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Niamh Meister-Leifburger

Before we married, Andrew and I agreed he would wear his wedding ring for a minimum of 6 months.

In return, I would take his surname.

Well, it wasn’t written into the marriage vows – and anyway, Andrew only wore his wedding ring for 3 months. ALSO, my ulterior motive for the request was the expectation that the band would become an extension of his finger. In the event he was involved in a terrible accident resulting in severe arm trauma and his left hand swelling alarmingly, he’d fight off the doctor advancing with motorised cutters, deliriously screaming, “Get away from my ring! You’re not having it!”

Since that situation never came to pass, it seems pretty clear to me it constitutes a breach of said agreement rendering it null and void.

However, over eight years after the happy day when we yoked ourselves to each other till death or a misunderstanding involving a transsexual called Clarabelle and secret offshore bank account do us part, I applied for a new passport.

In fairness, I always intended to change my name. One reason I didn’t was because Andrew and I thought we might be able to engage in dodgy tax fraud that somehow turns out to be legal if I were still Shaw (in retrospect, I’m not sure how we envisioned that working). Another is I never got around to it. And finally, I wasn’t gestating a crotchfruit. If The Asset weren’t imminent early in the New Year, I would have waited until my passport expired in August 2012 before I became Niamh Meister-Leifburger or whatever Andrew’s surname is. I suppose I should really look that up.

Last time I renewed my passport, all that was required was a call to the Irish Consulate asking them to make out a passport in the name of Niamh Shaw, thanks a million.

THINGS HAVE INDEED CHANGED.

Three months ago, upon my request, the Consulate General of Ireland sent me a passport application form. I knew it was for an Irish passport because, hilariously, it included an information pamphlet on how NOT to take a passport photo, with pictures of random people wearing clown noses and sticking their faces up against windows etc.

To issue a passport in my married name, I had to submit our original marriage certificate (The Consulate General of Ireland evidently doesn’t trust Notary Publics) – and my original birth certificate to verify my maiden name. If I wanted my original documents returned – along with the new passport – I had to include a self-addressed sign-on-delivery courier bag. Rather makes you wonder what the $160 fee was for – for which the only accepted payment was a bankers’ cheque.

The passport photos – four according to the application form, although the supplementary documentation stated two – had to be confirmed as a true likeness of the applicant by an authority figure, e.g. a policeman or, you know, librarian.

I have no idea what the big deal is about getting a passport. I mean, they’re not exactly rare. Pretty much everybody has one.

Anyhoo. It took a while to put the application together. Andrew took some photos and I selected the image which looked least like I was contemplating assassinating John Key. After spending an hour on MS Paint arranging it in a collage, I took it to the pharmacy to get it printed.

Then I went to the police station.

“I’m looking for someone with the appropriate authority,” I announced at reception, spreading the forms across the counter.

“Well,” said the personable Jason, “you’ve come to the right place, ma’am.”

He was required to write the application form’s unique reference number on the back of two of the passport photos, and sign them.

“Do you have a black pen?” I asked. “Because it says on the form you need to use a black pen. Oh, and if you can find a pair of scissors- no, wait. I have some here in my bag.”

“What else do you have in the bag?” he asked, suspiciously eyeing me snipping up photos.

“Nothing I wish to disclose, thanks.”

Jason got so carried away by the power vested in him that he signed all nine of my passport photos.

“Don’t want you coming back,” he said.

“Oh, come on. Are you trying to tell me I’m the dodgiest character you’ve seen all week?”

“Don’t know. You might have a bomb strapped to your waist.”

“No, no; it’s a foetus I swear.”

Policemen are MUCH more fun than Customs Officials. Except, I suppose, when they’re trying to get you to breathe into the nozzle.

Off I went to NZ Post to mail the application – which was where/when I found I’d forgotten my original passport.

Back at home, Andrew pointed out another problem.

I’m not even sure how to coherently relate this. Ok, so. Look. *sigh!* You see. On the form was a box for my signature. And I kind of panicked and put the wrong one. Well obviously it was my signature – I mean, I wrote it – only it didn’t look like it usually does. It’s like I had a fleeting personality change halfway through signing, resulting in a squirmy bit in the middle. I think I was intimidated by the stringent instruction to keep within the lines of the box, which was WAY too small to adequately express my personality.

In any case, after I had written my signature – outside the box, with a wobble in the middle – I realized it was supposed to have been witnessed by an authority figure.

So before going to the police station, I Tippexed it out.

It almost looked like I hadn’t touched it at all.

Jason hadn’t noticed anyway.

But THEN I got home and made the mistake of saying to Andrew, “Do you think it matters my signature’s blue?”

And he said, “No, but the TIPPEX MIGHT BE A PROBLEM.”

Seriously, I don’t know why I bother talking to him. It always ends in tears.

Since you can’t download the application form off the Internet, I sent off to the Consulate General of Ireland for another. Then I printed more passport photos and returned to the police.

I wasn’t looking forward to explaining The Tippex Affair to Jason – or persuading him I wasn’t stalking him. Apart from exceptional circumstances I’m not really into that and anyway, to be honest, I prefer firemen.

Thankfully Jason was off giving out speeding tickets, so I got Angela. She was evidently more clued in than Jason since she actually asked to see my ID. Although I’m glad I didn’t get her the first time around, because no doubt Angela would have detected Tippex.

However, when she went to stamp the back of my passport photo it rolled up into the stamp and, when she finally prised it out, my face was covered in blue ink.

The information pamphlet on how not to take a passport photo hadn’t mentioned anything about not having a blue face, so I licked it a bit and scrubbed it with a tissue from up Angela’s sleeve. I sent it off, even though I still looked like one of my recent ancestors was a full-blooded Smurf.

Two days later, the Consulate General of Ireland called to say our marriage certificate isn’t valid.

First love

The other night, Agent of Death, Her Goatiness and I somehow got to talking about first loves.

Honestly, I was just grateful the topic wasn’t pus.

However, much to my embarrassment, I realised my first love was in fact a girl.

I was 4 or 5 years old, in Junior Infants in primary school, and still firmly of the opinion that boys were entirely nasty. I couldn’t fathom how one was supposed to coexist with them at all – never mind LIKE them.

There was a girl in 6th Class called Diane Hannagan and I loved her. She had blond hair and a wonderful round, smiley face. At the age of 12, she was the height of sophistication – not that I had any idea what sophistication was, but it definitely sounded like something I should aspire to.

My parents were friendly with her parents, all being members of the Limerick Lawn Tennis Club. I used to love when Mum brought me to the Hannagan’s house, which was big and had lots of windows, and a dog, and Diane’s mother who smelled incredibly exotic.

I condemned my parents for not calling me Diane, and desperately wished I had blond hair rather than brown, and a wonderful round, smiley face instead of a face that was just . . . facey. I bitterly regretted my mum didn’t smell like Diane’s (many years later, I realised Irene Hannagan’s magnetic musk was ‘Opium’ in what must have been scandalous application in 1970s Limerick).

I used to hang around the playground hoping Diane would notice me and say hello and maybe even tell me my schoolbag was nice. Indeed, she often did say ‘hello’, because she was a lovely, friendly girl – although she never did tell me my schoolbag was nice, which was undoubtedly an oversight on her part but did nothing to diminish my lustful thoughts that she might one day admire my finger-painting.

One day I was running in the playground, when I fell and grazed my knee. To my abounding joy, my howl of anguish was answered by Diane, who scooped me up into her arms. I still remember precisely where we sat, on the stairs beside the 6th Class prefab building, me on her lap. I couldn’t believe my luck when she applied a plaster.

It still remains one of the most stunningly profound moments of my entire life.

I was evidently a discerning admirer, because Diane Hannagan won the Rose of Tralee in 1984. I defy anyone who could not love this:

Rose of Tralee 1984

Dogs make me cry

I don’t cry at movies – apart from Finding Nemo because doesn’t everyone? Also anything starring Tom Cruise, but that’s a visceral rather than emotional response.

