YOU CAN’T BEAT THE LOVE OF AN ANIMAL

A client of my husband’s arrived at our house recently to collect some photographs.  It was a Saturday morning and she was accompanied by her gorgeous daughter who was about 2 years old.

Arriving at our door can be a bit hectic as not only will you be greeted by one of us 2 leggeds,  but you will also be met by Dylan Da Dog who gets ridiculously excited at the appearance of any visitors – known or unknown.

As I opened the door that Saturday morning I did my best to restrain Dylan while trying to retain some semblance to normal human behaviour so as not to completely overwhelm this little person on my doorstep.  I need not have worried.  “Doggie” she exclaimed and immediately opened her arms to hug a delighted Dylan.  The honest and genuine warmth of this little girl who had no fear whatsoever of our madly dancing, manically tailwagging dog was a joy to watch.  “She likes dogs,” I offered.  “Yep,” her mother confirmed, “she loves them.”

Gay Byrne used to famously say every year on the Late Late Toy Show that the greatest gift you can give a child is the gift of reading.  I agree.  But the second greatest gift you can hand your child is the love of a family pet.  My heart breaks every time I meet a child who has a fear of dogs or cats.

I have always lived with animals.  In fact the only time I was without a cat in my life were the two winter seasons I spent in the Canary Islands and it was a loss I felt keenly and which led me to talk to every stray, scrawny Spanish moggie I met.

My kids obviously have always shared their lives with animals too.  For me, there are few life lessons as important for children than learning how to respect and care for a pet.  We have all learned about love, life and grief from sharing our life with our 4 leggeds.

Yesterday my mother handed me a book, entitled ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’.  Very simply this book tells the story of former homeless man and recovering heroin addict James Bowen who became adopted by an amazing cat called Bob.  Bob the cat was in a bad way when he first showed up and James had to nurse him back to full health with the help of the RSPCA.  In turn James credits the love he got from Bob with helping him turn in his life around.  It is a beautiful story that illustrates perfectly how I think God intended us to share this beautiful planet with our animal brothers and sisters.  Mutual respect along with love freely given is key.

Naturally I am a huge supporter of the work here in Dublin of the DSPCA.  All of my four cats are rescues and we are regular fosterers of kittens also.  Getting a pet is not something anyone should do lightly.  Along with all the love and fun and good stuff there is hard work too.  And when it comes to cats and dogs, there’s the matter of a commitment that could run to near on 20 years.

But if adopting an animal is something that you are curious about or if you would like to support the work of this amazing charity, why not pop along to their PetFest at their HQ on Mount Venus Road, Rathfarnham on Saturday June 16th from 12noon till 4pm. Panto Queen June Rogers will be there as will 98FM’s Teena Gates who will be judging the ‘Scruffts’ dog show.  There will be food stalls and information about the work of Ireland’s oldest animal charity.  The kids can enjoy the face painting and bouncing castle. But most of all you can learn about adopting an animal, from the people who know best how to advise you.

But even if pet ownership is not for you, why not go along so that your children can get up close and personal with some 4 leggeds.  I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a Saturday!  And sure you never know, you might make some new friends!!!

THE GLADIOLI HAVE COME HOME TO ROOST

Today is voting day in the EU Treaty Referendum.  For the last month or so we have been deafened by conflicting voices telling us what they think we should do.  I am not going to rehash any of the debates (although most of them descended into shouting matches) but there is one thing that has irked me in a big way from the beginning of this campaign.  And oddly enough it was exactly the same thing that irked me the last time we voted (the General Election 2011) and that thing is ENDA KENNY.

I have nothing against the man personally.  I do think he is a good person with his heart in the right place.  But he is a weak leader – something I feared over a year ago when my vote, along with an avalanche of others, propelled him and his party into government with Labour.

After 4 years of brutal recession Ireland continues to struggle economically.  That sentence doesn’t however convey the very real suffering of many people in this country.  A fact that was brought into sharp focus this week with an excellent, if very depressing programme on RTE 1 called Life and Debt (you can watch it back on the RTE Player here).  This programme portrayed the very real and desperate nightmare many people are caught in right now.  The programme made me very angry, particularly as it was broadcast in a week when once again Ireland paid €2.25bn to bondholders.  According to tweeter @sebthegooner that equates to €500 for every man, woman and child in this country.  That would amount to €2,000 from this house alone.  We could buy our daughter the wardrobes she badly needs for her bedroom…. but for those who were featured on ‘Life and Debt’ this might buy a bit of peace of mind for a couple of weeks.

