performance. Haleluia. My own angel threw me a few filthy looks and frowned whenever I caught his eye and gave him the thumbs up, but that was to be expected. He sang “Price is born!” with the others and didn’t cry or trip over his white shirt. Verily, there is show business in his veins.

On a completely different note, (notes of orange flower and white rose, actually) has anyone noticed the DKNY perfume advertisement on tv?
“Occasionally” I watch E! in the mornings, during that lovely quiet intermission when the schools kids have left and it is still early enough to have dirty cereal dishes on the kitchen table without feeling irritated by them. Anyway, in an add break in Kimora - Life in the Fab Lane(at least I'm honest) the perfume was promoted. It’s called DKNY Golden Delicious. It shows a heap of shiny green apples and Lara Stone salivating over them. Sitting on the couch with my tea, I found myself expostulating “But they’re not golden delicious. They’re granny smiths!”  

They are!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

seeing the midwife who delivered my baby in Dundrum

I saw the midwife who delivered my baby in Dundrum last week. It was just a flash of her face as she walked in the opposite direction and my first impulse was to turn and run after her. Then hug her and insist on paying for anything her heart desired. She was such a wonderful midwife. From the moment she said (as I leaned against a corridor wall, breathing through my nose) “Yep. You’re in labour alright.” to the time she broke it to me that no, the contractions didn’t get any easier after my waters broke, she was supportive, capable, calm and cheerful. She smiled a firm no when I pleadingly suggested an episiotomy and I knew throughout those long hours that I was blessed her night shift and my labour coincided.

But before turning I hesitated. She might be sick of mothers bothering her while she shopped. Maybe I should leave her be? And then I remembered something else about the labour. Something that was swept to the back of my mind as soon as it happened and only popped (or pooped) up again in Dundrum last week.

Not long after I started pushing I noticed her getting some of that hospital papery sheet stuff, and putting it on the bed under me. Yay! I thought, this must mean the baby is nearly here! Oddly though, she didn’t say anything about seeing a head or any words at all to suggest the end was nigh. So I was puzzled until the next wave of pain washed over me and just concentrated on getting through it.

Once the contraction passed there was a funny silence, and I waited for someone to congratulate me on getting the baby’s head what felt like about a foot down the birth canal. Again, no one said a word and I heard a papery rustling.   Out of the corner of my eye I saw my husband wave his hand in front of his nose saying “phew! I don’t know how you do this job!” and she smiled, chuckling “I know!” 

So yeah, I thought I'd just keep going, and headed in the direction of the car park.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What age?

I relaxed my boycott on toddler groups yesterday. Its not that I was avoiding them for any high minded reason, just purely because I had my fill of the pre school social scene. However, once again I have a toddler in the house and he deserved a chance to give it a try. After a few minutes there, I realised I was finally the mother of the child who got stuck in, played with the toys and simply enjoyed himself. I have previously been the mother of the child who ran insanely around the church hall like a nutter, the mother of the child who sat on my knee resolutely ignoring all the toddler toys around him and the mother of the child who prompted a “kind” observer to irritatingly say “Your son is trying to put play-doh in his eyes. I just thought you’d like to know.”

As my youngest joyfully lay back in the ball pool, I looked around at the other mothers. There were two on the couch having a chat not really worth eavesdropping.
 “And my friend just told me she is pregnant! She’s so pleased!”
“That’s amazing.”
And another at a table with two small kids. She was giving off those smiley, lonely, desperate vibes, guaranteeing the couch pair was not going to include her. Ignoring all the signs, in she waded, asking
“Is your sons top from Tesco?”
The couch mother cautiously nodded.
“My tiny girl has one like it in pink! It’s so cute!”
The pair skilfully moved their eyes away from her, and kept chatting in low tones.

The lonely mum took a few minutes to recover and moved on to me.
“What age?” she said, gesturing to my boy, smiling as if she thought he was adorable. Which, I then remembered, is how mothers look at other peoples kids in toddler groups. Now that I am hardened by school and soccer and Fitzone, other people’s kids are generally the enemy in my book. Oh god, I thought, I’m going to have to start smiling at them again. The little ones at least.

When I was in my thirties, with a double buggy and an obsession with Boots baby aisle, I was a toddler group junkie.  No one was going to say my boys were under stimulated. I even attended an Irish speaking group for a while, hoping, I suppose, that someone would lapse in to English every now and again. But they were die hard gaeilgeoirs and never did. I had one conversation (one sided) where a woman wearing what could only be described as a “guna” told me that she and her husband locked their bedroom door every night. Or she could have said they held their bedroom door open with a clay box? I wasn’t sure but nodded knowingly anyway.

In the end I had an epiphany. Walking out of a group where everyone knew everyone except me and I was offered that “moving away” smile too many times I realised I didn’t have to do it anymore. Pushing the double buggy against the wind we went home, put the telly on and gave in to The Den. Jakers, Pickme and Scooby Doo. Better than any Fisher Price tool bench.

But this fourth baby has me back in the zone. Now however, instead of magnanimously giving the sought after plastic hammer to someone else bawling child, I’m going to keep it and give it to my own smiling one. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

mid term break

Mid term break. Here is how it was for me.

We always go to the Marathon. Always do a bit of cheering and “Keep going!”ing. My parents were joggers and it has been an annual thing for me since I was eleven. And this year it was an even bigger deal. My two best friend’s husbands were running, there was going to be free face painting at our local Centra and the day fell on Halloween, which meant the kids were in excited form from the start.

We got there as the 3.30 balloon went by. With so many people running I was surprised we even spotted Lorcan, but there he was, right on time and doing fine. Then we had about twenty minutes before Kevin was due so I agreed to find the face painter. There were four of them at a table on the footpath and about six people ahead of us in the queue. Every once in a while I tried to peer at the road to see if I could spot Kevin.  As time went by it became clear I was going to miss him but had promised the face paint, so I stayed put. Finally we were at the top of the queue and my six year old was on a stool explaining what colour dragon he wanted to be.

“Excuse me!” I looked up to see a very angry man beside me. “She was next!” He pushed past me, marched up to my son and told the face painter that it was not his turn. She acquiesced, the mans' daughter sat down and my little boy came meekly back to me. I said in a loud voice not to mind the very rude man. Then he came over again and continued saying forcefully that I had deliberately skipped the queue. I protested that I hadn’t and hadn’t even seen his daughter but there was no stopping him.  “Just because you didn’t see her doesn’t mean she wasn’t there!” he shouted and I finally realised that the best thing to do was not to argue.  As well as that I was painfully aware that all around me were other parents I half knew from school and now I was the mother involved in a loud fight about free face painting. So I shut up, we got the dragon done and I returned to the sidelines, shaking a bit.  

