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


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 ( 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 ( 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.


Welcome to Beirut

After an epic dodgem like drive through the streets of Beirut following ten hours of travel, we arrived at the hotel, Le Bristol, to be greeted by top hatted door men and shiny glass doors. We entered an echo chamber of lurid purple, ornate furniture, mirrors and marble floors. Heavy metal and Lebanese Red popped into my mind. The reception staff were austere, with wide painted mouths and long faces, but they were helpful, and occasionally, they would smile.

Our room was more muted, grey and pink, a vast white bed floating in a sea of mauve, and green pillows. As we pushed open the door, there, on the brown glass table, stood a bottle of Lebanese white, a large slice of chocolate cake and a card to welcome us, ‘Mama and Dada, Happy Anniversary, love Róisín’. We found the culprit on the roof, stretched out by the pool, itself a sun rippled square of blue. Around us zoomed tower blocks of curved glass and white concrete. Car horns tooted below. We poured three glasses and toasted each other. “Welcome to Beirut.”

Róisín had, that day, been on an Alternative Walking Tour, so felt she had grasped the lie of the land. She took us by the hand, and guided us through Hamra to Down Town, past the lit-up palace, many militia points, the Christian Church, Mosque, both minaret and steeple touching dark skies, vying for glory, side by side. Beautiful.

The traffic was mad: It careered, braked, screech stopped, raced and dodged, hooting horns. Beiruties don’t walk, and park where they like – in the middle of the road, but at the same time are courteous to pedestrians. If you step out, they will perform an emergency stop, and wave you across.

We ate that night at restaurant City Chef, recommended because its cheap and famous for feeding the poor. The food was simple but fine, like the Lebanese wine. After dinner, we wandered around the trendy Gemmayzeh bars, tasting cocktails. We watched and gazed, welcomed everywhere. I tried out my French, but because of the Mandate set up after the war, everyone speaks English. They want to know why we are here and are filled with disbelief and delight when we say we are tourists. Welcome.

The next morning, I got up early for a refreshing swim, plowing up and down amongst the top of deserted buildings. Then out to explore, find breakfast and a walk to the national museum. Róisín and I set off, following the blue dots of google. We were staying in the Hamra neighbourhood, mental with banks and high-rise towers, many empty, with no windows. There were also beautiful houses, broken and ruined, ornate brickwork and tumbled down balconies, laced with bullet holes. The streets are a maze of concrete and dust, cars and lorries, but every so often, I caught a glimpse of the old world, the faded glory. We crossed the Green Line (now a highway) into the Christian side where life is less tumbled. It seems hip, richer, less noisy, trendy with shops and restaurants – though all of Beirut thrums with neon fast food.

We came across the Jewish cemetery, an oasis of silence, and a ravaged building held together by bullets, now an arts centre, but it was closed. We drank citron pressé through glass straws in a tiny French café by the museum.
There, I discovered death and destruction, necropolises and resurrection. The Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans and Turks, tombs and sarcophaguses, bowls with the burnt human bones, mummies and mosaics – all magnificent. You are welcome.

We then walked the Corniche, a prom by the Med, edged with tall tower blocks of apartments, presumably with fabulous views, but burnt out, devastated, empty. Occasionally, there was a period house, or a new building that I loved with straight, clean lines that reflected a truly gorgeous horizon. Sadly, as the huge red Middle Eastern sun set, it was on hillocks of litter on pebbled beaches. It was plastic bottles on rocks that glittered. Beirut has a huge issue with its collection of rubbish. We were told it was because of political corruption. You are welcome.

For dinner, that evening we met Aisha, the daughter of an old friend, who lives in Beirut and works with Syrian refugees. Over tapas we talked of the Middle East, its joys and difficulties.

The next day, we met Ali, a taxi driver, who drove us across the mountains behind Beirut to Baalbec in the Beqaa Valley. Here is the Quaa – a wondrous site of temples and ruins dating back to 37 BC. Welcome. The first temple was completed under Nero in 36 AD, and more were erected over the following centuries by different peoples. It is truly amazing that, despite the invasions over the centuries, the bombing by the Israelis that these magnificent stones still stand, glorious and breath taking. It was amazing to be able to scramble and perch our bums, run our hands over columns and temples created by people over thousands of years ago.

