And you’re welcome everyone to this year’s much anticipated Christmas meeting of the Windhim Gold Cup. The going today has been declared as good to firm and all nags are lined up in their traps waiting for the off. At the starting line, we have at 5-1 and firm favourite What’s a facial. In traps two and three we have outsiders The Hungry Caterpillar and He loves Jigsaws. In flying form today is the enthusiastic newcomer Child’s a Genius at 75-1. Full Nights Sleep has been deemed unfit to race with a nervous and tense looking Where’s the Calpol in her place as a latecomer at 300-1. Finally, in the outside trap is our old veteran and the much loved and enigmatic Basket of Laundry.
And they’re off. As expected the favourite, What’s a facial is taking her place at the front with grim determination and steely reserve. She’s followed by Child’s a Genius who’s proving to be in sprightly form on this her first outing. And that’s a false start and all nags are back in their traps. Turns out Child’s a Genius broke the line and the tutting veterans are back in their boxes. To a genuine start this time and Where’s the Calpol has decided she’s not going to run afterall and has fallen asleep at the first hurdle. The Hungry Caterpillar is looking unsure as on previous outings this year she started to look for some food, ate healthily but is starting to look on the hungry side again. In the lead this time we have Child’s a Genius, followed closely by What’s a facial. On the inside is enthusiastic to begin with He loves Jigsaws whose owner has had great success with last year’s winner and the now retired Eat the Playdough.
We’re coming up to the dreaded ‘Mother-in-law’ hurdle now and Child’s a Genius isn’t looking the better for her jump over the passive-aggressive obstacle and has lost her lead. In front now we have What’s a Facial, followed by He loves Jigsaws, The Hungry Caterpillar, Child’s a Genius with Basket of Laundry trailing behind in a shady gray coat by a good distance. We’re at the fifth fence now and have lost our deluded He loves Jigsaws (he’s just not into it). In front we have the sur’-a-rub-of-the-facecloth-will-do, determined What’s a Facial with the Hungry Caterpilliar fighting for front position. It’s the final furlong and The Hungry Caterpillar has taken a good lead but she gorged herself at the last hurdle and isn’t a little Caterpillar anymore, in fact, she looks five months pregnant now and has just given up.
So it’s up to What’s a Facial, Child’s a Genius and Basket of Laundry running neck to neck on the final stretch. Child’s a Genius is starting to look like the horse whose just been told that her foal is just not that exceptional and has slowed to a more realistic canter. Despite the odds in her favour, we can’t let the story end with What’s a Facial winning because let’s face it, nobody likes a martyr. So that leaves our heroine and all out winner Basket of Laundry to claim a charitable victory knowing that poor auld nag is never going win a race any time soon.
I timed the day according to the TV schedule and naps. Nap one, film one, trifle. Nap two, film two, stuff the turkey and so on. It’s an especially busy day on the farm. The farmer was getting work done so that it can almost run on auto-pilot (by a farmer stuffed with food) for the next few days.
As is the tradition in Kerry, an electric candle is lit and placed on each window of the house. Welcoming the baby Jesus. As a girl, I had heard about this in school in Cork city by the Kerry teachers who came our way. It sounded romantic. And this evening, we’ll see it as we drive through our village. Houses in the village will be alight with candlelight as we drive by ushering us towards the church. Sceptic or not, these traditions are beautiful and compassionate.
At home, Santa will drink a glass of our milk tonight with a hard-earned mince pie. The mother of the house will have to run the gauntlet first, getting to that glass of something sparkly by midnight whilst wrapping presents. Little boys are asleep dreaming of presents to come.
From our hearth to yours. Happy Christmas from Co. Kerry. May yours be happy, safe and peaceful.
Nollaig Shona o Ciarrai.
Anne, Dan, Philip, Daniel and Anthony.
Dinner is stew so it can be served up any time. In Winter, chances are, he’ll be in early from the yard. I can see the farm from the house in Summertime, but in Winter, from the kitchen I go by sound alone. I listen for the Winter timetable of sweeping, scrapers, tractor engine and shovelling. Cows who may have earlier bellowed for the unwrapping of a silage bale have slowed to an intermittant satified mooing and I guess I’ll hear the back door close soon.
