Monday, 31 October 2011

Not even at 'the very witching time of night'!

The worst has happened.
A hideous witch has come to haunt me (and I haven't even left the country).
I glanced in the mirror first thing this morning, and there she was - staring straight at me.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Happy Hallowe'en?

I've been wondering what it is that makes occasions special.
What tingles through the blood like an unbidden electric current?
I'm not quite sure, but I think that for most of us, it's things that hark back to childhood traditions.
Like Hallowe'en.

Yesterday, at the market I belong to, we had a fancy dress parade for the kids.
Well, theoretically it was for the under 12s, but either there are some very tall 12 year olds in Beltra, or else various adults were enjoying a second childhood.
It was great. As you can see for yourself -
A really happy occasion.

But this morning I found myself lying in bed pondering.
I loved yesterday, but it's not a big thing for me, Hallowe'en. It doesn't tingle my blood.
Put it like this, if I suddenly moved to some part of the planet where Hallowe'en was unheard of, I'd never think of it again. Even after living in Ireland for nearly 20 years.
And I suppose that's because Hallowe'en's not lodged somewhere deep within the marrow of my bones.
And it's too late to change that now. I guess marrow develops very early on.

I feel as if I'm chancing my arm by making such a confession, living here, as I do.
Perhaps ghosts and ghouls and witches would haunt me on that distant side of the planet - Irish witches.

Irish witches plotting my downfall.  OF COURSE they're out of focus! Duh!

Well, I suppose it would be no more than I deserve.
Many, many years ago I remember listening to an episode of that wonderful BBC Radio 4 programme - Alistair Cooke's Letter From America, a once-a-week aural capsule that slow-released for days afterwards - I'm sure it started Sunday morning for many of you; always interesting, and sometimes an eye-opener, as this specific one was for me. I was decorating the bathroom at the time (weird how things are anchored in the mind) - and it was with amazement that I learned that Hallowe'en - as it is known and loved by millions today - was imported lock, stock and barrel into the USA by the Irish. I really thought it was the other way round, but no - it is an Irish, or perhaps, more accurately, a Celtic phenomenon.

There's a possibility that it dates back to Roman times apparently, but by and large it grew out of the inevitable - perhaps I should rather say the 'arranged' marriage of Samhain (the Celtic festival marking the end of summer) with the Christian festival of All Souls. Or let's be more accurate still - I daresay All Souls gatecrashed the party in order to make Samhain kosher. (Um, that choice of word probably throws an un-necessary spanner into the works!) However, Hallowe'en got its own back by taking over the medieval custom of 'souling' - when the poor went out begging pennies in return for saying prayers for the dead.


Thegargoyle laughing at the Hallowe'en moon

In Ireland Hallowe'en's a really important festival. It lights up autumn like a great beacon. Families get together, everyone dresses up, houses are decorated and kids start trick-or-treating practically as soon as they can walk. It's even a Bank Holiday weekend. My kids loved it, and I sewed Dracula cloaks, cut up old sheets to create teeth-chatteringly scary ghosts and made fangs and face masks with the best of them. I bought all the usual sweets, peanuts-in-their-shells and traditional Barmbrack to keep by the door, awaiting the dread knock, ready to appease the fearsome (if small) creatures looming in the dark We even got pretty slick at carving jack'o'lanterns - my gorgeous son's intricately chased pumpkin creation remains unsurpassed to this day.

But I have to say, it was a learned response.

Hallowe'en just isn't in my soul.

Maybe it wasn't widely celebrated in my family, or in the West Indies where I lived as a child, and I certainly don't remember it being a feature of life when I moved to England in my teens. The 31st October just isn't a red - or orange-letter day in my calendar. I don't think 'Bah, humbug!' - but there is a blank where witchery-pokery should be. It doesn't resonate.

But Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night! That is a different matter altogether.
When I first moved to Ireland from London, people used to ask if I missed the theatres - the galleries - the shops, and when I paused before replying, the first thing that always sprang to mind was the 5th of November. That was what I missed, and still do.
'Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot, I see no reason why gunpowder and treason, ever should be forgot...'
Well - the gunpowder and treason fell by the wayside long ago. I wouldn't be mad for burning Catholics myself. Or Protestants for that matter.Or anyone.(Although, now I come to think of it, there are bankers out there...)

