Connections

Two Quinn Fiddles: Photo: Darragh Quinn

The bow rides the fiddle with the speed of an incoming tide echoing the sounds of the ocean. The ocean and its shoreline speaks to me of my brother. Music and sea-sounds briefly bring him back to me, causing ripples in my grief; allowing clearer thoughts to penetrate the fog. There is music that I asscociate with him in his life and there are distinct musical pieces providing a score to my saying ‘Goodbye’.

John’s eclectic album collection was my first music library. Although back in the day (some day in the late 1970s), we were forbidden from entering his room and playing those venerated records in case we scratched them. But play them I did! Carefully holding the vinyl velour at the sides and sometimes just thumbing through the album covers. Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Rory Gallagher, Dylan, Scullion, Ry Cooder, Pink Floyd,Planxty, Arlo Guthrie and The Horslips to recall just a few. Along with the Beatle albums that Mam had bought and some Top of the Pops LPs & Makem & Clancy records: these were the main soundtrack to the first decade and half of my life.

I was more than happy with this music, so enthralled by the magnificent talent encompassed in John’s collection that I never really got into collecting records myself in my teenage years, bar a few. John continued to build his collection over the years after he left home. I can still see myself sitting on the floor of his flat above a pub in Castlebar when I fell in love with one of my all time favourite songs Tom Wait’s ‘Martha’ at the age of 14. He offered up ‘Closing Time’ to me with all its due cermony (which was akin at the time to the presenation of a musical holy grail). I had the lyrics learned off by heart by the time my short holiday stay was over. It remains one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever heard. I have of course, as my disposable income improved over the years bought records and CDs of my own, often replicating some of the record stash that was homed on the floor in the backroom bedroom but also finding my own musical must-haves but never with quite the same dedication as John.

I am a music lover. It moves me the same way beautiful prose does, somewhere in the core of my being. My favourite songs are stories exquisitly told, casting emotions out with each note and harmony; blurring the lines of life with lyrical poetry. Bringing me to places and bringing places to me, cocooning me there and then sometimes just setting me adrift. My approach to music appreciation is the same as my approach to books, art and wine: one can’t be wrong, they are one of life’s few personal liberties. The choice is yours.

Music makers have been part of our family for generations. Fiddle, fife, flute, guitar, uilleann pipes, accordian, drums, ukulele, Jews harp or Geegaw players and singers have unfurled on our family tree for generations. making connections that are timeless and span entire life histories.

From the sing-songs to the story telling, much of my party piece repetoire relies heavily on songs my brother sang and encouraged me to learn. His undeniable influence on my answering of a ‘noble call’ is pretty well documented in my memory bank. A lot of them funny and ranging from slightly risque to downright bawdy. I think a kick might have been got, to hear them coming out of his then, young little sister’s mouth. In truth they have served me well. I grew into them. I’ve collected some of my own over the years, not all of them bawdy either and forgotten the lyrics of as many as I remember.

There is something lovely about life’s connections. Music connects. The two fiddles pictured above span three generations, the unstrung fiddle hasn’t been played in well over thirty years, its last owner being my Dad’s first cousin, Mary Quinn. Its provenace before that has been lost. It lived and was played here in the old house called the Gullet down the lane from where I now live.

Played in a small house with a half door and deeply splayed, small windows with brightly painted internal wooden shutters, nestled at the foot of the Comeragh Mountains. Played beside an open hearth with a wheel bellows which I used to pretend was a spinning wheel as I hummed and sang Irish poet John Francis Waller’s “The Spinning Wheel” ballad. As a child obvious connections can work best! An open hearth, where tea as dark as porter would be brewed on the crank over the open fire. A dwelling adorned with foxglove and fern and old cottage roses. Played while the hammer struck the anvil in the adjacent forge. Played at the crossroads. Played under paraffin lit lamps that dispelled the gloom and the smoke from the hearth and pipes. Its notes adding sweetness to the smell of woodbines. Played on high days and low days for family & friends known and unknown to me. I have never heard it being played but have heard tales of its playing.

I know not if it was played by and passed on to Mary by other older Quinns but it is now in the safe and kind hands of my nephew Darragh. A gifted musician and player of the other fiddle pictured above; who will, I hope, bring it on his travels and make music with it once more. It’s been silent for his entire lifetime and has long awaited an adventure and an incoming tide.

There is no doubt, that music at its best speaks to our souls or the substance of our being. It has been one of my most stalwart and compassionate companions as my life sketchily redesigns itself around John’s absence.

Three short months after John died, a friend of mine from my NIHE/DCU days, also sadly died. My first conversation with this chap from Leitrim, Richie Flynn, was about music. He bounced into the seat beside me thirty three years ago, for the first lecture in a course whose title I cannot remember, with a confident vibrant energy that is fair to say, imbued me with no small amount of envy. That energy and passion was applied with skill and fierceness to many facets of Richie’s life and led to many a robust discussion over the years but was tempered by his big good kind heart. Richie’s passion for music was wired in his DNA and leaked out of every pore. Richie used it as one of his litmus tests of people I think.

My knowledge had broadenned slightly from my previous year spent in UCC, thanks in no small part to a lovely chap called Arthur from Wicklow and I just about passed that test I think, as we talked about the merits of ” The Grateful Dead” Kevin Rowland & Dexy’s Midnight Runners among others. It was the same boy who charmed my Mam, with his chat and banter, a couple of years later and by giving a exemplary rendition of “Leitrim is a very funny place Sir” as a horde of us descended on her and our small, telephonless, corporation house, unannounced after a 21st party in Waterford. She never forgot him, or Richie her. As was his want Richie, made a lasting impression, both asking after the welfare of the other, over the years .

I credit Richie with my discovery of two fantastic music blogs. Thom Hickeys’s The Immortal Jutebox http://wp.me/p4pE0N-fr and The Black Sentinel incorporating Voices of the Glen. I am slowly working my way through back posts from both blogs, which are beautifully and eloquently crafted. Each blog is storytelling at its best. Casting me on a musical tide of reminiscence while broadening my horizons. Thom’s blog brings me back in an instant to my younger self, rifling my way through John’s records. It reminds me of the music of a lifetime. It reminds me of John. John would have approved of the inherent love and knowledge of some of his favourite artists. The Black Sentinel makes me wish that I had taken my head out of books a bit more in the late 80s and 90s, hung around with Richie a bit more and delved head first into the wonderful Irish music scene of the day. I wish I had, had more confidence to explore that glorious musical soundscape and not be so imtimated by own perceived lack of knowledge.

Sadly both John and Richie’s record collections have had their final cataloguing. They have become the finite distillations of a lifetime of music loving but without a doubt both their melodies will linger on. I don’t need music to bring them to my mind but sometimes it just tethers a longed for connection in the moment.

I think it might be time to go and buy a record or two. Maybe something old and something new. Until I do, here’s an already loved one.

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The Class of 2019.

June 21st 2019 was the last day of my third leaving certificate examination experience. I’ve only physically studied for it and sat it, the once; way back as a sixteen year old in 1985. Number 1 son, did the actual sitting of my 2nd experience of it, back in 2017. Number 1 daughter sat the dreaded thing this summer.

Each experience of it has been so different. My overriding vague memories of my own Leaving Cert, are of carrying a strong sense of wishing I had a done a bit more study, with me into each each exam. I realise that as a type, I straddled the profiles of both The Gambler and The Crammer.

