Fine Wine & Bashed Bananas

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I wonder if cellulite just above the knees will ever become fashionable; if that protruding single black hair donning my chin will ever be considered a “statement” feature; if someday people will say “oh, look how split her ends are.” Unfortunately, until that day comes I will remain distinctly out of fashion and just a bit gross. There was a brief spell there when the sumo bun passed as borderline trendy – that worked in my favour. But since then things have evolved to elaborate plaits and pastel shades and not only am I now very obviously lazy when it comes to my hair, I am also incredibly passé.

Have I always been like this? I don’t think so. There’s a girl I vaguely recognise in pictures with platinum blonde hair, a sun-kissed glow and skinny arms (thank you Facebook for those impromptu updates reminding me of when I once could have passed for attractive). She bears a slight resemblance to that woman I see in the mirror today, minus the wrinkles, an extra half a chin and, ironically, acne.  Some of us, the Leonardo DiCaprios of the world, age like a fine wine and others, unfortunately, like a banana that’s been bashed about your handbag for half a day. I fear it is the latter category in which I fall.

Those pictures – like most that appear in our newsfeeds – are, however, not an accurate reflection. They should also come with tags. i.e. it took one hour to achieve that perfectly carefree curl and 50 quid at the hairdressers to create that blondes-have-more-fun colour. That “sun-kissed glow” that you see required hours of sweat-filled sunbedding and the application of a brown gunk that would drip off at the mere sight of water. Those skinny arms? Well that was just good old underappreciated metabolism. In sum, a lot of time and money went into looking like this. Time and money which I no longer have and even if I did, I seriously doubt would be spent like this.

Just as I don’t now, I had no appreciation for how I looked back then either. It’s like those over cited lyrics from that Wear Sunscreen song:

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

My 40-year-old self will probably look back at her late 20s Doppelgänger and express the exact same sentiment that I am now narrating: “Why didn’t I appreciate how fabulous I really looked?” It all just seems a bit fruitless.

I could conveniently blame motherhood for letting myself go. No doubt, it has been a contributing factor.  But the fact is, if I can find the time to eat half a multi-pack of crisps, I could probably take some time to pluck that stray black hair. It just seems to be something I have out grown (not the hair; it will outlive me). Case in point: my 5-year-old goddaughter recently asked her mother and my oldest friend “Why does Rebekah wear tracksuit bottoms all the time?” “Because they’re comfortable little Naoíse”. And that’s simply where I’m at at this point of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments of weakness, when those perfect eyebrows or face-contouring tutorials catch me off guard. They make me want to want to be better. I just don’t have the room for sculpting in my life right now.

To give a really, really bad analogy. You know when you make a meal with something that’s out of date? You can manage to bluff it with other ingredients and just about get by. That’s what I’m a bit like. I’ve passed my best-before date and I’m just winging it. I have every intention of some day going shopping again, starting afresh and making a much more pleasant version of myself. But until then, I will continue to slick back my hair into my trademark bun, dab concealer on those particularly unforgiving blemishes and rock my tracksuit bottoms until they start gathering fluff.  It may not be pretty but, as I told my goddaughter, “it’s comfortable”.  And while Leo continues to age like a fine wine, I’ll just settle for drinking it.

 

 

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Granny Knows Best

grannyYou thought you were doing yourself a favour when you bought those fitted bed sheets. I mean, sure, when it comes to dressing the bed – one of the most dreaded chores in the history of the world – you’re glad you can easily navigate tucking those corners in without breaking into the sweat-blinding, enraged fit that comes with “unfitted” sheets. Like most things in life, however, this is also too good to be true. Just as the last sheet came off, this one too will face the washing machine, the tumble drier and the inevitable (dun dun dun) folding.  Let’s face it, they are the cloth equivalent of the Rubik’s Cube.

(Seriously though, how do you fold them?)

I have been in awe of my mother for most of my life but, if I’m honest, I took for granted these subtle skills she mastered on a daily basis. It only occurred to me the other day, when I went to “fold” one of these cotton enigmas (and when I say fold, I mean roll into a heap and discard in the darkest corner of the house) that I realised this was my job… forever… and I might, some day, actually have to figure out how to properly do it.