Glorious Bonfire Night

But like Hallowe'en, the origins have ceased to be material. It's the date that matters, and what you do with it. And the 5th of November still stirs nostalgia within me. The excitement, the anticipation: the shortening afternoon falling rapidly into night, shutting the pets away with their beds and supper, and then out - out into the darkness tingling with expectation, hats and scarves pulled tight against the damp November chill, the massive bonfires starting to crackle in every garden, spitting and licking greedily around crisp autumn leaves. And then, your face smarting with the heat, your back chilly in the darkness, sparklers spelling your name quickly, quickly in white light before they fizzle into burnt, spent sticks between your fingers. And hot sausages and mustard, melting, burning marshmallows and crunchy, tooth-achingly sweet toffee apples that were so impossible to break into. But most of all the fireworks - the fireworks, oh glory be, the fireworks! Explosion after explosion of multi-coloured, glittering fire spilling magic across the sky. You wanted them never to end. And finally, when everything had melted back into darkness, with just the glowing embers telling the night's tale, the smell hanging in the air like a pall. What was it - cordite? Hanging in wreaths so heavy that sometimes it seemed like the first fog of winter.

Now that's what tugs at the marrow of my bones.

Hallowe'en? Bonfire Night? It doesn't really matter what kindles your blood.
As long as something does.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Shoe Boxes v Handbags

Feeling pink? Fly-the-flag bag

 I was listening to the radio the other day - or at least, it was on in some shop.
They were discussing moral issues.
To be precise, they were discussing a handbag.
Apparently it cost 18,000 euros.

That is one heck of a lot of handbag.- or possibly just one heck of a lot of euros.

Mercifully, for the state of my sanity, the overall consensus was that it would be obscene to spend 18,000 on a handbag. Even if you had it to spare. Or even 9,000. Or even 4,500 - or - well, you're getting my drift.

How much is it permissible to spend on a handbag?
I don't know, and you're talking to someone who is known to fall for handbags on a regular basis here.

Thrilling pink straw bag, bought in a French supermarket

In fact my darling son has taken to walking into a well known purveyor of such choice items and buying the glitziest, prettiest handbag he can see every birthday or Christmas time, bless his cotton socks. (There's nothing like bringing them up to REALLY understand how women tick!)

Sometimes he buys me bags that are even more grown-up than I am

But 18,000?
OK - lets get the gloves off here. Forget 18,000. I have spent most of my life being totally broke, so obviously my sights are a good bit lower than most. But even so.
I would have serious difficulty in coping with a handbag that cost 1,000 - let alone 18.
Diamond encrustations notwithstanding.

Diamond encrustations, as you can see. It came in at a tad under the 18,000.

I'd find myself looking at it and mentally stacking up all the other stuff it could have bought, alongside its glamorous gorgeousness. I'd end up not using it, because it bugged me, somewhere deep down inside.
And that really would be a waste.

Maybe that all sounds a bit high-horseish. It probably does.
But the reason it has sprung to mind today is that I am surrounded, in my rather unkempt kitchen, by glittery pencils and glitzy stickers, and novelty rubbers and pretty little notebooks. By pencil cases and fun-socks, hair ties and wondrous marbles.

I don't know what bit of Christmas turns you on the most - if you celebrate Christmas in any shape or form - but when my kids were young, and indeed, when I was young myself, the very, very best bit of Christmas was the stocking that Father Christmas left at the end of the bed. It wasn't a pillowcase, or anything gross like that, just a large stocking stuffed with all manner of little, joyful, crazily-exciting bits and bobs. And of course, being a girl, the super-best bits were always very colourful and glittery.

You're probably picking up on the glittery, sequinned theme at this stage

And when I finally grew up (well, sort of grew up), it gave me more pleasure than anything else to fill those stockings for my kids, and to watch their faces on Christmas morning as they opened them while we all sat around eating breakfast by the fire and the Christmas tree. Well - I ate the breakfast, probably, knowing me - and they opened their stockings and devoured the edible bits.

I'll be frank - I'm not above putting stockings together for them even now, if they are able to get home for Christmas - but this morning I'm putting together Christmas stocking 'Shoe Boxes' to be sent to 2-14 year olds abroad who otherwise won't get a present. All I can say is, if it gives each of them - any of them - as much pleasure to open as it has given me to put together, wow - RESULT! And some.

The question going round in the back of my mind as I'm tying up little parcels of stick-on jewels is this: how many Shoe Boxes could you make for 18,000?

Total joy

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Marigold petals, anyone?

No salad pix, but here's a good old Irish cabbage

The salad I got in the market is interspersed with bright orange marigold petals.
They are a joy to behold and a pleasure to eat.

