Sunday, August 29, 2010


My passport expired recently. I was devastated. I loved my passport. With each passing year I loved it more. As birthdays came and went and I got a year older my passport photo preserved my face in the year 2000.

So with a trip abroad on the horizon it was time to apply for a new document which would encourage foreign governments to be nice to me and would confirm me as a citizen of Ireland. The latter being a somewhat difference experience now than it was in ‘brink of boom’ 2000. I am not sure how enthusiastic I will be to brandish my proof of belonging to a bailed out, banjaxed and bankrupt little republic in Northern Europe… but I digress.

Off to the Garda station for the forms, which I fill out in my best handwriting with my favourite pen. Simple enough. Then for the photo.

This should also be a relatively simple exercise. I am, after all, married to a photographer. Therefore I don’t have to trudge to my nearest shopping centre, to sit in a caboosh clutching hairbrush and lipstick and attempt to undo the windblown hair and smudged lips. Oh no, I can have my photo done in the comfort of my own home, standing against the ‘Summer Solstice’ painted wall in the natural light of the big window, something which the photographer assures me is very flattering.

Freshly made up, hair brushed, I’m all ready.

“Remember you are not allowed to smile anymore” says the photographer. I had forgotten that bit. Ok, I think, I will do my intelligent look. A look I like to adopt when attempting to contribute to conversations about bond markets, subprime loans and the like. I have always felt it worked quite well.

Click, click, click, click…… about twenty images taken and off I go to inspect the work through the back of the camera.

I am horrified. “Jaysus” I roar at my long suffering photographer husband, “they’re brutal.”

I don’t just look sad, I look gutted. Like a woman who has just learned of some awful tragedy that has befallen all her nearest and dearest. “I’m not going around the world with a photo like that. Jaysus. Again.” And so he picks up the camera and I head back to the Summer Solstice, my mind working overtime.

Maybe I will try enigmatic, I think. Mysterious. Surely I could do that without smiling. So I stand willing the soft daylight to work its magic and opening my eyes just a little wider than normal in the hope of softening some of my ‘laughter lines’. Chins up.
Click, click, click…. And back to the camera I go.

“Oh my God”. Not only sad but now quite mad too. Like a killer’s mugshot. Only worse.

I decide I don’t want a bloody passport. I probably won’t ever be able to afford holidays again anyway after the budget. I curse the bloody Americans for deciding that it would be a safer world if the travelling public didn’t smile in their passport photos. My photos would give any self respecting terrorist a good run for their money.

I try to calm down. The photographer nervously asks if I want to try again.

I’m out of ideas, except for praying for divine intervention. So like a prisoner about to be executed I position myself in front of the cream wall again and try to think positive thoughts.
Click, click, click……

“Ok, I now have almost 100 frames. We need to choose one.” Roughly translated that means, I am finished photographing you now, my neurotic wife.

I am close to tears. For the next ten years, I shall be accompanied on my travels by a photo that not only reminds me of how gravity and time have conspired to pull my face south which ensures that when ‘resting’ my face wears an expression of huge sadness.

“Maybe if I lay on the bed and you stood above me with the camera……”
But the photographer has disappeared and the door to his office is closed. He is making my print.

Oh God! Do you think that by the year 2020 I will look back on this photo and think how great I looked? How sad will I be then?

And I apologise for the lack of photo to go with this post...... I don't need to explain why, do I?


In this part of the world, cats were big news last week. Yep, domestic moggies made the headlines. For the benefit of the Americans, let me explain. The first story came from the UK where a woman put a cat in a wheelie bin. She was caught on CCTV and later apologised. However she qualified her apology by saying "it was only a cat". The second story concerned a moggie from Malahide in North Dublin who decided to board the DART (rapid transit system) at her local station and travelled into the city. There was taken into the care of the DART staff who tweeted her story and her family were located and a renunion was arranged.

But back to our lady in the UK - "only a cat" she said. As if there was such a thing as "only a cat." Cats are sublime creatures. I know. I have shared my life with cats since the day I was born, quiet some time ago. The cat heritage comes down my maternal line. My mother always lived with cats; I must find out if my maternal grandmother did too.

