Friday, April 29, 2011

Something About Tuam


Years ago, it might have been around the turn of the last century; I decided to return to Ireland having lived abroad for about 15 years. I had missed everything I’d left behind when I first left, and of course it never crossed my mind until my return that perhaps all of the things I missed no longer existed, including my former self considering that I left as a young and wild twenty something year old and returned as a middle aged struggling mother with kids who were at that age when it would have been easier to keep a herd of lambing sheep in the kitchen than three toddlers. So in short, it didn’t really work out. Dublin was in the middle of a crazy boom that meant overpriced accommodation, horrendous traffic jams and queues to pay a tenner for a cup of instant coffee.
In a desperate attempt to give it a last chance, I quit my job and headed to Galway with the husband who’d been offered a job there. We moved into a house on the outskirts of Tuam, which is about twenty miles from Galway, but being city slickers I foolishly assumed that we would be living in the suburbs of Galway. Nothing like it: we had to learn how to deal with bulling cows, bog land and a village that consisted of a petrol station cum shop, pub and whatever, with a church across the street. But there was Tuam.
On one of the more desperate days of asking myself why the hell I had exchanged the metropolis of Bavaria for a one-horse town with an annual duck race, I took a visit to the local town of Tuam. It was raining, and once I’d had a ramble around a few shops selling buckets, brushes, horse feed and gates, I made my way down to the supermarket. Realizing that I didn’t have any coins on me I turned away from the trolleys to go inside and get some change. As I did, I almost hit into an elderly man bringing back a trolley.
SuperValu Tuam - Where prayers mean more than money

‘Here’, he said, handing me the trolley, ‘take this one.’
‘Ah no, it’s ok, I told him, I don’t have any change on me to give you the euro.’
‘Yerra forget the euro’ he said, ‘just say a prayer for me instead.’
‘I will’ I said, ‘what’s your name and I’ll say a prayer for you.’
He gave me his name and I headed towards the supermarket while he headed to the car park. But then he turned back.
‘You know what’ he said, ‘if you really are going to say a prayer, would you say it for my friend Michael, he needs it more than I do.’
‘I will.’ I said, and we parted ways.
That day was one of those moments when I realized why I’d wanted to come back home. It was because I’d yearned to live in the world where small things matter. Or no actually, where small things are big things. I might be an atheist, but I did pray for both of them.
That was years ago  and soon afterward I moved into the hippy nirvana of Galway so I’d almost forgotten about it until yesterday when I was back in Tuam and pulled in to get some petrol. There were two pumps but the one that was free was only for diesel, so I parked behind the petrol one where an elderly man using a walking stick was filling his car with petrol. I took out my novel realising there would be a long wait before this old guy came back out again. But before he went in to pay though, he moved his car over to the side so that I could move in and get my petrol. As he slowly made his way in to pay I asked him if he had  purposely moved away to let me get my petrol
‘Indeed an’ I did’ he said. ‘Sure it’ll take me so long to shuffle around the shop I didn’t want to leave you waiting.’  And bing - there was that same old feeling that I remembered from Tuam. 
‘Thanks’ I said, ‘you’ve just made my day.’
I didn’t know his name, but I decided he might like a prayer, maybe he was that very man who    needed the prayer more than the other one, maybe I had cured him with my prayer. So I muttered a prayer as I drove past the High Cross of Tuam and decided that it was definitely no coincidence that Tuam produced the Saw Doctors along with all those nice hardware items and horse shoes. 
 Because there's something about Tuam...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Blood, Water and Other Thick Things...

There should be a National Auntie Day, and I’m not talking Hallmark here. Now I should know about these things because I am an auntie, an ex-auntie and an auntie-to-be. The auntie bit is simple. My brother has two daughters and one of them is also my godchild. Considering that my brother is a mass going atheist and that I myself am a church boycotting religious deserter with a penchant for spirituality (who spent two hours last Saturday in a church watching my daughter being confirmed – kids choice and all that lark), well considering all that, you’d wonder why I was asked to be godmother, and that goes back to my point: it’s because I’m the auntie. Aunties are family and you don’t have to explain certain things to them, they just know. Aunties are people who are expected to have big ears, hearts and wallets. And even if they can manage two out of three, they’ll be doing alright.
The auntie-to-be part is the other brother. He’s in his mid or late thirties, I can’t remember, but because he’s the kid brother, the other brother and I still think it’s a scream that he’s getting all grown up and talking to girls, let alone marrying one and having a kid with her.
The ex-auntie bit is more complicated though. You see when I was married; I was an auntie to my husband’s nieces and nephews. Then you get divorced and you realise it’s not just the bastard you married who you leave behind, no, there’s a landslide. It’s awkward, and in fairness over the years some of them have kept in touch, including my ex-godchild who I met at an ex-niece’s wedding last summer. The ex-godchild reckons I owe her quite a tidy sum of money, a few teddy bears and a visit. The ex-niece told me to stop saying how much she’d grown, considering she is now almost thirty. (But like the brother, if kids don’t retain their snotty status they’ll pass you out and I’m having none of it.)

This weekend, as I mentioned earlier, my daughter made her confirmation. I sent my kids to a multi denominational school where they learn to embrace all faiths and none. I wanted to save them from what I consider to have been the most dangerous place for children for the past 200 years: the Catholic Church. Of course my daughter is a bit of a rebel, and in an attempt to be different from her mother she insists on hanging out with Catholics and has now been duly confirmed as being a member of the gang.
So we made a day of it.
And that’s where the aunties come back in. Not that either of her aunties or any of her ex aunties showed up for the day or anything, but one auntie did come: my auntie.
I’ve really only gotten to know my aunt in the past few years. Well that’s not quite true, because you remember who was nice to you and who told you to shut up and be quiet when you were a kid, and she’s on the good list from back then.
And as a rule, nice aunties don’t break their patterns. Even though I’m pushing 50, my auntie still brings me presents and gives me white envelopes. She is impartial, non-judgemental and being an aunt means that despite being family, she is that tiny bit detached enough not to get pulled into the usual family brawls that surround these occasions.  That’s not why I like this auntie though. I like knowing an intelligent, thinking woman who is more physically active than I am despite being in her 90th year. I like listening to someone talking about the past with a critical eye instead of saying how wonderful everything was back in the days of repression, poverty and abuse and that we all need to go back there. It’s refreshing. I love hearing things about the family from years back that I didn’t know. When I hear about my own godmother (rip) pushing people out of the way with her stick, I recognise my own behaviour and begin to ponder on the genetics of being a bully. And of course, I’m beginning to see my aunt as a role model: she gives me hope that I might be around for another whole lifetime’s worth of shenanigans and that I might manage to reinvent myself more than once.
But I could also see my future if I do get there. People tend to assume that because you’re old, you are still living old values and that you are a bit dithery, slightly deaf and mildly mentally handicapped.
If my aunt wanted to, she could have come to Galway on a motorbike, or hitch hiked, and yet I kept hearing people say things like ‘aren’t you great getting the train to Galway.’ Why is an active adult woman so great to get on a train? Is it because somewhere on a piece of paper it says that she’s almost 90? I realised that if I make it to 90 I’ll be treated like I’m 9. My aunt tells me that it can come in handy. She says she can ‘do feeble’ when it suits. Some of the time I got pissed off listening to people patronise her, but most of the time I felt smug and all of the time I wished she had a walking stick to belt them with. They say blood is thicker than water, but mud is also thicker than water and so is chocolate.  
Funny thing is; we are not blood relatives. She was married to my father’s brother. It got me thinking. I never would have known her if she hadn’t married into the family, so on that score, it’s purely a family thing, or is it?
I think Aldous Huxley got it right in his ‘Ninth Philosopher’s Song:

 'Blood, as all men know, than water's thicker
But water's wider, thank the Lord, than blood.'

Friday, April 8, 2011

Flirt School

 A while back a friend of mine was telling me that he’d been to a ‘Flirt Course’. I immediately thought that this was a great idea – not to learn flirting, but to run one. Most people I know are either single or due to be single shortly. So I decided to find out what the contents of the course were so that I could run one myself and clean up financially by getting a dozen or so desperately single people to pay money in the hopes of charming the opposite sex.
My friend told me that the first tip was never to talk about health or money on the first date, but that was all I found out about this particular course because on foot of it the guy started dating a girl who’d been on the course too (probably the real reason people go to these courses) and since then he hasn’t had time to do anything other than gaze lovingly into said girls eyes.

So I checked out some websites for online dating, put up a photo of myself as a young adult, pretended to be younger, thinner and basically an awful lot nicer than I really am, and off I went. The guy I met was handsome and in fairness, his face didn’t drop when he saw what I was really like. But then, within the first minute of meeting him, he took out a tissue, wiped his nose and began to go into detail about the terrible cold that he was getting over and would I like a drink. I decided that this information was only annoying because I’d now been trained into believing that a man should not speak about his health on the first date, so I gave him my sympathy and said that yes, thanks for offering, I’d have a glass of white. He came back with the glass of white and some horrific smelling herbal tea for himself, for his terrible cold that I knew all the details of at this stage. I thought to myself ‘I’ll let him off for slurping like a pig, cos after all, he has an awful cold’.
But then he started talking about money. And it wasn’t just about money in general, it was: ‘Now don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to buy a lady a drink, but don’t you think €6 is quite pricey for a glass of Pinot Grigio?’ I can’t remember what the exact answer was that I gave him, but I do remember that I didn’t stay for a second glass. Nor did I ever get around to opening a Flirting School.

 But is there a rule? Not long after that date I met my beloved. I can’t say what the chat up lines or the flirting entailed, because we didn’t meet on a dating website, and we never asked one another out for a date. But I suppose you’re more likely to stay long term with somebody who you say things like ‘stick on the kettle’ to, or ‘get up them stairs’.

Going right off the topic though, have you seen the little tracker thingy up in the right hand corner where I track my weight loss? I’m down 15lbs at this stage, and the group leader is giving me a pain and I’m at the bit of the diet where it takes ages and ages to lose half a pound and I’m kind off gone off salad. On top of that, Lidl’s have opened a real German bakery on their premises, and they have my very favourite pumpkin seed bread. I think one bread roll is equal to the amount of points in a glass of wine, which means that a bottle of bread rolls is 22 points.
I’d say at that flirt course that they told the women never to talk about diets on the first date.