No marigold petals either, but here are some carrots to conjure that glorious orange colour in your head

 It's lunchtime - after a walk in the woods.
I made the mistake though, of flicking on the radio. Not for long - it's a ducking out kind of day.
They are trying to save the euro.

I must say, with all life's ups and downs, it's good now and again when something makes you stop and laugh.
Even if it is hysterically.
It helps you realise just how uncomplicated your own life really is.
But the money-mayhem. I mean - where do you begin?
It's like some monstrous progeny of Medusa's head and the Titanic's iceberg.
And don't you think that when monetary problems hit billions and trillions, a kind of fiscal senility has kicked in? Maybe it's fiscal incontinence. Either way, it's incurable and if it was a person, you'd gently tuck it in a home.
If it was an animal, you'd gently put it down.

Don't put us down, it's not our fault. And we don't care, anyway - we're busy sleeping

You may have caught the barest whiff of the fact that I'm not an economist - but haven't any of these people in Brussels got kids? If they had they'd know that loans never get repaid!
It just isn't going to happen.
Their best option, really, would be to say to all these countries: 'Right lads, all bets are off. Tomorrow morning when we wake up, everyone's slate will be wiped clean and we'll start again. Meanwhile, no ice cream for the ones who messed up.'
(I haven't noticed the ice cream on hold in the corridors of power, I must say.
Precious little of it round these parts, however.)

Enough of that - before it drives me over the edge.

I didn't listen long enough to find out what lunchtime in Brussels has brought, but here it is very quiet. The divine duo are sleeping the sleep of the just.The only billions and trillions that lace their dreams are bonios - and not on loan to someone else, but snugly in a bonio-bank to which they have the only pin-number.
Their bellies have feasted, their feet have danced in the high places and consequently, all is forgiven.
For today, anyway.
(The generosity of dogs is unparallelled.)

Dinner guests in the Ramada Silver Robin

I'm not the only one having lunch, it seems.
The wiindow by my desk looks out onto the Ramada Silver Robin.
I am lucky enough that that isn't a hotel.
It's a restaurant. A bird table. And the first lunches of the season are in full swing now that the summer-smorgasbord is coming to an end. Doves, blue tits, great tits and chaffinches today. They can taste winter in the air. I have hung up a fat-ball and a lemon-net stuffed with stale bread.

I can taste winter in the air too. It is bright and sharp, the sun striking brilliant green off the mossy ash tree by the gate. In the woods this morning, the last leaves hung like ripe, golden pennies and the river rushed in clear, brown tea over the stones, but the undergrowth still froths, lush and green. It made me think of Dylan Thomas's poem -'Time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea.'
The river was certainly singing, but not the young herons. They have got to know us now and when we approach they don't fly away, just warily swap banks. 'They're our woods,' they declare fiercely, whenever I stop to admire them.'Our woods, our river, and our salmon. So don't you forget it.'
I won't.

Top-Dog pretending to be asleep

I think the divine duo might have a thing or two to say though.


Edge of what, I hear you ask.
All kinds of things spring to mind. 
Reason. Time. The confines of my mind.
Well, we shall find out.
Also, it strikes me that the edge of anything must be the verge of something else. That is quite a thought.

Mostly it feels like the edge of the world.
A good place to be probably.
If I lean one way, I can be part of it.
If I lean the other I can duck out of it altogether.
I took the divine duo for a walk down on the headland yesterday. (The divine duo are, not surprisingly, my dogs.) Standing on the edge of the rough, springy grass down there, the wide Atlantic stretches in front of you. Acres of possibility. Hectares of grey - or blue - or white.
Unmeasurable amounts of sky and water. Or loneliness. Or freedom.
It depends on which way you look at it. And that all depends on the day.

Yesterday was blue and bright, optimism rising in the east, piggy-backing on sunshine.
I've noticed that - it's very lazy, optimism. If it can hitch a ride, it puts in an appearance. If it can't, it often doesn't bother.
We need to provide more vehicles for it. In fact, it would be well worth the cost of a cab every day.
Don't you think?

Well, there's a cab.
I'll be honest - that's not my headland. I took that picture a few miles up the coast - but hey, it's all out there.

Unbelievably, the sun is shining again today! Bit of a rarity, in these parts it seems.
Meanwhile, the divine duo are sighing heavily in their beds. The worst has happened. 
The morning is almost over and they haven't been to the headland - or anywhere else.
They haven't even had their breakfast yet.
Is life worth living?