Monday, May 30, 2005

A letter to a "friend"

It's been five years now since we spoke an amicable word. It seems like a long time, but it some ways it seems like yesterday.
I think we both know by now that we fell out for the right reasons. Things were not working for anyone in our group and it seemed there was no way out but to cut our losses and run.
It's still hard though.
You never did get to go to my wedding, or share the news of my pregnancy and you have never met my gorgeous son. You would love him. You always did have a soft spot for children.
You've never known of the depression that haunts me, or the fact that in the last 16 months I have laughed and cried more than I ever thought possible.
And I was never there when your relationship when tits up and when your ex got married. I don't know if you were okay with it, or if it still hurts.
I don't know if you are happy. I hear you are; and I hear occasionally from your mother and she lets me know what you are doing but not how you are doing.
As you know we have seen each other from time to time on the street and we both bowed our heads and walked on or mumbled a quick hello. Sometimes I know there is nothing to say; sometimes I wish I'd just said something.
I miss the "Jazz hands" and the memories of some mad things. I wonder do you still remember our "trauma tops" bought when you came to Belfast to escape a family row and went out on the lash?
We've both made half hearted attempts in the past to talk again- a passed on phone number, a letter or card- but the other has never been in the right place to accept that.
I don't want to be a huge part of your life; but a coffee or a glass of wine and the assurance that you are doing okay would be nice.
I won't send this to you. Just put it out there in the ether. If you are meant to read it, you will find it...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

We're all going on a summer holiday..

AS YOU read this I will either be walking along the glorious Donegal coastline praising this wonderful country for its scenery, or sitting staring out at the rain crying with boredom.

Oh yes, this week we are having our first proper family holiday down in the sunny (hopefully) climes of Rathmullan and as I write this I am hoping the good weather gods have shone down for at least three or our seven days.
Having initially dubbed our holiday as a trip to "just Rathmullan", as everyone inevitably wonders why we didn't jet off to some guaranteed sunshine in the Med, I think maybe it's time to set the record straight.
You see I am one of those dreadfully sad people who genuinely believes that if you get the weather, you really don't need to go far from home for a holiday worth remembering, and that belief stems from a number of memorable local breaks in my childhood.
Money was an issue for us growing up; we weren't one of those fancy dan families who jetted off to Spain for a fortnight. But that certainly doesn't mean the breaks we did share weren't filled with loads of memories; and most of them good.
First of all there was an exodus to a house up a hill in Ballyliffen. With my mum's friends and their families in tow, it seemed like there were about six adults and 50,000 children all crammed into a house whose most memorable feature was that there was a goat tethered out the back which used to scare the beyjasus out of us in the middle of the night.
I remember that holiday because it was the first time someone tried to feed me cornflakes with warm milk (Yuck!) and because there was a wee farm down the road where we would go and play with our newly made friends and get covered in hay and cow poop before clambering up the hill again, tired and dirty, all ready to get scared out of our wits by the mad goat.
Next came the week in Gweedore in a caravan, again somewhere up a hill. Four wains, two adults, and a roasting hot week where the sun never stopped made for plenty of memorable experiences. First of all was the wee woman who owned the caravan. She made home made bread and jam and I swear to this day I have never tasted toast as nice in my life! It was like stepping into a time warp to walk up to her house each day and collect the bread. Amid the balmy Donegal evening air (are you getting the picture here?) you would smell the aroma of freshly baked wheaten bread wafting on the gentle warm summer breeze.
Likewise the wee shop at the top of another big hill where the lonely shop keeper would take at least 15 minutes to serve you when you wanted a Kit Kat, is another story which has taken on legendary status in our house. If you want, on any given night, we can act out his mannerisms for you. It's a hoot, but then maybe you had to be there to get it.
The rest of the time was spent with myself and my sister trying to decipher the signs (I don't think my parents had realised it was in the Gaeltacht) with our second year Irish and failing miserably. ("That means beach!"; "No I'm sure it means airport." "Actually it means bin!")