And needless to say I went over the whole thing hundreds of times in my head for the rest of the day.

In a desperate attempt to have an uninterrupted cup of tea, I put one boy on the Xbox, one in a highchair with a penguin bar and two giddy boys into the shower. Just as the kettle boiled I saw water dripping through the light fitting in the kitchen.

I went to a playground with my four kids plus one playmate. Met my friend, a lovely mum whose son has played with mine many times. To my great discomfort today he decided to ignore her son and play with his other friend. We had an extremely awkward chat while I gave him filthy looks, which he ignored.

Went to Tesco. Everyone behaved, mostly due to the three bags of cocktail sausages, (a euro each) three bread rolls (finished by the time we got to the checkout) and three cartons of strawberry milk (not sure about the price. At that stage I was way too frazzled to check). As we headed out to the car with the full trolley, my eight year old ran ahead and was the first to open his door. Smack, it hit the car beside us and I looked in to see a teenager sitting in the passenger seat. She looked at me and then back at her phone.  Figuring she was either texting her Mum to say their car had been damaged or texting her friends about boys, I prayed for the latter.  

While loading the boot I had a quick glance at her car. There was a noticeable scrape and he had definitely taken the paint off. I heaved a sigh. Why couldn’t one week pass without my having to face a moral dilemma? Although now I am not being completely honest. There was no dilemma. I threw the food into the boot, got my euro back for the trolley, jumped into the driver’s seat and put my foot on the accelerator.  
“Mummy!” came a horrified shout from the back seat “the car is moving and I don’t have a seatbelt on!”

Well, that’s tomorrow. I’m hoping for a quiet, uneventful day. A break. As it is after all, mid term break.

Friday, October 28, 2011


In one corner of our kitchen is a cluster of exposed pipes. They culminate in a red handle which controls the heating. Listed on my husband’s to-do list for the past while is the boxing-in of these pipes and last Saturday, he finished the job. Our one year old, who was corralled out of the corner by chairs laid on their side was very interested in the whole operation. And since then has been trying to re-do it. He wants to put markings (like his dad did, to make sure the hinges were lined up) on the freshly painted door of the boxing and also to bang very hard on the new paint with something sharp, to replicate, (I think) the drilling when the screws were put in.

So, since Saturday I have been on high alert. It is killing him that he isn’t allowed near it and it is killing me that I cannot get the dishwasher emptied, the potatos peeled or the clothes folded without taking my eye off him. Despite that fact that there are many other cupboard doors in the kitchen (most of which could take a few scribbles and scrapes without looking any different) it is the new one he wants to get at. My husband will, without a doubt, not smile indulgently if he arrives home, wet off the bike after a long day to find his handiwork ruined.

By Monday I noticed my son had given up on the direct approach - smiling at me and toddling over to the new door with a fork- and has resorted to more surreptitious methods. Just yesterday morning, as I ate my Weetabix he ambled by heading towards the television and then swiftly, like a ninja, took a left and dove for the boxing, pencil in hand. My husband, also like a ninja (literally. He was wearing the Tai Chi shoes!) leaned over and caught him, just before damage was done.

Shortly after, for revenge I suppose, a tiny  hand offered up my MAC cream blusher (ladyblush – a lovely pinky peach, great on blondes or redheads), which he had dug out with little fingers and smeared all over his head. It wasn’t easy to get off but shampoo and elbow grease got rid of most of it.

Although that clean up job was nothing compared to what I faced shortly after, when I looked up from a well deserved browse of Grazia magazine to see a freshly washed toddler sitting in a pool of white gloss paint.

The joys eh?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

roast chicken and chorizo

Seven years ago I gave my husband a six week course of Tai Chi for Christmas. He loved it. Loved the standing, the slow movements, even the flat, black shoes. On his third week he came home from the class wearing a pair. “Was the teacher selling those?” I asked. “No, he just gave me them. He didn’t need them anymore.” “You mean he wore them? They’re used?” I said. “They’re fine.” He answered firmly “and very comfortable.” I eyed them. The insoles were fabric and they were definitely worn without socks. Someone else’s sweat. It didn’t bear thinking about.

Last Saturday he was doing a party drop-off and I watched him walk out the door in shorts with a faded ink stain on the pocket, a gap jumper that has been washed about sixty times and is the colour and texture of a used j cloth and a t shirt we got for three Euros in a supermarket in France when we had only two children. And the tai chi shoes.

Instead of thinking “What a nice husband! Not only has he already put a chicken with roast potatoes and chorizo in the oven (he had! The recipe is on page 216 in the Jamie’s dinners cookbook) but he is also saving me a forty minute trip to NRG in Rathcoole on a sunny Saturday afternoon. No, I’m ashamed to say I just thought “Please, please change your clothes before you go.”

He didn’t of course and rang later to say that the party was an hour and forty minutes long so he was going to wait in the NRG car park and wax the car, thus sealing our fate as the “different” parents in the class. Over the next few days I bided my time, waiting for a good moment to bring up the idea of replacing his wardrobe and binning the current contents. Mornings weren’t good because who needs to wake up to be told they look dreadful? Evenings weren’t either, because he often cooks dinner. It seemed ungracious to mention his appearance when my mouth was full of pasta with spinach, nutmeg and mascarpone or tortilla wraps with salsa(made with actual tomatoes and red chilli peppers), sour cream and chicken that had been marinating in olive oil and lime juice all afternoon. On the evening he did an omelette with feta cheese and patatas bravas on the side with a warm, chunky, spicy tomato sauce I began to think the clothes didn’t really matter at all.

But I did say something in the end. And he did'nt take it to badly. Now the plan is, tomorrow afternoon we each go through the others wardrobes and take out garments we hate. These go in a pile destined for the bin/charity shop unless the owner claims a particular, sentimental attachment. Which means I’ll keep my Weirs Beach, New Hampshire ’89 t-shirt and I’m pretty sure he’s going to keep the shoes.

Friday, October 14, 2011

bikini wax!

I’m not bad at complaining. After decades of saying nothing, regretting saying nothing, saying it all to my husband when I get home, I am finally complaining at the right time to the right person.

