Finding my bearings in Vienna and Bratislava

I have just come back from a little holiday to Vienna and Bratislava in Slovakia. In short, Vienna was not as beautiful as I had imagined, and Bratislava was poorer and more touristy, though both were full of glorious sunshine, marble, churches, trams and stags. I think, to use modern parlance, my takeaway from my five day break is that to counteract our world of pandemics, war, social isolation, and corruption, more people must be turning to each other, getting married and finding solace and escape in stag parties.

On arrival in Vienna, dismissing taxis, we launched ourselves into public transport, boarded a double level train, alighted at an underground station and dragged our Ryanair cabin bags into daylight, along streets lined with high rise buildings that seemed to have no destination.  Following Google, Joe found our Airbnb studio on the noisy outer ring road which encircled a canal with a lovely towpath full of outdoor cafes, beaches, people pedalling, walking, running.

We dropped off our bags and set off to get our bearings. It seems this is best done by sitting at a canal café, in glorious sunshine, drinking Weisstephan beer (known as dusty beer) and pinching and swiping google maps. Don’t get me wrong, I do adore google maps, and I would have seriously been lost without it and Joe who seems to be able to walk and map read at the same time. However, I do like to see and hold a paper map which gives some sort of perspective. But, really, these days, it is not cool to be seen on a corner with a map looking confused.

Anyway, that afternoon we walked along the canal, getting our bearings, which I have to say I promptly lost as we stopped for sun drenched drinks, and soaked up the vibe of the city.  

In Vienna, there are thousands of grand, old, beautiful buildings, galleries, museums, and gothic, Gaudi looking church spires, and blue and gold tiled domes in the sky, but they were all surrounded by a conglomeration of high speed avenues, traffic, and noisy intersections. It felt like a wedding cake of a city which had exploded and its beautiful detritus had landed willy nilly.

The next day, the first place we visited was Karls Kirche  (a church) which was a little too opulent for my taste. There were a lot of friezes and statues in gold and marble, and cherubs and angels cavorting about. We went up an internal scaffold in a rickety lift to see the painted dome and my stomach turned, sadly not with delight. There was too much glory, gold, and crosses for my liking.

The highlight of Vienna for me was the Natural History Museum which was full of wonderful glittering minerals, dinosaurs, and very interactive so that I found myself cavorting back in the day with my ape friends. Then we sauntered off to  the Sigmund Freud museum which was set in the apartment that the family lived in before escaping the Nazis in 1938 and moving to London. It was interesting to see how people lived.

Actually, the real highlight was the Bloody Mary’s that night in the First Floor Jazz Club. Spanish students were trying to waltz to jazz music. Well, let me tell you, after the fourth Bloody Mary, Joe and I soon put pay to that and cleared the floor!

Or maybe my highlight was the next morning, admittedly bleary and weary, we visited the Hundertwasser Museum before leaving for Bratislava. We had a lovely breakfast in a gorgeous outdoor café which replenished our spirits and provided sustenance for the museum…which was fab.

 Hundertwasser was a surrealist artist and built the museum on the values of water, wind, tree and colour. It was wobbly (not so practical with a hangover), full of psychedelic circles and airy fairy, spiritual wonder. I loved it. I loved his designs for incinerators, housing developments, churches: colourful, curvaceous, and he had a wonderful eye for the glory of beauty. He was marvellously mad and I wished he’d had more luck in his lobbying of politicians. However, he was successful in his seduction of me and I bought a wonderful hat which I’m sure will go down well in the streets of Cavan.

 (Funnily enough, we found a similar exhibition in Bratislava the next day by an artist, Peter Bartos, who drew a million sketches of a wonderfully bright future with buildings that took account of nature, people, animals, trees, weather. I particularly liked them because looked rather like my own paintings.

 Anyway, after buying the hat, we took our leave of Vienna, and after a train journey across a rather boring plain, we landed in Bratislava and Joe guided us through more noisy, sweaty, sun drenched main roads towards our accommodation. After a fifteen minute hurried walk, I was relieved to follow him under an arch, down a cobbled street into the old town which was lovely: turreted church towers, charming squares all painted pale pinks, lemons, blues and lined with outdoor cafes enticing us to come and eat traditional Slovak food: dumplings with sheep’s cheese, cabbage soup with calves tongue, garlic soup served in a role, and spicy sausages. To get to our lovely pad, we had to go through large wooden doors, into a courtyard, up a circular staircase to the fourth floor. There, we dropped our bags and stepped out to …get our bearings.

