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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.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sports Day. Discuss.

Sports day. What does it mean to you? Me, I have mixed feelings. If we go home with a medal it is a great day out. Wonderful for the kids, all good, clean fun and weren’t we blessed with the weather?
If we go home without a medal it’s a cruel, heartless event, especially designed for show offs who deliberately grind my children’s self esteem under their heels.

This year we arrived in the usual state. Gripping the boys hands with white knuckles lest they bring shame on the family by wandering onto the track where sixth class were in the middle of a relay race. There is the usual tug of war over the buggy; both my husband and I know that the person in charge of it is exempt from the more onerous task of shepherding the others to the starting line for their races. I am dreading the disappointment ahead and wondering if I remembered the drinks and the rice cakes and the wipes and the money. The children immediately run all the way to the far end of the field thus using up as much energy as possible before their sprints begin. This year I have the sense not to shout after them having finally learnt that they are not listening and unless I am waving a cone with a flake in it they will not turn around. Usually at this point I stand alone, wondering why I have forgotten my social skills. Do I approach other parents and say hello, do I stand and wait for someone to approach me or do I just relax (impossible until the races are over) and gaze into the middle distance. My husband suffers no such self doubt and marches ahead in a no nonsense way, proffering his hand, introducing himself and chatting away. I walk behind him, scanning the crowd to see who is wearing a nice, summery dress, who has good upper arms, who looks as stressed as me.

Before long the heats begin. Every boy has two races, a novelty and a sprint. Novelty races involve sacks, skittles, hoops and crawling. Sprints involve speed and athletic prowess and often, disappointment. I was mentally bemoaning this when I heard a mother pacing the field and saying loudly to nodding acolytes “This is all totally track based! Where is the javelin? What about the long jump? Or the shot putt?” That tirade put a stop to my grumbling. It is a National School sports day after all, not the Commonwealth Games.

Youngest races are first. Junior Infants has little boys who will go through hell and high water for a medal and little boys who are don’t quite realise that when the whistle blows they need to move.  It is both heartbreaking and hilarious. Once the race is over I try to find my way around the barriers along the sideline to extract my son and wipe away his tears. Finding a gap in the barrier is a challenge every year but so far I have resisted the urge to throw myself over it. Everyone gets an ice pop and winners get medals. Some are consoled by the sugary treats, others are not. Novelty races are easier to watch. Anyone, even fast boys can fall over in a sack, and the knack of jumping into a hoop and lifting it over your head is an easy one to pick up. The child coming last does not do so by a long stretch, so many things can go wrong the participants are usually littered along the track.

Anyway, this year was a good year. We left with two medals between three boys (both bronze, if you insist on asking) so I’m all for sports day. One son kicked a 7up bottle the whole way home as if his new found sportiness was simply uncontainable, he just had to keep jumping and kicking and running. The fact that one of his brothers walked behind him weeping was of no visible concern. I was in good form too, two out of three isn’t bad and sure, weren’t we blessed with the weather?