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St Patrick – and more – on my mind

It’s a very different kind of St Patrick’s weekend this year. Because of what happened last year it’ll always have an extra resonance now

One day – one special day and certainly a welcome national break in the middle of the week – that’s what St Patrick’s Day was in our neck of the woods years ago. It wasn’t a long weekend bloated by excess on any front really. A cake with green icing was often made in our house and shamrock for your school lapel was found for the day before, of course, if you were lucky enough to find some of the ‘little clover’ after what could be long looking. Statements like ‘that’s only clover, you eejit!’ spring to mind…

I don’t remember it being a very holy day either but I remember knowing that knowing the story of St Patrick was important. In national school we were always well drilled in his story and it was the sort of story that would have you sitting up straight in your desk, ears cocked – pirates, kidnapping, slaves, a person not much older than you being forced into minding sheep on the side of a hill for years (the thought of it!) and then dreams and an exciting escape and education and more dreams and coming back in way better straits to change the thinking of the baddies that had held him captive years before – and more along with them.

I was particularly appreciative of the banishing snakes’ achievement. Those snakes (particularly the rattle tailed ones) looked terrible in the cowboy films that we saw so many of back then – even in black and white.  

I remember thinking Patrick must have been a great preacher to be able to use talk to change people’s thinking like that and how clever he was to use a simple item that was available locally to illustrate complicated three-in-one concepts. You’d have to hand it to him on the communications front. I suppose being on the side of a hill for four years gave him a lot of time to think even if he hadn’t a smartphone to record his notes. Maybe that was the point of the isolation in the first place…

I don’t remember attending any parades as a child. There were none close and people didn’t have the resources for travelling big distances with big families on such days then, I think, but we always looked at the Dublin parade on the telly. My memories are of high-stepping Americans, fleets of Irish dancers in ornate dresses and President De Valera in an open car and top hat, possibly, looking regal, and all trying to smile even though a raw wind was probably cutting the face off them and possibly waves of rain or sleet accompanying it as well.  St Patrick’s Day parade participants should get medals even today. This weekend looks no different in the sense of it being only for the hardy but we live in hope!

More recently Wexford town has been the nearest parade to go to and it’s always good to see all the community organizations that take part.  Huge effort is put into the preparation and the show goes on rain, hail, sleet or snow which is hugely commendable and which brings me to St Patrick’s weekend last year and why St Patrick’s Day will never be quite the same again.

My mother died on Friday, March 16th last year so while the hospital in Waterford had the green bunting flying, our minds weren’t on anything like that. And the snow threat made everything worse with a burial planned for the Monday. The Beast from the East had hit on March 1st (one birthday I can definitely write off) and here was the snow again, coming between us and coping with a sad situation. Would it even be possible to get to the church along narrow Wicklow rural roads for the funeral, we wondered? Diggers even came into conversations… 

In the end it all worked out, thankfully. The County Council, fair dues and thanks, played a blinder gritting the roads so it all came to pass without incident in the end even though the Sunday, the day before the burial, was a dark day when the world went completely white.

That’s why, then, that St Patrick’s Day this year is a bit more emotional than before, you see, but c’est la vie and hey, maybe a simple cake decorated with green icing would be a thing to do today – for old memories’ sake.

 

Photo credit : Cake image used

 

 

LOVE STORIES BEGIN WITH RED FLANNEL…

LOVE STORIES BEGIN WITH RED FLANNEL

 I heard an interesting story about how a couple met over the weekend. These ‘how it happened’ stories are always enjoyable. I was talking to my godmother who is 94 about a neighbour of ours around the same age and how that woman – S – had met her husband who was from UK. I had wondered how they’d crossed paths given that people didn’t travel much in those days. It was all because of red flannel, she said.  I know – intriguing!

There was a shortage of it after the Second World War in England apparently but ‘it could be got’, my godmother said, here in Ireland.  It was in demand particularly for people with arthritis, she said, providing warmth for dodgy knees and lower backs. Anyway, our neighbour, then in her 20s, and from County Wicklow, was a nanny across the water and had been home visiting her family where she heard that a farming neighbour’s sister in the UK was bad with arthritis and needed some red flannel in the worst way.

