Sunday, 29 March 2020

Spring in the Time of Self-isolation

 Being of that most romantic age, namely senior, 70+, I am staying at home, literally not venturing out at all.
Before that, I went for two walks per day and limited my shopping to once a week or twice if I ran out of milk/bread (they seem to have very short shelf lives, or is it just me?).
On my walks along by the river I could see that Spring was starting to making itself felt despite all the gloom and doom and the soothsayers and see-it-all-positives.  I took this picture near the quays a couple of days ago.

Spring Flowers

The birds are very busy right now, twittering all over the place. (I was going to say tweeting, but that might give the impression that I think our feathered songsters are adepts on their mobiles). I managed a shot of this blackbird who is a regular in the garden. We get robins, too but they are so quick to take off that I haven't been able to get a good picture - not that this one of the blackbird is going to win me any prizes. I've seen blue tits and I've seen a bullfinch twice. They make me feel good every time I see them hopping about.

Wish I could go walking. Stay safe wherever you are.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Coping with things

Seems like this has been going on now for a hundred years!  I checked in my diary and saw that the last time I was in any kind of gathering was only two weeks ago. Incredible! It's not that I was out partying every night, I live alone so am used to silence. But I didn't realize how much I actually went out until I stopped. I am a member of a few clubs, there's a book club I go to once a month, I meet up with friends to go to the cinema or just for a chat. I'm involved in a community centre. And when the mood takes me, I like to hop on the bus and visit the big city for a walk around the shops. That's all gone for now and I miss the freedom.

Being a "senior", I am washing my hands, keeping my distance, not visiting or receiving visitors, shopping once a week and going for walks every day. I think I would add one more thing to that list, namely, stop reading the rumours on social media. For some people, bless their happy hearts, no news can bad enough so they invent worse scenarios - I sometimes think they should just binge watch catastrophe movies on television.

The weather is sunny here and I have the sea on my doorstep, something you pay a lot of money to experience.
I met a few acquaintances on my walk this morning and we were all so pleased to see each other and exchange experiences, keeping our distance of course.

If we learn one thing from this, it is that we are herd animals. We might all talk on our mobiles and keep in touch using social media but there is nothing like human contact, when all is said and done.
It is a reassuring thought in a world that is getting more and more robot driven.
Stay safe everyone!

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Learning new words

We are all learning new words. Social-distancing, for example. Now, I think that will be the word of the year.
Personally, I can't keep up with all the new expressions out there. One of my favourite quotes (don't know who said it) is:  "a smile is the shortest distance between two people." A smile is better than words. If you have ever been in a country where you do not speak the language, you know what I'm talking about. You feel understood without having exchanged a word.
I am doing my bit towards social-distancing. Thank heavens we have social media to keep us in touch with our loved ones. I think I have received more phone calls and WhatsApp messages in the last two weeks than ever before. It is heart-warming to say the least. And it proves that if used positively, Twitter and FaceBook can help isolated people from feeling lonely and depressed.
Take care everyone.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Leap Year Day

I am writing this on Saturday, 29th February, which makes it Leap Year Day. Currently, the sun is shining in a blue sky although there has been a flurry of raindrops against my window.

I woke early this morning and decided to do my shopping straight away in order to beat Jorge the approaching storm, which is due to hit the West of Ireland in the next hours - two counties are on red alert. Not surprisingly, nearly everyone had the same idea. My shopping took longer as I stopped and chatted to any number of acquaintances. In Ireland, the big topic is always the weather: 'Cold, isn't it?'; 'Lovely to see the sun'; I wonder will we get the storm?'

I have stocked up on crispbread and cans of soup - just in case I come down with the coronavirus and have to self-isolate for 14 days. I can't believe I wrote self-isolate! What a whole new range of words can evolve around a storm! We now have a storm warning nearly every weekend. It used to be "strong winds" now its galeforce, gusting up to 150 kmph. Even worse are the rainfall warnings. The ground is saturated, there is no place for the water from swollen rivers to go so they burst their banks and swamp huge areas.
The newspaper headlines which I glimpsed in the supermarket carry assurances from the racing folk that the Cheltenham Festival will go ahead. I sincerely hope so as I enjoy watching this on television and always put on a few small bets. It is bad enough that the Italy/Ireland rugby match has been postponed but our human rights are in danger if the horse racing is off the cards.