After refreshing ourselves with beer, hummus and olives, we set off around the square, up the cobbled side streets, through the courtyards, along the Danube, past the statues, in and out of the vintage shops, popping into a lovely water colour gallery, and finally found a resting place with wine, trout soaked in bread, and a plate of spicy meat and cheese.

After ten minutes, it started to rain. Fortunately, we were under an awning, so we stayed put. Unfortunately, the rain got heavier and it began to thunder massive claps and bangs. The black sky lit up with silver cracks, flashing venom and anger. Literal rivers cascaded down the marble floor so we had to keep our feet lifted off the street. The rain drummed and flayed the canvas umbrellas. People scattered, holding plates of salmon, pasta and goulash close to their chest. Lights went out. It was very exciting. When it finished, we sniffed the fresh air and ended up in Baudelaire’s putting the world to rights. I was drinking rum garnished with gingerbread sticks. Delicious! Does anyone know where to get gingerbread sticks?

The next day was a little cloudy, so we decided to hit the art galleries. Entering the Central City Art Gallery and Natural History museum was rather like stepping back into a tawdry seventies affair with badly curated exhibitions. Poor Marie Therese, the first Austro Hungarian Queen (1740 – 1780) during whose reign Bratislava reached its pinnacle of glory, was the subject of a paltry exhibition set on shiny red, wonky exhibition stands stuffed into a delipidated bare room. On another floor we threw plastic balls at a video of passing dinosaurs, who if our aim was good enough, collapsed dead and disappeared. On the top floor were three exhibits that had been donated to the gallery by the artists, along with a sign that highlighted that this was all that was really available in terms of art as the gallery was so underfunded. However, I did like the three posters of the workers smiling on the second floor as they forged Stalin’s five year plan.

At midnight, having again put the world to rights with more cocktails, I headed up to bed to toss away the hours of the techno/house music rocking the walls of the studio apartment. Joe was more sensible…he went to the disco and danced into dawn with a Bratislavian beauty.

 Our last day was a tad more gentle. We visited the 13th century castle perched on the top of the hill with baroque gardens and views across to the Czech Republic and Hungary and then came back down and again wandered around the square, watching and commenting on the waves of determined octogenarian tourists hanging onto their sticks and each other. They perambulated in the mornings and filled the cafes at lunch but then disappeared (presumably for afternoon naps) and were replaced in the afternoon by traditional, four wheeled hooded prams pushed by mummies with small children darting between legs and Dads who trudged behind. They then all disappeared as the sun set and were replaced by groups of rowdy Irish, English, German stags who told bad jokes and laughed raucously til dawn.

Some were still there, collapsed in corners and doorways as we made our way across the square at 4.30am to get a taxi to the airport to fly back to Ireland. It was a great break.

Hundertwasser Museum
incinerator model
mineral in the Vienna Nat History Museum
Bratislava Castle
view of Bratislava
The Old Town Square
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Spectacular….Great Buzz…Astonishing

‘Magnificent’,  ‘Marvellous,’  and ‘Astounding’…now I know why I read these words so often on bill boards and theatre headlines…they are the words that must be used in connection with a truly brilliant theatre performance! I don’t know why, but I feel I must put them to use.

I went to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Bord Gais this week and it was truly ‘extraordinary’. I think it is a National Theatre production (UK) which is on tour, so if you get a chance, do go. The production is very faithful to the book by Mark Haddon and is beautifully acted and choreographed. The actor playing the role of Christopher Boon (the autistic child) was Connor Curren. He was absolutely amazing. I was in the front row and could see the sweat, spit, and muscle he put into the performance. Seriously, at the end of the show, I was wiping away the tears.

It was cleverly produced. I read the book twenty five years ago…and what stood out for me was the journey taken by the boy from Swindon to London. On stage, they danced the crowds, whistled the wind, and truly achieved the whirlwind of pushing, shoving, stumbling that you get at rush hour on the tube.

The set was ‘extraordinary’! The stage was a perfect square, made up of electronic tiles which became star constellations through which Christopher flew (with the helping hands of the troupe). The set accommodated and was able to convey beautifully the rational, logistical inside of Christy’s head. All the acting was superb, though for me, Connor stood out.

The book must be on the school curriculum for the theatre was full of school kids. This can sometimes be a mixed blessing (at The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a child sitting behind decided to practice her hairdressing skills on me) but in this auditorium you could hear a pin drop! If you get a chance, go and see it.

