The Family

more on Da

The funeral went well, I think, as much as it could. Brother gave a serious and funny talk about our father, all about his (many) misadventures and lifelong losing battle with implements, machines and tools. He couldn't change a plug, it's true, or at least not without a lot of bad language. He couldn't boil an egg. He would have died in a week without my mother, of starvation. He was a terrible swimmer and driver. But he had a great feel for business, he cared about his employees, he looked after people. Quite a few people came over to tell me how much he'd helped them in their careers - he gave my newly-widowed aunt a car when she really needed it, he kept various family members and friends afloat financially at critical moments. I read 1 Corinthians 13, one of the few passages from the Bible I a) know and b) like, and the one my father read at my wedding eleven years ago. About 150 people came to say goodbye and he was buried in a lovely spot in the church graveyard. We had a nice lunch in the golf club, everyone admired Jay, who was extra-charmy and nice to cuddle.

So that was that. I've since become very interested in the dusty box of photos we inherited from my father's mother when she died. Granny kept piles of perfect black and white photos and wedding invites, and some newspaper cuttings. She never wrote anyone's name on the back, though, so it's become a game to piece it all together. I've even joined one of those heritage websites and am trying to work out who went where. I never was remotely engaged by this stuff before, almost found it embarrassing; I suppose now it's part of trying to make sense of my family. Also, I find I want my father to be remembered. The other night, not long after he died, I burst into tears. No-one will remember him, I wailed to the JB.  This is the grief, he said, It seems wrong that the world will close up around him and just goes on. I know. 

People have been very kind. I love my cards - now I'm on the receiving end, my belief in them is confirmed. I'm glad I sent them too when it was my turn, despite the doubts I felt at the time. It really IS nice to know people are thinking of you. It's not annoying or intrusive and the gifts of cake and sweets are lovely too. Someone gave us some After Eights, a thing I normally never eat, (because it's not 1977 and we didn't just have a dinner party) but I've been consuming them steadily over the last number of nights, with gratitude and a particular satisfaction. 

Ah. I better go, it's 12. Jay needs his nap.
Thanks for your thoughts and good wishes, everyone. 


Here's my Granny and Granddad with my da in the front, looking like a little old man. 


I’ve never been a lover of the telephone, have you? Ever since I answered the phone when I was 12 to my distraught aunt - she’d found my uncle collapsed after a heart attack. No, it’s reserved for arrangements, and long conversations only when a face-to-face is not possible. So it was a mercy that the JB answered my phone last night. My brother was on; my father had died at the hospital.

He’d been there for six weeks, since the last time I posted, he had fluid around the heart after a fall in June, but after diuretics recovered slowly from that, then they wanted to investigate a polyp and other relatively minor things were discovered, and it dragged on and on, his recovery seemed to lag, and then he seemed a bit better, on Sunday. Sitting up in his chair, finally. It had been long enough for the dashing up and down the N11 to visit a few times a week to seem like normality. We’d bring his favourite treats, (dates, and biscuits and at some point this became a tradition of a Magnum ice-cream everyday at 2pm. One time I brought him two, not sure which flavour he’d prefer, and he ate one, paused, and ate the other.) put Nivea on his face and hands. Talk a little, interact with the friendly staff. I cut his hair once with the clippers, I’m glad to say - I wouldn’t want my Da to look neglected or unloved.

The JB came upstairs last night with the unenviable task of telling me the news. It was 10.30pm, I was in bed, listening to a podcast. He told me gently, he's kind. It seemed, still does, unreal. I cried.

Brother went down to say goodbye last night, but I didn’t want to. I want to remember my Da walking purposefully in his everlasting shoes to his office after a long 1970’s style work lunch, all sideburns, plans and high energy.

not posterity either

Thanks for your help last week, everyone. A card has been sent. I will follow up with emails and texts later on. Other members of the meet-up have been in touch with our friend. There's support for her there, which is something. 


Now that walks in the woods are no longer possible, my mother and I amuse ourselves with jigsaws and desultory conversation on Sunday afternoons, over endless cups of Darjeeling and almond cake. We were talking about our first memories; hers was of her first banana. It was wartime and her uncle, on leave from the Maritime Marine, brought a bunch home. He and his family lived upstairs from hers; she remembers him leaning over the banisters and calling down to her. She remembers the exotic sweetness of the banana. Then she told us how her uncle's ship, like 16 other neutral Irish ships, was "lost in unprovoked actions" some time after that, having been bombed by the Germans, and he was lost at sea. 

We did a little research on the interweb and discovered her uncle's ship was lost in September '41 and so, even if he was on leave weeks before returning to his ship, my mother, born in November 1939, was at most 21 months old when she tasted that banana, possibly even younger. 