Back in Beirut that evening, it began to storm: flashes of sheet lightening and bulbous drops of water exploded, drenching the city and us in seconds. We ran to a bar full of hubble bubble and cushions, ordered wine and tapas and settled down. Welcome.

The next day, Róisín was gone and I set off to do her recommended Alternative Walking Tour of East and West Beirut. I took an Uber to the meeting place. The driver was concerned that an older woman alone was going for a walk in the city on her own. He tried to persuade me instead to walk the Corniche, where he said it was safe. Eventually, he dropped me where I wished, at the bottom of the steps of St Nicholas. Welcome. The first person I met was also Irish, from Kildare, but living in Tyre. In the end, there were sixteen of us – Spanish, Italian, Australian, French and Swiss. Mustapha led us through the Christian district of Sodeco, through a well-tended garden of one of Beirut’s oldest families. It seems there are very few such houses left in Lebanon. Only 30,000 exist, not bombed or abandoned. Welcome

As I mentioned, the tour was ‘alternative’ and group hugs were encouraged (partly to protect us from the traffic) and politics discussed. Mustapha regaled us with economic facts and stories of corrupt politicians, the high cost of living, the soulless new build built by Solidaire, (the Dublin Docklands equivalent). He went through the history of wars and incursions, his home being bombed by the Israelis in 2006 and him rescuing his mother, brothers and sisters, and how his mother is still a refugee. She will not return from her sanctuary; I think it is in Jordan, but I could be wrong for he had so much to say, so much passion, arrogance and anger (he was young).

That night, Jerry and I booked a table at an Armenian restaurant, the Mayrig, and dined in splendour, surrounded by shrubs and green leaves. After walking the streets and dodging the traffic, the peace and Lebanese wine was a wonderful relief. Welcome

Food has been a joy on this trip. I’ve had chick peas that melt in your mouth, meat that falls apart on your tongue, cheese and spices that explode with taste, peppers, beetroot, tomatoes, chili hors d’ouvres that have been really delicious.
IMG_1760 (1)

On Sunday, in Down Town Beirut we went to The Egg, a bombed out building, the shape of a dome, perched in the midst of the soulless new build. We were visiting an exhibition, Plastic, by an unknown artist who wishes to remain incognito. His/her art displayed the penury of cult. There were video portraits of famous people, graffitied, exposing their shame. It was clever and got great acclaim.

Our last day, Ali took us North to Biblos – where humans have lived for the last 7,000 years. It had a tiny harbour, full of boats, and a castle, a lovely fish restaurant and expensive souks. On our way, we had planned to cable car up to Harissa, where the Virgin Mary looks out over the sea. But the cable cars were being repaired, so Ali drove. There stood the cathedral on top of a mountain whose roof rippled like waves in the sky. I stood and looked down on Beirut, spread like a banquet, a city of white, full of friendship and history, of people with troubles, and knew that one day, I would like to return.


S’Truth! It All Happened in the Ballroom

The family began the Carlow Festival of Writing and Ideas in Dublin, at a noodle house (where my delicious sounding shredded beef turned out to be a mountain of mince) and continued in the Rag Trader pub expounding the delights of the British Election, Brexit, and block chain technology (after five pints I thought I had grasped the concept of block chain technology, but later discovered I hadn’t). It was only early Sunday morning before we got on the M9 to Borris House, the ancestral home of the McMorrows Kavanaghs (High Kings of Leinster, I’ll have you know). So, we arrived a day late in an Irish squall, a little the worse for wear, and found ourselves, rather under dressed,  in the grand grounds of a castle, complete with a chapel, granary,  ball room  standing among Anglo Saxon looking middle aged ladies and gentleman, wandering around clasping books and umbrellas.

We acclimatised ourselves in the bar (with a coffee) and retired to the ballroom to listen to Dominic West (McNulty in The Wire) talk to The Wire’s director and producer, David Simon. Dominic West’s open face and smile was an immediate winner (my daughter was extremely embarrassed at my gasp and drool) but their discussion and banter was amusing and endearing. It was fascinating to listen to how David Simon had planned the arc of The Wire over five years. Each series exposes how the life of an individual human being is shown to have less and less value and is considered more and more in terms of a unit of cost – whatever field you operate in; drugs, local government, education, politics. Both he and Dom (yes, Dom now, air kiss, cheeks, smile) were adorable and I wanted to marry both (for different reasons).

