Monday, 20 July 2020

Five Things I Learned in Lockdown

Lockdown made us all pause for thought. Here are five things I learned:

  1. Being over 65 means I am a vulnerable person, no matter how fit I think I am. I have to stop thinking I am invincible. I allowed myself to be helped.
  2. I do not need to buy summer tops. I have more than enough. In fact, I have so many that I made a parcel out of the ones I hardly ever wear and donated them. 
  3. I do not need to know the time. My watch gave up during lockdown. Only then did I realise how often I checked to see what the time was. I think I picked up this habit when I was working - have to get this finished before that meeting, musn't be late, make sure I'm on time to meet up for lunch/coffee with colleagues. Fact: I do not have to go anywhere.
  4. Zoom is never going to be a satisfactory substitute for sitting and talking face to face. I will hug my family more when we can all do this safely.
  5. There is nothing like having lunch out in a nice restaurant with a friend.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Know Your Tribe

I've heard the expression "your tribe" very often but have never really looked at it in relation to myself. There are so many modern and trendy expressions which disappear after they have been used or over-used.
Find your tribe we are told. What? Doesn't that just mean, know who your friends are? And who are your friends? Friends are people who are there for you in tough times, when you're in a bad place, when you've made a horse's rear end of yourself and can't laugh about it. They know you are more than the mistakes you made, the lousy relationship you're in or the super success of that promotion you got. They know you.
So if that's what finding your tribe means, it's not so mysterious or complicated. Everyone has loads of acquaintances, people they meet for dinner, for coffee, for a trip to the theatre. People they chat to when collecting the kids from school or sport, people who gossip with you at the water cooler. They are not your friends, although they could be if you got to know them better, if you wanted to get to know them better.
Have you been betrayed by people you thought were friends? I know I have, quite a few times. I discovered that someone who I thought was a close friend was going around bad-mouthing me to a neighbour - that neighbour was always so helpful that I was shocked to find out about it - so this was a double-whammy: a supposed friend and a nice neighbour who in fact couldn't say a nice word about me when they got together. I discovered it by accident because my nice neighbour couldn't resist starting to criticize my supposed good friend and when I objected she said "you should hear what she says about you" and she proceeded to tell me, making me realize that she had happily joined in!  I suppose, looking back with the clarity of hindsight, that both these women were unhappy about something in their own lives and they needed to point the finger at someone to take away their own hurt.
So, find your tribe. Be careful who you put your trust in, though. What did that song by the Eurhythmics "Sweet Dreams" say:  "some people want to use you"?
I firmly believe that most people are genuine, kind people. And I've knocked around in this old world long enough to come to that realization. Do I have a lot of close friends? No, I don't. I think that if you go through life and you end up with two people who you can speak every thought as it arises, who will tell you what they think but who won't judge you, you have hit the jackpot in the lottery of life.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Favourite Childhood Reads

My brother and I were reminiscing about our childhood books and films the other day. We loved the Bobbsey Twins and we even built a dam on a little stream near the house after reading one of their adventures. And there was Pocomoto, of course, and the boys from the T-Bar-T (I think that was the name) who I envied because they had their own horses to ride. I remember crying over Lassie Come Home and The Call of the Wild.

When I started secondary school, I read some of the Chalet School books, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and other lesser known novels such as Jill's Gymkhana and Fiander's Horses. Fiander's Horses gave me a lot of insight into the racing world and working in a racing stables. I love horses (I love all animals) and if I ever got rich (which I never will) I would love to own a racehorse.

I remember that the owner of the local news agent once told me that I "liked boys' books" because I bought Westerns, which I think she thought odd. I read The Oxbow Incident without perhaps really understanding all the nuances of this story. Zane Grey has always been a favourite, in particular Under the Tonto Rim, a book which reminded me and still reminds me of my childhood. Many years ago, when I lived in Germany, I wanted to read this novel again but it was only available in German which would not have the same effect, I felt. I wrote to the Zane Grey people in the U.S. (pre-internet!!) and asked if I could purchase a copy direct from them. They very kindly sent me a free copy - unfortunately I have lost the very gracious letter that accompanied it - and I still have it as one of my prized possessions.

I hear a lot about people discovering reading during covid-19 quarantine. That has to be one of the good things to emerge from this crisis. My mother used to say that even if you only read a "penny dreadful" as those cheap magazines were called, you still learned something. There is nothing quite like settling down with a book written by a favourite author.
What am I reading right now? One False Move, a Harlan Coben thriller published in 1998 which I picked up in a local store.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Stormy Weather

I love the Spring colours along the river bank. Today is cold with the wind getting stronger. There is a storm forecast for later on. The tide is coming in fast, that water looks very dark and menacing, not the blue, sparkling stuff of yesterday. And yet, I love stormy weather best. I love to watch the white topped waves racing each other to the beach. And the seagulls letting themselves drift on the wind. What a feeling of freedom!
I took this picture a few weeks ago when the river bank had not yet let go of winter. Now when I walk along here, I can see the swallows darting about and if I'm lucky catch a glimpse of the stonechats.
Spring is definitely here with all the delights of long summer days ahead of us.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Lockdown Week Seven (I think)

I'm cocooning and hoping to emerge as a butterfly but until the hairdressers are back, I resemble a scarecrow left out in a stormy wind.
My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones to this horrible virus. And, like everyone else, I am deeply grateful to the people on the front line who are risking their lives. It is a humbling experience.