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This all sounds fairly dramatic considering we’re talking about a bed sheet here. But it was the wider implications of this realisation rather than the folding of this one sheet that scared the complete and utter shit out of me. To this day, I have very much relied on my mother. And I’m not even referring to the big things at this point; I mean for those really small, niggling things like sewing a button, knowing how much soy sauce to put in your stew and what another word for conundrum is. To me she represents a fountain of knowledge and experience that, I fear, one day my children will look to me for. Once such a comforting notion, the concept that “mum knows best” has all of a sudden become incredibly frightening.

As a youth, my mum always encouraged me to watch her performing these seemingly insignificant tasks, presumably so that one day I would be able to do these things for myself. Of course I didn’t. I always figured I’d eventually pick it up and while I can make a mean spaghetti bolognese, my culinary skills are severely lacking, not to mention my sewing abilities.

I realise my mum is not your typical mum and I could never aspire to her greatness. The woman is 60 and, just a couple of weeks ago, twisted her ankle playing BASKETBALL.  That’s the kind of woman we’re dealing with. But beyond that, she’s an extreme gardener who can rock a pair of waders; an experienced upholsterer who, despite her arthritic fingers, still knows her way around a toolbox; a general knowledge genius who manages to retain information on pretty much every subject; and, above all, the most selfless woman I have ever known. She’s also a dab hand when it comes to GCSE art (wink wink).

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 FYI these are waders. FYI this is not my mum in waders.

To now draw a comparison, I genuinely don’t think I can name all the colours of the rainbow.  In fact, I’m not even going to try as I don’t think I can deal with the confirmation that I can’t.  My point is, is that someday my son, and hopefully my future children, will look to me for the wisdom that I was so fortunate to have in my mother.  They may not need me to reupholster their furniture or build them a pond but no doubt they’ll have their own special challenges ahead for me – a fact which, if I’m honest, terrifies me. From the hard “life” questions to even just the hard math questions, what if I don’t know best?

The good news, I suppose, is I still have time to learn. I still have time to learn how to sew a button, bleed a radiator, cook a turkey and fold a fitted sheet. And thankfully I have the master to learn from. So, for now I’ll happily give way to the fact that Granny knows best and hope that someday I will earn this honour myself. I realise this will be a long and difficult process; after all, those are big waders to fill.

P.S. Once I have mastered the art of folding the fitted sheet, I will post the instructions.

From One Nervous Wreck to Another

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So. You’re having your first panic attack. At the outset there are a few things we should probably clear up:

  1. Your limbs have not been reduced to giant lumbering sausages and you will start to feel more human than hotdog again soon.
  2. Your throat is not narrowing like the walls in one of those really difficult levels of Super Mario.
  3. That surge of heat rushing through your entire body is not your blood reaching boiling point and you will not explode.
  4. Your heart has not chosen to interpret Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” FAR too literally.
  5. Your mind has not up and left you and decided to emigrate to Shutter Island.

The logical part of you knows all this but, unfortunately for you, “logic” has bid you a farewell for the next few minutes and left you with your unbearably irrational self.  What led you to this point is of little significance.  It might have been what some would consider a “minor hiccup” or just some completely nonsensical notion that you managed to get into your head and couldn’t shift. Nonetheless you are here and, for this brief time, it feels like the world has abandoned you.

There’s little I – or anyone for that matter – can do by way of consoling you. All I can do is tell you “You’re not nuts and it happens.”  Whatever it was that triggered this episode is not your fault; life just seems to have a gotten a little bit too much for you. The aftermath of this will be strange.  You’ll wonder how it happened, why it happened and whether or not it will happen again – questions that will remain unanswerable to you for some time.

On one hand, you may have been lucky enough to have had company during this little mishap.  On the other, you’re now likely to feel tarred with the “crazy” brush.  And while life was seemingly stressful enough for you before this fit of panic, you now have the added bonus of worrying that at, any moment, you might be induced into another one of these frenzies.

I have no interest in patronising you by making ill-founded claims and promises that I can’t keep. You have no doubt hit a stumbling block in your life and you’ve some work to do before you’ll regain that sense of normalcy you once took for granted. Inevitably, you’re going to get a lot of advice over the next while, none of which is strictly wrong or right.  A doctor might attribute it to a chemical imbalance and recommend medication to remedy this; your mother might see it as a continuation of your nervous little ways stemming from childhood; or a friend might simply tell you “You need to just chill out.”  In truth, it’s likely to be a combination of these factors.  Take it all on board with an open heart and an open mind but do not let anyone infer that you are in some way weaker because you have a greater tendency to worry. You could not have foreseen or prevented this.