I’m much more susceptible to an intense, emotionally manipulative advert. Like the National Bank ad showing at cinemas here that always made me choke on my Malteser, and this one  from NZ Post always mists me up – although more light condensation, really.

However, when I was back in Ireland, there was an advert on telly that showed frequently. In it, the camera shows a Labrador, slumped in a small, bleak cell with bars across the front. He’s bored and lonely and quite obviously hasn’t chased a ball for what might be DAYS. Suddenly, his dull eyes spark; the ears prick; he jumps up, mouth falling open, tongue lolling; he darts to the front of the cell and sits eagerly; tail thrashing; he strains to see past the bars.

As People approach his cell, he looks up hopefully. And as they pass by barely breaking stride, his little ears sag, the tail wags ever more feebly; and as they walk out of frame, his whole body droops in defeat.

Sorry; did you say, what was it FOR? I have no idea. It seems reasonable to assume it was for K9 Friends or cell manufacturers or some such.

Every time this advert showed on telly, it reduced me to tears. One moment I’d be sitting there cynically monopolizing my parents’ Sunday Times magazine; the next choking back seismic sobs on the sofa.

I suppose it might have had something to do with missing my dog at the time. Also because Jed strives so hard to please me (when he isn’t distracted by a moving tennis ball); and looks at me like I’m the most wonderful thing in the world. I mean, Andrew stopped looking at me like that long ago – around the time he discovered me biting my toenails in the kitchen.

(Well, most of my boyfriends were TURNED ON by that.)

ANYWAY, I am grateful I no longer have to see that advert because it was pure embarrassing.

Then the other day, I was reading The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness. It’s an AWESOME BOOK, and I would recommend it unreservedly but for the fact that it ends on a cliff-hanger and now I’m completely stressed that the sequel is out on loan at the library until NOVEMBER.

So the protagonist, Todd, has a talking dog called Manchee. The villain, Aaron, is trying to kill Todd and Viola, when Manchee attacks him and gnaws his face long enough to allow Todd and Viola to escape in a boat. This is the relevant passage:

“Manchee!” Viola yells.

“C’mon, boy!”

And Manchee looks up from Aaron to see me calling him-

And that’s where Aaron takes his chance.

No!” I scream.

He grabs Manchee violently by his scruff, lifting him off the ground and up in one motion.

“Manchee!”

 “Todd?” Manchee yelps.

“Let him go!” I scream.

“Last chance, Todd,” Aaron says, no longer sounding so calm.

“Todd?” Manchee’s still yelping. “Todd?”

And no-

“I’ll kill you,” but my voice is a whisper-

And no-

And there ain’t no choice-

And the boat’s out in the current-

And I look at Viola, still rowing against it, tears dripping off her chin-

She looks back at me-

And there ain’t no choice-

“No,” she says, her voice choking. “Oh, no, Todd-“

And I put my hand on her arm to stop her rowing. The current takes us.

“I’m sorry!” I cry as the river takes us away, my words ragged things torn from me, my chest pulled so tight I can’t barely breathe. “I’m sorry, Manchee!”

“Todd?” he barks, confused and scared and watching me leave him behind. “Todd?

“Manchee!” I scream.

Aaron brings his free hand towards my dog.

“MANCHEE!”

Todd?

And Aaron wrenches his arms there’s a CRACK and a scream and a cut-off yelp that tears my heart in two forever and forever.

Well, I wept for a good ten minutes. When I finally unwracked, I was compelled to track down my own dog for lots of extremely reluctant cuddles.

Late breaking pics

Sitting here in Port Underwood on a sullen day, with mist shrouding the peninsula and the sea a chilly slate-grey, it is hard to believe that these photos were taken just over a month ago, in Ireland coming into summer.

All pictures are courtesy of the Wednesday Walking Group’s photographer, El Bruno.

I would like to point out that I did not buy the t-shirt, and only wear it for its sentimental value because a dear friend gave it to me. Also because I don't have any more. MarkJ, can you get me another? Preferably one that doesn't inspire strangers to approach me in the street and whisper, "I'm totally with you, that Angerlina Jolly is a slut." In fact, a t-shirt that would compel strangers to buy me coffee would be ideal. Thanks.

In addition to being a photographer, El Bruno is also a Frustrated Rock God - but then aren't we all?

 

Waterfall off the Old Kenmare Road: This is me contemplating the beauty of nature, whether my t-shirt covers my arse, and whether it matters since I'm sitting down.

  

The Wednesday Walkers (subset) L-R: Ann, Claudia, Niamh, Eileen.

I'm not sure I was on this walk, but I like this picture because you see the dude on the rock? The one with the ski-pole and two false hips? That's my dad; and I love the way he's perched up there, because that is so completely HIM.

 

L-R: Eileen, Claudia and Dad

Technically in Cork

Recent events have prompted me to muse with delicate frown and pursed lips on my history with transportation. The origins of this tempestuous, codependent relationship can be traced back to:-

  • 1984: Twelve years old, and for reasons that will remain forever obscured by the mists of time, I was required to catch a bus from Dublin to be reunited with the bosom of my family in Limerick. After a long journey, the bus shuddered to a stop. I sat there long after the remaining passengers disembarked, kicking my legs and reading a ‘Bunty’ magazine by streetlight.Half an hour later I was getting cold, so alighted and, keeping an eye on the coach in case it took off unexpectedly, I backed up to the only human life-form present and enquired when the bus would be leaving for Limerick. Which is when I found out the bus was not going to Limerick.

    Also, I was technically in Cork.

    I must be able to blame this on some family friend or relative – I mean WHO’S RESPONSIBLE FOR A TWELVE YEAR OLD CATCHING A BUS?

    I was gasping for a wee, so I decided my first priority was locating the bathroom. Then disaster struck: I had no money, and access to the toilet cubicles required a 2p piece. (If you think I sound pathetic, really it was WAY worse.)

    Luckily, there was a 20cm gap between the foot of the door and the floor. I stuffed my bag in, thereby committing myself, then wriggled under the door after the bag. It was a tense widdle; I was terrified someone with 2p might creep in and burst into my cubicle and accuse me of weeing for free.

    Afterwards I went outside, sat on my bag in the deserted carpark, and considered my predicament. Luckily, my parents had equipped me to deal with adversity. Back then, what that meant was that I knew how to make reverse charge phone calls, rather than identify perverts. Indeed I wouldn’t have recognized a pervert had he asked me to sit on his knee and waved a flesh-coloured stick at me, but man could I place a reverse charges phone call.

    I rang my mum, who was good enough to accept the call.

    “I’m in CORK!” I sobbed, suddenly struck by the tragedy of being abandoned in a strange land.

    The next bus to Limerick was the following morning, so my parents arranged for me to stay with some people they chose at random from the telephone directory.

  • Circa 1993: On my first business trip, I missed not one but two flights AND lost my passport and ticket along the way. I finally arrived in Switzerland 24 hours late. Thought I’d blogged about the incident, but it seems not, so can’t provide a link. If anyone wants the grisly details I’ll see what I can do.
  • 2000: Job interview in Bahrain. The Interviewer arranged a ticket for collection at Dubai Airport. Even though I arrived a full half hour before the flight, the Emirates representative claimed the check-in was closed and refused to hand over my ticket.“All right,” said Husband during an emergency debrief. “Call The Interviewer, and tell him there was a problem with your passport. No- your residency visa. An issue with your residency visa, and you’re sorting it out, and will get the next flight in two hours.”

    “Ok. Problem with residency visa. Next flight. Check.”

    I dialed The Interviewer: “I MISSED THE FLIGHT!”

    He hired me.

    Can’t explain it.

  • 2000: Fast-forward three weeks to a business trip to Bahrain to meet The Company’s biggest client. My phone rang at 06:00. It was The Floridian, formerly The Interviewer.“I’m at the check-in counter. Where are you?”

    “I’M IN BED.”

    However, not only did I catch the 07:00 flight – triumphantly arriving at the airport 10 minutes later – I even had time to demolish the buffet breakfast in the Emirates lounge.