Given that she was travelling back near there she was asked to deliver some to the woman in the UK. This she duly did and in the process met the woman’s son and the rest, as they say, is history.

I haven’t written a poem about this – yet – but if you want to read one about how my parents met (and how my Dad was keeping an eye on more than the threshing mill that he was in charge of when he visited my mother’s home farm) you can find that poem called Jack and Jane in my new ebook Freewheeling Up The Hill available on Amazon now.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=freewheeling+up+the+hill&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss

There’s funny stuff and serious stuff in it. Hope you find something you like.

p.s.  wonder why it had to be red flannel? Would no other colour do?  Something to find out!

M

FREEWHEELING UP THE HILL LAUNCHED TODAY

Well, it’s done!  An ebook collection of poetry and prose – Freewheeling Up The Hill – has now gone live on Amazon and it’s a huge buzz to have another book up there to accompany Deny Me Not and Restless Spirit. It is also a bit nerve-racking putting new work out into the world but pens-crossed the reaction won’t be too bad:)  My thanks to Ewa Neumann for designing a wonderful cover (that’s me on the bike!) and to Denis Collins for a bit of editorial assistance en route.  If you’re wondering about the title I hope I explain it below in what is the book’s introduction.  I’m recording an audio version soon – I have the throat lozenges ready – and a print version will also be available on Amazon shortly also, all going well. In the meantime thank you all for your support and interest in my scribbles and I hope that you find something that appeals to you in Freewheeling Up The Hill. 

I freewheel on Saturdays.

Freewheeling is what I call being free to write what I like and having the whole day to do it. It’s that weekend ‘inside smile’ when phones don’t ring.

As with life, writing can be an uphill experience sometimes but on good days, when all is well with the world and one’s pen is in gear, it can be exhilarating. You can almost feel the warm breeze on your face as you freewheel up the hill.

Putting this collection together has been an interesting experience. Decisions abounded – what to put in, what to leave out – but after all is said and sorted I hope that there is eating and drinking in the choices, so to speak. There’s a mixture of topics, poetry, prose and mood so expect some serious as well as some humorous pieces.

It’s writing from a rural heart really as I try, like everyone else, to navigate my way round the world. Fingers crossed there will be something to either tickle your fancy or strike a chord – or both.

Most of what I do is spoken word writing – for radio or public performance – so there is a conversational feel to it. I’ve tried many of the poems out in the monthly Tacumshane Old School Storytelling sessions near when I live and I’ve included short introductions to each piece because, in open mic situations, the tale of how the poem or story came about usually gets an airing first and gives an insight into how the brain cogs kick into motion.

Best wishes as you freewheel

MH

 

Freewheeling Up The Hill

 

Cappucino Addiction

Most of us remember where we were when big events happened. I’m not old enough to remember JFK being shot but I do remember where I was when 9/11 occurred. I had been in a house near New Ross interviewing a man about rural planning issues and having said goodbye to him I drove further up the narrow road to turn round before heading home. I was stopped in my tracks minutes later, however, by the man I’d just interviewed standing at his gateway, arms flailing, beckoning me to come back in. What on earth had happened, I wondered, as I got out of the car again. “Look!” he said and there on the television screen was the image of one, then two aeroplanes hitting the Twin Towers. The two of us stood there in shock. His nephew had been trying to get through to him during the interview to tell him to turn on his TV…

But that’s on the heavy side of remembering.  On the lighter side I can remember exactly where I was when I encountered my first cappuccino. I’ve been smitten ever since – particularly to those with extra foam/froth – so in hindsight it was a significant day. I wasn’t even a coffee lover so it was a giant step for womankind! I was in the Book Centre in Wexford town which probably wasn’t long open at the time. I can’t remember exactly what year it was but it was definitely after my youngest child started school so it was probably the early ‘90s. I know that because it was the mother of a child in my daughter’s class who was drinking a cappuccino in the little café downstairs. I saw the unusual cup and the unusual froth and basically woke up and smelled the coffee.

“I’m addicted to these things,” she said.  “Reminds me of a holiday in Italy. Will you have one?” “Yes,” I said. And the rest is history. Now cappuccinos (with extra foam/froth) are a special treat midweek and at weekends. ‘Dry cappucinos’ or ‘dietitian’s dessert’ – that’s what they are called when the froth exceeds the liquid. A dietitian told me that so I know it’s right. If you don’t want to indulge in a dessert proper, she told me, they are a glamorous substitute which can be eaten mostly with a spoon.