If we ever needed strong leadership we need it now, which brings me neatly back to our Enda.  Once again he refused to go into TV3 or any other studio to debate the issues around the EU Treaty.  Bear in mind we pay this man €200,000 a year to lead the country.  The arrogance is breathtaking.

But it is more serious that just giving a two fingers to his electorate, Enda Kenny’s refusal to debate live on air, his obvious fear of conflict or being seen to lose clearly makes him unsuitable for the high office he holds.  This is the man on whom we depend to negotiate our case in Europe.  I despair.  I really do.  The clip above from last nights Channel 4 News is enough to make one cry!

Here is the blog post I wrote over a year ago just prior to the General Election… the gladioli have come home to roost… or something!

Where’s my voting card…… It’s going to be NO.

I LOVE DOING RADIO….

You can listen to my piece entitled The Wrong Bus which was broadcast last Sunday on RTE Radio One’s Sunday Miscellany by clicking here.  I am the third contributor at about 19 minutes in.  And do also listen to the beautiful piece of music played afterwards – by Paco Pena.

I also contributed to Newstalk’s ‘Talking Point’ with Sarah Carey which was broadcast last Saturday.  We discussed how far the state should go on legislating for good parenting.  You can listen to that by clicking here.
(then click the date 12th May to begin listening).  I was joined on the panel by Sunday Independent columnist Carol Hunt and Independent Senator Jillian Van Turnhout

Did I mention that I love doing radio?

Oh and I will also have a short radio essay on this weekend’s Media Show on RTE Radio One at 7.30pm on Saturday evening.  I will be putting forward the case for more positive news!

Yep, I love doing radio!

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN

I loved Paul Torday’s novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  It was a book that was immediately witty, clever, satirical but also gentle, with finely drawn characters whose pursuit of love and the meaning of life was beguiling.  I laughed out loud in places and I cried too. It is a book that remains on my top ten recommended reads
The story is a wild one involving salmon fishing, a multimillionaire sheik with mystical tendencies and Scottish castles, waddis in the Yemen and a thinly disguised Blair like government with its dedication to spin.  Central to the story is the colourless Alfred Jones, a professor of things fishy who works for the Department of Fisheries, Harriet Chetwode Talbot who works for the investment company representing the Sheik and the PM’s Press Secretary, who one would certainly puts me in mind of one Mr Alastair Campbell (or rather how I would imagine said Mr Campbell was during his incarnation in that role).  But running just underneath the improbably and comedic storyline are stories of love – love lost, unrequited love, and the possibility of love.  The novel was a stunning debut by Paul Torday who was in his late 50s when it was published.
So I was very excited to see that it had been made into film but nervous also that the big screen would destroy some of the gentleness of the book.  I need not have worried.  Lasse Halstrom’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is as good as a movie based on a book gets.  This is due in no small part to Ewan McGregor’s brilliantly sympathetic and subtle portrayal of the main character of Alfred Jones, Professor of all things fishing.  It is a beautiful performance which doubtless makes this movie.  But McGregor is also aided by strong performances by Amr Waked who plays Sheik with a mytical and philosophical bent and the wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas who plays the PM’s ball breaking Press Secretary, Patricia Maxwell with wild abandon.  Emily Blunts performance as Harriet Chetwode Talbot doesn’t let down either.
In the end, much like the book, this is a feelgood movie.  In these dark days of rescession it is wonderful to be reminded of the fact that a ridiculous idea like that of the Sheik’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, almost works.  As he says in the film, “it’s all about faith.”   And he is right, indeed it is.  

GETTING YOUR MACNAS ON

There was a great item on the radio this morning. In the middle of a stressful couple of hours dealing with blocked drains (as in sewage pipes) I retreated to my office and turned on the radio, just in time to hear Ella McSweeney talking about excited cows. Yes – that’s right, excited cows. Ella had recorded a piece yesterday on a farm in Wicklow where she accompanied a farmer to his sheds as he prepared to ‘turn out’ the cows. After four long months spent indoors eating cow food and silage, the cows were about to be released back into the fields and boy were they excited? The mooooed long mooos and they kicked and skipped in a cow fashion as he opened the barn doors. Through the radio I could sense their exhilaration as they gained their freedom and their senses were bombarded by the smell and sight of fresh grass and wide open fields. Apparently it’s called Macnas – the joyful abandon of a cow let loose in a field. It was the kind of radio that made me smile and helped restore my internal equilibrium after a shitty morning (pardon the intended pun).