It’s so long ago, that I belong to the generation where points were awarded in single digit form for A’S B’S C’s etc., and the grade bands were much wider than today. An ‘A’ being equal to 5 points and being awarded for anything scored between 85 -100%. My goal was to try get an ‘honour’ in each subject, which was a C grade 55%- 70% or higher. I cannot remember my results but there were no A’s and no E’s. I missed out on my first choice course at university by 1 point. I have no doubt, if teachers were writing on the Leaving Certificate Result sheet; their previous report entries would have been replicated, and comments like ” Could do better” would have featured a bit.

Doing the Leaving Certificate vicariously through my children has been infinitely harder than doing my own. No 1 son had to endure a seriously hormonal imbalanced Mammy in full blown panic mode. The ” not being in control” nearly drove me crazy. I blogged about it previously in a blog titled New Beginnings. I will attach link at the end of this blog

No 1 daughter’s Leaving Certificate was a very different experience. I did in fact make numerous cups of tea and suggest taking study breaks. I also had the knowledge that No 1 daughter had worked consistently over the past couple of years. Her notes and folders told me she had a far more effective and competent system of reference and method of study than I had ever devised. I also had learned that cajoling , nagging and threatening were not very effective tools.

I have a sneaking suspicion though that No.1 daughter may have taken the absence of these as a measure of a disinterest on my part. This was certainly not the case. I also have the sneaking suspicion that there may have been days when she would have welcomed a kick in the proverbial to get her going. But then again maybe not.

There is also no doubt that my grief altered my ability to deliver parental service as normal. It can be difficult to feel connected and maintain the connection to everyday life in spite of wanting that connection. Added to that is the fact that my perspective on the LC and my life view in general has changed significantly since my brother John died. Equally, third time around the LC block, it would be a sad indictment if I approached it the same every time. I’m acting on insights and knowledge gained that I like to think are leading to fine tuning and tweaking of the delivery my parental support role. I do know that when LC comes around for NO.2 son in 2021 which also just happens to be Junior Cert year for No.3 son, I like them will have most of my work done in the previous year!

So on June 21st 2019, No 1 daughter discarded her uniform onto the floor of her pit, I mean bedroom for the last time. Her AV8’s cast aside, though in fairness they owed her nothing; a shoe Granny would have been happy to buy. She was so delighted to be finished with a second level system which in her own words is just all about learning a huge volume of information and very little about understanding and education. It was over a week later when the friends gathered for the ” burning of the notes” bonfire and with glee banished subjects from their lives forever.

All we have to do now is wait on the results which will come next month. Then we will be thrown into a mad flurry of activity as points will be calculated, offers made and choices will be grappled with. Not to mention accommodation to be found which at this moment in time feels like a task of gladiatorial proportions. In truth though I will be as proud of NO 1 daughter the day before her results come out as the day they come out. I will fret and worry about her leaving home no matter where or what she chooses to study. I will without question make her clean her room before she goes.

https://abroadsthoughtsfromhome.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/new-beginnings/ Link to blog post New Beginnings Sept 2017.

525,600

Photo by Dan Musat on Unsplash

As has often been the way in my life, the countdown to significant dates and events is never left to the last minute.

For someone who has a reputation for being a bit tardy or at best cutting it fine when it comes to time keeping I find that increasingly the lead in time to important dates starts earlier and earlier. For the year that has gone by, all family dates of importance took on greater significance than usual as they were all firsts in our life without John. I tried and failed miserably at keeping my life, my thoughts and my grief in the day. With frayed dread I poked pins into the calendar of my life.

In the many weeks, maybe even couple of months if I’m honest, leading up to the first year anniversary of John’s death, I found myself thinking this is the last time that I will be able to say “this time last year he was alive”. It will be the last time I’ll be able to think thoughts of him going work, sharing his days, his time, his company with those he loved in ‘a short year’ kind of past tense. I wanted to hang on to that space in time where the past was not too distant at all.

So it arrived, a forever unwanted day, permanently etched deep into the timelines of our lives. I sit here and I’m not sure what to write. There is no happy redemptive theme I wish to explore. I survived a year of John’s absence from our lives. A year of fractured time. A year with many ordinary days that never felt normal. Days where I felt as un-anchored as a dandelion clock in flight. A year of clean crisp Atlantic water swims scorching my skin with cold, injecting beats into the heart of my days. Grounding me while I am still all at sea. A year of missing him. A year of acknowledging my love for him.

I could sit and write realms about the man I call brother. I’ve gone through my cream hard back journal and his being and his death are the essence of a year of my words. But for now, as we mark the first anniversary of his death it seems most fitting to share some of the first words I wrote around a “well worn kitchen table” just over a year ago. They formed part of John’s eulogy at his funeral service as we began our first year of ‘Goodbyes’.

John

One of the most poignant of descriptions of John made this week was by way of an accolade spoken, while we were sitting around a well worn kitchen table in the heart of Co.Waterford. A setting fitting for the accolade, because as we know John hung out in kitchens, a lot. He had graced this particular kitchen many times over the years with his presence, as he had many a person’s kitchen table. John, it is fair to say was a bit of a kitchen groupie. We know he was at his happiest though in his own kitchen, sharing food and often cooking for his own wonderful family.

John didn’t just offer the promise of good food and drinks from his kitchen, without fail he delivered on that promise in spades, as any of you lucky enough to enjoy his and Mary’s hospitality will know.

But John did so much more than put food in our bellies. He gave of himself generously, open to sharing his love, affection and life with us. He’d be there, all the fibre’s of his being filling the room, from his sandaled feet and shorts to whatever style of facial hair he was currently sporting. As we know that was wide and varied over the years.

When the food duties were ended, John could be found there, still in the kitchen or nearby, back leant up against a counter or door. Chatting, with a wry smile or a broad grin to be seen on his face. Perhaps singing a song or regaling us his audience, his groupies, with tall or small tales.

John filled a room while creating a space for everyone with his warmth. Being in his company was something of a magical experience. From the first bear like hug of a greeting you were his. Nobody could give hugs quite like John. The world felt like a safer and better place when you were wrapped up in his arms.

Grounded, protected and loved is how you felt and we are bereft without him. The absence of his physical being seems untenable to us. Our brains are trying to take stock of those portions of our lives he will not share. The awareness of forever is already clearly etched in our hearts more potent than any lover’s fulsome promise. We are sombre in the defeat of life.

And yet in an instant, John is here in our hearts and thoughts. Here he is getting a clatter of Sheridan children to believe they can jump start a car by physically jumping fast and high in the air, clearing the ground while he toys with the jump leads. Here he is bringing a skelp of Waterford nieces and nephews away into to the jungle with him on a “wim ba wa aweh”

Here he is, swimming in many oceans, sea dancing with the swell, salt on his skin or diving to the depths; calling you in , no matter how cold to join him. Here, he is walking and trekking his beloved hills and valleys of Mayo or the Voseges Mountains and beyond. Spreading the joy and sharing his love of the great outdoors.

Wherever he was in the world he made it and the people there his own, taking them under his wing and fitting in like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that had never been missed until it was found. John completed the picture.

Here he is, teaching and sharing his knowledge and his love of life by his very act of being.

Here he is, opening his very first door on the Cork Road, jumping hedges and canting a ball. Being called in for dinner by his Mammy, Mai. Here he is, one of many piled into a car, a grey Morris 1100 or a Black Prefect being the ones that spring to mind, for a days swimming and fishing with his Dad, Nicky, at their much loved Guillamenes.