So there you go – I feel like I’m living when I’m out, particularly on a Saturday morning, enjoying one. I will even make a beeline for the places where I know they can make such creamy concoctions and in at least two places I’ve proof that they know what I like because when the baristas see me they simply say ‘Cappucino? Extra foam?’ And I say yes, definitely. Pure joy.

 

Porridge Ponderings

Porridge ponderings

 

Isn’t it gas how childhood experience can put one off a particular food for decades?

For me it happened with porridge. I couldn’t stand the stuff. Made on water. Salt added. Yuk! No matter where I was – home or away – the last thing I’d gravitate towards was that oaty repast. Teens, 20s, 30s, 40s even – I still gave it the un-glad eye.

You’re probably wondering why, given that it is a wholesome food and one that reared a nation. Yes, isn’t it full of down-to-earth goodness that nutritionally speaking, knocks the socks off all sugary cereals and toasty pretenders?

My dislike was born of cleaning the pot. Simple as that. Having to do it. Hating to do it. I was a child in the days before non-stick saucepans – what a life transformer they have been! It was also the era of dishwashers always having two arms and two legs and of there being big families and children doing a big share of housework.  It was just the way it was. Girls helped out with the ‘inside work’ – housework – and boys did a lot of the heavier outside tasks, particularly if you lived on a farm like we did. 

So what, you might ask? Why fuss about a porridge pot? Well, if you’ve ever tried to clean a (non) non-stick one that porridge had been made in many, many hours before, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Think tough going, think some left in the bottom, think the only way to get the glubby remains out is to use one’s fingernails… Yuk! Think scrubbing pad and all the gunge stuck in it… It was enough to turn one off getting home from school.

This cleaning challenge occurred in spite of the many hours of ‘steeping’ that the pot had. I wasn’t very old before I categorised ‘steeping’ under a ‘putting it on the long finger’ mind set where you hope that some other person will come along and do what you can’t stand the thought of doing yourself right now. By evening time, in a busy home, there were lots of evening chores to do and that was often one of them. It was a case of grit one’s teeth and follow orders.

Anyway the ‘too many dirty porridge pots’ experience put me right off making the glubby stuff for breakfast for decades.

Then a few years ago porridge became all popular and fancy and because I was blessed with a lovely little non-stick saucepan by that stage I thought I’d give it a go again (somehow the microwaved variety didn’t appeal). Made on skimmed milk, with a chopped banana and a swirl of honey or some berries it was actually quite nice and my little saucepan worked a treat. Rinse it immediately before anything got time to congeal, then stick in the dishwasher for its comprehensive wash and you were sorted. Now I eat porridge most mornings. The toppings vary – blueberries, chia seeds, a sprinkle of chopped nuts, there’s lots of choice to make a basic food special so I’m over the hating porridge stage – though I still wouldn’t put salt in it. No thanks.

A little gift I got this Christmas has come in handy too. A wooden spoon with a corner on it. An ace implement for scooping out the bottom bits so I’m doubly blessed. Hallelujah for progress in the world of equipment. It has helped me get back to basics J

Where’s the beef?

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

 All this talk about us having to cut back on beef to save the planet made me think of burgers and summer and the grá we Irish have for this American, now Irish, favourite.

Every August Monday we run a parish fund-raiser and every year a burger stall is a welcome part of the mix. My job for the last couple of years has been organizing the accompaniments table – the lettuce and ketchup and mayonnaise and whatever you’re having yourself to dress said burgers.

It was a very interesting experience watching people create their tasty tiers. It wasn’t long before I realized just how fussy we all are when it comes to this kind of dressing – me included. Ketchup, yes, mayo, no, not there – on the bottom bun, lettuce, yes, but not that much…  Talk about precision. Talk about finicky! It was all such a revelation that I had to write a poem about it.  I like a funny poem.  Read it aloud, with feeling,  to really get the flavour of it.