No goats this time
And then it was a week in Spiddle, Co. Galway (the name alone made for much merriment among my friends). This time we progressed to a luxury home, with no hint of any goats in the garden and a rather fabulous pool room on site. (It was still up a considerable hill though).
I think it was that holiday which made me realise what a priviledge it is to live in Ireland as we saw as much of the scenery as we could, and enjoyed craic by the bucketful.
We took a day trip (four wains in the back of the car, two parents, windy weather) to the Cliffs of Moher. Being the "mad Davidsons" as my sister's other half would refer to us, we were more excited about the fact that they filmed that classic movie "The Princess Bride" there than anything else. (Cue us wandering about shouting: 'My name is Inuego Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!' and scaring a few American tourists in the process).
And we spent days in Galway city (biggest memory; a ride at a funfair in which I literally thought I might die) and at Salthill (best memory; a stall which sold the nicest gravy rings you will ever taste).
Best of all though we drove back to Spiddle one night and stopped to see the sun go down on Galway Bay (on Gaaalllwaaaay Baaaaay). I still remember the sun streaming through the red streaked sky and thinking to myself that so many people, of Irish descent or not, would have given their right arm to be there and see that sight.
I imagine that during all those holidays it rained somewhat. Being Ireland, I imagine it probably rained a lot; but I don't remember that part. I remember the fun we shared as a family and the sunny days where we went out and about decked in shorts and T-shirts and ate chips out of the paper at the beach and went home again thoroughly exhausted.
I hope this week in Rathmullan brings its own happy memories and I hope by the time we get home I will have stopped referring to it as "just Rathmullan" and have realised how lucky we have been to enjoy a break in such a scenic part of the world.

Pay it forward

A VERY mad but lovely Scottish friend of mine forwarded me a story this week retelling this story of a mystery person who has been posting random amounts of money into letterboxes in Edinburgh with the words "Do you believe in angels?" written on the envelopes.

Of course, being a practical modern living woman of the noughties, my first thought was one of "Why does said mystery man not live in Derry?"- but then my second thought was that whoever this person was, they were obviously well versed in the concept of "paying it forward".
For those unfamiliar with the term (or the film of that name starring the wee lad who sees dead people in "The Sixth Sense") - paying it forward is like a happy version of that gloom laden statement "What goes around, comes around".
You see, basically if you are nice to someone, something nice will happen to you in return. And if you perform a random act of kindness (such as stuffing a wadge of tenners through your neighbour's door) you will start a chain of goodwill and happiness and, sooner or later, we will all be a bunch of happy people, having touched each other's lives in a positive and inspiring way.
Obviously your random act of kindness does not have to be as generous as parting with your hard earned cash and I doubt that unless my numbers come up on Saturday night or my boss realises what a fantabulous journalist I really am and quadruples my salary, I would ever be in a position to hand over my cash to strangers.
But you could do something as simple as holding a door open for someone; offering to carry someone's shopping or complimenting them on their hair or their shoes. It could even be as basic as smiling at someone. (Please note however, quipping "Cheer up, it might never happen" is inadvisable in any circumstance unless you fancy a smack in the mouth.).
I admit I try to "pay it forward" as much as possible and I'm sure on occasion that this has give me the appearance of a weird kind of crazy stalker lady . I have stopped someone just to say their shoes were lovely and ask where they bought them. Similarly when I've seen a young toddler dressed in a cool outfit, I'll comment on it and ask where it was bought.
If someone has a gorgeous baby I'll the mad woman smiling maniacally into the pram and telling the mother their child is gorgeous and, of course, that they look amazing for someone who has just given birth.
With every expression I know I risk the person receiving the compliment glowering at me or considering me to be a looper; but sometimes such a phrase can make a world of difference to someone's day.
Have you ever been out and feeling harassed, stressed out and generally frump-tastic? Then someone comments on your bag, or your shoes or even your hair (which you had thought looked more "bird's nest" that the fashionable "just got out of bed" look) and suddenly you walk a little taller, feel a little slimmer, increase your confidence and smile at the next person who looks at you?