Internal equilibrium or balance is vital to good mental health. So it is entirely appropriate that today is the Vernal or Spring Equinox when the hours of light and darkness are exactly equal. Balance is something we all need in our lives. It is so easy for things to go out of synch and become polarised. One of my favourite affirmations is “bring all things to balance, harmony will follow.”

Like the cows in Wicklow the Spring Equinox is also about moving forward, preferably with joyful abandon. Equinox reminds us to be fully awake and engaged in our world. Spring is here, sap is rising and in the natural world it’s all about fertility, hence the association of Easter with rabbits (ultimate symbol of rampant fertility) and eggs!

It is time to be like the cows and their macnas….. get outdoors, feel the wind in your hair, the gentle rays of the sun on your face and the pulse of new life bursting forth in nature. It is also about creativity, whether that means baking a cake or being a co-creator, with Mother Nature, of abundance in your garden by making ready the soil and planting seeds.

Perhaps it’s my Celtic pagan heritage but I love reflecting on these old ‘wheel of the year’ markers. Awareness of these agricultural and astrological marker days provides us with a pause in our busy lives, even if only to be aware of the turning of the year. I like that.

Photo by Cheeseslave on Flickr

WHEN LOVES COMES TO TOWN

A shorter version of this short story was published recently by Woman’s Way magazine.

Enjoy!

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The short term car park was a cauldron of bad tempered chaos. Negotiating slowly around pillars, cars double parked waiting for a family to load up and move out, and hordes of giddy, scantily clad young women who appeared to have returned to Dublin directly from the Spanish nightclub, did nothing to ease my already frazzled nerves. I sent a plea to the car parking angels to please find me a space and continued my search, as I tried to swallow my rising sense of panic. I was already late. Finally I found a space, albeit it on the roof and in the corner furthest away from the walkway into the terminal building. “Memo to self” I muttered “be more specific when lodging requests with the Angels of Parking Spaces.” It was blowing a biting, easterly gale which was whipping rain in horizontal spears across the car park roof. “Bloody hell, I will be like the drowned rat after she was pulled through the bush backways.” Bloody hell.

In the Arrivals Hall a quick glance at the TV Monitor told me that the flight from Amsterdam had just landed. Putting my faith in the laissez-faire Dublin baggage handlers and perhaps, if luck was on my side, a shift change about now, I made a bee line for the bathroom to attempt to salvage something of my appearance which had been so carefully put together before I left home. I tried valiantly to retrieve my hair from the dark side, dabbed powder to subdue my shiny face and re applied some girliness with more pink lippy and surveyed the result. “It will do” I thought. Although I wished I wasn’t so pale. Last time Pier had seen me I was wearing a honeyed Mediterranean tan. Gathering as much confidence as I could fake, I strode back to the Meeting Point.

I took up a position among the throng of expectant relatives and professional meeters and greeters, trying to look casual and control my jelly like legs. I wasn’t sure if I was suffering from nerves or excitement or both. I squinted at new arrivals luggage trying to spot an AMS sticker. None yet. My mouth was dry. I opened my bag and popped in strong mint into my mouth and sucked hard. Be calm, be cool, I told myself.

In attempt to control my nerves I concentrated my mind on the carved wooden box at home which contained all Pier’s letters. Pier’s funny, beautiful, and loving letters which I had been receiving for almost a year. He wrote English better than he spoke it and his words were full of colour, humour and sunshine. He described his life working for an Advertising Agency in the centre of Amsterdam, his flat which, naturally had a view of a canal, and his beloved bike which took him everywhere he needed to go. He made me laugh with his tales of smoking pot legally in one of the many hash houses he frequented. He wrote about his hippy parents who had retired to live on a houseboat with lots of cats and of the latest concert he had been to. In turn I wrote to him about Dublin, making it seem far more cosmopolitan than it was. My letters were sprinkled with references to Bono and to Phil Lynott, as though they were at least neighbours and possibly friends of mine. I made passing reference to my modest flat which had a view of a car park but from where I could smell the sea, which was not always a good thing. I told him about my job working for a holiday company and my great social life wandering around the pubs of the city which carried echoes of our literary heritage. He kept promising that he would visit Dublin and me soon. And now he would be here any minute.