For example, last week I noticed my two younger sons being moved to the beginners group at swimming lessons. I sat for a minute (beside a dad reading a kindle, which I found myself hoping would get splashed) and then got up to ask the teacher why they had been moved. He said that there was an instructor missing and he would give them different exercises to do. Then I pointed out that the next class up had one boy in it. Why not put them there instead of with eight little splashers? Anyway, in the heel of the hunt he gave my boys training, swimmish things to do and the rest of the group fun, gamey things to do. They threw daggers at me from the water hissing “what did you say to him?” until the third teacher eventually turned up.

My problem was that after I had said my piece I didn’t know how to finish up the conversation. What came most natural was to walk off in a huff but obviously I couldn’t do that. So I said “thank you” in a prim way. That too seemed pathetic. Then I had to arrange my face as I walked back to the bench where the other parents were sitting. Torn between keeping my head down and concentrating on not tripping and keeping my head up in a haughty don’t-mess-with-me manner, I ended up going for something in between. So I either came across as a mother who is reasonable, firm, no nonsense and nice or a complete oddball.

Usually once the kids are settled in their lessons I have a swim myself. There are three lanes sectioned off so I can do lengths and still keep an eye out to be on call if anyone needs to go to the toilet. This means wearing my navy Speedos, the least flattering item of clothing EVER. But the feel good factor I get from the swim is worth it.

So there I was, Mrs Smug, arguing my case, swimming my lengths. As I climbed out of the pool the instructor came over to me. Dear God, I thought, I’m going to have to talk to him in my togs. I will allow myself be seen in Speedos. I have to, not owning a pool. But usually it’s only a quick run between the shower and the water. The idea is that I move fast enough to be a blur.  

I don’t think he realised how much of an upper hand he had. That I would have agreed for the kids to be put in armbands in a toddler group if only I could get quickly past him and back to the changing rooms and privacy. He just wanted to let me know that he had them in the right class, I think. It was hard to take in the words when the only thing that came into my head was “bikini wax!” which thankfully, I didn’t say out loud.  At least I don’t think I did.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

the doorbell

The doorbell generates great excitement in our house. Once it rings all four kids drop everything and race for the door.  Dinners are forgotten, movies paused, Lego abandoned and anyone who is upstairs thunders down, slipping in socks on the stairs. Anything to get there first. I hang back, acting cool in the kitchen but really, I too am dying to see who it is. I don’t know why really. No I do. About once every six weeks it is the UPS guy with an online order. This brings groans from the kids and joy/guilt for me. (“Why are you always buying things for yourself?” they say bitterly as I race happily upstairs to the full length mirror, leaving the stair gate hanging open in my excitement, to try on my new purchase.)

Nine times out of ten it’s someone from UPC or SKY. Undaunted by our crestfallen faces he launches into his spiel. “Don’t worry! It’s nothing serious!” Immediately playing for time he attempts conversation “How are you today?”

The kids wander back to their dinner/movie/Lego and I stand there, holding the baby in one arm, leaning on the door with the other, trying to be polite.  On the one hand, I feel sorry for him. It’s an awful job. And on the other, it isn’t actually that easy to be rude on the doorstep. I simply can't just slam the door, fixing my face into a dirty look is too aging and giving out about invasion of privacy and interruption of homework is too exhausting. So I stand there looking patient and hope for a crash from the kitchen that could be construed as an emergency(something that happens every time I am having an interesting chat on the phone) and I have to make my excuses.

As the jovial onslaught continues I agree that yes, I am not a SKY customer, yes, I am with UPC. Or I say that yes, I am with UPC and no, I do not currently have an upgrade.  And they are off.

“So! Mrs (look down at clipboard) Mitchell! Would you like a better service at a lower cost?”

I’ve tried saying that I don’t know how much we pay at the moment, that changing service would be too much hassle and that we don’t need more channels. But I have learnt that the less said the better. They have ready answers for all these excuses and it is with glee that they tell me how easy and cheap (although cheap is not a word they use. They say “lower bills”. I don’t think “cheap” is market research approved.)

Soon I have had enough. I adopt my “serious, tired face.” This means nothing to these youngsters. My energy levels are not important. All I need is the strength to hold a pen and sign a dotted line.

I try again, using a strict tone. “As you can see, I am quite busy at the moment.” Then I gesture to the children who, damn them, have disappeared and are amusing themselves quietly elsewhere. But not to worry, they won’t keep me much longer! They just need a few details and I’ll be free to take care of “the kiddies!”

It occurs to me then that I am already free. Free to shut the door and put the kettle on. And eat a hidden Aero. So I say goodbye and see his face begin to protest. “I’ll come back later!” he promises as the latch clicks. I dip the chocolate into my tea. It is delicious.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tiger Mother

“You are going”. 
My ten year old was incredulous. I hadn’t asked his opinion, we hadn’t had long pep chats about new swimming lessons, we hadn’t even worked out a reward scheme. But I had just finished reading the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and told him, it was Chinese parenting from now on. He was a strong swimmer and coming with the family and splashing with his brothers once a week was not enough. Proper training and an end of year gala was on the cards. Why not? He had always been comfortable in the water. Well, he could think of plenty of reasons. The teacher would be cross, it was after six in the evening and he would be tired, I hadn’t even bothered to ask him, I couldn’t make him, his leg was sore. The list went on. The tears came and voices were raised.

Parked outside the pool I found my inner tiger and got him into the changing room, left him with a classmate and found the viewing gallery. There were chairs for parents and I found one but realised that I couldn’t actually sit. I was so tense, my legs wouldn’t bend. The previous class was finishing and I could see a teacher talk sternly to a little boy who was shivering. Another mother sat beside me and started chatting so I moved to seated position but found my bum didn’t actually touch the chair. I hovered until I saw him line up with the other children and get into the pool. He looked ok.  She was chatty and told me her son was in second class and I said mine was in fourth.

Below me the children were being tested to see what level they were at and I could see him being moved out of the beginner’s class. He didn’t seem to understand though and lined up again with the little kids. I was behind glass and tempted to vault it or bang on it but controlled myself and saw him being put right. I finally breathed out. Then he did another width. Beautiful over arm with great breath control. 
“The boy in the black cap. Move over here.” the teacher said (I was lip reading) but he stood behind his friend and three times the wrong boy stood forward until I saw his little hopeful, tear stained face say “Me?” and he was moved up again, to the next level. I found myself able to turn my head to the mum beside me and we chatted. She was telling me about her son’s second class teacher and I suddenly thought, second class, that sounds familiar? And realised that my eight year old is in second class too. For the previous twenty minutes I had actually forgotten that I had other children!

