Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Crash and Burn

It was always going to happen, it was only a question of where and when. 'Epic fail, Mammy!' my daughter would tell me pityingly.

I had gone to hear Bernard MacLaverty read from his collection of short stories. He read two- one called 'A Pornographer woos' from 1977 the other called 'The Clinic', from 2012.

They were totally different in content but had the same wry wit and wonderful observational narrative. He had a lovely way with him on stage too- humble, funny and self deprecating, so of course I rushed to buy the book, nominally for my Dad but I'd have a sneaky read of it first obvs.

As I queued up with the others to get it signed, I composed in my head what he might inscribe on it, and pondered the casual compliment I might pay him. I'd deliver it lightly I thought, staying firmly on the right side of gushing, while also hinting at a tentative literary heart beating within.

Graciously, he wrote the inscription 'To Daddy, all my love, Emma' and as he handed it back I told him how much I'd enjoyed his reading. Thank you, he smiled broadly.

At that point, I should have exited stage left, but unfortunately, lost the run of myself and emboldened, informed him just how much I'd loved reading 'Call my Brother Back'  long ago when it was on our first year English syllabus in St Dominic's.

 The smile wavered but only for a moment. 'Ah, now no. That wasn't me actually.' He patted my hand. 'That was Michael MacLaverty.'  Who, as it turned out, died in 1992.
Close but no cigar. 'It's a great book though!' He assured me kindly.

My cheeks burned, I stammered my apologies but he waved them gallantly away. Scurrying, head down towards the loos, I  wrenched the single redeeming thought from the wreckage of my humiliation....there's a blog in that.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Hi ho! Hi ho! It's off to school I go!

Yesterday morning, I removed two toy cars and a packet of baby wipes from my handbag, replaced them with a brand new notebook and a leopard print pen and put on my prettiest shoes for courage. (Not especially easy on a caravan site where fit flops and crocs are de rigeur.)

The day before, I'd been sooooo ready for my week away at the John Hewitt International Summer School -Don't judge me, I'd wager that the heady mix of torrential rain, a caravan and four stir crazy, endlessly bickering boys would  tip even the Dalai Lama over the edge. But the following day, in the misty drizzle of a Donegal morning with a two hour drive ahead of me, I was a little less gung-ho. Nerves and the sinking fear that I was going to be so far out of my depth this week that I'd drown, taunted me.

Bravely, (just run with it) I kissed goodbye to Loverboy and the little 'un, put my fabulous shoe down and made for Armagh. And then gradually, somewhere along the way the rain stopped, sun came out and I started to feel excited.

And it turned out to be no ordinary Monday. First up, we heard the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins speak with such depth, knowledge and warmth that he held the entire theatre in the palm of his hand. As a fellow attendee rightly commented 'he didn't write that on the loo this morning!'

After that, himself and his wife came into the theatre foyer for coffee, where he was immediately mobbed by fans and between you and me, the retirees were the worst, ruthlessly elbowing aside as they thrust their books out to get signed!

To be honest, I almost chickened out in the stampede, but just as he was leaving, a sympathetic aide, who bore more than a passing resemblance to Ellen de Generes, grabbed my iPhone and I got the money shot.

Then it was time for the free lunch- turns out there IS such a thing- and after I  listened as Joseph O'Connor read passages from his new book 'The Thrill of it All'. Honestly, it was laugh out loud funny, beautifully written and I could have listened to that gorgeous soft Dublin accent all day long. I even plucked up the courage to ask him a question after- a really blah one about where he gets his ideas from, but still.
And in case you're interested, he just gets inspiration from everywhere andsometimes characters just turn up in his head and torture him until he writes about them..... way to go, Joe, I'm not jealous AT ALL.  The thing is, the glass half empty part of me DID feel a bit 'feckIcouldNEVERwritelikethatsowhat'sthepointofeventrying' afterwards, but then I gave myself a virtual slap round the head and a good talking to, which was Something along the lines of 'Give my head peace. Doing a few GCSE biology modules wouldn't have you performing cardiac surgery, and this is just the bloody same, so take a chill pill and settle yourself.' (FYI,I'm also available for motivational speeches and one to one consultations).

(And here's a little sleb trivia for you, did you know that Joseph O'Connor is actually Sinead O'Connor's brother? S'true!)

Next, I was straight into a workshop on writing children's fiction- not my first choice to be fair, but I really loved it.  Turns out I find it really bloody hard to brainstorm about giant tomatoes, and an eight year old with a tail and talking butterflies with jealousy issues. My problem is that just as I'm getting somewhere, my sensible head hits the buzzkill button and rushes in and stamps all over it.

Then in the evening it was an art exhibition with a drinks reception, traditional music and despite best intentions-you guessed it-it was a very late night. (Rounded off by the discovery that my key was missing and then having to bunk into a room with a lovely lady I'd just met...who also snored a lot, but don't tell her!)