Anyway the point is, I know cats. I understand them. And they are magnificent creatures. I don't know who it was that said "I have lived with many Zen Masters, all of them cats" but he was bang on the money. I currently share my home with four felines, some more Zen than others. But each one of them contributes to a laid back, informal, comfy energy in my home, that I could not achieve alone. Sure they also contribute to cat hairs everywhere but so what. If they could talk, they would say "chill out, its hair. It don't stain"

My cats desport themselves all over my house. Each has their own favourite spot. In the morning they find puddles of sunlight to recline in and as the sun dissappears they seek out the heat of radiators and hidden pipes. One in particular likes the Hot Press. The lend the whole house an air of languid uselessness in a way that no scented candle or soft music could ever do.

Often I explode in the front door, laden down with bags, harrassed and mithered, only to be met by the sight of Fat Cat stretched out on the hall chair, catching the sunlight. He opens just one eye to acknowledge my presence. Above his head is a giant thought bubble which says "what's the fuss? Chill woman!" in a voice reminiscent of the old Caramel Bunny. Then he drifts off back to cat dreamland and I arrive into the kitchen wondering which of us is the more evolved species.

But it only an inexperienced cat woman who thinks that cats sleep all day. Sure they sleep a lot but cats have another habit which occupies many hours in the day. That's looking out the window. They ponder the weather and also take huge interest in the neighbours movements. What are they thinking about as they gaze out the window, I wonder.

Cats are mysterious creatures. They live in two worlds. This one and the other world -the unseen world whose energies they pick up regularly. Ever seen a cat staring at a stop high up on a wall or on the ceiling. They are in touch with things we only imagine. They are endlessly curious, as demonstrated by the Malahide Moggie on the DART. We also had an adventurer. Tiger, our matriarch cat, took off when she was in her teenage years and was gone for 3 months. We had her dead and buried when one day she wandered back into the kitchen, not much the worse for wear for her expedition.

But the very best thing about living with cats is that point when you gain their affection. Unlike dogs, whose love can easily be bought, cats are aloof and independent. So that when they decide they like you, it is the most precious and wonderful gift. Once you obtain the love of your cat, you have a friend for life. A soft, warm, wise and comforting cat. "Only a cat" indeed, as if there was such a thing!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Thanks to my friend Duane in Michigan, here is the link to my interview yesterday on East Coast Radio - in case you want to listen to me waffle on about various things which included back to school, twitter and the Rose of Traleem (didn't Daithi look great last night)!

The Morning Programme - East Coast Radio Interview

Friday, August 20, 2010

ONLY 10 DAYS.... From Monday

Only ten days to go. I am like a prisoner carefully marking off the days on my calendar till my release. I am marking off the days till they go back to school.

The end of August is always the same. My patience has worn thin, my nerves are frazzled. I am like a hen on a hot griddle, sizzling and fraying around the edges. Its time they were back in school.

Of course, I haven’t felt like this all summer. Oh no, by the middle of June I was rightly fed up of the endless homework, school lunches, projects, head lice notes and necessity for clean uniforms every day. I embraced the beginning of summer holidays as I do every year, relishing the freedom and the relaxed routines. And of course in late June and early July, the weather co-operated. It actually felt like summer, which is always a bonus.

But as July soggily seeped into August, the weather reverted to type. Night after night I watched as that nice John Eagleton apologised on behalf of God for the endless weather fronts waiting out in the Atlantic for their turn to move Eastwards always managing to arrive here around mid morning.

But early in August I still had a reserve of energy and enthusiasm for this holiday lark. We did the Dead Zoo, the local library, the bus into town – all good old fashioned and free fun. I even did a marathon expedition to some strange kids wonderland and waterpark in Drogheda which I still have nightmares about. The kids loved it and I felt sure I had bought myself enough positive karma to see me through till that magic date of the 1st of September.

But I had forgotten the annual horrors that are lurking in the final two weeks of summer holidays: namely the shopping for school shoes and school books.

Ok now lend me a soapbox for a moment. I have two kids, two years apart. One going into 4th class, the other into 6th. This year I have managed to pass on just two books from one to the other. That’s right, two books. Why? Workbooks, that’s why. In my day (and probably yours too), we had Text Books. Text books had text but they had questions too. We wrote the answers into our copies. Copies that cost 2pence halfpenny. But not in post Celtic Tiger Ireland. Oh no, our little darlings now fill in the answers in the text book sorry workbook. So instead of having to write out a whole sentence, they just fill in the gap. Apart from this being of dubious educational benefit, it is surely very un eco friendly. Does John Gormley know of this current practice in our Junior Schools? And if he does, what is he doing about it. I expect that he should be at this very moment beating a path to Mary Coughlan’s door. Workbooks, I ask you! Lack of Work books they should be called.

Shopping for school shoes is another special kind of torture. It is the only time in the year when I seem to remember an important nugget no doubt gleaned from a Penelope Leach book during pregnancy, “it is vital to have your children’s feet measured regularly.” So off I go, along with what seems like every parent in the country to the local shoe shop to have feet measured and spend exorbitant sums on sturdy school shoes. The shop is always crowded and hot. While we wait for attention, the little darlings take a look at the shoes on display and announce either of two things. They hate all of them or they like this one – which is from the Toddler range. When the assistant finally appears with the foot measuring yoke, I look at the little darlings feet and realise they are wearing their oldest, most pungent runners which are most likely hiding socks with holes. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Oh only ten days to go. What started off as a relaxed routine in July has deteriorated now into no routine at all. The little darlings won’t get out of bed till mid day. While I am having lunch, they are having breakfast. They won’t get dressed. Afternoon visitors are treated to the sight of my pasty faced mini pre teenagers wandering about in PJ’s and hoodies and giving the house an Adams Family feel. They are eating lunch in the middle of the afternoon and dinner is getting later and later every day. Myself and himself don’t know if we are coming or going.

Only ten days to go…. Only ten days to go…. I just can’t wait to make a few school lunches, and get stuck into some homework!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Today my blog is going to function as a dream journal because last night I had my favourite dream. It is my favourite dream because I wake up feeling really positive and uplifted and because each time I dream it, it is different. Basically my favourite dream involves me finding a new room or annexe in my house that I never knew existed before. When I first started having this dream, this unexplored part of my house was accessed by going under the stairs – that was a big problem – the under the stairs is very cramped and small. But more recently I tend to discover a door in the landing that I just always thought was a cupboard or else what we thought was a wardrobe in one of the bedrooms turns out to be a door to a whole new room or sometimes set of rooms.

But last night what I discovered was the very best yet. I first of all discovered that there was a ramshackle greenhouse in an unexplored part of my garden (my real garden has no unexplored parts by the way). This greenhouse was big and had an overgrown vegetable patch. We were delighted to find it because we had found 2 kittens and an adult cat that needed to be homed and we figured that this greenhouse would be the perfect place to keep them while waiting to find new homes for them. I also dreamed (in my dream) of restoring the vegetable patch.

As the kitties played about at our feet (the whole family were with me in this exploration, also unusual) I discovered a door in the wall in one end of the greenhouse. I opened the heavy wooden door to find myself inside a very cute and charming room. The first thing I saw was a circular pine dining table and chairs. A place to write I thought. The walls were exposed brick. There was also an old fashioned, squishy, chintz sofa under a window. In an alcove was a very small TV. There were two doors off this room – one led into a tiny galley kitchen and the other into a bathroom. My eldest daughter was squealing in delight and proclaiming that this would be a perfect place for her and her boyfriend. But I announced in a clear and firm voice, that this room was mine. This would be the perfect place to write and explore the stories in my head.

It was such a perfect room. I am still excited about having found it – even if only in my dreams!!

Have a great Sunday!

Thursday, August 12, 2010


It really is true what they say about writing.. It’s like everything else, the more you do it, the easier it comes. So, after 6 weeks or so of erratic writing due to kids off school and so called ‘summer time’ I am really struggling. I am trying to get a piece together for Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Writing Competition which they are running in conjunction with their Mountains To Sea Book Festival and I struggled for 2 days trying to come up with a blog post From My Kitchen Table. That has never happened before. This led me to wonder about writing and having spent the last year or so, trying to get more serious about it I have come up with 5 Truths About Writing. They may not be your truths but I thought I would share them anyway:

Truth No 1
Writing is like exercise. If you don’t practice often (preferably daily) you get rusty and it becomes difficult.

Truth No 2
You can go to classes on writing, read books on writing and go to workshops on writing, forever. They are enjoyable if you are interested in the process of writing as most of us are. But at some stage you actually have to pick up the pen or open the laptop and start writing. I also have a sneaking suspicion that there comes a stage when you need to stop ‘learning’ and start ‘doing’.

Truth No 3
You do need quiet to write. It is impossible to write with noise and distractions all around. Although I still harbour my dream of my writing cabin under the hawthorn tree at the end of the garden, I now realise that if I don’t have the kitchen table to myself, I can take myself and my laptop up to my bed where I can make a fairly comfortable nest and where I can write in the quiet.

Truth No 4
Editors and real journalists are not in fact scary people waiting to shout at you for your ‘unprofessionalism’ or your cheek for having sent them a piece of work. Twitter has helped on that one, where you can converse with all manner of ‘professional’ writers. But I think I have finally realised that if you have a piece of writing that you feel is good, it probably is. Keep working with it and sending it out into the print media universe and it may well find a home!

Truth No 5
Don’t take rejection personally. Or more usually don’t take being ignored personally. Although I still really don’t understand why radio stations, magazines or newspapers can’t just send a quck email saying ‘no thanks’.

So there you have it. None of my Writing Truths are earth shattering or original. Most are common sense. But it has served me well to write them down and share them. And voila I have a blog post!

Photo by Muffet on Flickr

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Who Do I Think I Am?

Last night I watched one of my favourite programmes “Who Do You Think You Are?” whose subject was Irish actress Dervla Kirwan. I love this programme at the best of times and have vowed if I ever come into serious money I will engage the services of ‘professionals’ to uncover Who I Am!

I know a little about Who I Am and my story is not that unusual in Ireland. My family tree really contains elements of the contradictions, passions and tragedy of relatively recent Irish history.

My father’s family were typically peasant farmers from Laois in the Irish midlands. In order to carve some kind of future for himself my paternal grandfather signed up with the British Army to fight in the First World War. He saw service in France and later in India and his stories were of no interest to me at all, when he used to relive his days as a Cavalry man over ‘tea’ in our house. How I wish I could have just one of those mealtimes back now!

My mother’s parents both came from North Cork, from the town of Fermoy. My grandmother by all accounts came from middle class family of teachers. She grew up in the grounds of Colman’s College in Fermoy where her father taught. She had a university education (very unusual) and qualified as a teacher of Mathematics and English. Her husband, my grandfather was probably the most colourful of all my grandparents. His name was George Power and from some old photographs I have, it is clear that he was a handsome man who stood over 6 feet tall. He joined the IRA as a very young man. His father (my great grandfather) was a tailor and also a noted Republican in Fermoy. His mother however (my great grandmother), Elizabeth Vernon was British (born in India) and most likely the daughter of a British Army officer who would have been stationed in the town.

During the War of Independence, Cork was a hotbed of IRA activity where Michael Collins developed his guerrilla tactics which were eventually successful in gaining Irish freedom. My grandfather was in command of 3 battalions, Fermoy, Castletownroche and Mitchelstown and as such must have been a bit of a hero in the locality. He worked with Michael Collins and also with local leader Liam Lynch and as such was as the forefront of activities during the War of Independence. There are family legends about him being involved in the capture a British General and also of how he himself was captured by the British, only to escape again through a toilet window.

The War of Independence was one of the bloodiest periods of Irish history with atrocities being carried out by both sides. It is important to note that the IRA I refer to at this time had a mandate from the Irish people to fight for freedom from Britain who had been ruling our country for hundreds of years. I have no wish to in any way romanticise this period of history but I do feel that in the interests of political correctness, we are reluctant to say that these brave men, who fought the (then) mightiest nation in the world and won, were heroes.

I cried as I watched Dervla Kirwan last night, being taken to places in Cork where her grandfather was involved in fighting. These men, farmers, shop keepers and tailors (like my grandfather) were brave and heroic beyond comprehension. So too were the families and communities who supported them.

Thanks to them, I live in an independent peaceful Ireland. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Note: following the War of Independence and the signing of the Treaty, Ireland entered one of the most tragic periods of her history. Those who had fought against all the odds to have the British withdraw from the country, were deeply divided on the terms of the Treaty which Collins and others had negotiated with the British Government. Many felt that Collins had sold out as what was obtained was not full freedom. However Collins felt it was the best that could be achieved at the time and he believed that it would lead eventually to full freedom. Following the truce and signing of the Treaty, Ireland tore itself apart during a violent Civil War which divided communities and families. It sullied the success of the War of Independence and left a nightmare so dark that those involved in both conflicts often never talked them. My grandfather left the country and went to England, only returning shortly after the outbreak of World War 2.

PHOTO OF GENERAL MICHAEL COLLINS, who was killed by Anti Treaty forces in his native Cork on the 22nd of August 1922.

Who Do I Think I Am?