Still no sign and I’ve placated the children with the promise of Daddy’s arrival for too long. From the upstairs skylight, I try to see how long he’ll take before his trip in for dinner. Daylight is replaced with fluorescent tubing and tractor headlights. Every now and then, you hear the shuffle of an animal to her feet as she moves to a cubicle for the evening ahead. From the farmhouse, it seems at least, that farming in Winter is a theatrical affair.
At last, there is a rattle of a stainless steel gate followed by the heavy trudge of tired wellies and I know he is almost here. There is just enough time to boil the kettle and draw the tea. In the farmhouse, there is a hurried rattling of plates and calls to the dinner table. From the Winter darkness, he arrives in to warmth, light, chatting, wrestling and dinner, closing the door for the evening on the farmyard.
From the farmyard, on the shortest and darkest day of the year, he walks into the light. There is always light.
I’m compliant. I believe in the fairytale of democracy. The fairyland of happy little citizens skipping off to the polling booth to vote for the knights who will change our world. Enough.
As a busy mother of future happy citizens who will continue to proffer this democracy, I go online to pay a tax. Click to pay. Done. Thank you for your payment. And again. Huh? Pay again. But there are arrears. Huh? There had been a waiver to be paid locally but now it needs paying by you. So I haven’t actually paid for what I came online to pay. Speed dial the real person who gives me a list of options. Dial three to speak to someone who has a) the training b) the bad sense and c) the condescension to call me Madam. But I’ve paid. Not the arrears. What arrears? The arrears. But I’ve paid. You’ve paid what seems half the arrears of the charges but not the actual tax Madam. The name’s Anne. And your name again? Would you like to pay? Which one? The half arrears, the waive-red arrears, the tax for one half or the tax for the other half before I go off and pay for every other bill in my inbox? Are you the authorized card holder Madam? It’s not your fault. I’ve been at your end of the phone and I know you got up and fed your children, put on your lipstick and went to work. Payment type? None preferably. It’s not her fault. She’ll put down the headset and walk to her nearest comfort of choice at breaktime. Chocolate, cigarette, phone call home, coffee and she’ll forget about the Madam who rang from a farmhouse in Kerry who was just not getting the exhorbitant taxes she was democratically obliged to pay.
Compliant I would have thought myself. Until now. I put down the phone and contemplate rebellion. The good girl turned rogue on the streets of the capital, refusing to pay. I will most likely pay, out of frustration, fear, compliance, destined to become the wise old hippy owl who will smile knowingly at adult sons frustrated with the system of taxes. Sons who are reared on utopian ideals by idealists who refuse to believe that Machiavelli didn’t have had a heart. Brought up to believe that they must be ‘the change they wish to see in the world.’
Meanwhile, one of the sons needs a nappy change and their high minded mommy needs a cup of tea. Sigh.
Earlier, I was having a conversation via email with a shop assistant (who I actually believe exists). Less a conversation, more of a rant. Says I, ‘I’m one click away from putting my items back on the virtual counter and walking out the door.’ Clever I thought. But it left me cross. ‘I can’t get to the shops’, I idled whilst doing the breakfast washing up. Of course I tried to enter my voucher code I think as I whip open the toddler’s yoghurt pot. How many more shopping days do I have until Christmas if I shop online I wondered as I changed the baby’s nappy.
I have tried three times to bake a christmas cake. On the third attempt the head of a little boy who, this year, is able to see over the counter top arrives at my side. Can you help? And so my to-doing and fretting on Christmas shopping, virtual or otherwise, is put aside. There, by my side, is someone who is slicing glaze cherries for the first time. I realize that this is his first whiff of the heady smell of cinnamon, whiskey and dark fruit combined. A flash of me as a six year old at my mother’s white Kenwood Chef and I see it with him. These are his memories. He’s soaking it all up. An advent calendar thrown thoughtlessly into the shopping trolley is a new tradition for him. The chocolate that he’ll find behind a tiny number, a joy.
I’m reminded of our native Yeats on love and dreams whereon he tells us to tread softly when you tread on someone’s dreams. These little men of mine are busy making memories. Earlier’s virtual argument bears no fruit. And so as I tread over their memory banks, I remind myself to go softly, ever so softly.