She has always had a really far-reaching, clear memory, but this is surely outside the ordinary? Or not. You tell me. My first memory is some foggy thing to do with a paddling pool, I must have been over two. Pfft, pathetic. What's yours?


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Well. I think the letter is done. Like many embarrassing things, it was in fact Useful to push through it, in an amateur Aversion Therapy kind of way.

The expression on Brother's face in this one never fails to make me smile. Doesn't he look hilariously resentful? And I, pure smug? Ah, sibling rivalry.

Hombre, I have been up to my [insert appropriate upper part of anatomy] with work this week, but am feeling strangely optimistic, nonetheless. I accept fully that this makes me weird, but I like this time of year. Ooh, chill in the air, melancholic last gasp of summer, how I love thee.

I have a couple of  minor stories on the subject of: How easily I am influenced, one involving Spike (nephew), the other a previous Head of State. But now, I must go back to work. I am working on a well-known Christmas tale by Dickens. Yes, that one. And the Very Small Timothy character keeps coming out deranged-looking. Why this should be, I cannot say. I was going for delighted. Perhaps the full moon?

Till soon


It's 12 months

since KDid died, that quiet, good-hearted man.

When I was young I thought when you grew up somehow you'd be invested with powers that would make you strong. You'd be able to cope, you'd be adult, capable. Sure, things might make you sad, but not too much, you'd manage. You'd put on your suit and good shoes and go to the funeral. You wouldn't cry. You'd know things that would comfort you. You'd know that lives were long, fair, logical. You'd have made a leap, somewhere along the way, and become life-confident. You'd be in control.

Now I realise that was mostly the work of my protective parents and that living is a continuum, rather than a series of separate experiences. This isn't a rehearsal, I have painfully realised, there will not be a montage sequence, there are no shortcuts, you do have to learn the hard way, and it can indeed be too late. It is later than you think. Success is a matter of luck and privilege, not just working hard and making good decisions. Life will crack you open. You can only hope this makes you a better person, more alive, more present. More appreciative, more understanding.

Now I understand that the big whopper of a lesson of my middle years is that joy can co-exist with sadness, and this finally really does have the truthful ring of adulthood. For the good times are painfully precious. Any moment you have to sit in the sun with your friends, or banter with a stranger on the bus, any chance to watch a vast golden moon rise, sing rousing South African anthems in a choir or have the cat on your knee vibrating with purrs, is achingly beautiful.

So we remember him, and try to enjoy our many good memories of him.

Kindly readers, I hope you're well, and to have happier things to talk about soon.
I have missed this. More soon.



Mr Blue Sky

Most improbably, I have finished my cone project in plenty of time for hand-off this evening, an event which will require me to walk for 10 mins, take a bus, walk for another 20mins, (or MAYBE, I'll just take a taxi, though that kind of thing makes me as nervous as W4I. Apparently I believe a taxi is the thin end of the wedge that will inevitably lead to a online gambling addiction, thousands of euros of debt and end with my living under a bridge) knock on a door I have never seen before, go: Martin? in hopeful tones if a man answers or: Hi! Is Martin there? if a woman answers. Then I will dump deliver the Big Black Portfolio and SKIP SKIP SKIP away feeling OH-SO-LIGHT and who even cares what it looks like anymore? I've got rid, as they say on Corrie.

I've been having a bit of a time of it. Do you remember this, kindly readers?


This is what it's been like, for months, but with extra juggling and exhaustion-induced despair/irrational thoughts. I am so burned out I am actually a Walkers crisp, and those illustrations still need to be done by end of month. (Those fecking things - it's like trying to outrun your own shadow. It's getting mystical, as this point.) While this is just feasible, I am reminded of that saying about people who have been made partner in a law practice: It's like winning a pie-eating contest. And your prize is more pie.

Next week, my students have exams, an event that involves a vast amount of forms called (things like) Learner's Assessment F11-R456. On the other hand, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Only! 6! weeks! to! the! end! of term! Holiers needed URGENTLY.

Other things I have noticed of late:

  • The JB has been away for the last week, at a conference. In his absence I have been shocked to discover my breakfast dishes are still there, lying around in grey water, when I get home after school. Proof he does do dishes. Huh! I thought I did Everything Around Here. That's the thing about housework, isn't it? It's only noticed if it's not done.

  • Also. Yes. What was the other thing.

  • Ah. Our floor in The Hotel Tallafornia now hosts a weekly vist from Slimming World. A whole world of slimming - imagine! Continents of svelteness and seas of self-confidence! I am reassured by its logo every morning: Slimming World: Because [I am] amazing. Huh, ta, Slimming World.

  • I think, anyway.

  • It seems that the Authority may be sorting something out with regard to India opening - soon-ish. Also hopeful signs float over Florida. Too tired to be excited, but I presume I am, really.

