Tuesday, 7 January 2020

New Year Resolutions and All That. A not quite serious look at New Year Plans

Reading the Sunday newspapers last weekend, I was amazed and amused at all the advice and baring of souls the Lifestyle sections contained. Talk about over-sharing! It is bad enough that we are forever being given tips on how to manage Christmas as if it were some infectious disease instead of a happy holiday time. Mind you, with all the over-eating and alcohol consumption, it could be considered a health hazard. I always want to shout: take it easy, have soup and sandwiches, play board games with the family and maybe - weather permitting - take a leisurely walk before sitting down to tea and Christmas cake. Ban mobiles for the day and get everybody talking if they haven't already started while playing Monopoly or Scrabble or whatever your fancy is. That lost art, conversation, is better than anything on the television. Everyone will find it so much more fun once they get used to the idea of talking to each other.
But to return to my topic, we have stars and celebs giving us their take on what they did wrong and how they are going to fix it in 2020.
Before we make out that list of getting up at 5 a.m. to go running, doing an hour's yoga (Namaste!), nibbling on a lettuce leaf, let's just stop here and ask ourselves the all important question: are you happy with you (despite all your faults and not looking like the latest fashion icon, are you happy with the you of you, in other words)? I would say, you are just fine. Yeah, maybe you put on a pound or two over Christmas, or you were rude to Aunty Beth or told the people next door that you all had flu so you couldn't go to their you-knew-it-would-be-deadly-boring bash. That's what being human is all about. You don't have to share it with the whole world. You can tell yourself that you'll try and do better, be more tolerant, use less plastic, take the bus to work. That's all good, but it doesn't mean that you have made a mess of things. It just means that, like the rest of us, you are human.
I have also seen lists which give ten ways to improve your life.  Abraham Lincoln said something like "folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be". That is the glass half full, half empty idea. It isn't easy with all the social media cant that is out there. I mean, who came up with the expression "imposter syndrome"? That's just trying to scare people who are doing their best.
New Year resolutions? I haven't made any in years. I used to, mind you. I tried giving up cigarettes a lot of times and one year even made it to April when a colleague brought me duty-frees and I thought what a shame to waste them. (I did finally give up smoking but not at NewYear). Alcohol-free January? No thanks.
The golden maxim is everything in moderation: work, play, food, alcohol, shopping. Life is for living. There are no repeats.
Have a great 2020 everyone!

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

A Feeling of Home

At this time of year, we are inclined to look back on what we achieved over the outgoing year and make some new resolutions for the coming one.
I have been travelling a lot in 2019 and the one thing which stands out for me is that I had the feeling of coming home each time I returned to my little apartment. I have been out of Ireland for most of my life, first in London and then in Germany in a small town close to Frankfurt. I never called anywhere home, or if I did, I did not mean it in the sense of belonging somewhere. Neil Diamond's song I am, I said, has always resonated with me. So it is nice, not to say heartwarming, to find a place I can feel at home in.
Not that I regret travelling. I met so many fascinating people and worked in so many interesting jobs over the years and I wouldn't miss that for the world.
This afternoon I am going to see  Little Women in the local cinema with supper afterwards. I am looking forward to that.
I wish all my readers a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, 19 December 2019

The Art of Conversation

'My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation', so says Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's Persuasion. I am inclined to agree with her but also to agree with Mr. Elliot when he replies: 'that is not good company, that is the best'. When reading these words (re-reading actually since I have read all of Ms Austen's novels except Northanger Abbey at least twenty times or more), I could not help thinking that these sentiments were also Jane Austen's own. I would love to have been able to sit down and talk to her, because although her life was fairly confined, she had a deep interest and understanding of her fellow human beings. She found much to laugh at and much to admire and was well aware of her own critical attitude. I think that is why her novels still have such general appeal.
Conversation is an art in itself and good conversation is as rare today as it was in Ms Austen's time - if not rarer. In bygone days there was no television, no podcasts, no mobile phones. Entertainment and news were mainly distributed by word of mouth. Dinner parties were the thing as far as entertainment went, dinners and balls in the winter and the resultant gossip they produced were the equivalent of Instagram, Twitter and FaceBook today. The major difference lies in the fact that conversation with other people who have news/gossip/information to give, has to be ten times more entertaining than reading the display on a mobile. The younger generation would never believe this, I think. I have often seen groups of them sitting in cafes and all of them are immersed in their phones. Not a word is spoken among them. My only hope is that, one day in the future, people will wake up to the fact that other people are fascinating, that hearing someone talk about what they have experienced, where they have been, what they have worked at, beats thumbing through Tweets or Posts on your mobile.

Friday, 22 November 2019

What I remember about Christmas

You can't get away from it. Once Halloween is over, the Christmas decorations come out and there are bright lights, red Santas, and pretty little reindeer all over the place.
Looking back over the years, I can see that Christmas and the way I experienced it, have changed. It is part of growing up and getting older, part of the kids leaving the nest and having Christmas celebrations of their own. Nothing stays still in life.
I have very fond memories of walking to Midnight Mass underneath a sky full of stars; of our cats following us half way down the road;  of hearing the choir and especially one local tenor singing "Silent Night". That song is synonymous with Christmas for me ever since. When I was in Austria several years ago, staying near Salzburg, I visited the Silent Night chapel in Oberndorf where the hymn was originally performed.
I can still taste the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (especially the Yorkshire pudding) which was our Christmas dinner - my mother did not eat any kind of fowl, so turkey was out. We never minded. In fact to this day, I will opt for Yorkshire pudding if it is on the menu. And we had good old-fashioned trifle for dessert, eating our Christmas pudding on the day after.
Later, living in Germany, traditions were slightly different. For one thing, the Germans start celebrations on the first Sunday in Advent. The first of four candles on the Adventskranz or Advent wreath are lighted and the first plate of homemade cookies is put on the table. The children's excitement grows with each Sunday as the second and third candles are lit and then it is only a few days until the fourth and final candle completes the symbol for the four weeks of Advent and Christmas has arrived.
Nowadays, I watch my grandchildren getting all excited. Every town and village has a Christmas market. I love the aroma of mulled wine and spicy hot orange juice mixed with cinnamon and ginger from the stalls selling cookies and the smell of grilled hot dogs and schnitzel.
In Germany, the Christmas tree is not put up until Christmas Eve and then the presents are piled underneath and handed out after supper that evening. Midnight services are very popular and all the churches are usually packed. 
I'll be in Germany next week and will visit at least one Christmas market and eat Bratwurst, that tasty hot German sausage, oh and I will definitely have a Gluehwein or two! Happy Advent everyone!

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Solo Travelling

Yikes, I haven't posted on here for ages. I do have some excuses. At the end of September I spent a week in The Netherlands with my daughter and her children.

I flew out of Cork to Amsterdam and took the train from the airport to Leiden where I changed trains for Hillegom, the nearest train station to where we were staying. My daughter had booked a holiday village near Noordwijk, which is about 30 kms from Amsterdam. It was the perfect place for long walks on the nearby beaches. We dodged the rain, getting soaked now and again. The accommodation was really comfortable. It would have been nice to be able to eat outside on the patio but the weather put paid to that idea. This area is very popular from around March to May when the tulips are in full bloom and my daughter and I made plans to come back in the spring.
On my way home, I stopped off in Leiden, Rembrandt's birthplace and visited the museum there, Museum de Lakenhal, which has exhibitions of work by the Dutch masters and one or two from Rembrandt himself on the ground floor, which is all I had time to see. The other floors were devoted to Leiden's history. I had intended exploring the town but it rained (surprise, surprise) so after a leisurely coffee at the railways station, I took the train to the airport. Schiphol is huge but like most airports, once you know which section your flight is departing from and where the check in desk is, it is not difficult to negotiate.
If you are confident enough, travelling alone is very pleasant. You can please yourself what you want to do with your time. Of course, it is very advisable to check everything out in advance and know where you are going if you are in a foreign country. You don't want to end up in the wrong part of the city. The street where the Lakenhal Museum is located looked pretty shabby, I have to say, with a lot of rubbish - empty beer cans and takeaway wrappings - lying around. It didn't feel too safe to me, I have to admit, and I would not have wanted to walk that area at night.
The only downside to travelling alone, in my opinion, is that you have to eat out on your own and you don't have anyone to share those wonderful views or those paintings with. If you don't mind that, then solo travelling is for you.
I like both travelling in a group and also travelling on my own. I love the feeling of adventure which kicks in as soon as I reach the airport. I have only travelled on my own in Europe, up until now and I think that if I were to venture further abroad, I would go in a group.
At the end of the month I will be in Frankfurt to visit family and friends. The Christmas markets will open on 1st of Advent which is the Sunday and I look forward to my first gluehwein.
Meanwhile, I have published my latest Christmas novella A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER, available now from Amazon as an ebook or in print. If you read it, let me know what you think.
Oh, and Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Easy Travel - A not-so-serious look at fellow travellers

I beg to differ from William Shakespeare, it is not misery that acquaints us with strange bedfellows; it is travel, air travel to be exact.
Waiting at the gate in Dublin for my flight to Frankfurt, I take stock of my fellow voyagers. There are the hikers, struggling under the weight of bulging backpacks and bumping into everyone, there are the seasoned ones, who have done it all before and who remain calm and collected. And there are the get-the-best tourists, as I call them. The ones who keep a hawk eye out for any movement that suggests we might be boarding soon. As soon as the airline clerk appears, they are off at a gallop to stand in the queue, waving boarding cards and straining to get on board before everyone else.

Once on board, you get the “stow your hand luggage brigade”. You stand patiently waiting in the aircraft aisle to get past and claim your seat in the hope that the overhead locker isn’t going to crumble under the weight of what has already been forced in there. But just when you are about to ease past, they suddenly remember that they need something out of that backpack and so haul it back down, narrowly avoiding your head. Then, it’s rummage time, because whatever they are looking for, it’s going to be down at the bottom of that capacious bag. Behind you a few passengers murmur politely in protest and blame the delay on you. 

Finally, you are seated and you have found a niche for your carry on bag – not without difficulty and quite a bit away from your seat, but hey, who wants to be difficult? Now you can relax and watch the safety drill and fasten your seat belt. Once airborne, you’ll notice “the bouncer”: the passenger in the seat in front of you who tries very hard to convert his seat into a day bed (sorry, but it is usually a male in my experience). Any minute now you feel that his head is going to land in your lap.

If you are unlucky enough to have handed in your luggage to be stowed, you will experience the adventure of the luggage carousel and the “is this my suitcase?” brigade. A friend of mine recounts seeing a man walking off with her suitcase, even though it had a huge pink ribbon attached to the handles so that she could identify it more easily. When accosted, he looked very annoyed. “Where’s my suitcase, then?” he bellowed at her. She almost surrendered her piece of luggage to him in sheer fright.

Should you decide to have a snack and a coffee/tea, you will discover that, if you are sitting in the aisle seat (as I usually am), the passenger in the window seat will choose the exact moment you get your steaming cup of beverage to decide he/she needs to visit the toilet.  Then comes the excitement of folding up the little table while balancing your hot cup of tea/coffee and trying not to spill anything as they push past.

Just when I think I should stop smiling politely and show a touch of exasperation, I remind myself that it is our fellow passengers who make travelling such a unique experience, one I wouldn’t miss for the world.
Bon Voyage!

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

I have been reading that optimistis live longer than pessimists and I have also been reading that people who try to be upbeat about everything are endangering their mental health.
Who to believe?
I think that many people are a fine mixture. I am an optimist by nature but I am also a realist. If I miss the last bus home, I know that there will be no magic chariot descending from the clouds and I will have to get a taxi or walk. I know that if I wander about late at night in a district of the city known for its high crime rate, I am asking for trouble and there will be no knight in shining armour to help me.
I think that is known as common sense, except it is not so common these days.
However, I find people who run everything down, always expect the worst but never seem prepared for it, get on my nerves. Yes, we all know what it is to be depressed, to have things get you down, usually things you can't control. It is impossible to put a smile on your face all the time. But in general terms, things work themselves out. I think it was Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island) who wrote that "looking on the best side of things is worth forty pounds a year" or something like that. And it is true.
In the fourteen or fifteen years leading up to my retirement, the company I worked for was taken over at least five times. Each time the new owners told us that nothing would change and then within a few months proceeded to change everything. Colleagues lost their jobs all around me. Not being the desirable age for the working world - i.e. past 50 - I half expected to be made redundant. And there's a point in hand, some wonderful person said "of course you are not redundant, your job is."  Yuk! That is a form of turning the truth into a nice little skulking cliche which I cannot agree with (any more than objections to ending a sentence with a preposition, lol).
The thing is, although I badly needed to continue working, because I have this optimistic gene or lack of brain or whatever it is, I somehow believed that I would be OK. Something would turn up. And that is what did happen. Yes, my faith and prayers helped me a lot but I don't think I would have prayed if I didn't believe I would get help of some sort.
During one takeover I did not have a designated position for around four months, I was merely kept on because of my long years at the company and because I always got good reviews from my superiors. If they couldn't find a position for me within 6 months, I would be let go, they told me. It wasn't easy coming into the office every day without a particular reason - yes, of course I helped out where I could, but I had no boss and didn't belong to any department. In Jane Austen's Emma, Mr. Weston a lovable characters, says "I have observed in the course of my life that if things are going untowardly one month, they are sure to mend the next."
I think that is true of the majority of us. And yes, I am aware that if you are stuck in a refugee camp or in a war zone, for example, the chances of things improving are very slim indeed.
What I am trying to say here is that being optimistic is a gift that we are possibly born with. I am profoundly grateful that I possess it.