Monthly Archives: January 2017

Tea in a Bomb Shelter

So, I was having tea in my friend’s bomb shelter.

In 1998, in Croatia. We had been writing to each other, Matilda and I, since our early teens and I had finally had the chance on a year abroad in an Italian college to take a ferry across the Adriatic to meet Matilda and her family. Our letters were teenaged about our would-be-loves, poetry, exams, dodgy song lyrics; you know the kind. On my three-week trip (there was no getting rid of me), I spent the first couple of days trying to diplomatically ask what had happened and quickly learned to avoid asking any questions about the war. I was twenty-one.

I spent a lot of time in college dorms writing out U2 lyrics, chatting about exam pressures, our aspirations, the latest arthouse film we’d seen, trying to learn beautiful Croatian phrases ‘Hvala.’( Did you know the Croatian word for elephant is the same as the Irish word for Goodbye? Well, almost. Slon, Slan. Trivial but necessary.) We were college students of the same age but we were decades apart in life experience. My new Croatian friends often hurried me past traumatized veterans walking the marbled streets of their city streets, glossed over the bullets in their college walls. They loved their city, their country and I couldn’t blame them for wanting to show me their best, for wanting to leave their worst behind.

However, on the third week, Matilda brought me to see where the family had stayed when the bombing became too hard to bear in their city. Their bomb shelter as it were. It wasn’t dark or underground, it was lovely as I remember it. It was a small square room, painted yellow. It had a view out to the sea. It had a piano, a large table, a bookshelf and a couch. It was all very ordinary. It was from there she had written her letters to me.

So even as a nosy and pretentious Arts student, I learned that war was very ordinary. There was no drama, just huge disturbance to a person’s life. Even now, words like massacre and bombings hold no real value in my thinking but disturbance does. For what is war to a young person but a diversion from their course? Absolute loss of reality, family members, dignity and normality. That’s what war is when you are on the ground.

And there it is on our TV screens again. And to us it means a share or a like on social media. A retweet. But it’s not real for us and we search for it’s meaning to feel we are doing something. But there really is no real meaning to us. No reason. Out there, however, tonight, there is a bunch of ordinary college students who are displaced, who are being pulled from their future and diverted into survival by a war that has nothing to do with them really. Remember them.

For Matilda.


Right, readers, if you never hear from me again, you know, I’ve been locked away somewhere, a disgrace to her nation for admitting the following. Although, I feel somehow that it’s almost safe to say it to in public now, to publish it even. Yikes. Here goes nothing.

I hate instant coffee.

There I got it off my chest. I mean, there was a time, I liked it, enough. You know, when I was sixteen and trying to be rebellious in a house full of tea drinkers. In other words, in a typical Irish household. I would force myself to drink watered down Nescafe in hiding. I can still see the hard lumps of dusty powder stuck to the teaspoon, shudder.

I mean it’s safe enough surely now to say it what with the nation’s need; craze for good coffee. In every country garage now, you can be assured of a filtered Americano or a Skinny Latte.

But has anyone ever admitted it? No, I don’t think so. Nobody has ever actually said it for fear of offending the aunt who doesn’t actually have a jar of coffee or even worse the mother who might go to the cupboard and produce a three year old sachet that she got in a hotel once out for you to try (I love you Mam). Herself likes the coffee.

It’s not our thing coffee you see. But tea, now, that we do well. But tea in Ireland is political, my friends, and a whole other post.

My love of the cup of Joe blossomed when I went on to study languages in college. More notions. Thanks to the very generous European Union (do you hear that Britain?), Irish students studied and continue to study in universities across Europe. Yes, Europe-wide, there is an exhange of students in many disciplines spending a year of university abroad, drinking coffee, in groups, discussing life and mostly avoiding lectures. The Erasmus program as it is called allowed this girl to flourish in Italian in the beautiful medieval city of Siena, Tuscany. Yes, I can speak Italian with a Tuscan accent, like Dante, ahem. Pure Italian don’t you know. More importantly, I know good coffee and look down on coffee served in the rest of Europe. It’s an Italian thing. Non capirete. You see, Ireland, it’s not my fault, they brainwashed me, one of those coffee cults I’d say.

This also meant that when I left university I was most wanted in call-centres all over the country. My first job after college was giving technical advise to Italians on how to work a mobile phone. I couldn’t personally but they loved a trier! I could speak Italian and take my turn at making the espresso for my Italian teammates who wouldn’t pick up a phone until they had three cups. To my lovely Italian friends, it was bad enough that they were in Ireland where it always rains, but they drew the line at having to drink instant. No, no, no, they would say rightly wagging the finger. No, assolutamente, no! I would agree, the people pleaser I am although it was far from the sites I was reared. Well, about a kilometre actually.

So there you have it. I hate it. And haven’t said it until now for fear of offending someone or not being invited for tea. But mine’s a double espresso Americano, if you’re asking. Sur’ go on, I’ll put the kettle on.