After a little more standing about in windswept rain, with paper coffee, feeling like drenched imposters, we went to listen to Fintan O’Toole talk to Margaret McMillan (historian) about the first world war. Sometimes I find Fintan O’Toole too erudite and other times too smug and arrogant, and I didn’t know Margaret McMillan’s work, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I emerged from The Granary fuming. After rather inane discussions as to when WW1 ended, internationalism, The Depression, betrayal, they moved on to discuss Brexit and the UK election. Ms McMillan declared she didn’t know how an allotment keeper (referring to Jeremy Corbyn) would handle Brexit negotiations! They discussed the lack of an ‘English’ identity which is odd since, in my experience of living here, I have found the Irish to have very strong views about the ‘English’ identity, and finally pronounced on their dislike of and limitations of popular protest groups. I thought she and Fintan were well suited. They could marry each other, I decided, and flounced off to the ballroom.

In the aforementioned ballroom,  Sebastian Barry was being interviewed by Max Porter. SB was wonderful. He wowed us all with a magnificent performance, reading one of the civil war battles as described by Thomas, his narrator in Days Without End. It was magnificent: hoarse, throaty, desperate, frantic. He captured the ‘lurching wild gallop of human creatures.’ SB described the book as a father’s book because it was written with the love of a father for his son; a son who is gay and who showed him how love for a person of the same gender was magic, delicate and encapsulating. The book is one of the best books I have ever read of Sebastian Barry’s and I have read them all. Indeed, it is one of the best books I have ever read. The language and breath belongs to the land and words belong to his characters. For me, the author was invisible. I could only hear Thomas. How brilliant is that? So, it was very embarrassing when I asked him about Birdsong, the only other book that has done that for me!! He laughed, and said he loved me…(why was he telling me that, I wondered), that it was a question he got asked a lot, and reminded me that Birdsong was written by Sebastian Faulkes! OMG! I knew that. I did! I have read all his books too. I blame the fifth pint! I got out of there quickly as I could, though I have to say, suddenly everyone wanted to talk with me, and people were patting my shoulder and smiling but, then I realised I had to turn around and push my way back in because ‘the giants’, as described in the brochure, Jeffrey Eugenides, Colm Tóibín and Richard Ford were back in the ballroom. But, SB said he loved me! I would marry him.

Gentle giants, they were, or maybe I felt that because I was still in recovery and couldn’t absorb their words. My notes show they talked about writing about the home place, how the words would come easier because they knew the hinterland and the weather (CT seemed a little hung up on the weather). There was a discussion about the difference between memoir and fiction.  My notes show that Richard Ford was saying that truth was told through the agency of fact. In fiction, the word becomes true. In memoir, the word needs to be true. JE talked about fictionalising fact, and CT talked, and talked about all sorts of things. I got a little confused but didn’t feel the need to pop any question.

Anyway, I it was a great festival, despite the rain, the hang over, the embarrassment and well worth the entry fee. Next year, I’ll try not to get sidelined by Dublin on the Saturday.


Seven Days in Marrakech

African Sun

We arrived in Marrakech, the pink city of satellite dishes, on Wednesday night about 10pm.  We watched the big African orange sun set through the window as we waited to get off the ‘plane. The heat enveloped us when we stepped on to the apron, and made our way into the airport to fill out registration forms and queue for passport control. It was a long queue. Each stamp took five minutes. Finally we headed out into the African night – warm, dusty, dark.  Roisin spotted our Riad name, El Dajide on the calling card of the transfer driver and forward we went into our adventure. Almost immediately I had to come back as I had left my suit case at the ‘change’ place where I got money. I succeeded in going back through arrivals, retrieving it, finding Roisin and the driver and in we jumped and away we went.


The van/bus drove extremely fast, through very narrow streets, with much honking of horns. To enter and leave the medina (the old town) you have to drive through a narrow arch, but so does everyone else and there are no traffic lights, no policeman, no regulation! But this is the way in Marrakech. It is brilliant! We didn’t wait long: our driver overtook, entangled, negotiated horns, taxis and waving hands. Finally a police man did turn up.