Also in the wooden box were the photos of that great holiday in Ibiza. We met in an Irish pub in San Antonio and I couldn’t believe that I was having the clichéd holiday romance with a gorgeous blonde Dutchman. I pictured Pier’s long legs and strong arms. When we danced I felt so small, gathered into his tanned chest. He loved music and his funny English and mispronounced words meant we laughed lots during those two weeks. I smiled at the memories. This was going to be a great weekend.

I had a full itinerary planned with every intention of making Pier fall in love with my city. That could be the deal breaker. He must love Dublin. Because I did and I couldn’t really have imagined my future anywhere else. I had planned breakfast in Bewleys, a walk in Stephens Green, a trip on the new electric rail train, the Dart around Dublin Bay, a walk down Dun Laoghaire Pier. We would visit Davy Byrnes Pub and O Donoghues for a live trad session. And I had planned a big night on Saturday night in the Pink Elephant with some friends, and maybe a bag of chips from Leo Burdocks on the way home. He would get the very best of Dublin over 3 days and nights. On Sunday we would wander around the Guinness Brewery and he could buy some souvenirs to take back to Holland.

My two best friends, Niamh and Jackie and their men were joining us in the Pink. They were all almost as excited as me about this weekend and couldn’t wait to meet this Pier they had heard so much about. They had seen some of his letters and his photo and were, so far, very impressed. Although I was aware of a slight whiff of desperation in their enthusiasm. For too long I had been the spare wheel in our circle. Niamh had married her childhood sweetheart the previous year and it looked like an announcement from Jackie who has been dating Alan for a year by then was imminent. The 5 of us went out regularly and whereas it didn’t bother me much, I know that Niamh, in particular, felt that we are unbalanced. We should have been 6. And both of them felt that maybe Pier could just be the man for the job. I knew he was fairly keen on me, now I just needed my country to do its bit. Signs were good – he shared my devotion to Thin Lizzy and had just purchased U2’s War album and could belt out ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ with great gusto after a few pints. He had also been to a Rory Gallagher concert. He was tall, blonde and very handsome and was a graphic designer. And just a little bit alternative which I really loved. He ticked all the boxes. I just hoped he wouldn’t catch them calling me Louise Van der Beere which had been their latest big joke!

“Louise – hello” the suddenly familiar guttural accented English and my heart skipped a beat. Beaming with happiness I turned around and there he was. I opened my arms in speechless embrace. “Oh bloody hell, this could be a long weekend”

SHATTERED DREAMS

It has all been a bit hectic lately and so I have not had much time for writing, blogging or visiting my favourite blogs. I intend to rectify that over the coming week – in between Sports Day, Concerts and GAA Blitzs. In the meantime here is a very little short story for your amusement. So grab a cuppa, take a seat at the kitchen table and enjoy!

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I stood up, smoothed my hair and crossed the bedroom to answer the phone. I made a mental note to get on to Tom again about moving the bloody phone over to the bedside table. As usual he was already fast asleep. Lying on his back, mouth wide open, snoring softly, his grey haired chest rising and falling, the picture of blissed out middle age. I caught sight of my reflection as I passed the wardrobe mirror. My soft and saggy nakedness shocked me. Was that really me? I was caught, mesmerised by the picture captured in the framed mirror. Behind my creased self, was the crumpled bed and my husband of twenty years, oblivious in the dying light of a summer evening. Through the open window, riding on the smell of freshly cut grass came the suburban evening concert of birdsong and the hum of neighbourhood lawnmowers.

I have been here before I thought. On another soft summer evening, I stood framed in a crooked wall mirror and wrapped in the same soft aroma generated by the Trinity College groundsman on his ride on lawnmover. My body was long, lightly tanned and voluptuous. I celebrated my beauty and nakedness by dancing as my lover watched from the bed. Through the mirror I kept contact with his startling blue eyes which were full of the promise of further ecstasy. I danced sensually and slowly, enjoying the sight of his body reacting as he lay sprawled on my single bed. His strong arms held his head up so he could appreciate my teasing. I danced on until he rose up and grabbed me roughly, pulling me back down onto the bed. I gave myself up to his athletic, nut brown body, burying my face in his chest. We devoured each other, noisily, greedily. Outside the day died as we exhausted our appetite for each other. Then we lay, our bodies wrapped around each other as we spoke softly to each other of the big colourful dreams that lay ahead. Futures full of fun, laughter, excitement and languid afternoons spent making love.

It had gone silent. The snoring had stopped and the outside noise had ceased. The quiet was broken by Tom, who muttered “are you going to answer the bloody phone or stare at yourself all evening?” I smoothed my hair, sucked in my stomach, and tippy toed over my broken dreams to answer the phone.

BOOK REVIEW – UNCUT DIAMONDS

Some weeks back I told you that I was the lucky winner of a book (the very best kind of prize) on Karen Jones Gowen’s blog. The book is called Uncut Diamonds – her second novel.

I have often found myself having to defend the kind of books I like best. I don’t like thrillers, crime fiction, historical fiction or anything that has violence. I like a book to wrap myself up in. A book that allows me to immerse myself in another life where I can watch characters grow and change as they cope with whatever life is throwing at them. I love books strong on character. For me, plot is secondary to that.

Uncut Diamonds is just that kind of book – a wander around the life of Marcie and Shawn McGill and their expanding brood of kids in smalltown USA (set in Illinois). The story charts some turbulent years in the life of this young, growing family who are challenged with the recession of the 70’s which causes Shawn to lose work and ultimately they lose their house.

I just loved the central character, Marcie. She was a young mother, trying to do her best for her family but who often was overwhelmed by life – like the rest of us. I loved the spirituality that was an integral part of this Mormon family’s life. It was a book that certainly resonated with me and had many similarities to Ireland in the 70’s when the church played a huge role in family life.

Ultimately this is a story full of light and redemption as the family find help in all kinds of unexpected places. It highlights the love that binds families together even when on the surface there may be arguments and tensions.

For an uplifting read, you could do worse than read Uncut Diamonds! Check out its author’s blog at www.karengowenjones.blogspot.com

Living Your Best Life – 2 –

First of all, thanks to all who left a comment on my previous post on the subject of Living Your Best Life. Having had a week to mull this over and the inspiration provided by your thoughts, here is some of what I think.

Know who you are: I know this sounds maybe a little like psychobabble but I really think it is important to know yourself. We all wear masks and play parts much of the time, trying to be a great daughter, mother, sister or friend. Trying to be capable and strong or perhaps shy and retiring and put upon. But it is vital to spend some time really searching within, in order to find out who we are. Take away all the labels and masks and think of yourself by your first name. I am Barbara – but who is that? Who are you? Who is the real you? What are your passions? What really makes you tick?

Slow down. We can often live our lives at breakneck speed. Charging through our days in a very task orientated way. Perhaps we think we are really good at multi tasking and getting lots done. And that is good but not if it is at the expense of noticing beauty and joy all around us. I really think we all need to slow down. We need to develop the habit of taking time each day to just be! And the problem is that when we do stop, we feel guilty. We need to realise that by caring for ourselves, we are practicing self love and that so good for all the parts of yourself. Minding yourself will improve your physical, emotional and psychological health.

Live in the moment. Be in the Now. Be conscious of when your energy flies off in all directions. We spend endless hours worrying about the future and fretting about the past. We need to develop the habit of checking ourselves regularly. Where is your energy now? Drop the worry habit. It serves no purpose. It achieves nothing but ill health for yourself and it poisons the world around you. A great way to do this is to hand your worries/concerns to God or the Angels or Allah or the Universe or whatever. Hand them over and then hold your energy in the now.

Choose every day to be joyful, happy and positive. We choose our emotions. Learn to regularly take your emotional temperature. How am I feeling? If you are in some negative mood, make a conscious effort to bring your focus back to all that is good and positive. And smile a lot!

Remember that life is mainly a bit of a laugh. All of us have traumatic events in our lives, but never lose your sense of humour. See the ridiculous as often as you can. Live life lightly.

So yes, life is about chasing your dreams, fulfilling your wishes and ‘a daring adventure’. Perhaps some of the points I have raised might help a little along the way.

What say you?

NEWS FLASH

I was very thrilled and flattered to have been asked to ‘Guest Blog’ on one of my favourite blogs – ‘Writer on the way Home’ – a blog written by Niamh Griffin. Niamh spent many years living abroad and so her blog is all about moving to Ireland – whether you are returning to your homeland or making a new home here. It’s usually great reading and often gives us another way look at ourselves in Ireland.

Anyway, my post ‘GAA is the way to go’ has just appeared. Check it out at www.writeronthewayhome.blogspot.com.