And now it's day two, I'm filled to the brim with coffee and scrambled egg and there's a day of culture ahead. Bliss! Starting with poetry and ending with literature and not a load of laundry in sight. Life is good. Laters lovelies, Emx

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

And now the News....

Last week, I wrote a post sharing a wee bit of good news with you. I read over it, edited it, added links to it and finally hit 'post', and then somehow inexplicably and extremely annoyingly, I managed to permanently delete it. Grrrrr!

 Since then I've had a birthday- forty three since you ask- which sounds 'sooooo old!' or 'still quite young!' depending on who you ask. And me? Without wishing to sound trite, the older I get the more appreciative I am to just be here at all.

But back to my news. (Yep, my light's still on!) Two weeks ago I got an email telling me that I had received a full bursary to attend the John Hewitt International Summer School later this month.
 A whole delicious week to attend lectures, talks and workshops, to listen and percolate in the literature and poetry of the likes of Bernard Mc Laverty, Joseph O'Connor and Ruth Padel- basically to soak up inspiration and knowledge and words to my hearts content. I'll even get to hear Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland speak, (while simultaneously assessing his likeness to an actual leprechaun IRL.)

Did I also mention that the bursary also includes a bed to myself and a full Irish breakfast every morning? And is it wrong that I'm just as excited about these as all that literary stuff? No shopping for groceries, no meals to plan, no laundry to sort, no refereeing the endless in car bickering, no 'if that doesn't stop by the time I count to three...'. I could go on but you get the picture. I'm excited. Much.

And honestly? I'm also a little nervous too because you see, I've never done anything like this before, like never. Yes, myself and Himself have been lucky enough to get a few days away together on our own from time to time over the years but alone? Just l'il old me? Never.

And it's not as though I look back and realise that I always had a burning desire to write. To my shame, I never even did GCSE English Literature at school, and certainly no teacher ever pulled me aside to mention any special talents...in anything really.

Looking back, I can see that I just drifted aimlessly along the well trodden paths of others, familiar yes, but with no real insight or self awareness into what lit me up and made me tick and feel truly alive.

And yet somehow, all these years later, and quite by chance I've felt an awakening in my soul-a love for words and a desire to write honestly, about everything and nothing. A need to purge the words onto a page or screen, and to feel the satisfaction creep through me when I do.

 Wise people say we should write what we know. The thing is, what I know is often the mundane and ordinary stuff-the nuts and bolts of an everyday parenting life. But still, writing about it scratches an itch I didn't even know I had, and when it sometimes resonates with others as well,  then that's the flake in my 99!

This year, I went to a writing class and through that I also began to hear about local literary festivals and events I was never aware of before, like The John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh. Our teacher had told us about the bursaries available, so I filled in a brief online form, explaining why I'd like to attend, and what I'd like to learn, and then a few weeks later -whoop, whoop- I got the email! Just A little bit of luck...and maybe they felt sorry for me, because I may possibly have dropped in 'five kids and not a minute's peace!' in the 'Why you?' Question.

I tried explaining all this to my mum but she just won't listen, because in her mind, I've just won the equivalent of the Man Booker Prize, or possibly become the new Poet Laureate. It doesn't matter at all that she's (thankfully) never read my blog- she's only just learned to google Boden- so she explains vaguely (and a little bit worryingly) to her friends that's it all about me being an unfit mother... or something.

This new information has clearly upped the ante though, and an unmissable opportunity for publicity arose when a new M&S opened in Belfast last week, so on its opening day, the vast majority of Belfast's over 35 female population arrived en masse to give it their seal of approval. My mother, of course, was among them, and after extensive browsing, followed by afternoon tea in the new cafe, it seemed that she punched in the next few hours happily bumping into familiar faces in the flowers and plants department.

 'Seven different people!' She delightedly informed me. 'And all just on our way out the door, and of course I told them ALL about your prestigious award.
'What?,' I said alarmed. 'It's not an award! It's just the chance to listen to proper authors talking, and a few workshops to hopefully get inspired myself, and then there's the free breakfast.'

 But the shutters were down and she was clearly having none of it.
'Nonsense. You're always putting yourself down. It's an award,' She said firmly, and the conversation was closed.

So if you DO meet my one woman PR machine in the new M&S, just to clarify, it's most certainly NOT an award, but for goodness sake, don't tell her that...just nod and smile unless you want the head taken off you. And award or no, I'm still well chuffed, and feeling a bit like this actually.

Later lovelies xx

Monday, 7 July 2014

A Story of Two Dogs

Oscar Wilde once said, with his typical acerbic wit,
'To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.'
I wonder if  the same applies to dogs, because unbelievable as it may seem, we as a family, have lost two dogs in one short year.

The first was Arthur, a black cockapoo puppy, who confusingly for all involved was actually called Coburn first. Don't even ask why we had to change it, it's just too ridiculous, and as it happened, we needn't have bothered, because he had such a short little life anyway. He died instantly under a tractor one blustery October morning when he was only five months old.

The boys saw it happen and they took it very hard. We just hoped that in the long run, they would learn lessons about grief and dying and perhaps ultimately, living.
So four months later, and not wishing this sorry experience of dog ownership to be their sole and lasting one, we acquired Dora, a lovely white four year old Bichon frise cross, whose owner had just started college and with her parents working , this meant  Dora was alone for most of the day.

At first she seemed perfect- no horrid housetraining , no manky dog breath  (unlike Arthur- maybe its a boy thing?), very little shedding AND she kept herself very clean. Being four and past the puppy
stage, she wasn't completely mental either- she didn't obsessively steal shoes, chew everything in sight and roll ecstatically in slurry. It was all good.

But then gradually problems emerged. Despite putting her bed in a 'quiet'  utility room, our house must have been noisy and mad and strange to her.  Clearly unused to children,  she quickly developed a preference for Himself, and worryingly, occasionally growled when Luke petted/pulled/ tortured her.

Of course, this put my guard up immediately, especially after I googled growling, and learned that this usually happened when a dog felt threatened and worse, often preempted a bite.
After that, I  never left them alone together, just in case. I"m pretty sure I put my own bonding with Dora on hold at this point too.

There was the manic barking when anyone approached the house, which got old really fast, but it was when she snapped at two  neighbours' children, simply because she hated their bicycles that we made the tough decision that we had to let her go- there are some risks just not worth taking.

Thankfully her old owner was happy to take her back, and changed circumstances meant that Dora would no longer be left alone all day.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I suppose that looking back, we should have known that an adult dog would find it very difficult to adapt to a much noisy, busy household, especially after growing up in a quiet house, with no children. We should have known, and we didn't, but now we do.

So what now? Speaking for myself, I  feel a bit drained after trying to bond and adapt to two different dogs over the course of one year, and honestly, if it were up to me, I'd draw a big old line under the whole dog  thing and tick that box in my head.  You see, it feels as if we've had all the emotional investment, teething problems and settling in issues of getting a dog, TWICE, without ever reaching a plateau of calm predictability with either. If I'm honest I even feel a little cheated.

And yet our family dog experience won't end there, it just can't and I know this. The older four wept bitterly and railed against the difficult decision we had to make last week, cajoling and begging, unable to understand that really, there was no decision to make. It was very hard to say goodbye, aided only by the fact that deep down we all knew Dora would be more settled and happier for it, and really, she was going home.

 So now here we are, back to square one as a dog free household once more, except this time we're a little more experienced and a little less blasé about it all. The leads and the chew toys, the bowls and the dog bed have quietly been moved into an old cardboard box in the garage....at least for now.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Almost Perfect

There are some moments as a parent that I couldn't possibly make up, and If I'm honest, I wouldn't actually want to. Yesterday held one such moment.

We had just enjoyed a spontaneous early evening swim in the ocean, which was just as wonderful as it sounds-that precious combination of a balmy evening and a beautiful Donegal beach just couldn't be wasted so off we went- Himself, myself and four of the kids, a blanket, a towel and two spades between us.

And having read this and having done this , I was determined not to let my jelly belly and wobbly thighs get in the way of a frolic in the sea with the children. So I braced myself and stripped off and after the first few excruciating moments it was fine, and we played and splashed and swam and dunked.
Then after a wee while, it was time to go - toddlers still get tired and boys still start bickering, even on the most gorgeous of evenings, and very quickly the perfect moment had passed and it all became a 'Right! Let's get this feckin' show on the road, ASAP'.

 I was just drying off a whinging Luke when Rory suddenly stopped mindlessly kicking sand over the blanket, stared transfixed at Luke's tummy, and declared 'Woah! what's that horrible stuff coming out of his belly button?'

 I looked down swiftly, at a belly button that certainly appeared to be oozing something green. Dear God, had he contracted some kind of gross belly button infection that I'd somehow missed? Should we bring him to hospital right now? Would he need an antibiotic?

 Meanwhile,  Rory was now kneeling down and examining Luke's belly button with fascinated interest, before nodding slowly and delivering his verdict,
 'It's okay, don't worry, it's just snot! He's got bogers in his belly button! Then he added delightedly  'Ugh yuck, that's disgusting!'

As I calmly wiped the offending belly button with our communal towel, I simply felt relief that no
trip to the after hours trip doctor was required, while Luke beamed proudly as the tale of the gross belly button was relived with relish all the way back to the Caravilla.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014