The other ‘spectacular’ event this week was National Poetry Day. Poetry Ireland do a great job facilitating the celebration of poetry, and their supports for National Poetry Day was great. They are so helpful and supportive, I almost expected to see staff turn up at my front door offering to help me with the baking of the Lemon Drizzle and Ginger cakes and concoction of the fruit punch! The Town Hall is also just a brilliant venue. We are very lucky to have it in Cavan. I had chosen to hold the poetry party in the small reception/kitchen area because I didn’t think too many people would come (I had received a fair few apologies), but we ended up having to squeeze more chairs in and people were hanging out at the door, tongues out (the cakes were at the other end). The poetry was brilliant, some home grown, but we also had Emily Bronte, Noel Monaghan, and a few recitations. I can’t thank enough Aisling from the Town Hall, Breege O’Brien and Jerry Fitzpatrick for the tea making, photos, hosting and crowd control!!!

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Recommending (or not) Russians, Pandemics, Lions, Witches, Wardrobes, and Horses.

I was reading The Story of a Life by Konstantin Paustovsky recently, a celebrated 20th century Russian writer, recommended by a BBC book podcast. I had never heard of him, but, apparently, he is much loved by Russians (he is a Ukrainian) and he succeeded in avoiding the various gulags and Siberian camps to which Stalin sent many Russian writers, partly, I guess, because one of his books written in the 1930s praised the industrialisation of the country.  

This book is beautifully written. It is his life story, and I started to read it just as the Russians invaded Ukraine which made it more poignant. It gave me an appreciation into how intricate and dovetailed the states of Ukraine and Russia have always been, even before the Russian Revolution. He writes fabulous descriptions of cities, trees, the sky, people. He lived through exciting times – war, revolution, the five year plan, civil war, which made his adventures as a medical orderly on a train travelling through Russia, Ukraine and Belarus picking up wounded soldiers, a journalist in Moscow during the revolution very exciting.

Paustovsky was born in 1892 on 31st May, which is my birthday! He had a happy childhood but when his parents split up, the separation of the family led to his life fragmenting and his writing reflects a boy and a young man always seeking salvation or something which is elusive. He casts a lonely figure in his stories, but his writing is very lyrical and romantic. Perhaps a little too sentimental? He describes his experience of cruelty, war, and death vividly. It was an oddly reflective of the scenes I was watching on the TV. It reminded me of how circular life is.

The circularity of life, including how our human reactions  seem to lead, inevitably, to diminishing circles is also apparent in To Paradise by Hanya  Yanagihara which is another long book (both this and The Story of a Life were three volumes!). On the surface, this book was very different to Pautovsky because it is science fiction, but it was but as grim in terms of its portrayal of human nature.

To Paradise is set over three generations of a wealthy and renowned family from the late 19th century to the late 21tst century. In the first book, families are made up of same sex marriages and we follow the story of a grandfather looking after his grandchildren after the parents die of a virus. America is divided into free states, the Wild West and the bigoted south and shifts between the different places. The first book has a Henry James feel to it. The story starts with the portrayal of an anxious, wealthy boy who doesn’t appear to grow up. This ineptitude seems to be the general thread through each protagonist of the following generations. I began to feel a little exasperated by them. The three books are about familial relationships and while excellent in parts, in other places was hard to follow and occasionally I felt lectured at.

An interesting feature in each of the To Paradise are the ‘pandemics’ that break out in each generation, and the increasing severity of each and how the last one destroys humanity, not just in terms of death but it takes away our ability to be generous and kind. Yanagihara writes about love, wealth, poverty, human weakness, the latter two ever increasing in volume as the centuries pass. Given we were experiencing our own Pandemic while I was reading this, the book was particularly scary. I’m not sure I would recommend it. It can be heavy going.

On a positive note, I went to see The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a book I much loved in childhood, at Bord Gais this month which was much better than I thought it would be. The choreography and stage set were both excellent, the acting good, though I could have done without the songs. Aslan was a rather good puppet but nothing as wonderful and magical as the War Horse which was staged by the National Theatre at Home during lockdown and was nothing short of brilliant. I watched it on line and loved it.

Now, I’m just listening to sad, wrecked refugees streaming out of Ukraine and three British soldiers deciding to go off on an adventure to ‘do something’ in Ukraine dressed up in knights in white armour. You couldn’t make it up!

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Happy New Year!

Christmas is finished, New Year is done, festivities and little treats (in my case, Lindt truffles, gin and cranberry mince pies from Lidl, classic panettone) are no more. The scales are overloaded, the holidays are booked and seem forever away. So heads down, folks, and let’s skedaddle through to February 1st,  St Brigid’s day, which many in Ireland consider the first day of Spring. From then on in, life will kick into action. No more introspection. The pace will pick up, the annual rhythms begin. There will be cricket, football, and tournaments of tennis. Elections and riots will be held, borders will be crossed,  sanctions will be imposed and political heads will roll. Wars will start, floods will flow, fires will burn, storms will squall. Financial Indexes will go up and down. People will die, babies will be born and meantime we will all have places to go, people to see and things to do.

