It seems that I haven’t stopped crying recently. I spent the weekend in London, and then the last few days in County Kerry and throughout this time I have required a constant stream of tissues which, unfortunately, I never had! The tears have been big, round rolling ones which spill involuntarily out of the eye. I usually tried to wipe them away before anyone saw. When I didn’t succeed, these tears led to big, embarrassed, foolish grins plastered on my face over which I had no control.
It all began when I returned to London to see The Boyfriend at the Chocolate Factory Theatre in Southwark. I flew into Gatwick and travelled into town. My brother, and his partner, my oldest childhood friends, various university friends, some with family, and my own daughter had already arrived at our pre show dinner, so when I sat down, I felt a little emotional at having my nearest and dearest so close at hand. I managed to keep my composure but of course the show itself triggered the lachrymose gland that would continue to leak for the next five days!
The Boyfriend provoked a variety of emotions – joyous nostalgia, horror at the unremitting sexism, and amusement at how successfully the production undermined its own sentiments through exageration. It was almost grotesque. The costumes were rich in jewels, glitter and shimmer. The ‘girls’ were pitch perfect in giggle and chatter, and Mme Dubonnet was a treat to behold. Her outfits were perfect and her acting was superb. The dancing was fabulous. I do recommend it, particularly for people of my generation though I have to say, at 60, we were the youngest in the audience.
When I was at Primary School, my class put on The Boyfriend. We were nine years old. Watching the performance, I quivered with retrospective embarrassment at how our porky, pre-pubescent bodies must have looked, kicking and twirling in our flapper costumes. Aged ten, I had little concept of irony so I think all those songs yearning for Pierrots and love, and boyfriends in Bloomsbury, probably have a lot to answer for!
The next day, Maria, Malcolm and I set off to Colchester to visit Martin and Kobi, who had turned down the invitation to The Boyfriend. Martin is one of my first loves and has recently returned from New Zealand (where he is now a citizen) and he and his Kiwi partner, Kobi, are buying a place in Colchester…don’t ask. Anyway, after driving around endless Colchester roundabouts and suburban posh streets in Storm Enrique, looking at the hundreds of houses they didn’t buy, we drove out to Mersea Island to a popular sea shack to eat gorgeous seafood. To get to Mersea Island, we had to cross a toll bridge over miles of brown, roiling, schlucking, glorious mud. Admittedly, there was actual water at the coastline with colourful, pretty boats jangling in the marina, but it was definitely offset by the grey sleeting curtain of wind and rain. The shack, however, was a shanty of delight: live, crawling lobsters in tanks, mussels, crabs, shrimps, tuna, herrings, salmon. We feasted well! Me, a little too well and while I managed to contain my tears, my stomach rued the over-indulgence as Malcolm, Maria and I drove on to stay their country pad in Suffolk.
I awoke on Saturday to storm Jorge (I don’t know what happened to the storms beginning with F, G and H) and at the crack of dawn, we left Suffolk (I was fully recovered) and returned to Sunny London where I was meeting another old friend, Lesley. At about six o’clock, after visiting a rather fine textile and costume exhibition at 2 Temple Place, a very bizarre mushroom exhibition in Somerset House, and rather fine David Bomberg and Nicholas Maes paintings at the National Gallery, we were crossing Shaftesbury Avenue on our way to an Indian Restaurant on Carnaby Street.
“Look, Mary Poppins is on at the theatre!” I said, suddenly very excited. Some of you may know that Mary Poppins is my heroine and role model. ‘Practically perfect in every way’ is my daily mantra. “Let’s just see,” I said, disappearing into the foyer. In a click of the fingers I had bought two top priced tickets for just half their value – Seat 13, Row D, in the stalls – and in one hour, we were gazing up with expectant faces and gappy grins.
It was a magnificent and spectacular performance. I have never seen a show like it. The sets were wonderfully detailed and very sophisticated. Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane was like a huge dolls house. Bert and the Chimney Sweeps tapped and swept across the roof tops, even up the sides and over the ceiling of the theatre, and Mary Poppins flew with her parrot umbrella across the auditorium. It was true magic. She sailed up the bannisters, pulled standard lamps from her glorious carpet bag, and with a click of her fingers righted the wrecked kitchen destroyed when Jane and Michael baked a cake. The dancing statues were magnificent, and I loved Mrs Correy’s Talking Shop. I couldn’t control the tears. They streamed down my cheeks in utter joy! The songs were fabulous and performances superb. Zizi Strallen was a wonderful Mary Poppins and Petula Clark was the bird lady. It was indeed, to my view, practically perfect.
The British Library, which is where I met Jayne on a lovely, sunny Sunday, was a less exuberant joy but still a pleasure. I loved the maps from the 16th century, the manuscripts you can browse through, written by the Brontes and other beloved English writers. From there, Jayne and I ambled our way through Bloomsbury, calling in at the lovely Persephone bookshop, past our old Alma Mater, Kingsway- Princeton FE college, through the ancient grave yard where my first real boyfriend used to meet me for kisses and joints, to the new Boulevard Theatre in Soho to go to a poetry reading. The poets were a mixed bunch, but the event is a weekly one run by a crew called Live Cannon which I will check out. I enjoyed it. It is a venue to look out for.
Then back to Maria and Malcolm’s and a Sunday dinner (no longer a tradition in our house at home) where I enjoyed heated discussions with Mary, their fervent and committedly vegan seventeen year old, about her school’s appalling policy on toilets for trans people and its undemocratic attitudes. I had forgotten how teenagers keep you on your toes.
Over the weekend, there had been much discussion about the Covid 19 virus in London. Mary’s school discovered one of the pupils was a possible threat and kept him in the stock cupboard until he could be collected, so I was relieved to be back on home territory in Ireland on Monday and driving down to Kerry to take part in my beautiful Citizenship Ceremony at 9.30am on Tuesday morning. Arriving in from London, it was as if I had spent the weekend saying my goodbyes to my British heritage.
Would you believe, I welled up during the Minister of State’s speech at 10am in the morning! Due to my previous work, I have heard many Minister of States speak; but I have never found myself so poignantly moved. After taking my oath of fidelity to the state, I openly wept when judge Mcmahon pronounced that I was now Irish. Tears coursed down my cheeks. I couldn’t fling my arms around my closest Irish compatriot because of the Corona virus, but I nodded with shining eyes and we decided to elbow nudge instead. I have lived here for twenty-five years, and have many friends and acquaintances. I have worked for State agencies and across the country in a community development capacity. I have been very active in my own local community in Cavan, but I have always felt as if I didn’t truly belong because I wasn’t Irish. Now I am!
So, my weekend was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. Being in London, spending time with my oldest friends in the place I was reared, visiting the landmarks of my youth, going to exhibitions and theatres reminds me of the girl I once was, and makes me feel safe. However, coming home to Ireland, receiving acknowledgement and acceptance of my life here as a mother, worker and woman and becoming a citizen of the land of saints and scholars was tremendous. You won’t believe this, but after the ceremony we took a drive through the Dunloe Gap of the stunning scenery of Macgillycuddy Reeks through blue skies, glorious sunshine and amazing black, formidable clouds. At the pass, I got out danced at the end of triple edged, watery rainbow!