Fifteen minutes later we screeched to a stop on a busy square full of people and swerving motorbikes. Despite the hour, there were stalls selling bananas and grapes, kitchen towel and cleaning materials, little piles of grass, charcoal and a high volume of chatter. A tall thin man stepped out of the shadows and welcomed us. He took our cases and walked. We followed. The lanes were full of men and women in kaftans, turbans. Small boys chased each other. After ten minutes, the lanes getting smaller, and finally turning into a maze of tunnels which smelt rather unpleasant, we arrive at the Riad. Relief. We were in need of food and a drink. Relief. This would become the emotion most associated with arriving at this Riad, relief, as we negotiated the alleys and the boys.

Inside, the Riad looked lovely. White walls, green plants stretching away up the walls to a third level. Pretty table and chairs and a plunge pool. Hischim, for that was his name, sat us down and gave us mint tea. He copied our passports and showed us our room. Perfectly fine twin room, with a tiny balcony overlooking the courtyard. He said he would take us to Riad Edward where we could get a meal and a drink.

Soon we were following Hichim through the tunnels, alleys, lanes trying to create markers en route. Through the courtyards of the  mosque, first left, second right…I never got it. Fortunately Roisin’s memory is less off a dripping sponge and she was able to get us back, later.

Edward’s Riad was plusher than ours. We were shown to comfortable couches, and cushions (Roman style)  at the end of beautiful green swimming pool in a courtyard of mosaics and comfortable loungers. It was deserted aside from skinny grey and marmalade cats. The bottle of wine was 18e but good and we had Moroccan starters of salad.

Americans and Skinny Cats

Half way through our meal a switch of Americans arrived and started dipping into the pool, sitting at the poolside in groups, and chatting. Roisin and I watched from our couch. A woman, dressed in Andy Pandy dungarees, came and talked to us. Her daughter had got married the day before in the desert. They had bulk booked the Edward Riad. We soon made our excuses, and left.  We investigated our Riad’s top terrace. White couches and sun beds, table and chairs. We sat down and had a last cigarette. Our holiday had begun.

The next day, we were up early and down to breakfast before anyone else. Breakfast was pancakes, muffin things and sponge cake, freshly squeezed orange juice, yoghurt, and coffee. We decided this day was for orientation and set off to explore.

First Pick Up – Abdul

We were immediately picked up by Abdul who insisted on takin us on a tour of our local mosque through which we walked to get most places. It was apparently the oldest of 7 mosques in the medina. Our mosque looked after blind people who gather there for the day and sing and talk. Abdul explained that soon it would be Eid which was the festival of the sacrificial sheep which symbolised the commitment of Abraham to God to kill his son. The little piles of grass being sold by children on the street were to feed the sheep and the charcoal was for the cooking of their heads after slaughter.

Abdul also took us to a small shop where I ended up paying over the odds for some pretty blue moccasins. And, of course, Abdul wasn’t entertaining us out of the goodness of his heart but he was a great initiator into the ways of the Medina. But now it was time for the hammam we had booked before we arrived. Joseph, the brother of Hischim and Riad manager, took us there on the back of his motorbike. It was such fun whizzing through the lanes, seconds from death. At the Hammam, we moved into a different world. In a tiny steamy room,  we were rubbed and scrubbed with grit and black soap, and then hosed down. So, an hour later, sparkling, we set off to explore the souks.

The Joys of Haggling

After discovering unstuffed poufs were not leather pet beds, I bought a lovely camel leather one with a tiny camel decoration  to be filled  with Roisin’s old clothes (it seemed appropriate). Roisin bought a bag made of camel leather, soft and beautiful. We began to use a good cop bad cop routine in our negotiations and we discovered the pleasure of haggling. It is right what the Arabs say. You must haggle with a smile, relax and enjoy the experience. Roisin was truly brilliant. She was all smiles, wit and cheek. Souk sellers loved her and queued up to try and sell us things so that they could enjoy the experience of Roisin haggling.

Lost and Lame

Soon we were hopelessly lost, but happened to notice we had arrived at one of our intended venues of the week, the photographic gallery, so in we popped, grateful for the space and calm of the exhibition after the madness of the medina. We found ourselves staring at portraits of cool, enigmatic and wrinkled looking Arab women and men, Berbers, and they stared back at us: hot, sweaty, limping from the blisters and chaffed feet from the wholly unsuitable sandals. Climbing to the top of the gallery, exhausted, I happily watched an earnest video on Berber culture in the Atlas mountains. After resting so, we went on our way.

Eventually, we came across Place Jameel el Fna which was ablaze with colour, noise, people pulling and pushing sheep, and other charms. The smoke of the 50 odd food sellers began to rise and fish, beef and vegetables smells suffused the evening air. Having given up on finding a glass of wine as we were surrounded by mosques, we sat down to eat.  How did we decide which one? We never made it past the first. We liked him saying “We no touch you”.  We devoured a bony fish and beef tagine, watched an American collapse on the next table, quickly left and got hopelessly lost in the souks on the way back, dodging the motorbikes, the sheep being transported to homes wedged in bicycle baskets, carried in arms. People were preparing for Eid. In the house next door to our Riad, a big woolly sheep was kept at the bottom of the stairs.

On Friday morning, Roisin rose early to watch the sun rise on the terrace. I stayed in bed, wiggling my toes and trying to blow on my feet. At another early breakfast, we negotiated a delicious omelette for Roisin, explaining that she was gluten intolerant.

How the Riad Worked

Hichim and Joseph were both lovely men, always trying to be as helpful as possible. Hichim was on duty nights, letting the guests in,  (he prayed and slept in the TV room) and served breakfast. Joseph was married with a baby girl (whom he brought to meet us the day before we left) and covered the days. He answered all the questions we had, though his English was a little flaky. Abdul, our first kidnapper, had told us that 80% of Riad owners in Marrakech were owned by the French. Ours was no exception, and Joseph clearly didn’t like the big French boss who we never met. Joseph told us he had trained for two years in the Hammam Riad we had visited the day before, now getting his own Riad to manage but his cook was being taken to other Riads, and the wifey (wifi) on his pc didn’t work properly. The Riad is clearly big business in Marrakech with many being owned by one French man. Anyway, we got on well with the two brothers. I think they liked the way we set out to walk, map in hand, with the determined explorer’s attitude.

Stupid and Arrogant?

On that second morning, Joseph ran after us. We ignored his call of ‘excuse me’ as we twisted around alleys and corners, by now used to the remarks of the young men. They would keep telling us the route was wrong, the alley was closed, and to follow them (and ultimately cross their palm with silver). Finally I turned and discovered it was Joseph, demanding to know where we were going and why were we entering into the place where only Moroccans go. We explained we were leaving the Medina to go to the Jardins Majorelle. He nodded. Yes, it was the right way to go but we shouldn’t walk. It was only for Moroccans. Tourists caught taxis. We assured him we would be fine. He shrugged and let us go. Later, after a particularly unpleasant experience fighting off a young fourteen year old,  I wondered if we were being stupid, as well as arrogant as we meandered into vast dusty deserted wasteland, bare except for the odd beggar and old men watching our every step, calling, ‘this way, this way’. Fortunately, we didn’t get lost and after a 40 minute walk, with blood spilling from my blisters, we arrived at the gardens and Roisin and I swapped sandals.

Shady Sanctuary

The Majorelle Gardens were beautiful and welcome sanctuary from the hot sun of the wasteland walk. It was symmetrically laid out along a canal of water of blue water. The shade of the flowering bushes, and the laden fruit trees was delicious. The colour scheme of the paths, walls, the planted pots, the trellis, and the benches was blue, yellow and orange. It was extraordinarily peaceful. The plants came from all over Africa and China. The gardens weren’t too crowded and we people watched. There was a beautiful young girl who posed for photographs with outrageous sultry sulkiness and a daughter who talked at her dad, telling him about college in America while he dutifully listened. It is the same the whole world over.

We decided to walk into the new city and after negotiating vast dual carriageway lanes of traffic and walls of pink apartments, found ourselves the Oxford Street equivalent where H&M, MacDonalds, and Starbucks abounded. We found a supermarket which, of course, I was interested to investigate. I dragged a reluctant Roisin through a mall of empty shops, down to the basement, following supermarche signs. It was similar to Super Value but the array of fruit and vegetables was much more colourful. Otherwise, it sold all the usual brands, but no alcohol sadly, for I had hoped to sneak a few bottles into the Riad. We couldn’t find an interesting place to eat so plumped for a large corner café and ordered a mixed salad. It was huge plate of potato, tomato, corn, cucumber, carrot, celeriac and we slowly munched our way through watching the people come and go, kiss and coffee, and the older turbaned and kaftaned Arab on the next table entertain a string of women, (ex- girlfriends, we decided) with coffee.

After returning to the Riad, past the yard of the bus station which was packed with people with rolled up mattresses, bags, screeches, and general chaos, decrepit looking buses belting out fumes,  it was time to go back to the terrace to sun bathe and listen to American pod casts on income inequality. I fell asleep.

Causing Offense

In the evening we ventured out to find a recommended French restaurant. Wine was a key consideration. We got lost, of course, but the pleasure of getting lost is definitely the relief of the discovery. The restaurant was lovely, in a leafy courtyard with candles, waiters dressed in black and white poured our wine. The breeze tinkled amongst the lemon trees, rose petals and tiny fountain. After the few glasses of wine we got horribly lost going home and found ourselves in the revolving door of the souk, which bit by bit was closing. Despite our protestations that we would be fine, and didn’t need any escort, a young man led us out of the souk. As we followed, we explained we had no cash to tip him to which of course he took great umbrage…If I was a guest  in your country etc etc. Poor Roisin got a real dressing down in broken English. Her face was a pleasure to watch when he pointed us on the right alley and then asked for a small gift!! We negotiated the rest of the way through the medina and carts of doe eyed sheep, with my phone using gsm, following the hovering blue spot. My feet were in bits. I needed new shoes.

The last quarter of our journey, when we knew the way,  was usually marred because there were one or two young boys (8 to 14) who followed us, hard on heel, trying to touch Roisin, making lurid comments. We would speed up (despite my feet) but obviously have to stop at the front door where we urgently pressed the bell for Hichim or Joseph to open the door. I would put myself between Roisin and the young offender, but they would twirl, and touch and hustle. When the door opened, they ran away. This night, it took Hichim a long time.

Flirtations on the Terrace

Let in, I bathed my feet and we clambered, foot sore and weary to have our final cigarette on the roof terrace to discover Hichim flirting with one of the German lassies (we had deduced at breakfast that they had just finished university and were doing a bit of travelling. In fact they turned out to be Dutch). Candles were flickering and there was romantic music. The common language was broken English and there were lots of smiles, tinkly laughs, mint tea (I believe mixed with Gin) and high phenomes. We retired to bed. Half an hour later the doorbell was ringing, the phone started, the doorbell continued, pressed with continued urgency. Hichim did not respond. Finally, Roisin got up and let the Belgian girls (though at the time we had deduced that they were Spanish). They were extremely grateful.

At breakfast the next morning, Hichim was bad tempered. We were the only ones there. He told us had waited up all night for guests to arrive. When the German girls arrived down for breakfast, Hichim wouldn’t look at them and when finally Hichim had to bring their breakfast there were mutterings of hangovers. There was no omelette. No fresh orange juice. No yoghurt. We went upstairs to get ready for the day.

We were off to Ben Yourseff Medersa, the school of learning for the Quoran, through our newly discovered direct path through the souk. We were excited not to get lost. On our way out, Hichim came up and accused us of letting the Spanish (Belgian) girls in. Much to his surprise, they had come down for breakfast. They were the guests for whom he had waited. Yes. We explained that they had been ringing frantically, and ringing the phone but Hischim had not heard but Joseph did over hear us telling him this. He looked inquiringly at his brother who explained, nervously, that he was chatting to the girls upstairs. ‘We owe you a mint tea’, he said to us and looked at Hichim, darkly and went off to apologise to the Spanish (Belgian) girls. We never got a mint tea but Joseph did show me a video later in the week as to how to slaughter a sheep.

Lost Again. Found in The Tannery

The Medersa was not where it was suppose to be, according to Roisin and the map! A boy (where do they all come from) told us it was closed until two because the King’s brother was in Marrakech and that we should go to the Tannery because today was the day of the Berber auction. He set forth, beckoning and calling to us. ‘It is goooood. You must go’. Roisin had been expressly warned not to go to the tannery. It was apparently gross and manky, but I was interested and started to follow. Roisin was not happy.

He led us all around the streets and alleys. At one particular doorway, he grabbed a pile of mint, broke it up and gave it to us. Berber gasmask, he said. Up we go into a courtyard on a hill full of cement pits. In the first a man in thigh high boots in soaking and washing a skin in pigeon shit and ammonia. In another the skin was soaking in lime. