Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Holy Smoke!

It’s Lent. A time for penitence and reflection. And I have a confession to make.  
I set the altar on fire. It wasn’t my fault. Honestly. I was only nine.
You see, it was some feast day or other and our teacher – a nun – was marking the day. In the corner of our classroom stood an elevated altar with a statue of Our Lady adorned with a holy communion veil. On this particular day, the statue was surrounded by colourful tissue flowers which we were making in the classroom. We discovered that the more we made, the less school work we did. So the production line kept going.
With the 4-ply multi-coloured tissue boxes on the classroom tables almost empty, nightlights were added to the altar. And they were lit!
I went over to add the final few flowers. And being short of stature, even then, I stretched up to reach over the candles. The inevitable happened. I dropped the yellow and pink tissue flowers and,  ... well,  holy smoke!
So, while everyone else walks around on Ash Wednesday with the ashes of burned palms on their forehead, I am reminded of how every year I guiltily and secretly wear ashes from tissue flowers and an old nun’s altar!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Valentine’s Day

It’s the 13th of February and I am under pressure: under pressure to have a plan (a card, a meal, a bottle of wine, anything) for tomorrow.
Perhaps it’s just that I don’t want to be forced into it - forced to share a cramped restaurant or to see my husband pay ridiculous prices for roses (a lover maybe, but a husband never). Give me a box of chocolates or a simple bunch of tulips on any OTHER day and I’d be thrilled.
You see, it’s complicated.
The cynical side of me wants to step back from the whole syrupy wave of advertising. Who wants to be reminded that they are so gullible? The romantic side of me wants to enjoy an occasion when I am made to feel special. Who doesn’t? Then my superstitious side (can I have three sides?) doesn’t want to tempt fate, or the gods, or cupid by self-consciously ignoring February 14th. Would you?
As a couple we have developed a curiously Irish solution.  We celebrate the valentine sentiment but not always on the day. We come at it obliquely, furtively, from the side so-to-speak.
So, we didn’t get engaged on Valentine’s Day but settled on a few days before. That took everyone by surprise. And not during a romantic dinner, but rather during Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ in the Savoy cinema.  That certainly took me by surprise. The ring was in a carton of popcorn. Risky, yes, but a ring in a velvet box would have been too simple!
But the problem with coming at something sideways is that out of all the Valentine’s Days my husband and I have shared, and there have been quite a few, neither of us can remember any one in particular- a bit like New Year’s Eves.  In fact, the most memorable Valentine’s Day was when I went into premature labour with child number four, and my other three – then aged 5, 4 and 2 each brought a smiling giant daisy to the hospital to me.
Maybe tomorrow we will try and celebrate it on the day. So, I am under pressure: under pressure to have a plan (a card, a meal, a bottle of wine, anything) …

Thursday, 9 February 2012


Three of the four kids have been floored since Saturday. Fever and vomiting. I calpol and nurofen them; we survive till Monday. Then a rash.
Three hunched dopeys and the youngest - a ball of fizz - wait in the doctor’s surgery.
A virus.
We plod home, get back into Pjs and watch Alvin and the Chipmunks …. Again.
It’s now Tuesday. By 5pm I’m sick. I text my husband - “I’ve been virussed”.
I suddenly worry that he might think it’s the computer but the mobile bleeps with a message almost immediately. “Me too!”
I don’t believe it. Who the hell put the “us” into virussed?
But no time to think about that now. My mother-in-law is due to arrive to mind the kids while I work for a few days. Plan of action? Oscar-winning performances required all round in case she sees the adults sick and heads straight home again.
She arrives ….  It doesn’t work. …  But she doesn’t leave.
We get sick.
The fever rises and with it comes a simple delirious clarity: everything in the house bleeps…  the microwave, the TV, the oven, the door-bell, the washing machine, the dryer, the fridge door, the dishwasher, the thermometer, the mobile… like kids, each telling me to do something:
- open me!
-  close me!
 -press me!
- empty me!
-  fill me!
-  eat me!
-  read me!
...  over and over and over.
Five days later the fever breaks. No more bleeping. I notice the thermometer needs a battery.