Me and My Cheshire Cat

kate garden

It’s been an odd week. It has been frenetic and fun but I have also felt oddly removed from it as if I was watching myself, rather than taking part, if that makes any sense. I feel like the Cheshire Cat has joined me (the smiling cat from Alice in Wonderland which occasionally appears to Alice and talks – at least I think that is what happens, I haven’t read it for 50 years). When I was younger, each day led to the next, and was part of the whole; life belonged to me; it was mine. I didn’t notice time go by. I certainly didn’t notice Cheshire Cats! Now it is different. Each day is an individual day  and is slightly tiring. Each event in a day is a discrete one, rather than an integral part of my life. Each day is what I consciously choose to do rather than unconsciously experience.

Last Tuesday, my Cheshire Cat suggested I  get off my arse and go out. Later I slightly regretted our ‘conscious’ decision to go and see Inside Llewellyn Davies, the new Cohen Brothers movie at the Ramor Theatre in Virginia. The film was set in the 50s and 60s and was about ‘loss’ and the ‘failure’ of  singer, song writer, Llewellyn Davies. I found it lack lustre but dark. Oddly enough, though, it was the first event of a week that focussed on the past, loss, old friends and family in Cavan, Dublin and Galway.

On Wednesday evening ‘my poets’ read their love poems in the workshop I facilitate and discussed loss – the theme I had chosen. (I should say, my Cheshire Cat rarely appears in relation to my writing. Is this significant?) We read elegies and poems about death. While their poems we workedshopped a week later were very good, and it is a good theme, it is also a very dispiriting one. I came home, head in a cloud. So, when on Thursday I headed off to Galway for my poetry workshop and to go to Over The Edge with my friend Patrick, I was pleased to be heading for the clear skies of the West.

Patrick is an old friend of mine from England whom I have seen only twice in the last 30 years (different countries, marriage, children make it hard). He and I worked together in London during the eighties for the Labour borough councils. With our trusty type-writers, and fighting words, together we battled the Thatcher policies on local government cuts, rate capping and poll tax campaigns. But last Thursday, instead of politicking we were frolicking. Patrick is now doing  an MA in Writing in Limerick and so once again we were sharing passions and comparing notes. Sitting outside in the balmy winter weather on Quay St, we ate, drank and chatted about the poetry of life and love. It was as if the years had never passed. My Cheshire cat faded away!

I drove back to Cavan the next morning, feeling depleted, (more ghostlike than catlike) and was brought back to the present when I  discovered a  ‘homecoming’ was on the cards for that evening. Son was already here helping clear fallen trees and Daughter was on her way. A family dinner with all the accoutrements was required. Donning the mother mantle, I cooked roast chicken, parsnips, carrots, green beans, mashed potatoes, and it was all washed down with lashings of wine accompanied by love, laughter, bickering, and finally bed. Too busy to consider cats.

We all surfaced the following morning, misty minded, and set off on our different trajectories. Róisín (daughter) and I headed to the National Gallery in Dublin to peek at The Old Masters (and one Mistress) and an exhibition ‘Lines of Vision’ (highly recommended). This was  followed by dinner, a jug of sangria and a memorial concert at the National Concert Hall to celebrate the life of  John Ruddock, the father of one of my oldest and best friend in Dublin, who died last year. The concert was performed by the Vogler Quartet and the Scharoun Ensemble. I am not a follower of classical music or quartets, but to watch the musicians perform in the NCH was pure magic. The strings led and the wind followed, chasing their notes until they were perfectly inseparable. I cannot describe it. It was captivating. I know because I could see My Cheshire cat on the bar of the balcony with a big grin.

Yellow sunshine, blue skies, and that quiet, almost eerie calm of a Sunday morning in Dublin streamed in through Roisin’s bedroom window the next day. I got up and picked my way through the clothes strewn floor of my daughter. We had ended our musical evening with Graham Norton, Ann Hathaway, and a bottle of Aldi’s pinot grigot on the couch. After a cup of mint tea (no milk in the house) and a motherly daughter clash on  how to iron a ridiculous wrap around Penney’s garment, we set off over the hills to luncheon and reacquaint ourselves with our old and dear family friends.

We were armed with a delicious strawberry cheesecake from the Ranelagh Natural Bakery. It was oohed and ahhed at and joined an array of other lemon, raspberry, and strawberry cheesecakes, two banoffi pies, a remoulade, and a gluten free chocolate cake on the dessert table! They all looked very imperious, but an army of spoons and forks soon turned them into a veritable battle ground. The Cat had to fade rather quickly to escape injury! The white wine was gorgeous, and the house soon filled with musicians, my friend’s family, neighbours, and chit chat. It looked lovely. I didn’t watch myself mingle. I preferred to help with the food. At sunset, I took my leave and travelled north. The Cheshire Cat, snuggled on the passenger seat, talked to me as we wended our weary way to Cavan, to my own sofa, egg and chips, to watch Peaky Blinders (the BBC equivalent of Love/Hate set in the 1920s). Once there, the Cheshire Cat was chased off by Poppins, my real puppy.

The week ended  with more poetry at AT The Edge, Cavan. Kevin Higgins, Susan Millar du Mars and Philip Doherty read wonderful poems and short stories and the Open Mic was great. There was a good crowd and I was delighted. It was a success. I could be pleased, I told myself. The Cheshire Cat that sat on the podium with me as I curated the performance felt like the cat that got the cream. Later our visitors and I stayed up drinking in front of the fire, telling each other the different stories from our pasts. There are so many stories that make up a life. When we were young we had no stories to talk of, it was all about creating them…we wanted to change the world!

So my Cheshire Cat…maybe she is my inner being taking form. Maybe Philip Pullman would call it my daemon. Maybe she is my voice of experience. Whoever she is, I am learning to accept her as part of my life.

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