Here he is, roaring ” Allez les Vertes”, “C’mon Mayo ” and “Up the Deise”, God love him. Here he is, roaring us all on in our own endeavors from the side lines of our lives, our loyal and stalwart supporter. He wanted nothing but the best for us all.

John will always be centre stage in the fabric of our being. We each have a myriad of recollections, good, happy and loving memories that would fill libraries let alone books. We have an abundance of love for the man we are blessed to call, Husband, Dad, Son. Brother, Uncle, Brother in law, God Father and Friend.

We’ll come back to that accolade now that would have said it all anyway..

“John; he was a class act, wasn’t he?”

I think of John so much more than I did when he was alive. I miss him so much more than I ever could have imagined, but then I never once imagined having to miss him at all…..

COUNTING DOWN
The skyline of my soul is inhabited
by tree's, waves and mountain peaks.
Densely populated it is
a benign wilderness providing refuge

to my broken heart.
Camoflaging my whirring

motionless existence.
There are no hiding places

that I seek,
on these the saddest of days.
You are missing from my life
and memory has yet

to bring me solace.
Ragged sleep and salty tears
grind out channels in my face.
Flowing with the speed of time
hurtling me to the date, that date;
when it will be final time of saying.
" Last year , he was alive."


J.Quinn Apr/May 2019

The Old and The New.

My Dad; Nicky in Furleigh Co. Waterford.

March 13th 2019 saw the 31st anniversary of my Dad’s death. I spent the few days either side of his anniversary searching for the diary which I kept at the time. The diary which was a put in a “safe place” is still not located! However even without it I can still see my 19 year old self railing against the day as I looked out through the windows of St. Lukes on to a fairly bleak piece of hospital grass.

My Dad, lay dying as my adolescent brain scrambled to take stock of the portions of my life he would not share. Already grieving for my loss not his losses; that grieving came later. Thoughts came fast and furious if not fully formed. My 21st, my graduation, my maybe wedding day, my first car, the birth of any children I may have. Like a double sided film reel, images from my life to that date floated in my mind’s eye. His fishing gear in permanent residence just inside our front door and his rock in the Guillamene, lazy sun filled days with a picnic of cream crackers and cheese to sustain our fishing from that rock, walks up the Comeraghs, fairies under the table in the Cork Road. A selection of car registrations, the smell of oil soaked overalls on a rainy day , his chair aligned sideways with the old table and the english dictionary that he used to keep on said table to read.

I don’t know how many hours we sat at his bedside but I remember wishing we could sit there forever. The early morning final clasp of his hand already in the too distant past. He pulled my sister’s hand and mine together, binding us in an unspoken promise to look out for each other. We had some indeterminate fast food, KFC, I think picked at in the corner of his room or maybe in the corridor outside shortly before he died. I always wished that it had been fish and chips.

The opening of the door at some juncture and the arrival of the priest from NIHE, which led to praying that brought me no solace. It sparked a not so quiet fury in my head and heart and a strong desire to tell the priest where he could fuck off to, I didn’t need it being made real. If he had no miracle to perform I had no use for him.

The awareness of forever already etched on my heart and the pure awfulness of that awareness. I don’t remember leaving the hospital and saying goodbye and have only hazy recollections of returning to my student digs in Santry for the night and the comfort of my boyfriend at the time. The long drive home without him at the wheel, following the hearse on the old road from Dublin to Waterford. Stopping in a pub in Kilcullen for the obligatory soup and sandwiches and being appalled that we would leave him unattended outside. Crossing the Suir, a river he knew so well once more and only once and the crowd awaiting at the church gates, sombre in the defeat of life, saddened in the face of our grief.

I remember little of the next few days, and have only snatches of recollections; over hearing what I considered crass conversations between headscarved women as to what age he was, debating it as if it was a matter of some importance. Again I was the epitome of restraint whilst muttering colourful vibrant obscenities under my breath set loose in their general direction, some of my mutterings may have been more vocal than I think. My older self hopes they carried on the breeze.

Individuals in a sea of faces whose presence and words of condolences meant something to me. The burial, the funeral tea in my Uncle’s house, ours being too small to house the gathering, the eventual return to college life. The first visit home with him not there.

His physical absence from my life now far extends his physical presence, I don’t miss him everyday anymore, but I think of him often and more often since I have children of my own. There would have been a mutual admiration society between him and all of his grandchildren of that I’m sure; only one of whom he had the joy of welcoming into this world.

He was a simple man in the best possible way, who I think lived in the moment before it became fashionable and a much sought after ability. One of seventeen children reared a few miles from where I’m now living, he was grateful for a “roof over your head, a fire in the hearth and food in your belly”. He spent a lot of time here, where I now live serving his time with my Gran Uncle Maurice at his forge in the Gullet to be a blacksmith and farrier. He emigrated to London back in the 1950’s working with the dray horses in London. Less than a year there, he was returning home to marry my Mam who had travelled with him. Re-training as a mechanic he spent the earlier part of his married life working in Carrick on Suir and then with O’ Donovans in Waterford city. I still have memories of going to work with him on an occasional Saturday morning and getting to play on the C.I.E buses that he was servicing. Those double decker buses where you could hop on at the back and tug on the pulley while taking turns to be the bus conductor, driver or passenger were to my mind better than any adventure centre.

I was reminded by my cousin,that he had a great sense of fun, and he had an gentle irreverence towards authority and solemness or standing on ceremony. I think he may have been responsible for my belief that the sacristan of our church was actually the pope and of far more importance that any of the priests of the parish. I remember too, believing that his occasional foray into Davy Mac’s for a pint and a game of 25’s was in fact as he told me, his turn to ” lock up the church gates”.

His love of fishing & his mechanical dexterity are legendary but he had a love of songs, music, poetry and enjoyed a good hand of cards & get together’ s too. One of my all time favourite poems is one recited regularly by him to us as children; “Grasshopper green is a comical chap, he lives on the best of fayre”….. (Author Nancy Dingman Watson)

I see bits of him in myself and my extended family more and more, from the clasp of a hand, the texture of hair to the quirk of an eyebrow and more importantly I see him in the personalities of my family, the calmness, the strength, the generosity and kindness. To me he was a man who was extraordinary in his ordinariness.

I have one remaining fishing weight which was made by him, over the fire in the Cork Road. Molten lead which I thought was silver, poured into his hand made moulds and left to set, he was like an alchemist. It is housed in my kitchen, moving with the seasons to different spots, (sometimes getting lost in the chaos that reigns ) handled by me regularly like a talisman and admired by the lads. We used & lost all the rest, Dad, fishing at the Guillamenes…” Shur what else would you have done with them, I hope they caught you some fish” I hear him say.

I have thought of him far more frequently since my brothers death. I don’t know how I tended to my grief after my Dad died. I’m not sure that I did. Though upon reflection, his death and my grief played some part in making up the substance of ‘my wilderness years’, though that may make them sound more exciting than they actually were. I wore his death like an unseen mantle believing at some core subliminal childlike level that his death gave us a promise of protection and security. An invisible shield to travel our lives with until old age would gather us in.

I felt that I may have drawn on a bit more than my fair share of its magical powers of protection in what I call my wilderness years which spanned the early part of my twenties. I didn’t realise how central this belief was to my life until my brother John died in May last year. In a span of a few minutes a cloak that I had forgotten I was wearing disappeared. My cloak of certainty gone with my brother.