I have a sore throat today, so I will stay at home and keep warm  - that North wind nearly took the skin off of my face on the way to the shops this morning. I will do a bit of writing and then I will make a pot of tea and watch Casablanca.
Here's looking at you, kid!

Friday, 21 February 2020

This Writing Life

We are almost two months into the new year and I have finally settled down to write my next novel. It will be a contemporary romance/family tale set during the Christmas period. Until I started writing it, I felt something was missing and yet I was reluctant to sit down and work out plot details. As usually happens when I write, I made several starts and changed several characters. Now that I have written the first 10,000 words, the characters themselves are driving the plot as they say in publishing circles. So I am pretty sure of the ending although not so sure how the characters are going to get there.
I started writing when I was around twelve years old. I still remember why I started. I grew up on a farm and we had been bringing in the hay. This involved putting a chain under a cock of hay and having the horse haul it into the haggard. I bet there are some readers who are scratching their heads and asking what's a cock of hay/what's a haggard? - that is a measure of how farming has evolved. Nowadays we have silage for the animals instead of dried grass = hay. Silage is made from fermented grass stored in a silo. Not half as romantic as cutting the hay, putting it into cocks when it is dry and then hauling it into the haggard, all the while with an anxious eye on the weather. That's progress for you.
Haggard according to my modern Collins dictionary is "looking tired and ill".  In Ireland, the Ireland I grew up in, a haggard was almost always an area adjacent to the farm yard or what once was a farm yard. Traditionally this was an enclosed area on a farm for stacking hay, grain or other fodder. It probably comes from some Gaelic word. Never mind, it is hardly ever used nowadays. Another bit of useless information to enrich your conversation at a social event. 
Anyway, as children we used to sit on the cock of hay as it was being dragged into the haggard by the horse. We got a lot of fun out of this, as we did out of so many simple things, and I remember that I wanted to put it down on paper, this feeling of summer and the sweet smell of the hay and the pungent smell of the horse's sweat. And that is why I started a story called "Lily in the Country", which of course I never finished. It did give me an appetite for writing, though, which has stayed with me.One of the nicest compliments I received was last year when a reader having read one of my crime novels set in the Kerry mountains, told me "I thought I was there". 
The first rule of writing is BIC = butt in chair. You keep writing until you get it right and maybe then a reader tells you something like this and it really makes it all worthwhile.

Monday, 27 January 2020

Writing Letters

I was tidying up my Christmas cards last week. They are getting fewer as time goes on and more people communicate with me via WhatsApp. Some friends still write me a Christmas letter and I really enjoy this. It is so rare to get a handwritten letter these days. To be honest, as my writing has deteriorated in direct relation to how often I use my laptop, my friends all get a typed letter from me. I would be ashamed to inflict my scrawl on them. I used to have nice handwriting though.

I am old enough to remember letters as the usual way of communicating, especially if you lived abroad as I did. Phone calls were expensive so only made in emergencies usually. I know that I wrote to my siblings once a month, filling at least four sheets of A4 with my handwritten news. It would take me over an hour to get everything down in a legible hand. I remember, too, what fun it was to receive letters from family and friends. I would usually wait until I had a quiet time in the day to read them. I'd make myself a cup of tea and take my time over each letter. Some of my correspondents were better at communicating than others, of course, although all letters were very welcome.

Looking back, I have to ask myself: what did we write about? Did we have more fun in those days, more things to communicate? The kids were small,of course, and a lot of news centered around them and their progress. We wrote to each other about places we'd visited, about people who had visited us and about our return visits to them. We added snippets of news about politics or the latest scandals. We always seemed to have something to say and we took the time to write it.

Clicking on an email is no substitute for the pleasure of receiving an envelope with your name and address on it and the certainty that the letter it contains will entertain you as no perusal of Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram can - despite the photos which you can click through at leisure.

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!