And so the happiness continues
It's a little sad in this day and age that we always think that when strangers are kind to us they must have some form of ulterior motive. Immediately we hold our bags a little closer to our chest, maybe walk a little faster and quite often we either ignore their comments or feel so uncomfortable that someone has said something nice that we ignore them or mumble a quick response rather than accept their kindness as just that.
And it's worse still that often we feel too afraid of being ignored or looked at like we have two heads to be nice to strangers or say what is really on our minds.
Perhaps this is why the mysterious person in Edinburgh has chosen to carry out his or her acts of kindness under the cover of darkness and has remained anonymous. If we actually knew who this person was, maybe we would question their motives. Again we may wonder why we only got a tenner in the door, when her up the street with money to burn anyway got £20; and we would forget that this was initially just someone trying to do something nice and not trying to stir up trouble.
It makes me sad to think that this person felt they had to write "Do you believe in angels?" on the envelopes. Now, don't get me wrong. I believe in angels, I believe that they are there guiding us and helping us; but in this instance I prefer to believe in the kindness of strangers.
How much nicer would it have been for our mystery person to feel confident enough to write: "Do you believe people are still good at heart?" on the envelopes and wouldn't it be nicer still if such acts were not that uncommon that they merited a mention on the national news?
Maybe we should all bear that in mind the next time we want to say something nice or we are tempted ourselves to "pay it forward" .

Thursday, May 12, 2005

All Hail the Baby Bores!

THERE WAS a time when I was renowned for my sparkling wit and dazzling after dinner conversation. If you wanted a witty quip or an hilarious one liner then I was your gal.

If there was a topic on the news that had grabbed your attention, I was the very person to lead a (semi) intellectual debate on the issue. I was the equivalent of Sky News to some of my friends and it felt good.
And then, well then, I became a mammy and all intellectual talk disappeared out the window to be replaced with anecdotes about Jo Jingles, weaning, nappy changes and the latest words my son has attempted to say.
Of course, when it comes to babies I know the score. Want a good buggy? I've done the research and can tell you all about the market leaders. Want to conceive? Well I'm the the gal to tell you about cycles, ovulation and other super girlie things. And when it comes to the best disposable nappy on the market, we've been through them all and have a firm thumbs up for Tesco.
And while this suits me at the moment; it hardly makes me the most inspiring conversationalist in the company of non-parents.
Which is exactly what happened to me last Sunday. Having decided to meet some school friends I hadn't see in about six months for lunch, I knew this was going to be a mammoth gossip session.
None of these friends have children. One is newly wed, the other planning her wedding and the third patiently holding out for a proposal of marriage from her Mr. Right. On the other hand there was me, married four years (with one stone on for every year of marriage!) with an ankle biter and well settled into my adult existence.
While they began regaling stories of their dazzling careers, their wedding plans and their hectic social lives I recounted what happened in the latest episode of "Noddy" and discussed my home-made chicken nuggets.
There were discussions about holidays, hair dos and hangovers. My contribution involved details of our forthcoming family exodus (Entitled "Two frazzled parents and a mad baby invade Rathmullan"), my son's curly locks (trying to decide if he looks cute or a bit too like Kevin Keegan) and the fact that two glasses of wine is enough to give me a hangover that will knock me off form for the entire following day.
The thing is, I was vaguely aware that my friend's eyes were glazing over. You see, I've accepted that while I, as a mammy, am in awe of every cough, babble, fart and clap my first born does, I know it's not exactly in the realms of fascinating repartee.
But it is hard, as a new parent, to think of something else to talk about it. Most new parents find their lives consumed by the changes that having a child brings. Before you give birth people tell you that it will change your life and that things will never be the same again.

Life changing?
You laugh and scoff and think they have to be exaggerating slightly. Surely once bubs is asleep your life can resume as it was and, with the help of a trusted babysitter, your life need not change one bit.
You've seen countless celebs pop out their oddly named children and snap back into shape before the midwife has even finished the episiotomy stitches, so there is no way that you think 15 months down the road you will still look like you're still pregnant.
And you think, because we are the modern generation who can easily multi-task and achieve anything we want, that baby will sleep or play contentedly while you catch up on the news or read the Sunday morning papers.
But when baby comes along, you suddenly realise you may have been wrong. And as that large "Ehhhh, Ehhhh" sound from Family Fortunes plays in your head you struggle to do the basics; never mind read up on the latest developments in the Middle East.
You realise the people you thought would beat your door down to babysit actually have their own lives and commitments (all that drinking, socialising and watching the news uninterrupted to do) and as you try to fold your flabby post baby belly into your jeans you realise that it may just be some time before you find yourself in the high fashion stakes again.
And so, you talk about what you know. Forget the Middle East, I know nothing about it, but I can tell you all the latest goings on in Toytown, Woodland Valley or Balamory.
And where you used to boast about your own adventures, you boast about your child's. Yes, admittedly its sad, its boring and its not the standard of conversation people normally expect; but it does make you feel kind of good because you are the ultimate expert on the subject. (Do you think Mastermind would take me on? My specialist subject: Joseph and his bizarre habits)
There is a jingle at the end of some programme on the TV where a child's voice says with pride "I made that"; and if I'm honest every time I look at my son and see him do something new I think, admittedly smugly, to myself: "I made that"; and I want to tell the world about it.
I just hope my friends and colleagues keep humouring me by listening.

Monday, May 09, 2005

If I were a rich girl...

I KNOW that coveting thy neighbour's house is a sin, but I couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy when I heard an 18-year-old had scooped the top prize in the Derry City Dream Draw.

Like many people out there I spend probably way too much time contemplating what life would be like if the God of good fortune choose to look favourably upon me and grant me a win that would change my life.
I'm not the most unlucky person in the world; so far I've scooped a couple of tenners on the lottery, a fruit basket, a Foyle Hospice Hamper and the Bonus Ball prize money in work on two occasions (one a rollover!) ; but none of those has actually changed my life dramatically (with the possible exception of the Foyle Hospice Hamper as I'm sure I put a couple of stubborn pounds on my thighs munching my way through the tin of Cadbury's Roses).
What I crave is a win that lifts me from my relatively dull existence and transforms me into a woman who no longer needs to visit the Credit Union on a regular basis or who takes duck disease when an unexpected bill plops through the letterbox.
They say money can't buy happiness, and I do believe that to be true; but it would certainly make me more comfortable in my misery! I imagine feeling a bit scunnered while downing the finest champagne on a sun-soaked tropical island surrounded by man-slaves feeding you peeled grapes would be marginally more preferable to feeling scunnered while supping the last of your tea in Frankie Ramsey's, giving out that your wee car has carked it and the CU have blacklisted you.
I imagine the topic of a big win is one of the most popular conversation pieces in history. I'm willing to bet we've all sat down on at least one occasion (or indeed every Saturday night just before Casualty while watching BBC 1) and imagined what we would do if our numbers came up. Maybe you would divvy out the proceeds among family and friends or maybe you would keep aside a fair portion for your favourite charities; or maybe you would just go on a one woman spending spree, the like of which has never been seen before.
If you are me, you would probably opt for a combination of the three. Personally I don't hold court with this notion that if you win the lottery you shouldn't allow it to change your life. Trust me if my numbers came out I would be out the door of this very fine journalistic establishment quicker that my esteemed editor could shout: "More Jed's wains!" (in-house joke there- sorry!). My newly acquired Manolo Blahniks would leave the daintiest wee trail as I jumped into a nice Limo and headed for the airport to jet off to the Seychelles.
I would forsake my pretty wee terraced house for a luxury cottage somewhere on the Donegal coastline, with a holiday home in the sun-kissed Tuscan hills; and both would be filled with enough gadgets and gizmos to keep himself amused for a good couple of years and allow me time to concentrate on a combination of writing (as and when I want) and working with my super fit (and totally gorgeous) personal trainer to achieve the body beautiful.

Brooke Perk?
Myself and a colleague have long planned that when the big win comes in, we are going to set up our own bookshop/ coffee shop , complete with a beauty salon up the stairs and an adjoining restaurant for our food mad hubbies to run. We would, between drinking copious cups of tea and getting our nails done, sell the occasional book. If one of us wanted to take a sickie, the other wouldn't mind one bit; after all this would be our hobby not our lifeline.
The wee man could drag as many of his new shoes from Clarks through the muck as he wanted, because I would no longer have to turn into a female version of the Incredible Hulk as I raged about the cost of them and how he only had them two weeks and now needed new ones.
I would be able to succumb to my wholly ridiculous desire to buy the latest Maclaren buggy just because I like the colours ( we already have two- for one baby- himself believes that is adequate) or I may even buy one of those ridiculously expensive Bugaboo prams that all the top celebs have.
And as for my wee man and his love of the "Slish Slash" (translation Splish Splash; baby for bath, swimming pool or any random puddle) I would have our own heated swimming pool for him to swim about in 'til his wee heart was content.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know that chances are Lady Luck isn't going to shine on me. I mean, I would need to buy the odd lottery ticket to start with. And I know that there are blessings in my like that money could never buy; but it's nice to dream.
It's nice to think that with a purchase of a wee ticket you could find yourself financially secure for the rest of your life; that you didn't have to worry about your car carking it (can you tell this has happened to me this week? Our wee car is very sick!) and you could lie on in your bed in the morning without having to worry about the rush and fuss of the rat race.
It would be bliss not to have to worry about paying the mortgage every month. and indeed making sure your family didn't have to worry about theirs either.
Fair play to the lovely Catriona Doherty who has been so lucky with her win of a luxury apartment, I hope it brings her much happiness. But if she finds it doesn't fulfil her life in the way she hopes, then I'll willingly take it off her hands.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Oh how we laughed...

I was just thinking the other day how it had been a disgustingly long time since I laughed so hard I thought my sides would split.

I think it was several months ago when I had a surreal online conversation with a friend which degenerated in utter weirdness involved web address and Gnus (best not ask), it occured to me that my son and my niece laugh almost the whole day through and I wondered had I really become the ultimate misery guts.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not on my way to being Victoria Meldrew just yet, I do laugh on frequent occasions, but its more of a slight chortle than a full belly laugh which is so hard it means, as a relatively new mum, I have to worry about the prospect of mild incontinence.

So it surprised me last night, while putting my son to bed, that I ended up in fits of laughter so hard that I literally had to hold my sides as they were getting so sore.

The reason for my laughter: a simple game with the wee man in which I spat his dummy across the bed. He would lift it, giggle, put it back in my mouth and shout "Dee" which is Josephese for "Again".

Within a very short time all the pair of us had to do was look at each other to collapse in kinks of laughter, with tears of pure joy streaming down both our faces. It felt so good.

It felt good because I was laughing and as a dear friend always says, a belly laugh is better than a good cry any day of the week; and it felt good because I was connecting with my baby. We were sharing a joke, communicating on a real level fo happiness and contentment and joy.

As well as fearing my sides might split, I feared my heart may actually burst with pride and joy.

And, to top it all, I hadn't even taken my happy pill yesterday. This was joy without the aid of an SSRI!

(And even better, I didn't pee myself with the effort either! Yay me!)

Monday, May 02, 2005

When the pupil is ready....

TO USE a local expression I got a quare gunk the other day when it dawned on me it is 24 (almost 25) years since I first wandered, hand in hand with my mammy, into Mrs. Spellman's class at Rosemount Primary School for my first day in P1.

I remember I had a little fawn coloured trench coat that I thought was so trendy and grown up looking and that I was carrying a wee brown satchel (Yes, I went to school in the days when you had satchels and not rucksacks bedecked with pictures of the latest cartoon heroes). My hair was scraped into two mega curly pigtails and, even if I say so myself, I was cute as the cutest wee button in the button shop.
I remember being told the story of the Fox and the Hen and trying to draw a picture of the same with one of those big old chubby crayons that smelled good enough to eat (in fairness, I was only four) and fitted nicely in my chubby little hands.
And even though it was a lifetime ago I still remember this happy, smiley teacher who came and sat beside me and talked me through my picture as though it was a work of art and not the very dodgy orange scribblings of a nervous child. Likewise I remember sitting day after day with my laminated word cards, which were stored in an old tobacco tin, learning to read with this woman who had seemingly unending supply of patience.
The reason for my "quare gunk" is that I saw that very same teacher the other day. She was driving past us as I was out walking with the wee man and my sister. I knew straight away it was her. You see, she still has the same curly hair and wide smile I remember from all those years ago.
I doubt that I would remember all my teachers from those early days in the same way. I remember their names and how they were to me while in their class but there is something about that primary one teacher, and her gentle manner that will stay with me always.
I remember how she kindly told me I would have to write out my work again after I, in a fit of babyish creativity, had decided that I didn't need spaces between words and would prefer instead to draw wee houses. I never felt like she was telling me off, even though on that occasion and a few others I'm sure her patience was tested to the limit.
Most of all though, and this is what counts, she remembers me even to this day. If we meet in the street she asks how I am and asks after my family. It may be that she simply has a photographic memory, but I prefer to think of her as just one of those teachers who cared enough to see you as that youthful, impressionable child before her and not just another name who had to be taught for a year before she moved on to the next lot.
There aren't too many teachers like that out there. There are more I remember for their strictness or the fear factor than I do for the kindness factor. Yes, when push comes to shove I imagine I learned just as much, academically speaking, from the old teacher who used to threaten us with the cane if we hadn't learned our rivers of England or our long division as I did with Mrs. Spellman or the other teachers who took the softly-softly approach. But stepping away from academia, I learned, emotionally speaking, much more from those who recognised that even though I was only child I deserved respect just as much as I needed discipline and educating.

Now that doesn't mean I was let become some sort of superbrat who needed Supernanny to come in and kick me into touch. Funnily enough, give a child some respect and encouragement and you get much more back than riding roughshod over their feelings.
People often talk about their school days and whether or not they really were the best days of their lives. I remember a lot about school. I remember being bullied in my early days at Thornhill College and I remember rising above it and finding my own (admittedly nerdy) niche within the writers' workshop.
I remember the friends I made, at primary school and at secondary school and the mad adventures we got up to, like skipping madly hand in hand into our primary two classroom, or working our wee hearts out on a project about cavemen which involved an lengthy search for just the right stone to stick in the scrap book to make the spear. (We came second in class and got 50p each, which was a fortune in those days).
But more than all that I remember those teachers who inspired and encouraged me a long the way. I know from having a father who teaches that it can sometimes feel like a thankless task. After all, not many children willingly run into their classrooms in the morning and when the school bell rings and not many stop to say thanks when the school year is over.

So, I want today to say a big thank you to Mrs. Spellman for making my first foray into "big school" as painless and as enjoyable as possible. Along with a select few other teachers (most notably Mr. Grant, who was mad as a hare, the two Mrs. Boyles from Thornhill and Mr. Mallon) you instilled in me a love of learning and more importantly a belief in myself.
I may now be far removed from the wee toot with the pig tails, and I'm instead turning my attentions to my own child's education, but I can only hope, when the time comes, someone as caring as you will set my wee man off on the road to academia.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...