Monthly Archives: November 2016

For one of those smiles

I really would walk a million miles for one of those smiles. These days it seems you have to. I imagine if I was an employer, I’d make it my business to employ only people with big beautiful genuine smiles. Because they’re the winners. You know the ones; the real humdingers, wide on the face, honest, trusting. I love them. People don’t give them out liberally anymore. Not in shops, not on the street, not in ordinary cafes. Indeed, smiling seems to be a five star experience. No fair. Why do I have to pay extra for a smile? It seems like honesty and kindness (two whole other blog posts), they’re no longer a given.

I’m lucky in life to be surrounded in ‘the inner circle’ with smilers and am most privileged. But why should it be a privilege and when did everyone stop smiling? Have they? I once, as a student, had the best job, I worked in a well known tourist store in Blarney, Co. Cork as a Sales Assistant. I smiled all day. Selling tweed jackets although I knew nothing about it, I was proud to be Irish and welcoming visitors and chatting to them all day. I smiled because I knew I was doing my bit for my country and because that’s what I do and it was loved and appreciated all summer long and I had so much fun. I know, Polllyaaaaaaaanna. But get past it. Stop being cynical and I’m saying that to myself more than to you, and start smiling and expecting that smile in return. There a few things as fabulous.  Go on, give us a smile.

A Risky business, really

Today at farming college I was reminded once again of the dangers of farming having heard the story of a long time milker who lost an eye after an accident with detergent. After forty five years farming, of doing the same routine job cleaning the bulk tank, he lost an eye. When I started going to the milking parlour, I saw the dangers everywhere. The size of those cows, what are they, 600 kilos? My farmer used to shrug ‘I mind myself don’t worry.’ And on that tractor? Do you always put the shovel to the ground? ‘I do. I do.’ And when walking in the yard, I ask if he covers up the agitation points where there are grids for hoses to run down into the deep deep slurry tanks; a swamp that would kill a man in minutes. I dare not think about it but unfortunately I have to. There is a lot of stake. There are children now, our family.

There are times when the children farm with us although I try for the most part to keep them out of the milking parlour. It’s no place for them. Unfamiliar voices make the cows nervous. How do I know? Cows tend to raise their tails and make their sentiments known if you get my meaning. The children because they are reared to it, for the most part, know cows well enough to keep well back or know how near they can come. I hope. For although they are very placid animals, they can’t be trusted.

Some weeks back I was milking a couple of rounds for my farmer while he ate a breakfast. I can now, you know, and I love helping out. I was so proud of myself, letting the girls into the parlour, putting on the clusters, feeding them, milking them, spraying them and opening the gate to let them out. But then it came. I mistimed one cow walking out of the parlour, put my hand up on her near a bar as she stepped back. A rookie mistake and a painful one. Everything went blue the pain was so harsh. I couldn’t speak. It took a few seconds for the pain to register with my brain so I closed the gate and bent over in two experiencing a pain that I can only explain as blue. Sheer blue pain. Dull, sharp pain. My hand doubled in size immediately. I was lucky I didn’t break my hand but it still has the hue of a hand that had been caught between a cow and a steel bar. The children’s heads are at the same level that my hand was at, if a cow kicked them, well, I can’t think. But I have to.

Farming is a dangerous, dangerous business with complacency it’s biggest risk. For when you stop seeing the dangers or taking care by rushing or skipping safety procedures, you are putting yourself and others at extreme danger. Please farm safely out there.


Picture the scene. A farmhouse in North Kerry, Ireland, November, 2016. It’s windy and cold outside. The farmer of the house is milking the cows. Inside, in the main living area of the house, there are three young boys running everywhere while a mother shouts commands. The children in response jump off the couches, scream at lost blankies, pout at the injustice of it all.

They arrange the meditation cushions, fighting all the time about who gets what colour. The mother, determined, pulls the cushions into a circle. There is a crashing noise in the background. A black cat appears from the kitchen looking coy. She’s undeterred. She asks the children to get down on their cushions. They’re going to meditate.

“May we safe from inner and out harm” And by that she means that the eldest takes his foot off his brother.

“May we be happy and peaceful” hoping that her emphasis on peaceful really resonates in their inner sanctum or that they just stop talking long enough for her to get to the end of the sentance.

“May we be healthy and strong” repeating her lifelong wish that they get to adulthood without her losing her mind.

As she sits in the lotus, eyes closed, in this scene of chaos of sprawling limbs and giddiness, she smiles. Maybe just a little.

“What about the om’s Mom” the second boy giggles. Oh God, she thinks, not the oms.

And then echoing throughout the farmhouse, on a rainy morning in Kerry just before schooltime, three boys and their mother hold some ‘Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooms’ for longer than is descent and louder than is possible.