What have I been doing? Do you really want to know?
Week One: I cleaned the windows and the bathroom from top to bottom. Then I worked on my Christmas novel. Did some zooming with my children and grandchildren, got a lot of calls from friends who I hadn't seen for a while. Did all my washing and ironing. Avidly watched the updates from our Chief Medical Officer and the question and answer session with journalists afterwards. Watched a few panel programmes on the corona virus. Caught up on European news via France24 and Euronews. Read a couple of books, watched a ton of quiz programmes and the film Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.

Week Two: Rinse and repeat, except the film I watched was  In the Heat of the Night .
I finished all three Len Deighton books in the Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match series from the 1980's. Deighton started a whole new kind of spy story, as opposed to the James Bond style character. I really enjoyed his early novels.

Week Three:  I didn't do any cleaning - there was nothing left to clean! No need to do any washing or ironing. I got sick of hearing journalists ask the same questions every night, so I just watched the CMO's update and looked at the news. I watched Casablanca. Read a Harlan Coben novel Caught.

Week Four: Only watched the news headlines to see if any really "new" news on the virus. Avoided all those panel discussions where some expert or other tells us that we are economically ruined (in more elegant words, of course) and names a sum like 500 billion or trillion Euros or whatever, which the normal mortal can't comprehend. It's getting depressing having zoom conferences when conversation is a bit limited to "how are you?", "coping all right?" etc etc. I re-wrote the beginning of my novel twice and took out two characters and put in another two. Watched Berlin Express a black and white film from the 1950's. I found it interesting because some of it was set in post-war Frankfurt (with permission of the Occupation Forces of the USA, Great Britain and Russia, according to the credits). Years ago I met a woman in Frankfurt who was a child when the war ended. Her mother brought her into the city centre every day because she had a job somewhere there and this woman told me she used to play among the ruins, there were so many places to play hide and seek she said.

Week Five: see Week Four, except the film was The Magnificent Seven - my favourite line being the Eli Wallach one: "if God didn't want them sheared, he wouldn't have made them sheep". Wallach is the magnificent one in this film. Finally got into my Christmas novel and don't plan on changing much.

Week Six: More or less the same. I didn't watch a film this week. Finally did a bit of housework but not as thorough a clean as before and decided not to clean the windows. I've started dreaming about what I am going to do when all this nightmare is over. Apart from the obvious plans of meeting up with family, I'd love to go to Paris and London again. But even getting on the bus and going to Cork city will be a big adventure! Imagine eating out with friends again.

Week Seven:  Cocooners are allowed out for short walks. Liberation! It has rained ever since, though, so I haven't been out much. I am currently reading Just Take my Heart by Mary Higgins Clark. It's a bit formulaic but she has always written a good thriller and it's not too taxing, so I am really enjoying it. Next week, depending on how the virus is doing, we might be allowed to meet with up to four people, social distancing of course.

Things will get better, of that I am convinced.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

The ex-pat syndrome or how to feel at home

There is nothing like being confined to home to make me sort through those books I picked up at various charity shops. I decided that Len Deighton's spy trilogy, Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match would keep me amused for a bit and I wasn't wrong. They were written around 1985 or so when the Berlin Wall was still up and Bonn was the capital of West Germany. I visited Berlin around then and saw the wall for myself and as I stayed with a German who grew up there, I was able to get into the atmosphere of all things berlinerisch. In addition, I had always loved hearing stories from my in-laws, whose exploits during and after the Second World War were hair-raising to put it mildly.
I found Mexico Set the least entertaining of the three books. I particularly enjoyed London Match, though. There was one paragraph of the book, towards the end, which resonated with me. The characters are talking about being Berliners and Samson is waiting for them to say that he, too, is German, because he grew up there. "Berlin was my town", he thinks. London was where his friends lived and his children were born but he was a German. But the others don't see him as a Berliner like themselves. He is still a foreigner.
Isn't this a bit like what every ex-pat feels? I have lived most of my life in Germany, before that I spent six or more years in London and before that a couple of years in Dublin. I never felt I belonged anywhere, I still feel like that. I love London and when I am there on a visit, I feel I could slip back into that life. I still have a great deal of interest in Germany and although I never felt that I belonged, I can identify with the mentality. I now live in Ireland but I don't think I will ever be 100% Irish. I've been away too long. Somebody (during my time in Germany) called me "a citizen of the world." Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

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.