La La La Lovely

It’s a twenty-five minute drive from the cinema home. I daren’t turn on the radio. I don’t want to wake up from the film. Wasn’t it lovely! The singing, the dancing, the beauty, the stars. They celebrated the dreamers. Hurrah. Let’s hear it for them. And look, anything that persuades the dancer to put on the shoes or the blogger to take to her keyboard to write an overdue post, well, we have to celebrate, albeit quietly.

It’s a long dark drive through lonely countryside home. And there wasn’t one other car this Wednesday evening on the road. Not one. At one point, on a crazy bend, there was an old man walking the road holding a high-vis jacket. Yes, holding it! Not wearing it but I suppose him holding it is one step better than the nights he left the house without it. He awoke me from my cinematic reverie and I left the stars behind me and switched on the radio. A play on Yeats. Perfect.

As I pull into the drive I notice the sky full of stars over our roof and the lights at home and it’s lovely to pause outside in the car taking it all in. It’s what us dreamers do. Himself opens the door to see what’s taking me and so is treated to the lovely January night too. The dogs come up to me for a rub now that the competition for my attention are all asleep. Come on. He has the kettle on.

I let him, there, at the television and take my cup of tea to bed and give a look in at the real little dreamers off somewhere unknown in sleep. I record another reel in my memory banks of the three of them, seven, five and two lying peacefully, safe in sleep. They are so incredibly beautiful. And I’m not even dreaming. That’s what a good film does. La La La Lovely.

Another Nollaig na mban

Nollaig Na mban (Women’s Little Christmas) is a bit funny when you live in a predominantly male household. What does this Queen Bee of ours want now?! A day to celebrate women? What?

‘Why can’t it be Little Boys day?’

‘That’s every day,’ I mutter.


‘That was last week darling.’


‘It’s just a day to celebrate the Mommies who have been really busy getting the place ready for the real Christmas. So you guys have to mind me, do the housework and while you’re at it, take me out for dinner.’ Hey, it’s once a year! I’m milking this!

So I put on the lippy, heels and got all concerned into the car, besides the husband who can tie himself in now. Today, we drove to Killarney, our resident town for extraordinary beauty in Kerry that has both good food and open spaces.

Outings are measured. They can be fraught; restaurateurs wince at the sight of young boys coming (can’t imagine why) and so eating out is a hurried affair for the time being at least.

From a very tiny age, however, I have taken the boys with me to cafes locally for a Friday morning coffee. For one half of an hour (maximum) on a Friday morning, I have, over the past eight years carried one, two and sometimes three little boys (aka the double espresso days) with me for a Friday morning coffee. So they’re good enough when they’re out in public, I mean there’s a time limit, but they’ve been trained since babyhood to know that sometimes, Mom needs a little treat, that girls need to be treated a bit special on occasion. And just hold those feminist horses ladies, for when you live with these wrestling, soldiering, bundles of energy you have to have your high maintenance moments.

This year’s Nollaig na mban felt a bit different. My littlest has outgrown the family buggy and while the older two are growing up fast; still holding my hand walking down the street, they seem that little bit wiser. It’s beginning to look, dare I say it, a bit easier. After dinner, we strolled around the corner to Killarney’s National Park to let my young dates run off the energy that they had stored up whilst giving their mom a peaceful enough meal. There was twenty minutes left before the park closed and a fog had descended over a darkening National Park as they ran chasing after each other. Myself and my farmer walked on behind arm in arm with one of the Killarney’s Lakes sparkling in the distance.

At five o’clock to get to the closing gates, I shout that Mommy refrain ‘Who comes to me the very first?’ into the quiet of the park to have one, two, three little boys run through the fog into this lucky lady’s arms.

A Nollaig Na mban to remember.

Back to the Drawing Board

I’m no longer a farmer’s wife; I’m a farmer. Don’t worry, still married to the original farmer, but I’ve earned my stripes. There’s something safe about being the wife of the farmer and not the actual farmer, there’s less responsibility for one. Well, you still have to carry the burden of decisions made, inclement weather and cash flow no-nos but the buck doesn’t stop with you, ultimately.

It would be a mistake to think that farming stops at the farm-gate, in the calving unit or in the field. And if I’m honest, I had left the farm, for the most part, to the original farmer. My job heretofore involved rearing the kids and keeping the farmhouse going was more than enough. But then the opportunity arose to become more involved and I took it on most unenthusiastically.

Didn’t I know all about farming? Wasn’t I now married to him ten years! I had lived through a couple of bad years and some good. Nodding along when he talked about where he was going to move the cows to like the partner of an over enthusiastic chess player, unknowingly clueless.

And while I’m not in wellies full time, I’m more involved in the running of the farm. I understand what’s going on and know the support that I can lend him daily to get the work done. Success in farming comes with good management and animal husbandry. It starts like all businesses in January, back at the drawing board. And this new agricultural dimension for me has helped me invest more in our life as farmers.

So as we sit in our boardroom (really untidy office) planning our goals for the year, our moves and shakes, I’m the apprentice full of ideas, met with the pragmatism and experience of the boss. A good team. It took me a while to take the step, to overcome obstacles I put in the way of my becoming a farmer (and much more besides) but now I’m the actually girl of the house in wellies, there’s no looking back. Here’s to 2017.