Sometimes, after this ‘practice’, they arise from the cushions having got the crazy out, othertimes, they pull her up willing her to go on. Mostly, the poor woman gets up shaking her head walking towards the coffee machine, dejected. Why does she do it?

She hopes that they remember that in the craziness, that there was for a few moments, at least, a smiling mom in the middle of it all. That they can always find peace in the middle of all the chaos. Repeat.


Good Guy

During January 2009, I pretty much sat plopped in a tiny sitting room whilst heavily pregnant. I had a heater, a television and crisps. I was happy. Happier still because a few days before my first little boy was due to be born, I was watching the inauguration of the first Black American President, Barrack Obama. And as I patted my little boy (or girl, who knew) in my tummy, I knew it was all going to be ok. This Barrack Obama, well, he was good guy.
My son was born to a world where a good guy was in charge. Simplistic isn’t it? Pretty much. Like it or not, the position of American president is important world wide. It has ripples through the economies and societies of this planet.
My son is a clever, sensitive type. With such a lad, you have to keep pointing out the good guys, that’s how they think these young clever sensitive types and frequently, I would point him towards Mr. Obama because he is exactly what I think he needed to see. You have the sense with Barrack Obama, that it’s all going to be alright. He promotes grace as the way forward, of being exactly who you are and using that in order to make your own place in this planet. That’s what we want for our sons. That they be themselves because as Oscar Wilde puts it ‘everybody else is taken.’
He’s been ‘in charge’ while Philip learned to crawl unknowing that they was a good guy leading a world economy out of trouble.
And now he’s going, this good guy and the alternative not such a good guy is not someone I would promote in my family, not someone I’d like my beautiful sons to be. But there are always other heros, and maybe it’s time for a female role model around here. Just saying.
Thanks Mr. Obama for being the good guy and for letting us know it was all going to be alright.

Fields of France

Have you ever driven with a farmer? It’s a bit of an occupational hazard, for his wife at least. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many strings to his bow but seeing as land is his bread and butter, he is not shy in his description of the land before him on a drive. You might for example be driving around the most picturesque parts of this country and he’ll wonder how the poor creaturs can grow anything. Furthermore, driving through my former county of Cork, he wonders why I didn’t find myself a West Cork farmer (like marrying a farmer had been the plan!) for all their fine land. When he’s in farmer mode, in other words, sur-God-help-him-he’s-only-a-north-kerry-farmer mode. It doesn’t happen often, only when his batteries need changing.

It was on one such drive, in Northern France of all places, six years ago, that he discussed the fertility of the Somme’s acerage. We were on a mission you see. My mother’s Grand Uncle Benjamin had been killed in 1916 during the First World War and a promise to find him and say a prayer over his grave needed fulfilling. My Grandmother had promised her mother she’d find him, my mother had promised hers and when my turn came to do something, I had technology at hand to easily, relatively, find him. Overnight, we had found a photo of his grave online and it’s exact location in a cemetery in the Somme to finally get the job done. Yes, a reminder that technology really is marvelous.

The land in the Somme, I had to agree was incredible. As it was freshly ploughed tillage land, it looked like a healthy head of brown hair freshly combed. Rolling brown December hills surrounded our hire car for many acres as we drove through the former sites of many many battles. Sites where many young sons, brothers, fathers and lovers had lost their very young lives in World War One. It was hard to imagine in the absolute beauty and peace of this lovely land that it once had been the stage for such destruction of young lives. You couldn’t imagine anything above the noise of a combine harvester were it not for the cemeteries. So many cemeteries. Beautifully maintained, ordered, white cemeteries around every corner.

My Great Grand Uncle’s grave sat amongst so many others in the quiet of the Northern French countryside. We realised how lucky we were to find him as many of his neighbouring bedfellows had neither name or rank to their headstones. So many unknown soldiers lying anonymously in the field around him. Each one however, honoured in the same way. In neat rows with white marble headstones with flowers perfectly tended above their heads. But for these vast reminders, we would have been looking and praising the finest agricultural land in France. He could have contined to praise this beautiful land were in not for the haunting, not of ghosts or any such myth but of the haunting futility of the many many lost lives buried in this land.

My Great Great Grandmother had only recieved the King’s notice of her son’s death along with some medals for his bravery on the field. But that was it. She never saw where he lay, the beauty of his surrounds, how he lay like an older uncle, deceased at age thirty three among the many men of sixteen or seventeen who would never see their mothers again. One hundred years on since his death, she lay herself so much land and sea away in another cemetary as we prayed and as my mother shed some tears on behalf of this mother and her son lying in the fields of France.