A MATTER OF TASTE

 They all had their own way

Of doing it

Dressing their burger

Hot field-day fare

As sun beat down

Tannoy crackled

And Wheel of Fortune spun

They queued

To add cheese

Ketchup

Mayo

Onion

Lettuce

Be particular about

What they put on

No point in eating it

Unless it was right

Tickled their tastebuds

Satisfied their hunger

For flavour

She watched them layer

Build the bap

From the bottom up

No slapdash arrangement

The order important

Lettuce

Be particular

Saw mothers deftly dressing

While fathers had to ask

Each child

Bun burgers

Works of art

Perhaps bad for the heart

But hitting the spot

Who gave a jot

When the day it was hot

And hunger it had to be fed

So they layered and arranged

A squirt there

A blob here

Perhaps mustard in the middle –

It was well worth the fiddle

So teeth could be sunk

Into the perfect combination

Experience the delectation

Of their burger being

Just So.

 ©Margaret Hawkins 2018

P.S. I’m putting all the poems together soon into a collection – and other bits and bobs that might give people a smile – or a sigh – I hope.  I will keep you posted.

Making A Difference at Christmas

It’s always good to hear about people who are going out of their way to help others – especially at Christmas.

I was delighted to interview these three farmers – Francis, Clive and Victor who are making a difference in their localities in Donegal, Wicklow and Tipperary. 

The article is in the Irish Farmers Journal – the Irish Country Living supplement – now. 

I hope you enjoy reading it. 

Happy Christmas

M

SUNDAY MISCELLANY 50 JOY

SUNDAY MISCELLANY 50 JOY

Last Friday night, December 7th, was a big night for me – and possibly for someone who died 45 years ago – my grand-aunt Ess, short for Esther.

She was remembered in style, at least, when a radio essay that tells her story was included in the collection of 50 audio clips chosen to represent 50 years of the RTE Radio 1’s music and musings programme, Sunday Miscellany.

The special radio festival, programme-recording and Listening Lounge event was held in the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar from December 7-9 where the public could attend a recording of one of five special Sunday Miscellany50 programmes or simply drop in to see scripts, letters and memorabilia from the programme’s past half-century and sit on benches to listen to the recorded voices of the 50 selected writers, some like Maeve Binchy, Seamus Heaney and Nuala O’Faolain now deceased, reading their 3-minute scripts. The topics varied from St Patrick’s Day in Abu Dhabi to schooldays to the forty foot to a baby buffalo in London to inland waterways and hurler’s seats.  

It was a huge delight to have Aunt Ess’s story included in that list because her story represented those of many Irish single women, I believe, who spent their time on the circumference of relatives’ lives, working hard as carers in a home that was never theirs, perhaps never having a job in the big wide world and who never had their own fireside, so to speak.  

The essay was first broadcast in August 2009 and while the audio clip is no longer available online the text is below if you’d like to read it.

It was also published in the Sunday Miscellany 2008-2011 Anthology.

She didn’t look like a woman who needed a corset.

Stick thin and almost ninety she wrapped the salmon coloured foundation garment round her body, fastening the hooks and eyes with great difficulty because of her arthritic hands.

Was it more out of habit than need that she wore it at that stage, the steel stays providing some kind of definition and restriction that she was comfortable with?

Whatever the reason, she wore it into old age.

Dressing was quite a ritual – interlock underwear then corset and slip and one by one, the thick lisle stockings held up with bands of elastic, then the pink blouse and the gun-barrel grey skirt with the concertina pleats that was hitched high under her chest. 

Next the navy cardigan and then it was the turn of her hair – long and fine and white and twisted into some kind of bun with what looked like a pipe cleaner then a black velvet hair band added as a final touch. 

With shoes and glasses on and stick in hand she was finally ready, at around eleven a.m., to make the six yard trek to the kitchen in search of liveliness and heat.

We called her Aunt Ess, that’s E double ‘s’, never Essie as visitors did and definitely not Esther, the name she was baptized in Kilpipe church in 1881. Somehow names didn’t stay stretched out in those days of land wars and civil war and world wars on the double.

She became Ess, one of six tall, angular and sallow-skinned sisters – Elizabeth, Mary Ann, Suzanna, Sarah Jane, Esther and Matilda who, over time, became Lizzie, Mynie, Anna, Jane, Ess and Tilly.

She was a grand-aunt, of course, but life was also too short for that kind of appendage.

Aunt Ess was seventy-nine when I was born and I was thirteen when she died on the 10th of April, 1973 and it was early morning and the cows were being milked and I had to do a maths test and I didn’t care what answer ‘pie r squared’ gave me that day.

She was the sister who stayed at home.  The 1911 census shows her living in the house in Loggan, near Gorey, County Wexford, aged 29, with her father then aged 80 and her younger brother Thomas, my grandfather, who was then 20.

One of thirteen children, she’d been the one to mind him after their mother died when he was only nine.

The second youngest girl, I wonder exactly why she was the one who remained behind to keep the brown bread made.

Why didn’t she fly the coop and make a home for herself in somewhere like New Zealand or Canada or Dublin like her sisters did?

Did she make that decision because she was a natural born homemaker or were fear of change and a sense of duty the psychological stays that kept her within the radius of home and gave her life the definition that she needed?

In later years, she went to live with my grandparents where she helped out in the house and saw their children and some of their grandchildren grow.

My childhood memories of Aunt Ess are mostly of a silent, background presence. 

In her old age and deafness she didn’t move or talk a lot but mostly sat on the bench beside the fire, on frosty days jigging her leg up and down as if to shake the pain out of it or, on better days, dandling the baby in the house on her good knee and singing in her now creaky voice:

          Jobby, jobby, little horse, how many miles to Dublin?

          Three score and ten, sir, to bring me back again, sir.

Thirty years she’d been crippled with arthritis and I can see her hands still, knuckles knobbled by the joint damage and the skin mottled with age.

Thinking of her, and all the other elderly aunts who lived in our locality, I don’t think their lives could have been that easy – single sisters living on the circumference of relatives’ lives, women who probably knew no regular income until they got the pension but who, in their day, were major picker uppers of domestic slack in homes around the country.

Rumour has it that Aunt Ess’s tongue wasn’t always quiet but even if it was sharp on occasion was that sharpness born of disappointment at the straw she’d drawn in life, not to mention the frustration of immobility and pain from an early age?

I wonder, too, if she ever dreamed of marrying and rocking her own children to sleep. 

There are no stories of romance for Aunt Ess that I know of but she was young once and human and could have harboured such desires.

There aren’t that many photographs of her but in those we have she often looks a bit sad or downcast or slightly startled in the light of the lens.

There’s one photograph that’s different, though. She is in her 40s and wearing a check-patterned apron over a dress and standing in front of the whitewashed house in the Milland. 

It’s a warm working day and wisps of hair have escaped from her bun and she is smiling broadly, her eyes crinkled up and her teeth joyfully on show.

I don’t know who made her laugh that day or who took the photograph but I’m glad that someone did for, in that one photograph, my aunt Ess’s face is a face transformed.

ENDS

DEATH KNOCKS THE BLOGGING OFF YOU

Death can knock you sideways. One minute life is going on as normal and you’re getting on with work and play and your head is full of stuff that seems important – what to cook for dinner, what article to tackle next, the car tax needing to be paid, a pet due a vaccination, how long it is since you blogged or tweeted or Facebooked or what to do about a dodgy filling or what to get as a wedding present for someone in two months’ time and the next such everyday things are hurled into insignificance when utter tragedy strikes. Someone you love has died. Suddenly. Incomprehensibly.
And now no Sunday morning will ever be the same again because it’s the time you got the news that your nephew lost his life in an accident the night before. It’s a beyond grief experience. Looking back now it’s hard to understand how everyone has managed since, facing the stonewall finality of it – wake, funeral, aftermath still ongoing…
Here, it’s like losing a child, by one remove, your heart going out to your sibling and sister-in-law and their older child and you can’t find the right words to take away the pain nor make sense of it all yourself. You’re so grateful, though, for the friends and neighbours who braved the wall of grief then, and since, to extend a hand or hug. “It could happen to any of us,” they said.
And it could. And does. You know that now… And as days run into weeks and months, there’s some kind of thankfulness, too, for the daily, mundane tasks that erect scaffolding within collapse and take your mind away, even briefly, from what’s impossible to believe. Until another reminder comes… And now my prayer is that Wayne, only 23, will rest in peace and that understanding – and acceptance – will somehow come. Eventually.

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