When the class was over I stood by the door of the changing room and he appeared, looked very pleased. I said, in an unprecedented magnanimous act “what do you want from the machine?” indicating the snack dispenser beside me. Never one to turn down food he acted as if this was perfectly normal, asked how much money I had, I said a euro and he quickly chose something for one fifty. I let the tiger sleep and handed him the money.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Florry and Marina

It’s all churchy stuff this week. On Monday the meeting with Marina, the First Communion coordinator and then this morning, collecting our baptism certificate.

The First Communion meeting was in the church. On the way in I asked a (quite good looking) dad if I was in the right place and we had a quick chat walking up the aisle. For a few seconds I was in secondary school again and going to a rehearsal for The King and I and “nonchalantly” chatting to a boy on the way in (under the deliciously curious gaze of classmates). I felt compelled to say something to the effect that I was so not a mass-goer and then quickly worried that he was.

Marina started by picking up a microphone and then in a really down to earth way announced she didn’t need it as she “talked with her hands”. She told us that she was from the Kildare diocese which is “of course, just down the road!” Trying, I suppose, to say, we are close neighbours. I think most of us knew where Kildare is though, so she failed in that respect. Then she continued to witter on about finding a special place for our First Communion candles, buying a holy water font, attending mass and in short, saying that if we were good parents we would introduce our kids to the boring church stuff now, in payment of sorts for the fun of First Communion Day. She regaled us with “hilarious” anecdotes about children who compete to see who prays the most and therefore has the shortest candle; those who insist on bringing their candle to mass even if they are on holiday and the child who taught her parents to say grace before meals.

As she talks I can see her trying to make eye contact with us all and I cannot resist the urge to deny her, focussing instead on her little black shoes, her gums that need flossing, her chunky talking hands. She tells another story about a little girl whose family were so busy erecting a bouncy castle and organising a party that they decided to skip the church ceremony on the day of the first communion. We all assumed at this stage that another polite titter was expected and delivered it until she said “you may laugh, but what is it all about?” and everyone stopped sniggering and those who had maintained eye contact quickly looked down.

Then, question time. There was only one;
“Where can I buy rosary beads that will match my daughters’ parasol?”

We depart at nine with the news that our kids first communion candles would be given out at the end of mass next Sunday.   

I had to collect our baby’s’ baptism certificate this morning. I knew where to go. Straight down to the back of the church, through a heavy wooden door to a big room with a waxed floor and a Narnia-ish wardrobe where priests robes are hanging. There I found Florry, who “does” for the parish priest. I like Florry. She has a sweet smile and clearly relishes her job in a way that sort of makes me appreciate the Catholic Church a little bit. She’s so purposeful. Taking out a big old fashioned book where we are recorded, she finds a blank baptism certificate and slowly fills our details in; in that careful, old lady writing that mixes capitals and lower case at random.

Around her, other old ladies hover. “I wish I didn’t come in today” she says to them gleefully “do you know what I mean? I’m that snowed under!” Most are watching her, but one little bird-like creature sits at a big, shiny mahogany table counting money. “Seven hundred and ten, seven hundred and twenty..”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ninety nine pounds sterling

 “Don’t forget to check eBay.” he said for oh, the tenth time that morning. The rewards for good behaviour were due. And, to save me a trip to Smyths and a few Euros to boot, the boys had all chosen Lego sets from eBay. Mostly second hand but will all the pieces intact and at a reduced price.

A very bad idea. Do you know how long it takes between bidding, paying, the five day wait for payment clearance and waiting for the toy to arrive? No? Well neither do I, because we are still waiting! It takes forever.

Anyway this morning, my eldest boys Lego Bionicle figure (used, no box) was coming to the end of its bidding time. I checked my emails. No, I had not been outbid. It looked like I was going to get a good deal. 99p for a much wanted toy. Later in the afternoon I had another look, just so I wouldn’t be pipped at the post. Still no email alerts. Then I checked the item. There had been four bids, the highest was now £8.04 and I was the winning bidder. How could that be? But there it was on the screen, only a bid more than £99.00 sterling would beat me. Panic stations.

Two long, fruitless and life shortening phone calls to eBay later, I realised what I had done. Like a complete eegit I had said that the highest I would pay was £99.00 instead of 99p. I actually remembered putting the dot in the wrong place. So now, every time someone else put in a bid, my eBay account automatically outbid them and would keep doing so until the magic number £99.00 was reached.

Yes I tried to cancel it and no that wasn’t possible. Bids cannot be retracted if there are less than twelve hours to go until the end of the auction. Even my rant at customer services was unsatisfying as there was a time-lag on the phone call and every time I said “I made a mistake! Why are you called the help desk if you can’t help?” at exactly the same time a very quiet, distant voice would say “And what is your issue today?”

When I checked again, the top bid was £8.90 and there was twenty two minutes to go. There was nothing to do but wait. Life seemed very unfair. I did the right thing yesterday, and now I was going to pay one hundred pounds (sterling!) for a used toy?

Well no, I didn’t. Bidding ended at £10.53 sterling, plus £4.95 shipping. Not exactly a bargain but a lot better than it could have been. The gods were on my side. Halleluiah.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

what would you do?

It started with the armchairs. They needed new covers and finding fabric and someone who would make them for less than the price of a new car was a long, drawn out project.

Anyway, after weeks of gathering snippets of material and dragging home borrowed heavy, sample books and asking in cleaners and curtain shops, I found an affordable fabric in a colour that would look ok in the sitting room and someone willing to make up the covers.

So, yesterday morning I cycled into town to pick up the fabric and pay the balance of €209.00.  I was heading for a quaint little shop with hundreds of bolts of different materials precariously balanced against the walls. One of those places that makes me want to buy a sewing machine. I waited my turn and the man behind the counter declared my choice “Very fresh. Shabby chic!”  He put it in a bag, got out a calculator and then the phone rang. Answering with one hand, he totted up with the other, chatting all the while.
“That’ll be €109.00” he mouthed to me in a whisper, said goodbye and hung up. I gave him my laser card, trying to be as slow and cool as possible. As I keyed in my number he thoughtfully wrapped up the material in a more compact bundle after noticing my bike helmet. He talked about taking it easy and making sure that the package was well balanced on the back carrier. Then, with my receipt and the docket with all my details on it in hand, I walked out of the shop. Undercharged by €100.00.  

With a feeling that a heavy hand was going to clamp down on my shoulder any second, I walked to my bike, practising a gormless, innocent expression and a surprised “Oh! Did I forget something?” exclamation.

I should be skipping, I thought, I should be tap dancing. But I wasn’t, I felt terrible.  

Cycling home, each push of the pedals said “bad, karma, bad, karma”.

When I collecting the kids from school that afternoon, I was distracted and absent mindedly said yes to requests for Guzzle Puzzles and then got very cross when I realised they had opened the bags and I had to pay for them. By the time we got back to the house I had bitten the nose off everyone. 

The phone number of the shop was on the bag inside the hall door. As I started dialling I already felt better. Although it did gall a bit when the man said “So I undercharged by €50.00? Wow, you are so honest. Thanks for ringing!” and I had to say “No. It was €100.00.”  In a patient, pained voice. The words literally stuck in my throat.

I woke the next morning thinking, good things will happen today.  I am such a nice person! And then .. But that’s another story.

To be continued.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Xenia! I can't breathe!

I do my best. I really do. However, that doesn’t change the fact that three of my children watched Goldeneye yesterday. But what harm in that? Its only 007. There’s nothing wrong with some high jinks and frenetic adventures. Right? Not everything they watch has to be animated, after all. Well, that was my feeling as I drove up to Xtravision and had the inspired idea to get a James Bond movie instead of Rango or Dr Dolittle or something else made for kids. I thought some good, clean action based fun would make a change for my little darlings and, leaving the car on double yellows outside, I ran in and grabbed Goldeneye. I had seen the movie at some stage in the distant past and was pretty sure it was fine. Plenty of breath taking stunts and Indiana Jones style fun. Not long later they were all ensconced on the couch with popcorn and blankets. Pierce Brosnan was bungee jumping and I was emptying the dishwasher.

About half an hour in I heard some panting and “Oh no! Mum! There’s kissing!” I was indisposed at the time (a new plan to take two 1000mg capsules of fish oil a day to give a general feeling of well being plus boosting my heart and vascular health had some urgent side effects.)  Apologies. Too much information. My point is, I absolutely couldn’t move. But surely there was no need to panic? The kids were ok, kissing wasn’t so bad. To be sure, I resentfully put down Now magazine and listened. The panting got louder and then I heard a choking voice stuttering “Xenia! I can’t breathe!” and I flushed the toilet and ran into the sitting room.

 I got there just in time to see Xenia’s shadow as she choked the gullible Admiral with her strong but hard to resist thighs. When I rewound later I could see that my dear little boys had spent not a few minutes watching the Russian temptress and her balding, aged lover thrashing around on a bed, groaning, nibbling and moaning, the Admiral’s eyes rolling in ecstasy and eventually bulging in his shiny, red face as he died in flagrante.

And it was all my idea! They wanted to get Scooby Doo.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

back to school

Back to school. Audible groan. It’s everywhere. Back to school food, clothes, pencils, bags, and lunchboxes. I’ve got the books, the project copies, the manuscript copies, the twistables and the maths set. (Still sold in a metal tin that brings back memories of that loud crash as it falls onto the classroom floor followed by the fervent hope that it’s not my box that has fallen). I’ve got the little bottles of water and the sliced pans in the freezer. The extra socks are in the drawer and the chequebook is ready and waiting to be used for drama and chess and street dancing. The hurling helmet that defies all hooks is as usual, on the floor beside the coats and the hurl is I think, under a bed. I’ve labelled the copies, sharpened a few pencils and ticked off the booklists. Although I did draw a line at buying a Pritt stick for everyone. Surely that’s not a pencil case staple? (I remember when Pritt was a treat and finding one that hadn’t dried up was a rare and wonderful discovery). And finally, the long and urgent search for the must-have skin coloured marker is over. Found it.

Most people are looking forward to the first of September. I am not. Why? Maybe because I don’t enjoy crawling about on my hands and knees at ten to nine in the morning looking for a missing shoe, knowing that any second some poor eegit is going to think it is fun to sit on my back, making me feel angry in a very un-child-friendly way. Maybe “gently” repeating “try writing a little bit slower and using the pink lines” every afternoon from September to June does not make my heart race.

And what I do not look forward to most of all, is the lunches. The lunches. Every night throughout the school year I flop on the couch at nine o’clock and say to no one in particular in a zombie monotone “I should do the lunches”.  And every morning I come down the stairs, dole out the weetabix (or cheerios) the ready brek (or malt wheats) and think (zombie monotone again) “I have to do the lunches.”

“Often” forgetting to wash the boxes the night before, I start by looking for them in the schoolbags.  That doesn’t take long as these are the first thing I fall over as I come into the kitchen rubbing my eyes. The open zips alert me to the copy and workbooks underfoot and the pencil case on the table.
“How many times do I have to tell to put the homework into your schoolbag when it is finished?” (Razor sharp tone. I have not yet had my cup of tea.)
“I was waiting for you to sign my homework notebook! You always forget!”
And there it is, lying reproachfully on the kitchen table, open at yesterdays date.

Once I have the cuppa though, I achieve a lot. Lunches, ties, socks, facecloths, baby strapped in, coats on. All is good; we’re sucking diesel and running, hurrah, on schedule. We’ll be in school on time! Until it is made known that one shoe is missing. And there I am, on my hands and knees, shoe in one hand, child straddled on my back, stuck there because he is frozen in fear after hearing me howl in a primitive way. Tears follow and as ever, guilty apologies. And we are late again.

Friday, August 19, 2011

a full head of meche

Am I really breaking out in a cold sweat while on the phone to the hairdressers? Yes I am. And this is why.

In the salon I go to there is a special offer for a full head of meche highlights plus blow dry for €79. But Nuala, the only colourist who does my hair without wasting vast swathes of time discussing sandwiches and the merits of paracetemol vs. Vicks cold and flu with her colleagues, is on holidays. This is not an appointment I want to postpone for a few weeks as the reason I am getting the highlights done in the first place is to look my Olympic best on Sunday, when my youngest is being christened. But hang on a second says the receptionist, Elaine is free! Elaine, who always starts the appointment by bringing me to her chair, putting on the black capey thing that I always stand the wrong way for and promptly disappearing for about ten minutes. She returns smelling of coffee, fingers my hair (this is when I remember why I should have washed it that morning) and says “I’ll just look up your colour. What was the name?” and off she goes again.

Five minutes of practising deep breathing later, she materializes announcing
“No. It’s not here?” (In a tone that implies this is not completely my fault but definitely nothing to do with her.)

“Anyway, I’ll just do more of the same you got the last time. Cover these roots and lighten it up a bit near the front.” I nod enthusiastically(in a desperate, pathetic way) and say “Great! Thanks a million!” and she sighs the sigh of someone who has all day to do the highlights and does not have a husband at home minding children for “two hours right? You won’t be any longer will you? I have to leave at eleven. I can’t be late. Ok?” and then to the kids “Say bye-bye to Mum. She’s off for some relaxing pampering!”

I hold the phone in my slippy hand in an agony of indecision. What if the special offer is over by the time Nuala comes back from her holiday? What if Elaine remembers the not great tip I left for her the last time I was there?

“So that’s Elaine at half two on Saturday” says the receptionist “We’ll see you then.” She puts down the phone. My moan of indecision must have been mistaken for a yes.

Hanging up I take a breath. As I exhale my husband comes into the kitchen.  “Your hair looks nice” he says “did you get it done recently?”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

IKEA fit quiz

The first time I went to IKEA was a big deal. Years of waiting certainly helped build up the anticipation. Years of nearly getting to a Belfast or London branch but ending up in Westfield or the Banbridge Outlet Village instead. Years of IKEA being the cheap and nice but unattainable, the Old Navy of the housekeeping world. From afar, I loved it. The  minimalist style, the slightly off-primary colours, the prices, the practicality. There was no downside!  The layout seemed to make sense, flat pack didn’t put me off and I liked the sound of the food.

On arrival, I was ready to be impressed. The bag and trolley combination was genius! The display floor inspired! Pregnant at the time, I actually, genuinely needed stuff.  Having a valid excuse to wander around the baby area and fill a trolley was truly wonderful.  My heart thumping, I drank it all in. Finally! I was there! But the IKEA virgin experience didn’t last. About three months later the meatballs, the marathon walk to the checkouts and the tolls on the motorway cured me. Now I hear the word IKEA and slump in a chair, exhausted by the mere thought.

Last week, when we needed a duvet and picture frames and stair gates, I put it off and put it off until a solution came to mind. I would send my husband. He checked availability online, wrote a list, walked around the house sighing and harrumping and gulping down tea as if it were the last cup on earth. Sitting at the laptop he expostulated “What! I don’t believe this.” and I looked over his shoulder. Instead of researching stair gate extensions he had been doing the IKEA Fit Quiz. To see if he is a suitable candidate for a job there. Why? Is he looking for a job? No, but for some reason, he wants to be wanted there anyway. Fuming, he starts anew, giving different answers this time. Again, he is rejected, being told that he is better suited to shopping at IKEA than working there. “So my money is good enough!” he growls. “You try it. We have to pass this.”

I go though the motions. What do I think when I enter a friends living room? How do I cope with a new schedule? Do I manage easily when my boss is away?  I make myself at home. I adjust to a new schedule. I assemble a group of talented colleagues to work with me. My responses reveal a hard-working, ambitious, environmentally friendly and considerate candidate. Each time I click on one of the multi-choice boxes a piece of furniture is added to a picture of a room on the right of the screen. At the end I click for results with a flourish and smile triumphantly. Before my eyes the room empties, couches, coffee tables and bookshelves fading away like ghosts. The results come up “Oh Dear, your room seems a bit sparse! Looks like you may not be comfortable in the IKEA culture.” I am gobsmacked. If I don’t fit in in IKEA, where do I fit?

Off he went, list in hand and chip on shoulder, leaving me in the kitchen with a dilemma. Do I waste valuable time thinking about this nonsense or do I get on with my life, feeding the kids and counting my blessings. The sun is out, there’s no school, it’s a good day!

Resistance is futile. I snap open the computer and plonk myself down. Maybe if I  advise my friend on three things that would make her living room cosier and write a suggestion for improved routines in the workplace?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

what a dump

Did any of us ever imagine, when we were the kids sitting on the back seat, on the way to Coole Park or Malahide Castle for a picnic, that we would one day be half of the couple in the front of the car?  Being stingy with the biscuits and pulling rank over window controls and the volume on the radio. Sitting there with a face that could stop a clock “creating memories” for the kids.

And yet here I am. Arms folded in the front passenger seat I am barking. “If you ask me that again you are getting NO sandwiches when we get there.” An idle threat if ever there was one. My husband and life partner prefers to drive whilst reading the street atlas on his knee rather than ask me to navigate. The child sitting in the way- back is shouting for Spin 103.8 on the radio. The baby is crying and crying and crying. The other two are old enough to realise we are lost, their parents are not on speaking terms and the day is turning out crap. For the record Bramblestown House is not currently open to the public and if you read about it in a nice colour supplement a few years ago and thought a visit would be nice, you’ve missed the boat. The beautiful gardens and stunning house are behind closed gates. So we did a (dangerous) u-turn and the driver thought it would be a good idea to find a beach. A long, long forty minutes later we pulled into a car park facing the sea. The tide was in making the beach about eight feet wide. As well as shells, sand and a good sixty percent seaweed there was dog poo and rubbish. On the bright side, we didn’t see a disposable nappy. Or a syringe. But we didn’t look too hard.

So. We found the beach. The sun disappeared and the wind came up. It was too dirty for the baby to play on. After nearly an hour fighting the tyranny of the car seat, that didn’t go down well.

“Well, this is shite”, I noted. My husband nodded grimly and a voice from behind us said bravely “Is it really shite?” The other two waited for our reaction and when none came, joined in. “Its shite and shit and crap!” they voiced joyously.

Then we got out the sambos, the 7up and the absolute highlight for me, a flask of tea. Watching the kite surfers, we beeped every time one of them did a jump and after a quick walk on the poxy beach, came home.

Another day done.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

sand in the bath

According to the Westcoast website we had to present ourselves between four and five o’clock at the holiday homes office to collect the key from Doreen.  Determined to arrive on time for once we left home aiming to get there at half four, come hell or high water. On the way, Doreen rang to say that she was going to a social in Mullingar in aid of breast cancer awareness and the key would be under the mat.

We arrived at five.  Opening the car doors released a wave of stale McDonalds- scented air, a few ketchup smeared happy meal boxes, half empty water bottles, jackets rolled into pillows and a sweaty, exhausted family. We ran up the little path, opened the door and breathed a sigh of relief. Celebrating both that the key was where it should be and that it worked. I walked in and wondered the same thing I think every time I enter a holiday home. Is this what it’s like having a cleaning lady? It didn’t take long for the freshly mopped tiles to be littered with our stuff but it was still a lovely feeling to be living in a place that had been cleaned by someone else. The bendy forks didn’t matter. The knives that wouldn’t cut butter didn’t matter. I had even already prepared myself not to think too hard about the pillows when I went to sleep. (How many heads had lain there? Could germs permeate a pillowcase?) I was on holiday! Sitting up on the bed I could see sky, sea and little else. Bliss. 

I wondered was Doreen still on the road or was she putting on her make-up when we texted to let her know that the tap in the kitchen wasn’t working. She sent back a message ending in a sad face. “Is it the cold one? I only fixed it last week! L” which disarmed us a bit. She was sad for us?  She was upset about the tap? She was coming to fix it and when she did it would be with a downturned mouth?  My husband wanted not to be taken advantage of because we were Dublin Jackeens. I wanted not to look fussy and annoying because we were Dublin Jackeens. We wondered if there was kind but firm face? That said we were tolerant but nonetheless needed a cold tap in the kitchen. Or a stony we-expect-this-to-be-fixed-immediately face? Well, there is neither. And as the sun was setting and we were by the sea, it seemed like a good time to let it go, put the phone in a drawer and head down to the pier and watch the locals teenagers jump into the cold water.

 Someone called Joe dropped in the next day to “have a look as a favour to Doreen.”  He asked us where we were from and fiddled at the sink for a few minutes and then left agreeing that it wasn’t working all right.

Doreen dropped in the day after that (the social went well) and with arms roughly the width of a bolster, turned the tap and told me if I lifted it at the same time as turning, it worked. “A man wouldn’t think of that” she said “they’re not like you and me.”  Then she noticed there was clean dishes on the draining board and asked why I hadn’t used the dishwasher. When I told her I hadn’t bought any dishwasher tablets yet she bounded out to her car to drive home and get me a few from her own house. I was at the swings when she came back, “slowing” her Toyota Corolla to a mere twenty mph to throw me a few tablets and shout “These will keep you going! Tis a busman’s holiday for you if you wash up!”

The next time I saw her was on our last morning and she came to pick up the keys.  I was walking out to the car when I noticed an elderly woman calling to me over a wall. “Hello!” she shouted “Have you seen my husband? He was cutting the hedges!” I told her I hadn’t and Doreen, who was cleaning the house, stuck her head out the window and said that she hadn’t either. The woman saw her and said “Excuse me! Are you calling me a tinker? I’ll have you know I’m a qualified nurse!” Doreen, both a big lady and a fast mover, was out of the house in seconds, gunning for a fight. “Do you have a problem over there?” she asked in a voice that had me headed towards the car. Then a penny dropped and I wondered if there was a nursing home nearby. I thought the woman may be a wanderer. “Ah..” said Doreen “Alzheimer’s. My own mother went the same way”. “My Mum too” I said, and she put her ginormous arms around me and gave me a hug which almost but didn’t knock me over.

As she careered off in the Corolla to alert the nursing home of the situation, the lady over the wall shouted “Hello! Have you seen my husband? He was cutting the hedges!”

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Crusades, a short history

What’s the thing you hate most about the one you love?

I saw that book in a shop the other day. The pile of stuff at the bottom of our stairs has, over the past few weeks become part of the furniture. It is not only on the stairs, it has dripped onto the hall floor and when the bathroom door is open, in onto the tiles there too. It has spread out so much that our front door doesn’t open fully and when anyone comes in, it bounces back on them. The lack of floor space means they need to walk lopsidedly, with one foot on the bottom step of the stairs. Mainly, this “stuff” comprises two overflowing cardboard boxes. One is overflowing of books, one overflowing of clothes. The books are amongst whats left of my Dads belongings. He died three years ago.

A lot of these books have been sitting on our shelves until recently and finally it is not so hard to get rid of them. I have admitted to myself that no matter how stuck I am for something to read, I’m never going to wade through De Valera, Long Fellow, Long Shadow, The Making of Modern Ireland or Reflections on the Irish State. I don’t see myself sitting on the beach tackling Virgil’s Aenid or Homers Odyssey in the near future (I don’t see myself sitting on a beach at all with this weather). And there is nothing wrong with giving The Crusades a Short History a wide berth. I know Dad would not mind that I do. Some day soon, I will drop them on the counter of a charity shop with the car parked on double yellows outside.

The second box is Mums clothes. Mum lives in a nursing home nearby and is in the final stages of dementia. Every now and again her wardrobe need to be replenished and in the box is what I take out of the Home to make room for new clothes. Everything washed in the nursing home is dried in an industrial dryer thus losing colour and shape in record time. In the box are baggy tracksuit bottoms and faded fleece jackets, grey thermal vests and pyjama tops. They all, depressingly, have her name printed on them. I don’t really mind putting all this in the clothing bins in the car park nearby. It’s not a traumatic event but still, I leave it in the hall for a week or so until the moment is right. Things of Mums that I like to keep are things that were hers when she was well. Her pocket guides to butterflies, moths and wild flowers.  The Delia Smith recipe book which she covered as if it was a school text. Her brown bread tin. The brown bread recipe in her handwriting. “Mix until you have thick goo” is my favourite line.

So, in these two battered boxes are my parents. On the one hand, it is sad. On the other, it is only stuff. The longer I hang onto it the less poignant it becomes. Books and clothes. That’s it.

As my husband negotiates the roadblock in the hall, uncharacteristically ungrumbly it occurs to me that this is what I love about the person I love the most. Not mentioning anything about the pile of stuff at the bottom of the stairs.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Darragh the badger

We had Darragh to stay for the weekend. Darragh the badger. Every boy in Junior Infants takes him for a spell and then tells the story of their adventures in his accompanying diary. And as it’s coming to the end of the school year and we are one of the last host families, I get to see all he has done so far.

We didn’t get off to a great start. Teacher pulled me aside and told me that usually the boys are dying to take Darragh home but my son took some persuading.  I asked him about this and he said he wasn’t keen to do the project as he thought “we are too stupid”.

As well as writing an account of the weekend, most families paste a few photos in the diary too, so it’s a sort of Junior Infants Facebook. There is Darragh eating in a restaurant, Darragh at the St Patricks day parade, Darragh surrounded by grinning kids on a football pitch, Darragh having an amazing time! I spent about an hour looking through the diary, trying to see what the houses in the background look like; who has a massive flat screen, who has leather seats in their car, who has a big garden. The stories tell a lot too; there are the mums with OCD, “the minute we got home we gave Darragh a bubbly bath, so he is nice and clean!” the mums who are well connected; “and then Darragh met our friend Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice and Defence who was delighted to meet a badger!” and the proud mums; “Darragh was thrilled to see Martins collection of gold medals that he has won in Aikido”.

We started by letting Darragh watch a movie with us. That was easy enough. Then we took his photo on the couch, in the high chair, pulling Daddies hair, and arguing with another teddy over the remote control. Next, I had to get the pictures from my phone to the computer. During this process it did cross my mind that my son might be right, maybe I am too stupid, but it was easy enough in the end.  When it was time for Darragh to go to bed there was no shortage of offers to share pillows. This is when I could see the OCD mums point and wished I had though to suggest throwing him in the washing machine and taking his photo on the clothes line. But he got tucked in and I repaired to the computer to print out the pictures and miss The Good Wife. Damn Darragh the badger.

The idea I suppose, is to give a glimpse of life in our house as we want it seen. (Or maybe it has something to do with education?) Anyway, my plan is not to mention the hours on the Xbox and the massive consumption of chocolate spread sandwiches and Sunshine Orange and to emphasise sports, musical instruments and fruit. So we show Darragh the drums and take his picture, bounce him on the trampoline and take his picture and I don’t bother picking up the apple cores lying in the background either time. We don’t mention the trip to A&E with our baby, or the crying (him), shouting and roaring(his parents) in the wake of his fall against the drum kit. We don’t mention his stitches or when they fell off the next day or the not very consoling thought that his scar will be neatly covered by a moustache.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Library cards

I might head up to the library later today. Get a few good books, chat to the friendly librarians. I’ve been going to the same branch for the past ten years so they must be friendly right? They must know me at this stage?  Not exactly. Over the past decade exactly one of them has exhibited normal, friendly behaviour. And to give her her due, another did start making eye contact after about five years.  The rest, all of whom have been working there as long as I have been mooching around, looking at books, reading out loud at the little tables and paying the odd fine are, (as my Dad might have said) a shower of oddballs.

There is the bald one who harrumphs and raises his eyes to heaven if the children do not behave as if they are in a cathedral and when I found a DVD on the shelf that he was trying to fine me for not returning said, charmingly “just bring it over here.” There is the tall managerial one, who is never, never off the phone. She looks up as I approach the desk with books to return, and gives me the same look I give my kids when they interrupt a rivetingly gossipy chat. Reluctantly whispering her farewells (“I have to go I’m afraid, there’s someone here, I will discuss that issue with you at a later date.”), she eyeballs me as if I have kept her waiting ands says officiously “Now. Can I help you?”
One day I told her that I was there to pick up a book I had reserved and committed the cardinal sin of asking for it (an adult book. Yes, adult as in grown up!) at the desk in the children’s section. This desk is approximately six paces from its adult counterpart and she said “I will just ring my colleague and ask if they will do me the favour of bringing the book in here. Just a minute please.” Another time while I was waiting for my little boy to choose which Beast Quest book to bring home, I saw her look furtively around the room, pick up the phone and say in hushed tones “I thought you’d like to know. The eagle has landed.”

There is a librarian with a moustache, another face I’ve seen weekly for the past decade, who also lives on the same road as me. I pointed this out one rainy afternoon and he looked horrified and then muttered something I couldn’t understand (“please don’t stalk me!”/ “Yes I live at number fifty seven.”) But we have been friends ever since. Just kidding, to date the extent of our conversation has been;
“There’s two fifty due on this card.”
“Can I pay it next week?”

This is where I back pedal and say how nice they really are, how I was wrong! And wind up the blog with a little one-liner about a kind, friendly librarian. No. Can’t think of anything. Wait! I’ve got it. My neighbour tells me the librarians in Thurles are very nice. Also on the plus side, this afternoon, when the kids get stuck into Yu Gi Oh GX, I’m going to sneak off and dive into The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam, which an unsmiling but diligent librarian procured for me from the Coolock branch.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


On the dangerously rare occasions I look at the dashboard of our car I see a little screen within a screen that usually says “you have 2 new messages.” These are messages from the engine to the driver and include “check transmission”, “right rear passenger door open”, and “tailgate open”. Other than closing the car doors I ignore them. My reasoning being that the accompanying triangular light on the screen has always been orange and I will only panic when it is red. Anyway last Sunday morning, we were on the M50. My careful husband was driving and said in a panicked voice, “there’s a new message here!”

My husband cycles to work. This means when he uses the car at the weekend he savours every single second in the driving seat.
“Could you take your glasses off the console? he asks,
“Will someone put this bottle of water in their footwell?”
We are barely on the road before he lifts both hands off the wheel and notes “feel that wobble?”  And of course his favourite bit is when we hit the M50, he hits the superboost.

So this was nothing new, we were superboosting along in the fast lane and he was reading the dashboard. “ABS needs service” he reads. Did you notice that yesterday?” I couldn’t remember.
“There’s another one!” he yelped, sounding more worried.
 “For Gods sake just ignore them.” I snapped and at the same time something else also snapped and there was a “thunk” from the engine.  Every light on the dashboard lit up (all in red) and my husband, who was still in the fast lane said in a voice of quiet doom “everything has stopped working.” All the needles were at zero and as he indicated to move over to the hard shoulder he added “including the indicator”. Here I should have looked over my shoulder to guide him but instead stared straight ahead like a skittle in an unhelpful state of shock. Behind me the baby gurgled and shouted, sucking at an old mobile phone and kicking the air.
It was a Sunday so he got us to the slow lane alive and then over to the hard shoulder.  So there we were, sitting at the side of the motorway, speechless.  It was almost a relief when the baby started crying and we had to break the shocked silence and do something. I found a phone, he found a number and I got through to the breakdown people whose first question was “registration please?” which, not surprisingly I couldn’t answer and very surprisingly neither could my husband. I was on the safer side of the car so got out to check and for the hundredth time promised myself to learn the bloody number off for once and for all.

Following the sensible advice of the breakdown people we got out of the car and climbed over the guard rail. As we scrambled up the brambly, rocky hill I took comfort from the fact that due to the speed of the passing traffic we were unrecognisable and if anyone thought they knew us it wasn’t possible to slow down to have a good look. Between us we carried the baby, a buggy for him to recline in and hopefully find amusement in the traffic thundering by, a booster seat for me to sit on and a Lego board for my husband to do the same. It was a June morning in Dublin and there was a cold wind. But we had a hat and blanket for bubs who after a couple of brave attempts to be allowed play in the brambles, fell asleep. We talked about all the cars we test drove before picking this one and both admitted being seduced by the leather seats. We thought of business ideas to present at Dragons Den, we tried to remember the Scouts motto (always be prepared), the Brownie one (lend a hand and play the game) and the Cubs one (neither of us knew). A single magpie landed a few feet away on a branch and we waited for him to be joined by a pal to change our fortune from sorrow to joy but no, he stayed resolutely alone.

And then he came. A kind, smiley rescue man who lent us his battery pack and comfortingly drove behind us all the way home sweet home. I really must stop counting magpies.