Equally, do not become resigned to this panic-stricken way of life. Acceptance, of course, has its place in this whole thing – but only to the extent that you allow it. You can remind yourself that it’s ok not to be ok and from this derive a sense of comfort but the fighter in you (yes, it’s somewhere in there) must take action. Anxiety is something you might have to live with but there are ways and means of coping with it and while much of your progress comes down to you, it is important that you do not shut out those who wish to – and can – help you.

I relay this to you because there was a time I wish I had known some of this. By using this opportunity to take a step back and relive the motions of an anxiety attack and all it’s ensuing bullshit, I am reminded of how far I have come. I may have opened with an apparent flippancy but I assure you there is nothing flippant about anxiety. It’s simply my way of relating how the whole thing feels, which admittedly has been rather challenging. It’s odd that these events – so singular and, at the time, traumatising – are so hard to recollect. I imagine it’s because we do not wish to remember these darker days.

It is no secret that Anxiety, its close friend Depression and its other annoying relatives you may be familiar with, are gradually beginning to make a mark on many of us. And while I have little wisdom to offer in relation to this, I can say from my own meandering experience that there is another side.

I look forward to seeing you there.

 

Grant Unto Him Eternal Rest

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Having spent many nights with Frank Kelly, I felt personally obliged to write a little something in his honour. Just to clarify – when I say “spent many nights with”, I am of course referring to watching episodes of Father Ted and not to any seedy rendezvous between the two of us. As a TV show, Father Ted is my automatic go-to for all those unforgiving hungover days and godawful sleepless nights. What can I say? There’s just something I find incredibly soothing about watching the lives of three completely ridiculous priests unfold. It must be the very Irish part of me. My mother can testify to this as she’s spent many a night in the same room as me, trying desperately to sleep through the Divine Comedy theme tune.

When I heard the news of Frank’s passing, I wasn’t filled with the same shock that normally accompanies these sorts of deaths. You see, over the years, having immersed myself in Craggy Island and its uncommon inhabitants, I have come to know and love Frank solely as Father Jack Hackett and let’s face it, if he was Father Jack he’d have been long gone by now. Between the floor polish, the Toilet Duck and the daily alcohol consumption, he couldn’t possibly still be going.

This synonymity with a role was reportedly the reason Dermot Morgan (Father Ted Crilly) decided to call it a day on the show. He wanted to earn credibility as an actor outside this role. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after Father Ted ended. A true tragedy for someone at the mere age of 45. His anniversary also happened to coincide with Frank’s passing – something I find to be an inexplicably comforting coincidence.

While I’m sure the two actors have accreditations in many highly valued works, I would be lying if I said I was aware of any of these. This, I’m sure, was the kind of thing Dermot was referring to. But on this matter I will say “Yes, you were only Father Ted to me but that in itself is a wonderful achievement.”

Throughout all these years, this show has remained a personal favourite. When asked “If you were to watch one undiscovered episode of any TV show, what would it be”?  I would always answer with Father Ted. You’re probably wondering who the hell asks this question. Well, I do so naturally I get it asked back. This might seem like a very strange question but when you think about it, it’s actually a really good one.  And, while I can answer this with 100% certainty, the leading question “Why?” is a little more difficult.

In part, I think it lies in our ability, as a culture, to relate to it. The fascination with tea, the all too familiar caravan holiday to the arse-end of nowhere, the feeble attempts at keeping our Lenten vows – it’s so stereotypically Irish that you cannot help but fall in love with it. On the face of it, the premise is terrible: three priests living alone together on an island. And yet, somehow it just works.

Even in its innate silliness and vulgarity, it still manages to possess a charm and warmth that few others have been able to replicate. It’s like sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon, drinking cup after cup of tea, with some daft old uncle telling inappropriate jokes. It all feels so comfortably familiar and yet so bizarrely impossible that it creates a very special sort of paradox.  And despite the fact that it had on paper the propensity to be so incredibly offensive, it somehow managed in its crude depictions to avoid causing any such offence.

For many I’d imagine, it is a hark back to simpler times. A familiar picture of life in the quaint, Irish countryside – while still holding true to the fact that we’re admittedly fond of a drink (or two) and a bit of craic. It is more than just a TV show; it is a piece of Irish culture that is unlikely to ever be repeated.