  • Probably 2005: Róisín underestimated timing from Paddington to Heathrow (so entirely her fault; I have a signed confession). Emirates Airlines – at this stage totally accustomed to me – rescheduled me on a later flight. At the baggage check, I realized I had left my mobile phone in Róisín’s handbag (don’t ask. Just . . . don’t). Located a pay phone and called Róis, who returned to Heathrow to give up the phone.
  • Possibly 2008: Husband and I arrive at Dubai Airport, totally overexcited about our first ever skiing holiday: two weeks in Austria. We had booked a hire car, arranged accommodation; we were sharing the chalet with friends who were en-route.Passports: CHECK! Tickets: CHECK! Luggage: TRIPLE CHECK!

    Bags sorted, we proceeded to passport control. I went to the e-gate, already planning where I should wait for Andrew, who was at the manual passport control. When I scanned my fingerprint, a buzzer sounded and a big, red X blinked on the gate.

    The man on the passport desk beckoned me over.

    “My finger’s not working,” I giggled, wiggling the digit at him.

    I forgot how ineffective charm is on airport security.

    “Your rrresidency visa,” said the administrator. “It is expire.”

    “Oh. Well. No problem. I’ll renew it when I get back. I’m going skiing!”

    Never have I been more mistaken.

    Never has Husband come closer to divorcing me.

    In a vain attempt to conquer the moral high ground I told Andrew to go without me, but he opted to stay. For a while it looked like he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the airport, since he was fully checked onto the flight. He sulked for roughly a year. He still wins arguments on the strength of that ONE LITTLE INCIDENT.

  • Near miss: Once, I got to the boarding gate for an Emirates flight before realizing I had left my passport and ticket in a tray at the baggage check.

Tie me kangaroo down

On Thursday, my father and I launched an expedition on Carauntoohil. We didn’t quite make the top. Can I blame it on my father? No wait – it was the weather. Yes, that’s more loyal. Also, potentially more true.

Thick cloud rested on the top of all the Reeks, although it lifted marginally as the morning wore on. A fairly serious track has been cleared from the farmhouse at the head of the Black Valley and we followed it to Curraghmore Lake. We turned back halfway up the slope to the saddle ridge linking Carrauntoohil with Cnoc na Péiste. You might say we were vanquished by dangerously violent sheep.

Also I fell off a stile.

Dad gets ready

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Hello? Is that the horoscope hotline? I'd like to check my horoscope for today, specifically as related to heights. Oh, you don't- hey, is this a recording?

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Big boulder

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Deadlyjelly negotiates the rockery

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Resting up at Curraghmore Lake

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Dad leaning against Rock Art

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Looking down into the Bridia Valley

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Rolf Harris

Snot vapour

Four days ago, I contracted a headcold. Prickly throat, grumpy cough. It was mild to inclement, as colds go. I self medicated with 5000mg of calcium in powder format, and congratulated myself on my stoicism in the face of disease.

Turned out the cold was just warming up. Yesterday morning, it struck me down in my prime. I am currently a scene of carnage: small, rubbery red eyes; backfiring lungs; my throat an acrid furnace; snot exploding from every orifice and several pores. It might be the calcium.

All I felt like doing was lying in bed, moaning in between sips of brandy. Unfortunately, I was flying to London. I was going to decant a few million milligrams of calcium powder into an empty jar, but feared Security might think it was cocaine. So I didn’t. Doesn’t seem to have done me much good, *cough!*

My ears popped with unprecedented violence on the plane and have not fully unpopped. Chantal met me at Liverpool Street Tube Station. Conversation was tricky, because everything sounded like it was under water. Or it might just have been the effect of a dense, humid cloud of snot vapour

Lemmings

I have an addictive personality. At the age of six I impersonated a lemur for four months. I’ve avoided serious addictions like gambling (marrying Husband was a MEASURED RISK), alcohol (except on social occasions) and hard drugs (unless you count chocolate or cheese – which I never have). You don’t need these crutches when you have sulking, telly, tag, pulling your brothers’ ears, solitaire, ginger snaps, killer sudoku and computer games.

Over the years, I have successfully kicked all the above, except computer games. I just can’t seem to get a foothold on the wagon. Several times I have resorted to asking Husband to remove computer games from my laptop, or block certain websites.

When I asked Husband to block Killersudokuonline, he said,

“Block it entirely? But you should be able to play it now and then, if it relaxes you.”

“Really? That’s what I think!”

“I mean, how long do you spend on it?”

“Er, four days and counting.”

I’m not even addicted to cool games, like . . . ok, I don’t know any. I gravitate towards advancedly tragic, nerdy games like Minesweeper, Tetris, and Frogger.

Last night, my brother Eoin invited Daire and I to his new gaff for dinner and the conversation shifted to vintage computer games.

Back in the early eighties, my parents were the proud owners of a Vic20. I was resolutely unimpressed with the thing. It couldn’t do anything apart from some simple arithmetic – although admittedly, it made a great fan heater.

When we upgraded to a Commodore 64, it came accessorised with games. In particular, I recall one where the operator was required to pilot a chubby little bank robber across the bottom of the screen to grab a sack of money; then convey him safely back. Not as easy as it sounds, because he was getting pelted with fat drops of acid rain, which were apparently pretty injurious to bank robbers. I have no idea what sort of twisted mindset would think of juxtaposing a bank robber and acid rain – but it was inspired.

After reminding my brothers of this game, Daire said, “Remember Pong?”

Eoin and I said, in unison: “Ah, Pong.”

<Reminiscent pause, lightly seasoned with nostalgia.>

Me: Remember Frogger?

Daire: What was Frogger?

Me: You had to get this little frog across the six lane highway to the nice lily pad without getting splatted by articulated lorries or sports cars.

Daire: Oh, right.

Me: It’s on the Internet.

Eoin and Daire, crying out in one voice: REALLY?

Then Eoin, the ‘rebel’, the ‘challenger’, who always has to be ‘pushing the envelope’, said,

“Who remembers Lemmings?”

There was a ghastly hush. I spent most of my student years in a Lemmings stupor. I had Lemmings binges, after which I would feel inadequate and ashamed. I would tell myself I would stop, that I could live without Lemmings.

Daire unsuccessfully attempted to find an online version of Lemmings on the Internet, but I knew I could find it. I spent the rest of the evening thinking up likely search expressions.

The ease with which I tracked down an online version of the game this morning leads me to believe Lemmings was calling me from a fourth dimension of the Ethernet.

If you tend towards even mild compulsion, do not click this link

Post match analysis by Ceara, age 5

Unfortunately, I missed the Ireland v All Blacks rugby match this afternoon. I was barricaded in bed staving off flu symptoms with a hot water bottle, three packs of Strepsils and a heavy book.

Later, I followed the scent of food to the kitchen, where Ceara was eating her dinner. By the sink, Grampa discussed the Ireland v All Blacks match with Granna-V.

Me: Who won?

Ceara: Eh. It was a VERY scrappy game <shaking head sorrowfully>

Me: Really?

Ceara: Yes. Every time the Irish approached the line, de udder team took them out. They just never found their feet <big sigh>

Me: So you watched the game?

Ceara: No

Good Housekeeping

Mum’s cookery book is 40 years old. It was given to her as an engagement present in 1968. ‘Good Housekeeping’s Cookery Book’ is about the size of a telephone directory. If it ever had a sleeve, it was lost long ago. The cover is cardboard, scuffed and stained, bound with duct tape. It smells old and rare. Few of the leaves are still attached to the spine. You can tell which are Mum’s favourite receipes, because those pages are wrinkled with age and water damage, often spotted with grease, egg, bits of bacon, seventies spinach. The cakes and muffins sections occasionally feature smudged batter samples.

This book is AMAZING. It features old-fashioned recipes, such as angels on horseback, vol-au-vents, pickled just-about-anything, bubble & squeak, colonial goose, steak & kidney pudding, rabbit stew, toad in the hole, jugged hare. It has stomach-curling recipes such as boiled ox tongue, brains in black butter sauce, pork trotters, calf’s foot jelly, stuffed sheep’s heart, pickled pig’s head, pigeon casserole. I can’t remember some of these dishes, but the names make my mouth water: bramble jelly, blancmange, jam roly-poly, pavlova, lemon merangue pie, gingerbread men, drop scones, gooseberry fool, rock buns, toffee apples, spotted dick, sherry trifle, crab apple jelly, burnt orange wine, mulled ale, barley water, gingerbeer, cowslip wine, sloe gin.

If ever you’re stuck with a couple of pickled sheep’s eyeballs, half a grouse and some leftover burgundy, I guarantee you’ll find a delicious recipe in this book which cooks to ambrosial perfection every time. For those who haven’t graduated to the pickled eyeball stage, the book even tells you how to boil an egg. Seriously. I suppose if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Here, in case you were stuck, is how to boil an egg:-

Boiled eggs
Eggs should be simmered rather than boiled. Put them into boiling water, using a spoon, lower the heat and cook for 3 minutes for a light set and up to 4½ minutes for a firmer set. Alternatively, put them in cold water and bring slowly to the boil – they will then be lightly set. The water in each case should be just sufficient to cover the eggs. Fresh eggs tend to take a little longer to cook than those which are a few days old.

Hard-boiled eggs
Put the eggs into boiling water, bring back to the boil and cook for 10 – 12 minutes. Hard-boiled eggs should be placed at once under running cold water and left until they are cold; this prevents a discoloured rim forming round the outside of the yolk and enables the shell to be easily removed. Crack the shell all round by tapping on a firm surface, then peel it off.

Coddled eggs
Place the eggs in boiling water, cover, remove from the heat and keep in a warm place for 8 – 10 minutes; they will then be lightly set.

Ever since I took up cooking, I have campaigned for Mum to give up The Book, but she flatly refuses. She has foiled two attempts to smuggle The Book out of the house under a sweater. I think she’s being selfish. She hardly needs it any more; she can cook. And she only uses about 5 recipes (soda bread, braic, scones, apple tart, boiled <insert carcass of choice>, steamed <insert vegetable of choice, as long as it’s carrot or broccoli>).

For those of you who are keen chefs, here are a couple of recipes you don’t see around every day . . . which is a tragedy.

Scotch eggs

Ingredients
4 eggs, hard-boiled (see above) & shelled
2 level t seasoned flour
Worcestershire sauce
1 kg sausages-meat or skinless sausages
1 egg, beaten
Dry breadcrumbs
Deep fat
Parsley

Method
Dust the eggs with the seasoned flour. Add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce to the sausage-meat and divide it into 4 equal portions. Form each quarter into a flat cake and work it round an egg, making it as even as possible to keep the egg a good shape and making sure ther are no cracks in the sausage-meat. Brush with beaten egg and toss in breadcrumbs. Heat the fat until it will brown a cube of bread in 40-50 seconds. (As the sausage-meat is raw, it is essential that the frying should not be hurried unduly, so the fat must not be too hot.) Fry the eggs for about 7-8 minutes. When they are golden-brown on the outside, remove them from the fat and drain on crumpled kitchen paper.

Cut the eggs in half lengthways, garnish each half with a small piece of parsley and serve either hot with tomato sauce or cold with a green salad

Bread and butter pudding

Ingredients
3-4 thin slices of bread and butter
1-2 oz currants or sultanas
½ oz caster sugar
¾ pints milk
2 eggs
Ground nutmeg

Method
Preheat oven to 350F. Cut the bread and butter into strips and arrange, buttered side up, in layers in a greased ovenproof dish, sprinkling the layers with the fruit and sugar. Heat the milk, but do not allow it to boil. Whisk the eggs lightly and pour the milk on to them, stirring all the time. Strain the mixture over the bread, sprinkle some nutmeg on top and let the pudding stand for ¼ hour. Bake in the center of the oven for 30-40 minutes, until set and lightly browned

Pears in port wine

Ingredients
4 large ripe pears
¼ pint port
¼ pint water
3 oz sugar
Rind of 1 lemon
2 T red-currant jelly (or to taste)

Method
Peel pears, cut in quarters lengthwise and remove the cores. Make a syrup from the port, water , sugar and lemon rind. Add the pears and simmer gently until tender. Remove the fruit, add the red-currant jelly to the syrup and boil rapidly until it is well reduced. Place 4 pear quarters in each glass and strain the syrup over. Allow to cool and serve with cream

Spotted dick

Ingredients
3 oz self-raising flour
A pinch salt
3 oz fresh breadcrumbs
3 oz shredded suet
2 oz caster sugar
6 oz currants
4-6 T milk (approx)

Method
Put the steamer or large saucepan on to boil. Mix together the flour, salt, breadcrumbs, suet, sugar and currants in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add enough milk to give a fairly soft dough. Form into a roll on a well-floured board, wrap loosely in greased greaseproof paper and then in foil, sealing the ends well. Steam over rapidly boiling water for 1 ½ – 2 hours. Unwrap the pudding, put in a hot dish and serve with custard or with a white sauce flavoured with cinnamon or grated lemon rind

The facts from my perspective

The other day I was kicked out of a local restaurant. Well, I wasn’t seized by the ears and hurled through the window, but only because the establishment does not retain bouncers. However, the psychological effect was similar.

I will not going to fully disclose why I was booted out of the restaurant, because – well. Despite being a writer gifted with a remarkable talent for exaggeration, it is difficult – if not impossible – to document the events leading up to the eviction in a way that illuminates me in a sympathetic light. Believe me, I’ve tried; but even when I lie, I keep toppling off the moral high ground.

The facts of the matter that I am at liberty to divulge are as follows:-

  1. The manageress accused me of trying to abduct a pot of peppermint tea
  2. Then she charged me with perpetrating a falsehood
  3. She was squat and dumpy and smelled nasty

I can’t understand why revenge isn’t more widely practiced on a lower level. I am now plotting my terrible revenge. My wrath will be manifold and great. So far, it takes the form of a letter of complaint. I feel I might need to ramp it up a bit

Special people

Ceara: <runs at me, five feet away: launches herself in the air, tucks in her legs, hits me in the midriff>

Niamh: Oof!

Ceara: Yay! Hug!

Niamh: Grr!

Ceara: That’s a bearhug. Isn’t it, Auntie Niamh?

Niamh: Yes. I only give them to VERY special people.

Ceara: Special people . . . and daddy.

Niamh: Yeah, him too

Filthy, disturbing images

[NB If you are a PERVERT, will you ever put that thing away RIGHT NOW, and go and play some hockey or take up smoking or something. The post will REFER to filthy, disturbing images ONLY. No filthy, disturbing images will be reproduced on this site.]

When I am home, I often supervise my parents’ adventures into the wild, untamed electronic savannah. They think of me as a kind of safety valve. An internal fuse, if you will. My presence gives them a measure of (frequently false) confidence that they won’t accidentally delete the Minutes of the Autumn Girl Guides & Brownies Meeting 1984, or disappear into a quickfile, or get savaged by a tribe of head-shrinking phishers.

My father’s computer literacy has progressed to the extent that he is now able to change the view panes in Windows Explorer – when he can locate it – and compress images for email. One afternoon, Dad and I embarked on a daring mission to discover how to compress/email multiple images.

I was of limited use, because when I modify photos for my blog, I tend to crop/reduce specific images individually. It was Dad who hunted down the option in Windows Explorer.

I was proud of my protégé.

“Well done, you!” I said, and left him clicking happily away.

Five minutes later, I was in the sitting room, when Dad called. I knew something was up by the way he broke my name into two distinct syllables; with an equal, urgent stress on both.

“Can you come here a moment, please?” he said, and I could hear him admirably striving for nonchalance.

“Yes?” I said, going into his office.

“Right. Well. Now, you know that option to compress multiple images and email them?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. So, I went to the folder – like you told me to!” he said, defensively. “And I clicked on the images. And I went to the pane – here – and clicked on ‘Compress and email’. Right?”

“Ok . . .”

“And the email popped up, and I sent it. So now I go to my Sent Folder, right? And here is the email I sent to Gillian.”

“Yes.”

“Now, I open the file attachment.”

My father double clicked on the JPG.

A rather lovely picture of my parents opened in Microsoft Picture Editor, standing next to the Houses of Parliament in London.

“That’s nice,” I said.

“Yes.”

“Yes!”

“But see here, on the bottom of the screen.”

“What?”

“This little arrow.”

“Ok . . .”

“When I click it . . .”

I can’t tell you how much I regret that he did. The image that loaded was framed in livid pink, entitled ‘JUICYGIRLS’. Two girls with pigtails pulled up their skimpy t-shirts to reveal their choice of underwear (none). The one on the left merely displayed her ample charms, but the one on the right demonstrated a wide variety of skills: she nibbled a dildo balanced between her norks, whilst massaging her nips.

“Dad, I’ve got to tell you how disturbed I am to be looking at this with you,” I said when I finished laughing hysterically.

“Now, where did that come from?” he said, worrying his beard.

“I don’t know.”

“I never took that photo.”

“I believe you.”

“Juicygirls,” he said conversationally.

“Yep.”

“That girl on the right – is she-”

“LALALALALALALA!”

“Do you- do you think,” he coughed delicately. “Do you think I might have sent this?”

While Dad agonized whether he should call Gillian to alert her to the potential presence of largely naked women, or not tell her and hope she didn’t notice, I checked out the email. When opening an image from the mail client with Microsoft Picture Editor, it appears to offer a library of all recently sent/received images including pornspam. In other words, it appears to be a feature of my parents’ software and how it accesses temporary internet files.

I’m not sure this appeased Dad, who still wonders whether Gillian received a picture of him and Mum outside the Houses of Parliament, and Juicygirls, and is judging him

More from the archives

But you would not believe how much shite I had to wade through to uncover these nuggets. It appears that, during my teenage years, my parents were engaged in a conspiracy to ruin my life. I think it best not declassify this information during my lifetime.

Holiday in Wales, aged 16 – 1988
I was severely depressed, and headed outside to have a good yowl and perhaps throw myself under a truck

All my love to your parents and your brother (well, I don’t really know him)

I’ve thrown in a few postcards for you, and a duck brooch

If you see Sarah give her my love, I suppose

UCD, aged 18 – 24 November 1990
<Unintentionally and regrettably hilarious. Confirmation that I was a Loser> I know four or five second years, and two fifth years actually started talking to me on Friday! Believe it or not! They’re selling me books

PS – Did you see ‘Ghost’? Shit, wasn’t it

PPS – Hope everything is going well. I was too busy waffling about myself to ask earlier in the letter

From UL, aged 19 – 5 November 1991
PS – Those things after my name are kisses, not swastikas

A life of privilege

Mum: Will you ever stop scratching your arse against that heater?

Me: N-n-no. This house is f-f-freezing. It’s bordering on ch-child abuse.

Mum: Will you ever go and put some more feckin jumpers on ya.

Me: I’m w-w-wearing them all. D-don’t have any m-more.

Mum: I could lend you a vest.

Me: <look of slowly dawning horror>

Me: I would rather die of hypothermia.

Mum: For fecks’ sake! Will you ever toughen up! And stop wrecking my head! When I was a girl, we were so cold we were practically crippled with chilblains. We didn’t have ‘radiators’, just baked potatoes. We used to walk four miles to school, barefoot through the snow-

Me: Well, you’re lucky you’re hardy. I, on the other hand, was born into a life of privilege-

Mum: GAH!

Lesson 1: how to slice with a ski pole

Intrepid explorer (don’t be fooled by the beanie)

After days of rain in Kenmare, and snow up country resulting in the daring rescue of a busload of tourists from the Wicklow mountains, this morning was a surprise.

The day was lovely and bright and crispy. Dad and I decided to walk up the Lack Road from the Bridha Valley. Looking north from the Ballaghbeama Gap to the Valley, the Magilicuddy Reeks were framed against a perfect blue sky.

The Magilicuddy Reeks. The mountains frosted with snow are Caher (left) and Cumeenmore (right)

The wind could have scraped the arse off you, but at the pace my father set we warmed up quickly. In short, he walked the arse of me before the wind could get it.

Dad is a menace with a pair of ski poles (although technically, the man doesn’t need a pair of ski poles). I was lucky to escape with both eyeballs. The thrilling accuracy with which he flicked the pole up at the end of a stride cannot be accidental.

At the top of the Lack Road, we had some Nice biscuits and mint crisp. Then we turned east towards Curraghmore Mountain. After slodging through a bog, we scrambled up a jumble of rock towards the cairn marking the summit of Curraghmore.

Morning tea

The route ahead: Curraghmore Mountain is the highest peak in this photo, although admittedly it is more a trick of perspective

Picture by dad; me and Lough Acoose. Dingle Peninsula in the background. Also, my thighs aren’t really that big; it’s the wind, I swear to god, it’s the wind. Husband tell them, please.

Clouds collected and struck poses and looked threatening, but they didn’t venture below peak level. It was like watching a slide show.

Caher seemed but a short uphill sprint to our left, but my father hasn’t been on a walk this technical since his last hip operation and has a keen appreciation of his limits – although, this was not entirely clear as he descended to Curraghmore Lake.

There is no track apart from the odd set of sheep prints, with steep cliffs on either side of the descent. After the recent rain, much of the terrain was boggy and hanging halfheartedly to the underlying rock. Dad has two artificial hips and a fall runs the risk of dislodging one or both. We took it slowly, but every now and then the sound of dad’s ski pole skittering across damp rock made my heart skitter too.

Had he fallen, I was going to tell mum it happened on the Lack Road and dad used his arms to pull himself over to Curraghmore Lake.

Dad features cloud cover

Sunshine threatens Black Valley. Broaghnabinnia’s shadow also features, centre left

Picture by dad: me and Curraghmore Lake

Picture by dad: the reason there are few photos of me

Heather, possibly

Dad kicks rock

Multipurpose bridge/trailer

Dusk in the valley

Time to go home

Freezing point: higher than you might think

This country is f-f-f-free-hee-heezing.

There has been no circulation in my nose for two weeks now.

At present, I am stretched out on the floor of the living room, trying to press as much of my body length as possible against the heater. I hope nobody comes in, because it looks suspiciously like I’m attempting to shag the radiator. Except that I’m fully, in fact possibly over-clothed; and instead of counting the cracks in the ceiling, I’m typing on my laptop.

Every morning, I wake up lightly chilled. I pull the bedclothes higher, tucking them around my neck to create a vacuum against the outside world. Then I wrap my arms around my torso and tuck my feet into my armpits. I’m more flexible than I thought.

After half an hour of fruitless, soulless, yearning for warmth, I can’t delay getting up any longer. Mentally bracing myself, I fight off the duvet and three blankets, scramble over the cold hot-water-bottle, and make a desperate dash for the bathroom – specifically, the wall-mounted fan heater.

[Wait a minute – Radiator and I are shifting position. Mmm baby you’re so hot.]

Since leaving the UK ten years ago I have spent little time in Ireland. Husband and I were here for Christmas 2002, but I didn’t notice the temperature because I was fuelled with mulled wine.

As for my formative years in Limerick, I tend to view my upbringing with anti-rose-tinted glasses. I seemed to spend an awful lot of time trying to locate the ‘nuclear’ setting on my electric blanket, or huddled miserably in front of a fan heater, or wondering whether purple was my natural lip colour.

Now I can confirm: it really was that cold

Photo journal of a holiday

26 September – me on a rock in the Black Valley

11 October – walk in Dromore, woodland path

Spot the spider

Entrance to Dromore Estate

Puddle


22 October – high cross in Connemara, lightly weathered

23 October – River Finnaghy floods in Kenmare

24 October – walk in Dingle, from the Skellig Bay Hotel

In memory of Davy Browne

This day the weather was playful. View east from Dingle along the sea cliffs

Random cliff

Fence

Bringing to mind sweaty rock gods

Husband abandoned me for warmer climes yesterday. I would like to dedicate this post to him, supported by the Aerosmith song ‘I don’t want to miss a thing’. Since I can’t figure out how to musically accompany a blog post, you’ll have to use your imagination. Sorry if that brings to mind images of sweaty rock gods, or Bruce Willis blowing up asteroids.

Following are a selection of Husband’s finest moments over the last couple of weeks – or at least those I managed to capture on camera.

The town square in Kenmare

Mentally preparing for another pose during a walk in Dromore

Modelling the very latest in fashionable headwear, which no trendy man about town or beach should be without this season

Husband checks for the presence of ears (all present and correct)

Combatting rain in southwest Ireland

Demonstrating a keen interest in monolithic wedge tomb architecture, Connemara

Lingo

Driving to Achill Island yesterday, a car shot in front of us out a side road, causing Husband to brake sharply.

“The big gobshite,” said Husband.

The sentiment could only have been improved by the use of the words ‘hairy’ and ‘feck’ or variations thereof, but otherwise it was spoken like a native. I’m delighted Husband’s Irish genes have found a verbal outlet.

Achill Sound

The end of Achill barely visible in the mist

Husband looks stressed at the prospect of a walk, despite being heavily armed with umbrella

I love fungus

Legal restitution

For weeks beforehand, I briefed Husband on the realities of an Irish wedding.

“You may be required to sing with your eyes closed,” I warned him. “If you don’t close your eyes, the Irish will think you’re shallow and you will be thrown out of the wedding. There will be alcohol involved – no surprises there – but prepare yourself for chasers. Maybe involving Guinness. Also, the dancing is carnage.”

To which Husband usually responded, “Sweet shite, I’m feckin not feckin singin’.”

It surprised me that he focussed on the singing, but the man himself has been known to engage in somewhat violent “dancing” after several chasers. Husband’s friend ScotJ recently noted that in Tropic Thunder, Tom Cruise’s character stole his moves directly from Husband’s School Of Dance. Cruise will be hearing from our lawyers.

The night before the wedding, Róisín’s father Gerry exhibited questionable judgement by organising a shindig in Fennessy’s Pub. There was plenty of eyeball-free singing and a nightcap involving a shot of Baileys and Jameson whiskey dropped into half a pint of Guinness. It is apparently known as a Depth Charger, or alternatively, the Irish Car Bomb. It is absolutely foul regardless of what you choose to call it, and best not tried at home.

Around midnight, the pub passed around trays of nibbles. It’s always tricky – virtually impossible in Ireland – identifying vegetarian or fish-based options from a platter of pub grub, but I congratulated myself on identifying an egg mayonnaise sandwich. I was halfway through it before I realised it was laced with ham. Since nobody else was interested in the sangers, I riffled through them and they all featured dead pig: tuna and ham; cucumber, cream cheese and ham; smoked salmon, capers, onions and ham.

This must be a new development in the country: butter being interchangeable with ham

Got to be less than two degrees of separation

Sorry about the paucity of blog posts. Husband and I left Kenmare last Wednesday on our Great Road Trip, and it’s been all go, top gear, maximum throttle. First up was Róisín and Tim’s wedding on 16th.

I will write more about the great event later, but for now, this short post is dedicated to my buddy JohnO and here’s why:

Kylie Minogue’s stylist did the bridal party’s hair and makeup. That’s right: KYLIE’S STYLIST. I have been touched by the hand that spritzed hairspray over Kylie’s elfin crop. I have rubbed elbows with the elbow that has possibly accidentally grazed Kylie’s arse when she bent to retrieve a dropped hairbrush or tube of lipgloss who knows how many times?

The reason I’m dedicating this post to JohnO is because he has a mild to severe fetish about Kylie’s bottom. That would be mild when it’s under a skirt, and severe when skimpily presented in sequinned hotpants.

JohnO: Kylie’s Stylist reported that Kylie’s arse is EVEN BETTER IN REAL LIFE than it is in photoshop. Oh, yes. She said that sometimes she feels an overwhelming urge to nuzzle it.

Actually, she didn’t at all. But I asked her whether sometimes she wanted to nuzzle it, because I knew you would have been bitterly disappointed if I hadn’t.

Kylie’s Stylist just looked at me as if I were a one-woman freakshow. But I could tell by her face that she totally wanted to, all the time

The image colour was rubbish, hence the photo in black and white, which makes it look marginally better. Also, I’ve realised I look better in black and white – well, black anyway. As you can see, Kylie’s Stylist’s Magic worked better on Róis than me

Even the wedding cake was in tiers

Shortly before Husband and I left New Zealand, Róisín called me.

“You know your mother?” she said.

“My, er, mother,” I repeated. Róisín’s conversational gambits are often challenging, but this was exceptionally quirky even for her.

“Woman who gave birth to you.”

“Oh, her. Well, can you ever really KNOW someone?” I said, playing for time.

“Ok look, how good is she at cakes?”

“CAKES?”

Here, in case you were wondering, is where this is going: my parents were going to London because Dad was fertilizing Lord’s with some dead bloke’s ashes – turns out there’s no legislation governing the public disposal of burned human remains in the UK, can you believe – so Mum rang Róisín to see whether she would like to meet up for lunch since Róisín’s the only person they know in London.

According to Róis, the phonecall went something like this (Note: any paraphrasing is a regrettable but necessary side effect of reporting this third hand):-

Mum: How are the wedding plans coming along?

Róisín: Feckin shite! I haven’t even got a wedding cake organized-

Mum: A cake, you say? I can bake. <in the background, to her friend> Dolly! DOLLY! Can you ice cakes? <mutter mutter> Royal or fondant?

Róisín: Sorry- what?

Mum: Royal or fondant? The icing.

Róisín: Oh. Er, white? I don’t really know- I’ve seen a picture-

Mum: How many tiers?

Róisín: Ah, two? Or three?

Mum: Grand.

I thought it best not to get involved. In fact, up to the time I reached London, I considered it quite an achievement that I had successfully avoided any kind of bridesmaid duty.

Róisín soon addressed that by asking me to be her foot model.

You might consider this an odd request that mines virgin Bridezilla territory, but I felt I was getting off lightly. After all, I was only required to donate my foot temporarily, not a kidney or a husband. Anyway, I relish any genuine opportunity to show off my feet, because they are quite lovely: small for my size with perky arches and novelty toes that can perform a variety of tricks.

We were in a bridal shop at the time, and I have no idea why Róisín wanted me to model shoes for her, but I happily clomped around the place debating the aesthetic qualities versus comfort of a range of slingbacks, mules and court shoes. We got chatting to the shop assistant, who bore a striking resemblance to Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard. She sported a diamond on her ring finger.

I was in reflective mood upon leaving the store.

“I find it heartwarming that someone so ugly can find love in this cold, cruel world,” I said to Róisín. Indeed, I was genuinely touched that Vicki’s stunt double could attract a mate – although I didn’t want to go so far as to imagine what class of person it might be.

“What are you on about? That girl is no more engaged than you or me,” said Róisín scornfully.

“Well, before I say: REALLY?!, can I remind you that you’re getting married in three weeks? But apart from that, REALLY?! Also, what about the ring-”

“Fake!” said Róisín. “If you put a match to it, the thing would melt right off.”

Of course, I realized she was right, and Vicki’s stunt double is destined to roam the earth seeking her soul mate indefinitely.

Apart from shoe hunting/modeling, dress fitting and moral support, Róisín really didn’t challenge me; in fact, we hadn’t fallen out even to the extent of a minor disagreement.

Then the wedding cake blew up.

Not literally, but as good as.

Within about three minutes of her conversation with Róisín, Mum had baked three fruitcakes in increasing sizes. They smelled divine: rich, fruity and spicy; loaded with almonds and soaked in poitín. She sent the cakes to Dolly in Limerick for icing – which is around about where the thruster boosters get entangled in the space capsule when Dolly was felled by a vicious virus.

Mum is not an uncompassionate woman, but is occasionally undermined by an unerring instinct for a dramatic twist – especially if it comes with splatter related visual and/or sound effects. She’s not great at plots, but my god, she can sniff out a plot twist from five kilometers if the wind is blowing in the right direction. Therefore, a week before the wedding, Mum was providing five-minutely updates on Dolly’s condition and the state of the cake.

Dolly was too sick to shop for ingredients, apply almond paste, or drop the cakes up the road to Theresa The Fondant Queen. Furthermore, Theresa’s husband had emphysema and took a turn for the worse and wasn’t expected to last the week.

“Look,” said my mum, the soothing manner in which she said it swiftly dispelled by what followed. “If the worst comes to the worst, we can just slap on some icing. How difficult can it be? It’s just sugar and water.”

“Mum,” I said on a rising scream. “I’m not sure you want to be SLAPPING anything on a WEDDING CAKE. Slap something on a banana cake, maybe. Birthday cake, most likely. But wedding cake needs delicate application of fondant with the expertise gleaned over years of icing cakes-”

“I HAVE iced cakes before!” said Mum defensively. “I can cook!”

“Absolutely,” I agreed. “But let’s face it, you tend to sacrifice presentation and garnish for flavour and quantity.”

Don’t think I was unsympathetic; generally I approach cuisine in much the same way. Regardless of the presentation, it all looks much the same on the way out, so you’ve got to wonder what is the point?

However, I make an exception for wedding cakes.

In the end, Lucy collected the icing ingredients; Dolly rallied sufficiently to apply the almond paste; Lucy dropped the cakes to Theresa who, welcoming the distraction, applied the fondant; and Róisín collected her wedding cake last night. She pronounced herself ‘delighted’ with it, which is just as well

Pathologically kind

On the way to collect Husband at Cork airport this morning, what should I get but a flat tyre. (After two weeks in Ireland, this pattern of speech is now second nature.)

When I say ‘flat’, it is probably more accurately described as ‘shredded all to cock’; and similarly, the word ‘tyre’ should be ‘stringy bits of rubber’.

There was a ‘bang!’, which at the time I assumed was caused by an invisible pothole – quite common in this part of the country. Thereafter, the car felt a bit sluggish, but it’s a 1998 Nissan Micra belonging to my mother, so I thought it was probably just a build-up of rust and/or moss. About 40km later, the car started shuddering. The onset of belated alarm was delayed by the texture of the tarmac. Evidently a particularly rugged stretch of road, I thought – again, hardly unusual for Irish thoroughfares.

It was only when the car started bouncing to a flapping sound effect that I stopped to check it out – by which stage, the rear wheel on the driver’s side was emitting a prolonged explosion of sparks.

Apart from all the above, a busted tyre was almost inevitable, since it was hammering rain and I was in the center of Macroom. The residents of Macroom have been lobbying for a bypass for as long as I can remember, because at one point the road through town is barely wide enough for two cars. Which is where I pulled over.

The last time I changed a tyre was probably over ten years ago. Since then, I’ve had a husband to sort out that kind of thing. I mean really, what would I be doing fiddling around with a set of nuts?

After a comprehensive search of the Nissan Micra – surprisingly roomy – I finally located the spare wheel and jack ingeniously concealed in a secret compartment in the boot. I have since been informed this is standard. Thankfully, the jack had instructions printed on the side, although for a while I thought the rod with the hook was for extracting mud from the treads.

Then I hung my arse out in the road while articulated lorries hissed by showering me with spray. I tried to project an air of gorgeous helpless feminine distress. While I had no problem communicating the helpless and distressed, the other two were trickier – but I can tell you it’s almost impossible to convey gorgeous femininity while jacking a car in driving rain.

The @/&%ing wheel had a @/&%ing hubcap, which no amount of levering or kicking or swearing at metal melting temperatures would shift. Eventually, it was eroded by the rain.

By the time a man pulled up, I had removed the bolts. I have no idea why he couldn’t have shown up ten minutes before; and while I’m being ungracious, he could have been better looking and ideally wearing a pair of overalls stripped to a waist bristling with greased-up abs.

“Need a hand?” he said, and I felt it would be unchivalrous to ask him to hold the umbrella.

Seriously, it was awfully kind of him – given the weather, you could almost call it pathologically kind. I was grateful.

The flight was delayed three quarters of an hour, so I was at the airport in time to clean the grease off my fingers and swipe a comb through the hair. It was fabulous seeing Husband again – although he would have been more useful an hour earlier . . .

No no not at all no

The other day, the family was invited out by a couple in Dad’s parish. Dinner was spicy peppered carrot soup, fresh heads of cauliflower in cheese sauce and boiled potatoes bursting out of their jackets. Maureen had made me nutroast, and served up a portion that would have kept a family of squirrels obese for three generations.

“God, these spuds are delicious,” I said to Liam. “Do you grow them yourself?”

“Oh no, no, not at all, I don’t, no.”

“<looking confused, apparently>”

“No,” he clarified.

“Where did you get them at all?”

“Er. SuperValu.”

My country

Of all the countries I’ve lived or visited, I love Ireland best. Perhaps I always will.

Of course, I am shamelessly biased. Partly I find comfort in the familiar; or it may have something to do with the smell. That is what first hit me fresh off the plane at Kerry Airport; specifically, the bucolic bouquet of sheep shit.

I have always likened New Zealand to Ireland (or the other way round, according to your allegiance), but the Kiwi landscape, although similar to Ireland, has more style and glamour. It has a better frame: the mountains are higher; the valleys are lower; the lakes are deeper; the sea a keener blue.

Yet Ireland has a shabby charm that will always endear me. There are still roads the Ordnance Survey classifies as B-grade, which are barely tarmacadamed tracks fortified with grass. You expect to round a corner and find a pipe-smoking countrywoman churning butter. Farms are commonly delineated by hedgerows.

But it is the interplay of weather and light that casts a unique spell. The good days are beautiful, but the changeable days are magic. If you don’t believe in leprechauns, banshees and fairies, you can understand the origins of the mythology. When the elements can’t decide what to do, they just throw the whole lot at you.

Apparently, the Irish summer has been terrible. The weather brings out a touch of the obsessive compulsive in the Irish, so every time they’ve spoken to me over the last few months, my parents have bemoaned it at length.

“The weather is pure bitter,” my mother would say in grief-stricken tones. “Feckin rain. We had a day there – Tuesday – or, it could have been Sunday – and the sun came out for three hours in the morning. No, now that I think about it – wait – it was the afternoon. And I think it was Monday. That was it; that was our summer. Three feckin hours long.”

When I arrived in Ireland last week, I refused to believe them.

“You brought the sunshine with you,” said my mother, darkly. “It won’t last, mark my words.”

Well, given the country’s reputation, her prediction was safe enough. After three days of stuttering sunshine, it has been inclement.

Shortly after I arrived, Danny and I walked up to Curraghmore Lake from the Black Valley. The Black Valley lakes were still underneath a moody sky. It remained grim until we reached the lake, when the sun illuminated great tracts of surrounding landscape. We watched the scudding clouds buffet the sun, but it never quite managed to reach us.

Two days ago, I stood on top of a hill in a sun shower, looking out on billowing veils of rain to the north and bright sunshine to the west, bound by a full rainbow.

If these photos don’t speak a thousand words, I apologise for the photographer’s incompetence.

Blackberries

24 September – blackberry pickers stalk their prey

Star blackberry eater

25 September – gatepost near Bunane Bridge

Church at Bunane. Composition inspired by The Incredible Di Mackey

B-grade road: the pass between Lackabane and Castle Rock

26 September – as we drove into the Black Valley, Danny said: “Look! What’s that?” And there on top of a ridge, a horse was silhouetted against the sky. We expected it to rear up on its hind legs and let forth a terrible neigh that would spread terror into the hearts of horse and human alike. But it just nibbled on some rock and then wandered off to stand on another

The Black Valley, Lough Cumeenduff from the south road

Danny foraging for doughnuts at Curraghmore

Curraghmore Mountain hogs the sun

1 October – Old Kenmare Road after rainfall; coming out of Torc Forest

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, from the Old Kenmare Road

On the Kerry Way looking north, to the east of Windy Gap

Reign of terror

The battle was long and arduous. At least one of us was in tears at any given moment, and I’m sorry to say that most of the time it was me. I had experience and physical presence, but she had guile and stamina.

She was focussed and absolutely remorseless, employing a wide range of tactical manoeuvres. They were always unpredictable, pitiless, and admirably devious. She used all resources to hand, and many that weren’t. She demonstrated an impeccable line in psychological torture.

She played a flawless game of strategy and cunning; a worthy opponent indeed. I emerged victorious only after I threatened to dismember her teddy bear.

It’s not easy putting a four year old to bed

Analysing the appeal of the leading man

On the flight to London, what did the Emirates Entertainment System feature, but The Man From Snowy River.

(NB Apologies to those who do not recognise the grammatical structure of the opening sentence. It is not punctuated with a question mark, largely because it is not a question. It is a correct and recognised statement in Ireland, the socially acceptable response being, ‘Well, isn’t that the feckin grandest.’ If you are paying attention, you will know that is not a question either. I am practicing in preparation for my triumphant return home.)

Of course I watched it. I would have done even if the alternatives hadn’t been ‘Run Fat Boy Run’ and ‘Mamma Mia‘. The plot is still far-fetched and flung together unbelievably tenuously; yet it remains the best two hours of distilled corn you are likely to find in this dimension.

For example, the scene near the end, when Harrison makes the mistake of calling Jim Craig a lad – an easy error to make when his voice hasn’t broken yet:-

“He’s a man,” snarls his estranged, impoverished brother. “A MAN!”

“The Man. From Snawwy Rivvah,” breathes mountain legend Clancy, with a look that, in a porn movie, would sufficiently convey lust.

When I first saw The Man From Snowy River, although I enjoyed it, I didn’t understand Jim Craig’s credentials as a leading man. Only now, with the benefit of maturity, hindsight and imagination, can I recognise his appeal.

Firstly, although it rather spoils the tension that nothing bad ever happens to Jim Craig, I can acknowledge what an attractive trait this is in a man. In real life, I grew up with a pile of people featuring patriotic quotients of Luck Of The Irish to varying degrees, yet I’ve never come across anyone with Jim Craig’s reserves of pure, unadulterated luck. Even on the rare occasions bad things DO happen to Jim Craig, he resolves them ridiculously easily. His father is killed by a homicidal tree within five minutes of the opening credits, but it’s more a plot device than a serious setback. Jim shovels dung onto the boot of his nemesis Curly, and instead of beating him to a bloody pulp and impaling him on a pitchfork, Curly merely sulks and shoots Jim the occasional dirty look.

If you married Jim, you would have the security of knowing your dreams would always come true and your crops would never fail. If you foolishly toppled over a cliff and improbably landed on a small ledge down an otherwise sheer drop, Jim would turn up to rescue you. And of course, you would get to wear corsets and lace up boots with the cutest little kitten heels.

Secondly, you have to admire a man with the confidence to sport a pair of breeches that tight with legs like his. Even as a teenager, I recall being mesmerized by Tom Burlinson’s chubby little legs, and would subsequently spend years pondering whether his arse was too big even for a man who was supposed to spend most of his life astride a horse. Of course, it is indeed too big – for what is a subject of debate – but definitely for wearing breeches that tight. Yet it is impossible not to give respect where it is due.

I had forgotten Sigrid Thornton’s savage monobrow, and how she enunciated everything through pursed lips. This so inspired me I spent an entire summer talking as if trying to unobtrusively spit out a large morsel of food. No doubt it would have been easier and less time-consuming had I emulated her by simply not brushing my hair.

There is a scene where Jim Craig leaps over the reluctant men and rides down the side of a cliff, shot in silence but for report of his horse’s hooves striking the earth. Overlooking the irresponsible risk Jim Craig took with his life and that of a horse that doesn’t even belong to him, it is still awe-inspiring 26 years later

Tragic Argyle

Husband stays connected

I used to hate cycling. (NB: in this context, ‘hate’ is too mild a word, but I am not aware of a single alternative that fully conveys my deep-rooted, fundamental, bone-chilling, teeth-grinding loathing. There can be no more perfect confluence of distilled misery than of being a teenager in Ireland in the late eighties. Add cycling to the mix, and we’re talking about a diabolical form of torture. Cycling to school was an exercise in thriving/surviving against impossible odds, what with drunk truck drivers and waterlogged potholes that extended to the centre of the earth, and the wretched awareness that my arse was the biggest in the known universe, and the mobile audience who stared at it incredulously. Not forgetting the tragic grey Argyle I used to think was cool, but was actually so unfashionable that when I wear it NOW it would almost qualify as trendy. And the plastic Dunnes Stores bags secured to my feet with elastic bands.)

Over the years, I have grown attached to my arse and adept at dodging potholes. Also, it is impossible to dislike cycling where we live. Husband bitches about the number of hills, but freewheeling down them is such fun, it more than compensates for slogging back up.

During the week, I made a Trademe purchase from a seller who lived in Waitakere.

“She’s just up the road,” I informed Husband. “I’ll pedal over on Saturday morning.”

I was surprised when he volunteered to accompany me, although it is perhaps less surprising when the alternative was cleaning the gutters. I tried to avoid distance-related discussion, and told him it was ‘all downhill’.

We shoved the bikes up to Scenic Drive – with a minor detour back to the house when we realised Husband had forgotten his helmet – and cycled north. Scenic Drive is a fair illustration of the word ‘undulating’. However, just before Scenic Drive intersects with Swanson Road/Waitakere Road, there is a kilometre long downhill. This was terrific fun, although a section of uneven tarmac reminded me how vulnerable a bicycle is.

We took an alternative route home, opting to traverse Christian Road and along the Pipeline Track to Mountain Road. We walked the Pipeline Track in summer and even then it was greasy; however, it is only a kilometre long and downhill.

Front brake accessorised with plant

The Seekers

When I was a kid, my parents had an LP of The Seekers, an Australian group who popularized the folk dirge. Maracas were an integral part of the group’s percussive strategy. ‘The Best of the Seekers’ featured classics such as ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’, ‘A World Of Our Own’, ‘Morningtown Ride’, and ‘Georgy Girl’:-

When I was a little girl, I used to look wistfully at the cover of this LP innocently lusting after style like Judith Durham’s. At the age of six, I thought the guy on the left was quite the fox. I used to listen to the LP over and over, and drop the needle repeatedly to the start of ‘The Carnival is Over’, the lyrics of which go:-

‘Now the harbour light is calling
This will be our last goodbye
Though the carnival is over
I will love you till I die’

I used to weep for the impossible love between the one-armed strong man and the bearded lady.

You can imagine my joy when I came across a Seekers CD on sale in Christchurch Airport last Tuesday. As soon as we got home, I put it in the stereo and turned the volume up full.

“What did I do?” asked Husband plaintively, in a quiet moment between ‘Open Up Them Pearly Gates’, and ‘Red Rubber Ball’.

“What?”

“I must have done something wrong for you to be torturing me like this. Are my ears bleeding?”

“These are CLASSIC SONGS!” I said, and I told him about my parents’ Seekers LP and Judith Durham’s dress with the bow and the frills and her satin shoes.

“I can just imagine your parents listening to this,” Husband muttered darkly.

“What’s THAT supposed to mean?”

“Just that it’s the sort of music they’d listen to.”

“Well they did, and so did your wife, and now you’re listening to it too. Ooh, I love this one!
‘But if I should lose your love, dear
I don’t know what I’d do
For I know I’ll never find another you-ooo-ooo!’

Husband stared at me in horror.

Regrettably, the Seekers declined in popularity because they weren’t raunchy enough for the seventies. This picture goes a long way towards explaining why:-

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