So this year’s anniversary was harder than most for so many reasons. There is something about new raw grief finding and excavating an old grief. They intermingle spinning out a maelstrom in one’s head and waves of longing in one’s heart. With the passage of time, I know all the wonderful life events my dad has missed and know too, all the joy and everydayness that my brother has yet to miss out on. I know too how much I miss my brother and continue to miss my Dad. The axis that supported the life I once knew has moved more than a few degrees off course. There are no more certainties to count on, only that my lifeview and indeed my life will never be same.

We caught some Dad..Tight Lines

The Mother of all Mothers.

I first wrote this blog post just over two years ago in 2017. With Mother’s day just around the sun cycle , I thought it was worth revisiting. I have made small amendments and some additions as our lives have changed.

There was a time when the expression ” mother of all mothers” would have only be uttered in relation to a hangover I endured or a row I had engaged in.  However with the upcoming celebration of Mothers Day, I got thinking of my own Mam and my own mothering experience thus far.

Between us, my Mam and I have approximately 79 years experience in the business of mothering and that is just cumulative. If you take each child as an individual in their own right requiring their own specially tailored skill set  we have a combined total of just over 300 years experience….find me a CEO or management team with that kind of  record. OK she has accumulated the lions share of that, but I like to think she taught me well and as you know I’m entirely comfortable with the concept of piggy backing and/ or hanging onto someone else’s coat tails. She is not the cats mother.

I can remember her vividly on numerable occasions saying “Just wait until you’re “A MOTHER”.  It came across sometimes as a thinly veiled threat  and at other times as an overt warning. One which I now get, but obviously a bit too late  as I am mother to five children. I also  remember with some clarity (actually I think I made many the list over the years in the back room of the Cork Road) the indignities , the rules and utterances that I promised myself I would never ever ever ever visit on any future offspring I may have. I have to confess epic fail on that one. If memory serves me right some of these may have  included :

  • Any forced interaction with relations that involved any possibility of song, dance or recital of any kind.(Fail)
  • Any unnegotiated  bedtime…. actually bedtime in general really. My children were going to follow their own body clocks(Fail)
  • Any interference in the choosing of a hairstyle (haven’t done too bad on that, shame about school rules.)
  • The saving of the really nice food for the guests and feeding your children the LEFTOVERS. (Different times….we’re talking about when a tin of Heinz Vegetable Salad was the height of luxury)
  • The lack of Christmas decorations until Christmas Eve. ( not guilty of that)
  • The denial of freedom of movement outside the house . (HA  ha  … Fail)
  • The repeated overuse of  outdated cliches…..(mmm yep Fail).
  • Having to wear a hat when the wind came from any of the four directions bearing in mind that according to my mother the east wind had super powers when it came to my re-occurring ear infections and it merited the donning of nuclear level hat defences. (Bar the provision of a hat box and a odd roar in my children’s  general direction, I’m grateful if they’re wearing matching shoes)
  • Being in a state of fear going within 3 feet of the hot press door. The hot press was situated in our living room. I swear my Mam could hear that door opening from down the road by the grotto. The military precision like folding of its contents meant it was guarded like Fort Knox. There was absolutely no need for CCTV footage..she knew if so much as a facecloth which would have been ironed had been moved, (Bar the odd whinge about the state my children leave it in , they have full access.)

I have no doubt that my beloved children have and will screenshot  probably not such tame lists regarding the vagaries of my mothering style.  My mothering style is sometimes not even in the same library or book, let alone on the same page as my mothers. My Mam, was of her time, as I am of mine and we were reared in an Ireland that will soon only be known about in history books given the seismic changes in Irish society.

My Mam, whose womanly lifeforce has been a constant in my life, is very much a woman’s woman; not holding on a conceptual level the male of the species  in very high regard. Individual men whom she loves, likes or admires, of which there are quite a few, enjoy her warmth and friendship.

A woman who, reduced, reused and recycled way before the word ‘green’ entered our lexicon. A woman whose ninja like ability to reduce rooms of domestic detritus into neat manageable piles to this day leaves me in awe. My Mam, who wrote to me at least once a fortnight for the seven years I  lived in London and who pulled me up when she thought I was getting an English accent after only being there a couple of weeks.

My Mam who was happy to make her own bed and lie in it. Rejecting her fathers preferred match (” some very old farmer”) in favour of my lovely dad. A woman whose favourite time is around Spring and Easter with all it’s rebirth and new beginnings. A woman who could knit from her head and re calibrate  a pattern with the exactitude  of an engineer. A woman whose shin beef stew and apple cake would set a high enough bar for the celebrity slow cookers of today’s world. My Mam, a woman who instilled in me a love of reading & letter writing, an interest in politics,  and the thrill of a good bargain.

My Mam, who through her relationship with and how she talks about all of her grandchildren has shown me the love and pride she undoubtedly must have felt about me & my siblings. There is a softness there, that I think Mam didn’t have the luxury of, when she was rearing us. The fact that, I think she never has had to wait up for any of her grandchildren wondering when the hell they were actually going to arrive home probably helps too. Though she probably didn’t have to do that for all of my siblings either.

Mam sat every exam with us and given that she got all four of us through third level that amounts to a fair load of exams. One of her two contradicting ‘cliches’ was “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, the other being “Work hard in school/college, whatever else they take from you they can’t take your education away from you”. Given that we knew nobody, more emphasis was given to the latter pronouncement and I have never figured out who ‘they’ were.

I would love to report that all due diligence was given to these utterances and that I was a dedicated and hard working model student but if I said that, my Mam, who has editorial control over this blog post would make me stick out my tongue and then she’d find that black mark that ‘fibs’ leave.

My Mam who in my own mothering career, has and continues to provide equal measures of sympathy and practical advice. She has provided hours of housework, the continued mothering of me, hours of baby holding and associated winding, soothing etc. and the proverbial kick up the backside and calling out on my sometimes bullshit whinging. As my children have grown older, she has been quite quick to point out that many of the traits that I sometimes find annoying in my children are ones that they didn’t pick up off the floor.

My Mam comes from a generation that had a much harder existence than mine or my children. It beholds me to remember that. It took me years to cotton on to the soundness of her”spend a little, save a little” advice. It took me an equally long time to realise the merits of having at least one or two clothing items of “Sunday Best” status in my wardrobe not to mention the importance of good clean underwear just in case the Doctor might be needed . Mam would say of me, “if you had something new you’d wear it to a “cat fight down the road” and “if your sister had something new you’d wear that too”.

Even as I as I hit middle age and had matured somewhat, she still had the ability to deliver invaluable life lessons.   When she turned eighty about eleven years ago now and I hit my fun filled forties, she came to stay for a few days. I discovered during her stay whilst doing the laundry that completely of my own volition, I was buying and wearing the same knickers as my eighty year old mother. Knickers that even Bridget Jones would think twice about wearing on a bad day!  Enough said, even after five children, my pelvic floor muscles didn’t need that amount of support, so into a bin bag they went. Subliminal sartorial advice at skin level.

It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that my Mam’s mothering achievements amount to much more than just being the catalyst for my underwear drawer overhaul. I am certain each and everyday that she has my back, that she will always be in my corner. I will never be too old to be beyond a gentle rebuke verbal or otherwise. “The look” never lost its’ effectiveness.  I will always be her child and even though we still sometimes don’t see eye to eye, have different world views and ideals, we have forged a good, indeed a great relationship. A relationship  like one,  which I hope to enjoy  with my children both today and for all of the tomorrows.

This coming Mother’s day will be the first one for Mam, where my brothers signature will be missing from the annual card that was sent. At 91 it is fair to say that she did not expect outlive any of her children..what parent does? I know if she could have a struck a bargain with’ whatever powers that might be’ she would have done so in an instantaneous heartbeat. Age, wisdom and accumulated life experience do not lessen the burden of grief or reduce the feelings of loneliness and longing that underpin her days. I cannot lessen her burden either. We talk about our irrevocably sense of disbelief, the void in all our lives and our sadness. The changes wrought by John’s death are far from imperceptible in the essence of my Mam’s being and still she mothers me.

Beyond Kǘbler -Ross; My grief doesn’t look like that.

( An article I wrote which was used as the basis for a piece published by limerickmentalhealth.ie)

In the months since my brother’s heartbreaking and tragic death in May 2018, as a result of a fall while out with his hiking group, I have learned that only I can be an expert on my own grief. Nobody else can be ‘my expert’ and just because I have experienced my loss caused by the out of order death of my brother, does not make me an expert on anyone else’s grief.

I have found myself researching grief, bereavement, and ‘coping’ with grief online,  in the hope I would find something or some way of ‘managing my grief better’ and some way of reducing the immense pain and sense of loss caused by his death.

I don’t think this is actually possible. There is no roadmap, no prescriptive text that will reduce the quotient of grief or the pain that ensues after the death of a loved one. The best we can hope for is finding a way to honour our love and grief and carry it with us and tend to it in our own individual way.

Grief is the price we pay for love- and one’s grief is exactly that.  Grief is as individual as love. It is as unique as the person experiencing it and the person whose loss they grieve. We may share our loss with many; but we have to navigate our own way within our own landscape of grief.  We have to tend to our grief in our own way which may look similar or very dissimilar to others.

I will be the first to admit that initially my online research was far from in-depth. Fuelled by insomnia, an inability to focus or concentrate for any extended period of time, my cursory online interaction with Dr. Google kept throwing up bite-size pieces of variable quality and benefit.

To be blunt, there is a lot of horse shit written about  death and grief. From pious platitudes and clichés to over-simplified theories further reduced to lazy cut and paste jobs. I found some postings on social media to be very unhelpful… I could not identify with what I consider the tyranny of false positivity.

Time and time again, my late night ventures into the online world of grief would throw up ‘The five stages of grief’. How I started to loathe Elizabeth Kübler Ross (and I mean really loathe)! The pervasiveness of this grief theory that bore little or no resemblance to my grieving reality really infuriated me.

I also started thinking that I wasn’t getting this ‘grieving process’ right. My grief was not allowing itself to move in an ordered timeline capable of fitting into neat sanitised blocks that could be ticked off  like a ‘to-do’ list.

I could not understand why a grief theory dating back to the late 1960’s appears to have so much currency today. Has no research on grief been  carried out since?

Well, there has been plenty!  However, much of it does not appear to have trickled down into the public consciousness quite like the stage theory model has.

 I also discovered that my loathing of Elizabeth Kübler Ross was somewhat misplaced. So let me deal with that first.

Elizabeth Kübler Ross was born on July 8th 1926 and died on August 24th 2004, a Swiss-American psychiatrist.

Her book ‘On Death and Dying’ (published in 1969) was never a study on grief and bereavement. It was based on her work with terminally-ill patients at the University of Chicago Medical School. Neither was it a research study: it is a book based of description, observation and reflection based on Elizabeth’s conversations with people who were dying.  Its central tenet was to communicate how important it is to listen to what the dying have to tell us about their needs.

The  so-called stage theory is openly described in the book as merely a set of common categories or themes which emerged from her interviews with people who received a terminal diagnosis over a two and half year period. The categories were artificially isolated and separately described so that Elizabeth could discuss these experiences more clearly and simply. Her five stage model was really an examination of the emotional states experienced by people after receiving a terminal diagnosis.  She is reported to have regretted writing them in a way that was misunderstood. She also didn’t believe that they happened in a neat linear order for a prescribed period of time.

In her 2004 book on Grief and Grieving (published posthumously in 2004), Kubler states: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages”.

Now ‘messy’ is a word I can relate to.

So back to the theories of grief. My search started with entering ‘Beyond Kubler’ in the search engine. It transpires that ‘grief’ is a huge field of study that  has continued to develop and evolve since the days of  Freud.  I am not going to even attempt to go down the reductive route of providing basic summaries as I truly believe that this would be a disservice.

 I am unwilling to do this as grieving is complex and one size of theory does most definitely not fit all. There were bits of some writings I could relate to my own ongoing grieving experience and identify with and some not at all.  I’m still only skimming the surface of the amount of material out there on grief after 9 months of it being my daily landscape. Truth be told it is only in the last couple months or so that I have been able to resume reading anything longer than the back of a cereal box.

 The secondary reason is due to the fact that as these theories come in and out of vogue, an unintended consequence has been that they , are taken up by society and its’ commentators as the norms. They become in effect rules of grieving that attempt to specify who, when, where, how, how long and for whom people should grieve.

 It is hard enough live your life after the death of a loved without feeling judged and wanting too. There is no going back, no restoration of a previous normal.  Ultimately grief is a very personal experience which belongs to the person experiencing it.

 If you find yourself reading this and experiencing grief..I wish you strength to find your own path within grief and one that you feel supported on. Try not worry about other people discomfort with your pain and sadness..it is your time to grieve without the artificial constraints of other people’s ‘expertise’ or expectations.

For anyone who wishes to do their own research, I found Christopher Hall’s,  (MAPS Director, Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement) publication titled ‘Beyond Kubler-Ross: Recent Developments in our understanding of Grief & Bereavement’;  InPsych 2011, Vol 33, Dec.Issue 6 an excellent starting point.

https://www.psychology.org.au/for-members/publications/inpsych/2011/dec/Beyond-Kubler-Ross-Recent-developments-in-our-und

For anyone wishing to support a friend or family member who is grieving I recommend you read (at the very least) the Appendix ‘How to help a Grieving Friend’  in Megan Devine’s Book  ‘It’s OK that you’re not OK- Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That  Doesn’t  Understand’. I found the entire book helpful for myself. 

On a personal note  I found writing about my feelings, my brother, my loss and grief one of my most helpful ways of tending to my life of  living with my grief. Winter swimming in the cold Atlantic Ocean also provides me with moments of solace and connection.

It is about catching what activities give me even fleeting moments of what I call ‘sad peace’.   Even in the early days of shock and grief,  writing was something that required no effort from me. It was instinctive. It was what helped me and continues to help me live through the various  days of overwhelm, survival/existence days and sad peace hours and days.

  I hope, if needed, you find yours.

My Lady in Silver

The Lady in Silver

I was one of the first patrons of my daughters artwork. She named her price for the original drawing of “The Lady in Silver” and I willingly coughed up the asking price. It is good to know the value of one’s labour. It is one of my most prized possessions. I fell in love with her from the moment I first saw her as I did my daughter. The lady herself I mean, not just the glorious artwork. As in awe as I am of my daughters talent, not being inclined to even attempt to draw a straight line with a ruler; my love for “The Lady in Silver” surpasses art appreciation. I have always believed she has a story to tell.

Doesn’t she look like she has a story?

A timeless and an universal woman’s story of love,life, loss, joy and pleasure. Battles won and lost.

Is she indulging in a moment of quiet reflection and introspection ? Is she gathering herself after feeling defeated by her day? Is she as serene as she is beautiful? Is she greeting the dawn or bidding farewell to the day? Is she of the present or some bygone era or a world yet to come?

Sitting on my sofa since she first came to live with us, adorning our sitting room wall, I have spent minutes that have gathered themselves into hours wondering about her origins. Since childhood I have possessed a penchant for daydreaming. What is happening beyond her portrait, what’s just out of view?

That is the magical thing about a fictitious character, she can be anyone I like. That is beauty of art. Depending on my mood, her face resonates with different parts of my being. Her story can be woven with the same subtle delicate eye to detail as her kimono or broadstroked like the elegance of the colours in her picture. Simple and exquisite her possibilities are endless.

Vignettes of her backstory float with ease in my quieter unoccupied moments. I have imagined her earlier self and one yet to come. I have named and unnamed her. I am happy to be undecided about her substance, to let her come and go in various guises while she graces our wall space with her beautiful presence, defying any attempts to pin her down to a single narrative. I have resisted the urge to commit pen to paper until now. In truth as I type I don’t know what road she will bring me down today or how long this journey today together will be. It is just one of many and it doesn’t define her. It is but one of her many moments in time.

My Lady in Silver

………..with her make up nearly complete she sat at her grandmother’s old elegant dressing table, idly toying with intricate glass jars that still carried the scent of bygone days. The scent of a woman she loved. In truth her grandmother had been more of a Ponds Cold Cream user. The fancy unguents enclosed in their glass shrines kept for good wear only. They had lasted a lifetime. The cut glass pots kept as things of beauty and being too good to be thrown away. A small veneer of dust rested evenly atop decorating each individual one, muting the coloured lids as if the sun had gone behind a cloud. She unscrewed the lid of one, inhaled and with the edge of her dressing gown she carefully caressed the dust away and with perfect symmetry of movement replaced it to its resting place.

Through the open window, the bird song drifted upwards to her ears and the stream replenished with the previous night’s rain was loud enough in its dance to draw her glance to the source of the fresh watery soundings. A lone butterfly, caught momentarily in her field of vision took brief respite from its flight on the blossom of a rosemary bush completely at ease with its surroundings. Confident of its place in the world, its days as a caterpillar long behind and probably forgotten, it quickly stretched out and took flight on the breeze again.

Resting her chin on her hand, she closed her eyes with the remnants of the butterfly’s image still imprinted on her retina. She was glad she came, the others would be arriving soon……….

I hope that you too have an object of beauty that fills your glance with pleasure and joy.

 

A year and a day.

For the first time in my living memory or at least since I was a very young child, I did not stay up on New Year’s Eve to ring in the New Year. Previous New Year’s Eves have seen me sitting on the stairs in the Cork Road, whilst the neighbours squished into our house for the out with the old and in with the new celebrations. Dark haired men would bring a lump of coal in the back door to help the household have good luck and ‘enough’ in the coming year. Auld Lang Syne would be sang out on the road, big circles of neighbours, arms linked with voices competing with the loud horn blowing boats on the quay. My Dad would sing Sweet Sixteen. I think my love of house parties started at very young age. I have always been sentimental about New Years Eve and like to mark the dawning of a fresh year while already being nostalgic about the one just passed.

This year I found myself in bed between 10pm and 10.30pm on New Years Eve. I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of my daughter and her friends joyously celebrating her 18th birthday. This was the first time that said daughter ( who daily makes my world a better place) celebrated her birthday with her friends on the actual day of her birthday. It’s also been the first time in a long time that an alcohol fuelled gathering took place in our house.

I wasn’t just in bed because I was surplus to the requirements of the party shenanigans. I had made my plans to be in bed and not ring in The New Year as far back as June. New Year’s Day 2019 would mark a year to the day since I last had seen my brother. He had been in Waterford to partake in an early celebration of our Mam’s 90th birthday on Jan 1st 2018, as a return trip for her actual birthday on the 20th wasn’t feasible so soon after the Christmas holidays.

That was the last time I got to speak to him in person, lay eyes on him and get a big brotherly bear hug as we said Goodbye outside the Majestic Hotel in Tramore. A casual “See you later in the year” kind of goodbye. I missed his visit home in April as I was away. Disappointed, as I was that our trips clashed at the time, I was full of bitter regret after his death to have missed his last visit home.

It also was the first new calendar year that he would not be alive to enjoy. There is something bleak about time bringing you further away. Below is an excerpt from something I wrote in my cream hardback in early June. It still holds true.

There is no bargaining with death,
No honed negotiation skills to be brought to bear,
No squaring of this circle in my life.
I feel that each days passing
takes me further away from you.
Each breath drawn is one without you."

Add to this that, one of my closest friends and her family were embarking on their own rough unhewn and raw grief path with the sudden and tragic death of a much loved family member. It had been a tough few days and I dreaded the road ahead of them.
The funeral service had taken place that morning…… Bed was really the only place for me.

Before I took myself off, I sat in my party ready, re-arranged kitchen and listened to the strumming of a guitar and the magical playing of an accompanying ukulele and some very sweet clear voices. I sat where John & I had sat a year before to the day, his last time at my well worn kitchen table. We’ve had some good times around our table.

My heart was gladdened by the euphonious melodies and for the first time in a long time I felt a ripple of simple joy enter my being. A fleeting few moments of peace on dry land.. Sad peace. The singing and the music was beautiful and John would have loved it, not just the music but the gathering. Gatherings have long been a respected tradition in our family and John Quinn was a gatherer of people.

I was also very impressed by the notion that the current crop of 18 year olds would sit together in such wonderful harmony engaged in an activity that I could relate to. I sat in with them for a rendition of ” Winter Song” , sang as a duet and made a discreet exit again before I was completely undone. Sleep came easily with wisps of their music making, drifting upwards and soothing me like a well worn blanket.

I slept through till pre dawn, about five o’ clock and awoke with with a sense of urgency, startled from my sleep by the knowledge of his death.. After a quick tidy up, I then made good on the territorial advantage that early rising had given me and laid claim to the sofa for the day. I slept for large parts of the day too, on the sofa, actually most of it, tiredness providing a numbing respite from the significance of the date.

And so it was, the 2nd day of the New Year, a year and a day since last we met that I was able to let John come unbidden to my mind and let my love and grief intertwine. It was a day of sadness but not of overwhelm. I went to one of our favourite places and found that space between the sea & the sky where I feel connected.

The Guillamenes is where I experience my fleeting moments of equilibrium. Where I can just be, the entirety of everything buoyed up by the ocean. It is where the beauty of the setting puts manners on me, the lure of the sea overcomes my fear of the cold. I yield my resistance and submerge. Immersion in the cold water reminds me of my physical being.

So on the year and the day there was nothing for it but to have the first swim of 2019 as well. In my heart I’m swimming for two.

Writers Block

The sandbags are in situ in preparation for the skies overnight promised delivery of rain which is meant to be biblical in its volume. It is day 5 without our heating working, long story but awaiting a repair man for my much loved and used Stanley cooker which is also our boiler. My children now know the real purpose of hoodies, hot water bottles and blankets.

These are the first words that I have written since late November, it’s mid December now. There have been no scribblings or jottings in my cream coloured hardback book. No transfer of my stream of consciousness onto paper. It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop writing and writers block is not really an accurate depiction either as it implies that I tried to and was unable to write; or was prevented from writing by some internal or external force; like my muse called grief going on a short sojourn elsewhere. No not the case, I just stopped. I let the jangling thoughts free reign in my head. Maybe being somewhat tired of freeing up space for others to take immediate occupancy I thought they could all just squeeze in there together, get on with it and eventually I’d be at full capacity.

That is not really what happened…there was no slowing down in the production of those jingling jangling thoughts. It turns out I have a tardis of a brain which is happy to accommodate as many grief laden thoughts as I can produce and well able to vie for elbow room with thoughts automatically produced by daily life.

So what if I was unwilling to process them through writing? There’s room for them all! Yes there is but I started to feel that I was unraveling, in an abyss like rabbit hole, with only a knot of loss to keep me company. This coincided with some unexpected free time over the course of a week. Free time that for the life of me I could not utilise let alone optimise to my satisfaction in order to reduce the annual long to do list of Christmas preparations. Surprise surprise I need structure. I may resent it but I need it.

Then my heart kicked in and let the overwhelm out and it was not pretty. It was scary, suffocating, lying in a ball on the floor kind of hysterical crying. A keening, crying that makes your stomach retch and cares not about requisite bodily functions. A crying that drags your breath raggedly away from your body, away from any natural rhythm. A crying that makes you ring your sister in her workplace because somehow you know that it is important that you now stop but you can’t until it is heard. A crying that doesn’t have the manners to give your sister room to speak. A crying that doesn’t care if it’s on speakerphone.

My sister murmured softly and let me wail until I and it was spent. There is no real coherent conversation that can follow that type of call, just me saying sorry sorry for ringing her at work, sorry for forcing her to bear witness to my journey down the rabbit hole.

I would love to pretend that that day was cathartic, a turning point but it was not. I know, I will have more days like this and I will have days not like this at all. Do not dare to judge me or my grief. I am ‘coping’ as I should or not at all depending on the day, the week, the hour. I do not have the energy for pretense or the manners to observe that the polite phase for public grieving has now passed.

In the couple of days that followed I wondered why the rabbit hole had beckoned? I knew it wasn’t just fueled by my dread of our first Christmas without my brother John. I knew that although my visit to Strasbourg the previous month had left me hollowed out with longing to see his face, it has also been healing and precious and gave to me as much if not more than it had took from me. But I believe I stopped writing after my visit to Strasbourg because I felt I needed to feel, feel deeply. I think subconsciously that I felt my scribblings were a way of expunging my feelings of grief, subverting them and that by my writings I was somehow diminishing them and casting those feelings aside. Cheating them even. That’s the problem with travelling even a little way down the rabbit hole; it’s hard to see, let alone clearly, in the dark.

So my favored cream hard back with its’ elastic band has been back in use. I’m still choosy about what pen I use. I have re read through it since I reclaimed it from where it laid on the dusty underneath bed floor. Not one single vowel or consonant has lessened the pain and the sense of loss caused by the death of my beloved brother but they have honoured that pain as validly as any day of overwhelm does.

I read somewhere that grief is the price we pay for love, so my book of writings honours my grief and my love.

Tidal Wave

I feel the swell, 
still gathering momentum in my lower gut.
My body is awash with
what were once unfamiliar sensations.
They have somewhat gentled in their approach
but cause the same sharp,
startling inhalation of breath.
Like when the cold crisp ocean
first encounters my feet.
Holding breath,
I let the first fleeting wave of grief
roll through my innards.
It has become unwanted deaths internal caress of my body.
It moves like tumbleweed,
randomly directionless inside my cells.
I hold the feeling in my belly for now.
Letting it roll around,
like sounds roll from my tongue.
Speechless I keep driving,
swallow it back down and breathe.
My head finds itself
involuntarily shaking in disbelief.
My salt water tears bring me back to the ocean.

I can see you there.

July 2018 J.Quinn

Half Way To One Hundred

As I sit and type, Storm Callum is doing his best to live up to his hype, buffeting around the house with the odd violent lash of rain against the windows. The sort of night that makes you put the heating on and be oh so glad to be indoors.  Though I’m persevering with the wearing of shorts even as I type despite or maybe because of my mother’s advice to pay heed to the autumnal weather. Fifty and still rebellious.  I feel a bit like the swimmer I had a lovely exchange with at the Guillamenes. I was there to mark the last day of my forties ” I keep coming out and getting into the water in case this will be the final swim of the season”, he said as we made our congratulatory exchanges, about how great we felt, post a mid October sea swim. I feel the same about the shorts as the swims, I’ll throw them on again today; tomorrow might be just too cold.

Actually I kind of  like the idea that the first night of my new decade has been ushered in by a storm while I’m  still wearing my summer shorts… it seems fitting somehow, I think. I marked the first morning of my fifties the same way I marked the last day of my forties with a swim at the Guillamenes. I love the vagaries of the ocean and the sky overhead, an ever changing palette of colours, light and energy.  Accompanied by a symphony of sea sounds, the vast expanse of water and sky just grounds me in the smallness of my being in a good way.  I am at home there. Structurally the Guillamenes is the same place every time I visit but on another level, it possesses so many alter egos it is always a  bit of a magical mystery tour.

At this time of year, it’s like a reliable friend. One who you know will be there but you’re not quite sure if they’re up for visitors. It’s hard to explain to non sea swimmers but the sea is more than the sum of its parts.  Yes it’s always wet and sploshy and inevitable not warm off any part of the Irish coast, with various degrees of roughness or calmness on display but it so much more. It has texture and taste, which you can only experience when fully immersed in its buoyant delights.

It can be bright and revealing of its depths or grey and murky offering up surface viewing only and  prompting mental strains of “Jaws” to play on repeat inside your head.  Smooth and listless or energetic with a swell. Predictable or erratic, it can be a playground or a fight ring. The sea is well capable of  sweet whisperings as you are enveloped in a silky smooth denseness or it can just as easily spit you out and tell you to fuck off. The wonderful thing for me is either way I feel great. Once my feet have gone numb the rest of my body seems to be able to cope. As one might expect, I do have a grading system.. a one dip, two dip and on the very rare occasions a three dip swim. Yep, sometimes I have to get in and get out very quickly and get in again to acclimatise and catch my breath.

These two last swims have been one dippers, being able to swim on two consecutive days probably helps. Like many things in life, the more you do it, the easier it gets. The Guillamenes has been my sanctuary,  a watery place of refuge these past few months. The ocean gives me brief respite from my grief in ways I find hard to describe.  It is well able to absorb and  provide camouflage for my own salt water offerings.  Submerging yourself in cold water brings mindfulness to a whole new level. The sea demands my attention even when on its best behaviour.  I’ve shared so many swims with so many people I love at the Guillamenes, my brother John included, that I like to think the sea and the rocks share back little nuggets of their love and courage when I most need them. That post swim coating of salty sea residue is like a veneer of protection better than any armour. The camaraderie amongst the swimmers softens my soul.

My birthday on the other hand brought all tangible manifestations of my grief into sharp focus. Turning fifty was not something that phased me at all, turning fifty without my brother alive was something else.

However, in spite of the dread that preceded this years birthday, the day came and went, with cake eaten and presents received and emotionally charged as it was, there were moments of joy too, intertwined  sometimes seamlessly, with the moments of  acute sadness. A card missing a signature but full of love, a book of poems, a bouquet of flowers and gifts in the post. Telephone calls, whats app messages and facebook messages all brightened my day. The company of my family and the simple joy of a shared take away. The presence of love.

It’s not everyday either that your youngest child looks at you with their little face full of wonder and awe just at your continuing existence . As I boiled the kettle for my first cup of tea of the day,  she looked up at me and just for a few seconds I saw myself through her beautiful big brown eyes full of love  “Happy Birthday Mammy..you’re fifty” followed by a bit of a pause “Your half way to a hundred – WOW”. Be in no doubt, there was genuine admiration there.

Finding my Inner Cinderella…. but wearing flats!

I enjoyed fairytales as a child and over the years I’ve had a myriad of views on them. Young submissive girls sitting waiting for their princes to come, passively awaiting rescue…really?   Patience has never been my forte, so I couldn’t get this concept at all.  To be honest, I never questioned fairytales as a child. I didn’t possess a precocious ability to do a post modernist, feminist critique but I always knew them to be unbelievable fantasy. I mean, the only time I was allowed wear any kind of a  fancy dress, never mind flouncy ballgowns, was for mass on Sundays.  After the incident with the neighbours go cart which resulted in a big hole in said Sunday best as it got caught in a spoke,  the wearing of said best was restricted to mass times only. (That hand made go cart/wagon was the business though and could go at a fair speed).

go cart meme blog

 

If truth be told, I also felt that the male heroes were fairly insipid and stupid creatures too…….boring and dull. I didn’t think they’d be any good at bad eggs, knock a dolly or knucks. The boys I knew had an ingenuity, an underlying devilment to them and an ability to seek out both mischief and fun that was never reflected in the fairy tales.

I found the villains much more interesting. ( Yep, couldn’t buy into the waiting for the prince so went looking for the bad boys) The fact that the villains had all the superpowers and magic at their disposal, well  that was quite appealing .It was completely unbelievable in my mind that they were undone by weak heros. As for dragons, I just always had a soft spot for them. There was no doubt in my mind that they would breathe fire in the right direction at my request and I would soar in my dreams on the back of them. I could not find a role model in what passed for the heroines. I mean how stupid do you have to be to eat an apple from an old crone.  We were well warned about taking sweets from strangers when we were younger, but if some old biddy had tried to offer us an apple and not sweets we would have set her straight fairly pronto, given her, her marching orders and told her to do better next time. No point in bothering us unless you have a bag of fizzle sticks, some  fruit salads and black jacks and maybe a Big Time Bar.

There was a brief period where I found Rapunzel relatable as I had long hair down to my bum, and when banished to my bed every night before every other child on the road, I imagined that I would let out my hair and smuggle friends up into the room or better again use my own tresses as an escape route. Given the amount of pain I endured having the hair brushed and plaited very morning, I kind of knew this wasn’t a runner.  It did seem though that all the best games seemed to occur after my bedtime. Oh the shame to have children younger than you still out playing on the road having a whale of a time, with the sun still shining.

The fairytale of Snow -White ( absolutely no relation to your wan who poisoned herself on the aforementioned apple…not even distant cousins twice removed) and Red Rose , did appeal to me .This story of two sisters living in the woods who aided and befriended a talking bear was relatable, in so far as I had a sister close in age.  His killing of the mean old dwarf was just an incidental to me, as was the required marrying off of the two sisters to the bear who was really, wait for it…… a prince and his equally handsome brother. I was just delighted that they could appreciate a talking bear unlike that ridiculous girl who never realised her luck when a talking frog returned her ball.

And so the years passed. I got to an age (about 13 – Inter Cert year) where yes the idea of a villainous prince or even an handsome pauper( with a bit of get up and go) seemed quite a nice idea. More years passed and I read and studied and realised that the sanitisation of the old fairytales and myths and fables was a load of codswallop with a definite cultural and societal agenda that was not remotely pro girls or women. There may even have been vows spoken over copious amounts of alcohol that no child of mine would have their independent, brave and self sufficiency  aspirations insidiously watered down by misogynistic and patriarchal horse tripe.

Even more years passed too bloody quickly and there I was in my own little kingdom of motherhood. Like most neighbouring kingdoms at the time there were sometimes great wars fought but sometimes I, as the benign & wise queen occasionally managed to reign over at least ten minutes of peace & harmony. The adoption of the evil queen persona sometimes granted me 20 minutes. My rule was often in danger of being overthrown, evil forces in the shape of  terrible twos,  obstinate sixes and  fussy eights, threatened the very heart of my little kingdom. But it survived even when a plague of prolonged sibling rivalry threatened the benign queen’s sanity. I bought my children dress up princess costumes, knights costumes, cowboy ones and pirate ones. I read every fairy tale going, sanitised or not and stories from my own favourite book as a child ” Tales the Wind Told”. I discovered for the first time what has since become one of my favourite books ever Roald Dahls’ “Revolting Rhymes.” which if you have never read is worth a library trip for.

cinderella blog meme 6.

My journey through the first ten years of motherhood had me relating to those fairy tale characters somewhat more than I could have anticipated. I could identify with Snow White and actually now believe that she took a bite of that dratted apple just to get some uninterrupted sleep, so tired was she from cleaning up after the seven dwarves who hi hoed it in and out of the house everyday without so much as a by your leave. How I longed for a modern day equivalent of the magic porridge pot..one that didn’t cook porridge but maybe just something the children would eat that was vaguely nutritional..ok.ok..I didn’t care what the nutritional content was once it was ate and could be produced with no thought or effort from me. Not once but often did I feel like the little red hen  and as my waistline testifies, ” I too did eat it all all by myself ” in  that lovely late o ‘clock silence. My house was inhabited  by what seemed like a flock of Goldilocks for too many years to count. “Too hot, too cold, too lumpy, too white, too green,  too big, too small,too ticklish, too bright, too dark, too rough”; You name it from food to the fabrics on their bodies, there were days when I couldn’t do right for doing wrong. Every venture forth from our kingdom was like travelling in a scene from Shrek with more than one ‘donkey’ catcalling “Are we there Yet ?”  We bought the biggest one a t-shirt!!

The ground hog day of housework..well enough said below.

cinderella blog meme.

 

More years passed, I could now leave the house without having to do a Houdini act. I didn’t have to pump and dump if I had a few beverages. I had a reasonable chance of being allowed to poo in peace..not guaranteed though.  Uninterrupted telephone contact with the outside world was  and is still off limits though. There were signs that a social life with other grown up people might be becoming available again. Nights out, eating & drinking, chatting, getting dressed up and dancing as badly as ever. Even the odd dancing on the table moment. Happy days indeed and then she struck  with a vengeance, my inner Cinderella! I did try do battle but failed. No need for a fairy godmothers’ warning or anything. By 12.00 midnight  (shoes would be long off and if they were an inch off the ground I was doing well.) if I wasn’t at least on a promise to be homeward bound  I would find myself turning in a tired squiffy and somewhat irate pumpkin just longing for my bed. Motherhood, migraines and middle age had done their job. My Dancing Queen  had  being officially downgraded to a Sleeping Beauty and no amount of magic potions, alcoholic or otherwise were going to deter me from my pursuit of true happiness….at least eight hours sleep in my own bed and a pair of Birkenstocks!!

 

cinderella blog meme 8