So, to you Frank and Dermot, the two men that brought us these unforgettable characters, I say “thank you”.  Thank you for bringing us the foul-mouthed mess that is Father Jack and the disastrously unlucky but well-meaning old fool that is Ted.  They have brought to my life years of laughter and comfort and no doubt, will continue to until I’m as old and senile as Jack himself. You probably never envisioned being remembered in this way but trust me, it is in the best way possible – with loads of feckin’ laughter.

 

The Good, the Bad and the Unpredictable

UnknownMy mum came to visit me yesterday – seemingly only to listen to me give off for half an hour about how hard done by I was. Her parting words were: “The only thing you can predict is their unpredictability” (in reference to babies, of course). One year on from the birth of my son and this couldn’t be anymore accurate.

Caleb never ceases to surprise me. Because he turned one last week, I knew I’d have to write a post about him – it seemed only fair since I somehow managed to find the time to basically write one about Whoopi Goldberg a few weeks ago. I had originally planned on writing this post last week and it was going to be very sentimental and sweet as you could imagine. I was thinking of writing a little letter to him that he would read when he was older and say to himself, “Awe, look how great I was to my mummy”.  I never found the time though because the rascal wouldn’t give me peace.

And then there was yesterday. I’ll not even tell you what I thought of writing about yesterday. I had seen almost every hour the night before on account of Caleb’s crying, had broke out with very painful acne which rendered me housebound, and was subject to clingy moaning and grabbing all day.  Sitting down today to write – in the peace and quiet – having slept a good solid eight hours, I could now write the most beautiful sonnet about Caleb, likening his face to a most heavenly cherub, counting the ways in which I love him in true Shakespearian style.

Neither of these accounts, however, would serve as an accurate reflection of motherhood. It is not a blissful poem, just as it’s not some hellish nightmare. It is a wonderful combination of the two and all that’s in between. The point is, you can never quite predict what’s coming next.  The moment you feel like you’ve finally got the whole thing under control, you will inevitably lose it again.  That is one thing I will take with me from this whole  experience – you cannot get used to anything or become complacent because once you do, as sure as anything, they’ll turn around and throw the whole thing on its head.  Instead, you must learn to embrace the chaos.

I, myself, am only finally coming to terms with this. Caleb might have eaten three square meals and slept like a baby (excuse the pun) yesterday but today he will probably be throwing his food back at me and pulling my hair into the wee hours. Who knows? But isn’t that the beauty of it all?

So, one year on and where am I? In all honesty, I have incredibly mixed feelings. I watch with pride how my son is beginning to support himself while still pining for the days when I was all the support he needed. I miss how he used to helplessly roll around the floor but, at the same time, eagerly anticipate his very first step. I feel proud of myself for having got him this far and yet worry about what’s to come and whether I’ll be good enough. Time seems to have gone so fast since his arrival and yet it feels like he has always been here. Motherhood, it seems, is just one massive contradiction rife with good days, bad days and a complete lack of predicability.

We mothers spend a lot of our time giving advice we can’t take ourselves and, in true fashion, I am about to do the same. I will parcel up some small nugget of wisdom and pretend it has completely transformed my life when, in reality, I am still learning. I propose that instead of trying to pre-empt their every move and frustrating yourself when they don’t do as they did yesterday, we should welcome their little unpredictability ways.  Just as you’re finding your way in all of this, so are they. By allowing them to just be as they are and accepting that they’re going to have good and bad days, just like us, we will find for ourselves at least some predictability – that they’re going to be unpredictable.

P.S. Caleb, for when you do read this in years to come, you were great to your mummy and she cannot thank you enough for the beautiful chaos you have brought to her life.

A Most Welcome Visit

UnknownYou came to visit me last night as you sometimes do – though not as often as I’d like. Your hair was as dark and you were as handsome as ever. Time has been much kinder to you than the rest of us but, alas, you’ve been in the warm all this time.

You asked if I would sit with you for a while and reminisce about “the good old days” when we were much younger and without a care in the world. You weren’t as cheerful as you normally are but, I suppose, neither was I. I comforted you as best I could – I even offered to rub your head.

I told you of the things I could remember from, what seemed like, an age ago now. The out of tune piano at the back of the house; the room that was always filled with sandwiches; the coloured pasta which I never see anymore; the tree house were your brother and I spent so much time.

It was you, wasn’t it? Yes, I’m sure it was. Perhaps you’ve missed me just as much as I’ve missed you, though I suspect you’ve been keeping an eye on me without my knowing so. That would be like you – mischievous in your own special way.

When you left you unknowingly took, what was, a huge part of me with you. The promise that time heals all wounds has been true to its word but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t still a void. A hole of sorts amongst the rest of me which is fortunately filled with the assurance that your are in an eternal state of happiness and peace. I doubt this vacancy will ever be filled until we are reunited – for longer than a dream.

I expect you’re busy, visiting us all in the night, and I understand that you can’t join me more but, on the off chance that you ever think I might be too occupied with thoughts of today or worries of tomorrow, know that there is an open-ended invitation for you and you alone.

Some may say “It was just a dream” but we know better. Little do they know, we’ve been meeting in secret for some years now in this quiet place.  Our encounters are brief and we can never seem to make plans but isn’t that the beauty of our impromptu meetings?

I am happy to say that I am at peace and while tears will inevitably be shed throughout the years – at birthdays, anniversaries and those other unpredictable moments when memories catch us off guard – I live in the certainty that you are there and you are taken care of, just as you should be.

So, my dear friend; I patiently await our next encounter in my restful and hazy slumber.  Who knows where we’ll be, what we’ll do, or who will join us.  In the mean time, don’t forget to visit the rest of them. They miss you an awful lot, you know.

Period Literature in An Emoji World

UnknownAs someone who’s in such transparent pursuit of the title “Writer”, it might come to you as quite a shock that I am not the greatest of readers. I would like to pretend that in the evening, after I get my son settled, I curl up with a cup of tea and a book and get lost in some literary world of adventure and romance but the disappointing reality is, I put on an episode of The Office or Only Fools and Horses (all of which I’ve seen before) and doze off to the antics of Michael Scott or Del Boy.  And while both of these are works of art in their own right, they’re not exactly the proud habits of any aspiring writer.

If, and when, I do take to a book, I generally choose a well-established classic; a piece of period literature that, despite having been written over a hundred of years ago, in a world seemingly foreign to our own, somehow still manages to resonate with a modern audience. Case in point: I am currently reading Wuthering Heights (1847) after having recently finished Agnes Grey (1850) – both by Brontë sisters.

The appeal of these works, at least to me, lies in the splendour of the language used.  While I enjoy “That’s what she said” jokes (The Office), cockney slang and the misuse of French phrases (Only Fools and Horses) as much as the next guy, I admit there is a refreshingly honest, and almost, exotic quality to the words of these works. Their elaborate descriptions and profound sense of imagery stand in such contrast to our own contemporary forms of communication that they become a true novelty in today’s world.

The image below – taken from the recent article The Deep Meaning of Emojis: What You Need to Know on How Social Media is Changing Communication – perfectly encapsulates exactly what I am talking about.

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Over the years, our communications appear to have been reduced to emojis.  Whether due to laziness, busyness or just sheer incompetence, we are continually dumbing down the English language. I too am guilty of this and you’ll find me frequently using “Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 20.13.09“.

This is not to diminish the comedic value of the emoji or the time-saving power of an abbreviation but simply to highlight why “reading books” is such an important part of our lives that cannot be replaced by these more modern means of consuming content. These books, particularly the ones which I am referring to, might seem like relics from a bygone era, totally irrelevant to the modern world, but I would argue that they are more powerful than ever.

The original inspiration for this piece came from a passage from Agnes Grey. I won’t go into the particulars as I’d just get even more sidetracked than I already am, but what struck me about this passage was its overwhelming relevance to today’s world. I could completely identify with – as could many – the underlying message. So, while there is a total disparity in terms of the context and the language used, the sentiments and principles still apply. We can “dress down” how we communicate but human nature remains the same. It is in this apparent duplexity that I believe the true greatness of these works lie.  They have the ability to absorb us into a world that’s not quite our own and yet ground us with these universal truths. The language may seem superfluous but it plays a huge part in that sense of escapism that we so often seek in reading.

In the past my writing has been characterised as “too wordy” and I recall one geography teacher, who shall remain nameless, commenting that “This isn’t an English exam”.  It seems it has always been in my nature to use more words than necessary and while I’m pretty sure these remarks were intended as insults, I have chosen to now interpret them as compliments (in your face Mrs. ****).

So, let us not abandon our beautiful language that we have spent centuries cultivating and perfecting; let us not allow terms like “selfie” and “twerk” to define our generation; let’s not allow ourselves to become reduced to emojis.  Sure, we could all save ourselves a lot of time and boil everything down to its simplest form but let us also err on the side of caution or before we know it, our communication could soon become no more than a small yellow face on a white screen.

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