  • Alrighty then. I am going to go and do the drop-off, I reckon.

Be well, friends.








A couple of weekends ago:

TWANGY, seeing an opportunity to bond with DAZZLE, (the three-year-old niece) while the rest of the family are engaged in an interminable game of Capitalist Market Forces Monopoly, extends 'claws' and roars, experimentally:
Rrrrrar! I'm a tiger.

DAZZLE smiles indulgently.

TWANGY: What are you?

DAZZLE: I'm a people.

How deflating.


Further conversation, this time with a student:
ALEX(not real name!): So, in relation to.. I just want to understand. My head is wrecked here. When you copy a file, where is that?
TWANGY: Emmm. Well. What? It goes on to the clipboard.
ALEX :  But.. where is the clipboard?
TWANGY (not feeling terribly patient at this point): It's just out there, Alex. In virtual space.
In your computer's RAM or something, Alex.
ALEX: But. It's  just these notes don't talk about the clipboard. I think these notes are a bit...
TWANGY considers a rapid exit out of the window.

Speaking of the Hotel Tallafornia, and the "learning" that takes place therein with my unemployed would-be designers, it should come as no surprise that we are dealing, per usual, with the Usual Suspects. The same ould cast of characters. There's the one with the attitude, there are the moaners, there are the gigglers, there are those afflicted with shyness, those encumbered with laziness. The sickly, the smart, the motivated, the dense. 'Twas ever thus, was it not, teachers, educators, librarians? The moaners were moaning at me last week, and I had this lightbulb revelation: these people (whispered The Little Voice of Obviousness) are not my friends. In this relationship, here,  it's my job to hold the thing together, and be respected.

This is stunningly self-evident, I do realise. Maybe it's the chronic informality of the Irish, but up to now, I have always assumed that friendliness, a general enthusiasm for the subject, respect for their efforts and a pretence at a flat hierarchy would see me through this teaching gig. Now, I realise that to act as if there is no difference between us, except that I just happen to be standing at the other side of the table is just not going to work. After all, I am in charge of time-keeping, and there is money involved in that, this being a state-sponsored training course. So, how to play it? Shall I become (gets carefully into American character) a 'hardass'? Would this be better for all concerned? Thoughts on this welcome. What is your style?

I've told you about the hotel as venue of higher education in this brave new world, haven't I?
We are in the one heated room on the fifth floor of a mostly empty office block, (itself mysteriously part of the hotel), surrounded by empty offices like this:


It's so fantastically creepy, like some weird art installation. The other morning, the previously abandoned and chilly reception area had leaflets scattered around and a big poster over it:
Presumably they checked-in-but-can-never-leave the night before? Yet no sign of them since.
And then, odder yet, and, to use  The Young People's favourite word, 'totally random':

Bridge tables sprang up overnight. Bridge tables. 

What next, friends? The Annual Trapeze Artists' Convention? The League of Capuchin Monkey Handlers? YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS MINE.

Rest assured, I will keep you posted.


you will comfort me

Back again, my friends. Life has been full on. It used to be that feast and famine was the rule, but now, I am always dementedly busy, and yet persist in not being any more solvent. What is this strange new world? I don't know if I like it.

I joined a choir, did I say? It's been absorbing to be a part of something bigger than me, something I know so little about. Humbling. I keep having these light bulb moments: OH! That's a chord! That's a quaver! Seriously, I am that - what would it be? Immusicate?

We performed, in a kind of flash-mob way, in a busy lunch venue earlier in the week, wearing, per instructions, "black trousers and a top in a solid colour". I didn't think I possessed any black trousers, (an extraordinary factoid, I know) but lo! A pair dated circa 2000 skulked in the back of the wardrobe, made of a millenial fabric that seems to be .. vinyl?

Vinyl, I swear. Maybe it's recycled records. If only I still had a turntable, I could listen to them. I wonder what they'd sound like. Pants? (Groan. Stopping now.)

It was satisfying to hear all our voices turn into one. I could see the familiar figure of the JB, my only only, on the other side of the atrium, and my very stalwarty friend, Sister2. (Stalwarty doesn't sound as flattering as I intend it to be. I am going to trust you know what I mean.)

You are with me, [we sang], you will comfort me.

I think the JB is going through some stuff. He's sleeping much more than usual, and though he has not abandoned his papers, (that would surely be a sign of impending death) he is not his usual ebullient self. He's one of those people that is always on, you know? Even if you wake him up in the middle of the night, he's like a good photograph of himself. Not so now.

Really, I do think All This has been harder for him than for me. Not that it's a quantifiable thing, or a race to be the most hurt, indeed, but he's such a hard worker, he's used to barriers giving way under the weight of his effort, and he is baffled and deeply offended that those rules don't apply here. Of course, it's true that he is also grieving for his father, but somehow the frustration he feels about our efforts to have/be a family has become the focus of that pain too. It comes and goes, of course. Any progress - any tick on our adoption list - rallies the spirits. Any delay or problem brings on the feelings of disappointment and aggrievement.

Lest anyone think the IF shitstorm spares the partners.

So that is where I am. Wearing recycled LPs, and being very busy having no money coming in.
How about you? What's in the back of your wardrobe?


Actual news I can actually report

I am half-daunted, half-thrilled. (Is there a single word for that? There should be.) On Tuesday I received a phone call from the by now much-beloved Detective, our social worker, to tell us that we have passed the board, and are deemed suitable to be adoptive parents.


It is big and somewhat odd to be declared (apparently) sane by your government. Something to celebrate! I feel all government-sanctioned! All I need is an APPROVED stamp on my forehead to complete the look.

Then on Wednesday, more life-changing events: we took the train to another town for a meeting in The Hotel of the Swirly Carpet. It was extraordinarily informative, dispelling many myths, and covering all sorts of important stuff on Bulgaria and India, as sending countries. India probably has over 10 million children without families. OVER TEN MILLION. There are any amount of impromptu and unlicensed orphanages that spring up to care for them, but many of the children inevitably do not even have that much luck. It is utterly heart-breaking and overwhelming, isn't it? Words fail. We fail. All those children, all their needs, all their talents, in need of so much nurturing, of so many hours of hugs and stories, so much encouragement, so many peeled potatoes, and slices of toast, so many pairs of pyjamas, so much effort, patience, understanding and love.

So walking back to the train station, the next morning, the JB and I, down the steep steps, with the fog lifting, we made up our minds that India is it.

It seems this is how you make decisions that change your life, while you hurry to catch a train. You've arrived at a fork in the road, and you've run out of time, standing still is not possible, you just have to move one way or the other. So you just take your life in your hands, and go, and try not to be haunted by the ghost of other path, the way unchosen.

So we sent an email to the detective to ask her to change our country to India. The USA was our previous choice, but it seems that there is an uncompatibility between the Irish interpretation of Hague and the American one, which means that private adoption is looking rather uncertain for the time being. We could adopt out of the state system, however. Frustratingly, the JB does continue to waver on this. Yesterday he sent me the link to an (of course) utterly adorable one-year-old on a state website. Now, I do understand that as a purely pragmatic tool, these sites do work in placing children, but it makes me oh-so-uncomfortable to look at the children's profiles. I mean, apart from the awful, awful heart-rending God-is-that-my-kid? That-could-be-my-kid! confusion, it just feels wrong to me. I do believe that it is getting the cart before the horse. There is a reason for the agency being the one that matches parents with children, and doing the referral. They know things.
(What do you think? Maybe it is simply that we are not ready for that yet.)


That was the news from Dublin.

[Insert single word that conveys both the excitement and fear of this moment.]

Yaaaay! Eeek!


I have an important question for people who know these things:

Are three-year-olds mad?

I am a dried husk after yesterday's task,  the minding of my neice for four hours while her mother was at a funeral, and her father, my dear, dear brother, was being fed grapes by a servant in a gold lame (can you just imagine the accent on the e, I am feeling delicate) tunic, or whatever it is you do at a "rugby match".

All started fairly well. She's three and a half, after all, you can talk to her. Can't you? Brother, before he left to swill mead out of a tusk, did express a few misgivings. And I:
She's a child, not a wild animal! HAHA HA!


We played for a couple of hours cheerfully enough. Playdough, ponies, drawings of Scooby - the whole gamut of my child entertainment repetoire was run. And then, I don't know why, exactly, but the mood suddenly went south, and despite my best and warmest reassurances that Mummy would be back soon, (OH PLEASE, GOD) and poor Dazzle wouldn't be stuck with her mean aunt for all eternity, there were many, many tears and quite an impressive tantrum. At this point, she wasn't able to speak, and trying to comfort her just resulted in renewed wailing, like she was suddenly petrified of me. So I retreated for a minute and she, seeing her escape route open at last, bolted from the room to fall asleep finally in front of Dora.

At his point, her mother came in and I thought how much I'd always liked adults. Aren't adults lovely?
This is Scooby. Or maybe Daphne. Hard to know - small children are MAD.

So now, I am beset with doubts. Up to now, I assumed that kids liked me, but now I see that was based on just one child, Spike, (brother of Dazzle) with whom I have a long-standing rapport based on drawing monsters and games where we pretend the bed is a boat, surrounded by sharks. WHAT IF, dear readers, WHAT IF Spike is actually the only kid in the world who sees the point of Bobbie, as he calls me? What about our poor adopted kid?



And rather more urgently, be safe, all those who are in the way of Irene.