Alongside the flotsam and jetson of world events, hopefully, the year will see me continue to walk Poppins daily, write the odd poem, read books, listen to drama and documentaries on both the BBC, RTE, watch TV series, swim, cook dinner, learn French with Duo Lingo, Face Time family and friends and wonder if every older generation feels that the world has gone mad. I do remember my grandparents complaining of a loss of morality. I dismissed them as stone age old farts. Am I now a middle class stone age old fart? Should I try to constrain that inclination I’m developing towards impatience and intolerance? Probably. At the moment I don’t have grandchildren to convince (and therefore myself ) that we can change the world. I hope they don’t come to late for me to change. A new year’s resolution, Kate. Stem disillusion now!

Talking of evolution, I have just come back from a two night stay in Ballina at the Ice House.  The fourth wall of our hotel room was a glass window overlooking the River Moy and Belleek woods. The wide, tumbling, salmon tossed, river winter life was full of fowl, birds, fish, otters, and weather. There was so much movement in tune with hours of the day. The wind, sea tides, night and day made the river rise, fall, burble, crash, there were different rhythms at different hours. At dusk, there was a starling murmuration, ducks squawking, and the family of three swans dipped their heads and settled them under their wings. At dawn, the river woke slowly, with a pale demeanour. Singly, birds abounded in the air, fish began to pop bubbles in the water, and the river rippled over the rapids.

While there are lakes and lots of wildlife in Cavan, and I can watch the starling murmurate over the lake outside my window, I don’t feel the life rhythm here as much as I did watching the river in Ballina. This may be because, even as an older woman with less responsibility, I still live by dull daily routines and don’t afford myself the time or have the inclination to stop and watch. So, I am making a late new year’s resolution: I will note and take pleasure in natural routines…and unnatural ones. For instance, there is a blackbird in the garden who sings throughout the dead of night, every night. S/he starts at about 1.30am and will intermittently sing sweetly (or not as the case may be) until the robins, thrushes, and tits join in the trill around six. This is charming. There is also a car that drives past the house every morning at 5.10am. I will notice and remark. I will take pleasure…

Finally, talking of pleasure…I did like Ballina. It was a twisty, interesting town that liked itself. It had a lot of traditional, interesting shops and not so many trendy cafes, beauty salons and nail bars. Whoops, stop it, Kate. So, I am looking forward to 2022. I plan to wallow in it, like those swans on the River Foy, happily. Happy New Year.

River Moy outside my window
view from Ice House Relaxation Room (the seats are heated)
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Here, There and Elsewhere

At the launch of Elsewhere, my third poetry collection, on Friday evening, it was strange to see all these tiny portraits representing the different threads of my life lined up in front of me as I read poems. There were fellow poets, brothers, sisters, children, old friends, new friends, neighbours zooming in from various parts of the world, each one representing a meaningful but specific part of my life. There, before me, my life and loves were spread out.  I felt as if I could reach out and dive into a conversation and a glass of wine with each one of them about poetry, love, politics, art. Instead, I read poems aloud about poetry, love, politics, art. Hah! I held the floor, no interruptions …feat enough in itself!!!!

Kevin Higgins, who has been so supportive and encouraging of my poetry since I met him, also spun his wizardry words, along with Bernie Crawford. In his blurb on the back of Elsewhere Kevin joked that he would be “delighted to live in a world run by Kate Ennals.” My imagination ran riot. If I ruled the world, I would have a round table peopled by all portraits in front of me and we would weave magic, drink wine, and start to put the world to rights, but as I write this, I’m thinking maybe I’m doing that already, well the last two anyway!  (Actually, I’m writing this while listening to Deirdre Mortell from ReThink Ireland at the Green Party convention, and I’m liking the sound of her ideas – I’ll definitely have her on my round table).

To be honest, I don’t think I’d be very good at running the world. Once, I did some kind of psychometric test, and I was told, a little to my chagrin, that I am a follower!!! But it’s true, I like to initiate stuff and be part of projects but being out there, at the front, alone, that’s not for me. I loved having Kevin and Bernie reading their poems at the launch and sharing that space. I treasure Bernie’s poems. They chime with me. I think our interests and concerns are very similar, so it is interesting to see how she tumbles her words, how our poetry dovetails. Kevin’s poetry is satirical, sharp, hilarious, and both poets write gut wrenching poems. By the way, you can get their books through Salmon who publishes them https://www.salmonpoetry.com/

But what really made the evening work for me was all these tiny portraits of you all lined up in front of me, all the threads of my life at once here, there and elsewhere. Thanks to Janice Dempsey of Vole Imprint for facilitating the launch.

You can find the launch on YouTube at this link, as well as the link to buy the book from me or the Vole Imprint

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https://www.dempseyandwindle.com/kateennals.html

Elsewhere can be purchased via Paypal from the top of the katennals blog.

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The Delight of Dublin and Dogs

On our way down to Dublin to dog sit Alfie for my daughter last Thursday (she went off to Paris for the weekend), I popped into Aldi in Cavan to buy Poppins’ favourite dog food and some sugar free mints (I smoke but cannot abide the taste, so have to have mints with every cigarette…don’t ask), where I discovered, unbeknown to me (again, don’t ask me how I didn’t know) they had converted the old rundown, higgldy piggldy Aldi into a supersonic, fifteen lane, airy, ordered, French like superstore! I almost decided to stay there for the weekend, instead of coming to Dublin, but being a dutiful mother, as promised, I headed off down the N3.

Roisin lives in Stoneybatter, in a tiny, but lovely home. It is less lovely when there are four of us and two boisterous dogs staying in it, so when she and Jack headed off the next day, we gave a sigh of relief, threw out the mouldy food in the fridge, emptied the bins, re-ordered the house to the way we liked it, and began to live our pretend Dublin life. Having made a tour of the Lilliput Deli (fresh anchovies, artichokes, and every tapenade and pulse you could imagine), the organic green grocer and butchers, the Green Door Bakery, the 24 hour Centra which has an excellent selection of fine wines, I came back and scrawled a notice to put on the front door: NO EVICTIONS HERE. LAND LORDS GO AWAY which I hoped Roisin would understand should she come back.

We had great weather. Every morning, me and the dogs (and a trail of green poo bags) would bound up to Grange Gorman or Pheonix Park in glorious sunshine, weaving along the narrow terraced houses, the spooky front gardens, stopping regularly to unravel the two leads from lampposts and other dogs and pass the time of the day with whomever would stop to help me. Grange Gorman was usually crowded with dog walkers, dogs, students, runners, footballers, and milling with yellow vested security guards. I loved it, as did the dogs.

Pheonix Park was more elegant. Finely landscaped, beautiful roses, secret paths through wooded hills, a river, ducks, small children feeding the ducks. All heaven except for the fire works which exploded (even in daylight) in a regular stutter of bang bang bang as if we were being shot at, which of course Poppins thought she was. Fortunately, she was on the lead at the time, but she wanted refuge, and so leapt up at every parked car we passed as she dragged me and Alfie home. She is remarkably strong. She gave one man sitting in his driver’s seat a heart attack as she scrabbled at his window to be let in. At one stage, Alfie decided it was all too much and stopped. He point blank refused to walk. So, there was Poppins, out in front, nose to the ground pulling me forward. Then there was me in the middle, trying to calm her down, interspersed with angry retorts to Alfie behind me who I was literally dragging, on his back, paws in the air along the pavement. Such very unD7 behaviour. Thank God Roisin couldn’t see me.

Saturday, after a quick run around Grange Gorman, we left the dogs behind to hopefully bond, and set off to meet our oldest and bestest Dublin friends whom we hadn’t seen for over two years (we all know why.) We had arranged to go see the Jack Yeats exhibition on the National Gallery and then go for a boozy Italian lunch. It was perfect. I love the slick and sprawl of the oil in Yeats. I love stepping back and watching the story emerge from the painting. I love the colour and energy. It bubbles up in me and makes me want to cry with happiness. The wine at the Italian restaurant had a similar effect. Chatting politics, books, children with old, good friends left me feeling happily weepy and sentimental. Eventually we all had to go home (they had to babysit grandchildren and our dogs needed us).

So, we did other things too. We went reminiscing in the Wicklow Mountains, oohing and ahhing at the changes around Cherrywood and Kiltiernan, and giving out at the snarl of traffic we encountered coming back on the M50 (you don’t see much of that sort of thing in Cavan). And, talking of mountains, I ate a mountain of mussels in Oscar’s last night in Smithfield. They were delicious. And then we watched the last of the Kin series. We felt it was appropriate that we came to their territory for their grand finale…except of course, it wasn’t the Grand Finale. They haven’t gone away you know. This morning is my last morning. Again, it is glorious sunshine. Having finally bonded, the dogs and husband are all upstairs together in the same bed (they have similar habits). I must get them up and take them all out. We have learned where the obstreperous lamp posts are, found ways to navigate away from the Grange Gorman yellow jacketed security blokes who want me to leash Poppins. The dogs have asserted their individual right to eat from the other’s food bowl without killing each other. My culinary exploits (venison burgers, garlic with a splash of wine sausages, Italian panetone cake with chocolate) will be no more. Soon a plane will be arriving at the airport from Charles de Gaulle bringing back Roisin, and I will be flying up the N3 with a relieved Poppins because, while she will put up with Alfie, she prefers to have me to herself (though she will tolerate Jerry). Poppins will be happy to get back to her perch on the top of the couch watching the world go past in Cavan though she may have to wait just a little while longer while I go explore that new Aldi en route home. I’m hoping they’ll have fresh anchovies.

the port from bull island

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Going Elsewhere

When I’m in London and go to Kings Cross, its transformation shocks me. The high rise, glass plated, mirrored towers, multi-tiered levels, crowded cafes, restaurants and apartment blocks leave me in a state of wonder. I wonder if this is what an escalating pyramid scheme looks like. The new Well’s Terrace entrance to Finsbury Park tube station is now striving to be a baby Kings Cross. It has been converted from a run down, dusty hole in a brick wall next to an exhaust filled bus station, to a plate glass piazza, filled with Pret a Manger, apartments, and a Picture House Cinema. Finsbury Park already has an active community theatre, and the Stroud Green Road is a mecca of delicious East Asian and European restaurants. When I left in London in 1994, the shops sold only mops and plastic buckets, and cheap whole-sale clothes. Now, there is wine, avocados, oat milk and more!

So, I was going to Kings Cross, via Finsbury Park, for the first time in two years. My friend, Maria, had asked me to come with her to a 10th birthday party of a small organisation, Justice Studio (justicestudio.org). The event was small but filled with a bewildering number of young women who were chief executive officers or senior researchers working in human rights organisations. They were passionate about their field, as well as beautiful and articulate (though they spoke very fast in a language which I didn’t wholly understand). They bowled me over. They mixed compassion with style, a belief in dignity, respect, equality with high heels, lip stick and enthusiasm. Wow. There was champagne, wine, lovely food, and such stimulating conversation about community development, local government, the prison system, violence, injustice.  They were there to put the world to rights, and to advise us where to go for dinner in Kings Cross. The Indian restaurant, Dishroom, is the place to go, it seems. We didn’t get in as we hadn’t booked, (if you want to go anywhere in London these days, you have to book – no more strolling into an art gallery) but we found a nice South Indonesian restaurant which when it came for me to pay, refused to take my money as payment! Plastic please.

Another improvement in London is the network of transport. I loved travelling over ground (didn’t it used to be called over land?). On Thursday afternoon, after arriving in Finsbury Park, Malcom, (Maria’s husband), and I jumped on a train to London Bridge to go to the Tate Modern. It took barely twenty minutes. We had a wonderful afternoon. Malcom regaled me with tales of his retirement. He volunteers in Crisis, a charity shop working with homeless people, (we go later, and I buy a beautiful shirt in what is a very trendy, well laid out, charity shop with café and barista), is in a choir, a ‘sketching group’, he gardens and goes to exhibitions. He seems very happy. After Malcom succeeding in booking us in (he is a member) we had half hour to spare so had a sandwich at Pret a Manger. I tried to pay but they wouldn’t take my cash. It was legal tender but not the new notes, so not legal enough.

On walking in to the Tate through the Turbine Hall we saw the most magnificent flying jellyfish bobbing about (https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/hyundai-commission-anicka-yi.) What wonderful creatures. These were a highlight of my London visit. After browsing around the permanent exhibition (we couldn’t get into any of the featured exhibitions because they were booked out), we sat down in a very comfortable leather couch and Mal sketched them while I wrote a poem. I love to sit in a gallery and take the time to respond to what I see. During my London visit I went to the Victoria and Albert, and the Photographer’s Gallery in Oxford St where I saw a fascinating series of photos by Helen Levitt of New York street children and people in the 40s, but I didn’t get time to sit and respond in either gallery.

The visit was family orientated. My brother is not well and in hospital. I wasn’t allowed in due to Covid, but he was able to sneak out of his ward (at an appointed time) and we had four minutes in the corridor). It was less stressful seeing my two nieces, Clare and Hannah, in Stockwell whom I hadn’t seen in two and half years. Gosh, they are beautiful young things. I was travelling with my own beautiful, young daughter, Roisin, who, to get me out of my pandemic malaise, had booked the flights and encouraged me to lift my head above the parapet and simply go. I hadn’t been scared of contracting Covid, I had just lost my ability to ‘plan and do’ or ‘meet and talk’. So, on Saturday night, there I was, eating in a lovely Portuguese restaurant in Vauxhall, with family and friends, and feeling rather young and beautiful myself.

L-R Roisin, Hannah, me, Clare, Jack

When I got back to Cavan, the excitement continued when I opened the post and found my new book, Elsewhere, waiting for me from Vole Publishing. Rebecca O’Connor (editor of that beautiful literary journal, The Moth) is launching it in Cavan at a real live event on Friday 20th November with actual cake and wine in Cavan Town Hall. I’m having a zoom launch the following Friday on 26 November at 6pm. I love the quotes on the back…perfect poetry, me thinks.

So it’s lovely to be home, in my own bed, writing this, but I am planning another visit to London as I tread the path between having the best of both worlds and being elsewhere.

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Killing Fish, New Poems, Magic and Mushrooms

Castles, courtyards and dreamy, meandering rivers featured in my few days in the Irish county of Tipperary this August. There was sunshine, morning mists, fairies in forests and exhibitions about the work of Irish women in politics as well as their roles back in the day. I was impressed. I also had a shopping expedition in Clonmel, buying some round colourful Kilkenny glasses, a bright yellow oil cloth and a lamp full of bubbling water and plastic fish which I bought as a memorial to our Cat and Angel fish whose heads were chopped off at Easter in a mercy killing event. We had cared for them for nearly ten years…and the kitchen corner where the fish tank used to live looked a little bare. This tube of bubbling water which changes colour (blue, red, purple and white) and has swimming plastic fish, is perfect.

So, I am back in Cavan, with my purchases, school has returned, the leaves are turning, and it seems poetry is beginning to lift its head above the parapet. I am reading ‘live’ in Bailieborough in September at a Poetry Town event (thanks to Poetry Ireland) with Northern neighbours, John D Kelly and Teresa Godfrey, both of whom published into the Pandemic. I am also thinking of running a poetry workshop in the autumn which will focus on Poets Living in Ireland Today, and I am having my third poetry collection, Elsewhere, published by an English publisher, Windle and Dempsey (isn’t it a great name?) under the imprint of Vole in November 21. So, the news is good! I am so grateful to Salmon Poetry who have agreed to publish my fourth collection in Spring 23 instead of my third and the experience so far with Vole has been very positive.  

I am ‘sort of’ looking forward to the Elsewhere launch (more details later) but, I still feel hesitant, as if I’m walking through the shallows of a salty sea filled with lion mane jellyfish (they descended on our west coast this summer). I am not scared of getting Covid, but I feel anxious about re-engaging with the world. After all this time ranting and railing about being locked down, my little corner in Cavan, suddenly, seems attractive – no jellyfish, floods, soaring temperatures, forest fires, riots, revolutions here, though I did bring back a freshly picked Lion’s Mane mushroom rather than jellyfish from the Limerick Milk Market. I will fry and eat it tonight. Apparently, if I weigh it down with a cast iron pan while frying it lightly in oil, it turns into a steak! The magic qualities of the mushroom! Here’s a mushroom poem!

Mushrooms

The oak tree stretches up into a sparkling crown

of green twigs and leaves, a fractured maze of beech and ash,

a scurry of leaping squirrels. Green ivy and lichen

floor the forest as I scrabble, bent through the crumble

of leaf and soil. A wriggle of skin wings crawl

from the myriad of rhizomes and roots.

My fingers penetrate earth. I scrabble deep

beyond the mycelial barrier,

to the intergalactic ecosystem below

and above that blows my mind.

While talking of food, would you believe I have been cooking a lot of Ottolenghi  dishes this summer from his cook book SIMPLE. When my daughter gave it to me for my birthday, my heart sank, but it really is fab, different, and the ingredients easily available. Highly recommended. While I’m recommending books, my copy of the Happy Pear – Recipes for Happiness is completely food splashed and stained. Maybe in the next blog, I’ll let you know about books I enjoyed during the pandemic. I read over 85 books (not including cookbooks) and did little reviews of each. Looking back at it, it’s quite eclectic!

Rock of Cashel
Suir

Tree Fairy Cahir

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A Kick up the Arse

It is brighter outside in Cavan today, but still raining. Yesterday, I got drenched while out walking my dog, Poppins. My red dress dripped a trail of pink splashes around the stony path of the golf course at the Farnham Estate. But before that, last week, in the sunshine, it was as if I had jumped into a chalked up pavement picture, and was riding a carrousel of dreams, to borrow an image from Mary Poppins.

It is hard to believe that I was ever strolling along the tow path of the river Barrow between Graiguenamanagh and Borris, sniffing in the creamy scent of the willow blossom, bathing in its green waters, and sipping pints of bitter shandy on its banks. The gardens of the occasional lock houses along the way were filled with reds, blues, purples and yellows of roses, camellias, summer lilac, hydrangeas, fuscia, buddlia, forest flames.

Or that just two days ago, I was at Ballyjamesduff Museum, lying out on the lawn, eating salmon salad with beetroot wraps, drinking lovely leitrim cocktails, listening to live blue grass jazz at the launch of our new project, Drominn Creative.

(By the way, Drominn Creative is going to make Cavan the most sought after holiday destination in Ireland soon. We are bringing together local artists and businesses, local eateries and hotels to make sure that our visitors and guests are given the opportunity to sample the best of Cavan. Who wouldn’t like to traverse Loch Outer on a canoe, one evening, with a delicious picnic made of local produce, while listening to local musicians playing on the shore or spend an afternoon rambling around the Cavan Burren listening to old legends and poems while local cocktails are shaken up – but this blog isn’t an advert, so I shall stop meandering.)

Yes, the last two weeks have been the stuff of dreams that for nearly two years have been non-existent. And it seems dreamlike because, to me, the world still seems a dangerous place, despite my being double vaccinated and having a digital Covid pass. Somehow, that seems irrelevant when I hear about the Israeli Pegasus phone hacking device which enable governments who purchase it, to target their ‘terrorists’, (our ‘journalists’); when I hear about the massive increase in the profits of the tech companies; when I see fires and floods rage across the world because of climate change; when the delta variant is still on the rampage.

Maybe it will take time for me to summon the energy to wholly re-surface, but bit by bit, I am sure I will. Baby steps along the river Borris and at Cavan Museum will get me there. And Brad Blanks. He contacted me yesterday after reading my blog. It seems he is an Aussie Ennals, now living in New York, working in radio, and he loves my blog. This is why I’m writing this, now, after a such a long dry period. His enthusiasm spurred me on. It seems both our great grandfathers originated in Birmingham…or Walsall, to be more precise. I wonder if he has seen Peaky Blinders. Anyway, thank God for family. Family is always good to give you a kick up the arse and start you moving…whomever they are and wherever they come from.

See you next month!

lock house
River Barrow
Joe Kate Ro
Swimming in River Barrow
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The Clare Trilogy

We crept away, not telling a soul. We left at dawn, phoned my son, told him to meet us there. Doonbeg, Clare.

Late Afternoon Yoga on the White Strand with my Daughter

Under the cliff, near the lapping shore, 
my daughter, turned downward dog into cat cow 
Her taut, lithe body framed itself into warrior three
contorted back into crab and stretched into tree.
Her hands reached into the kippered clouds 
rippling in pink across the late afternoon sea. 

Meantime, above, a  flow of black and white cattle, 
with shuddering udders, meandered, full of shape 
and sway, from the field at the top of the beach 
to a milking shed, flicking tails, leaking shit.
The waft and vision sent our dogs into a paroxysm 
of heaven, terror and joy, barking and yapping.

At the sound of the mayhem, we leapt with alacrity 
to leash our mutts, chasing and shouting ‘stop that’, 
‘come here’. Order restored, we apologised, admonished our pets
who flopped down, tongues lolling, unrepentant; 
We resumed our positions, Roisin in child’s pose, me 
smoking a cigarette, but the zen moment  was ruined.


The Pollock Hole in Kilkee

It was early morning
A man’s bare pale skin puckered,
red with goosebumps.
He chatted to his young son 
in no rush to leave or clothe himself.
Behind, in the sunlight, 
the pollock glistened in the flat granite rock
both alluring and frightful at the same time
It’s balmy, he joked.
My daughter undressed and crouched, preparing.
The man and boy left.
I stepped away, traversing the plateau of black and grey
dotted with light. I sniffed the bright blue and yellow
cold wind snipped at my ankles
the town quiet at the prom.
I circled back to the pollock.
She was still on the rock
I waited. She plunged. I saw her legs kick
Her mouth gasp, her arms flail.
It’s so cold, she wailed, but wonderful
I wanted to go in
But my heart failed.


O’Brien’s Cottage, Doonbeg

The kitchen table dominated the room
Long, bleached, four two inch wooden panels of pine
detracting even from the ancient range

we set it with two vases of flowers 
Salad, sausages, fried potatoes 
Cheese and wine

mother, father
brother, sister
a family on the cusp of turning

Through the thick cottage walls 
and small windows, fingers of sun reached in 
Spreading sea, salt, and scrubby grass

My tummy gurgled in glee
at the pitch of conversation
forming familiar patterns

around a kitchen table
after so long in silence 
staring alone at the TV


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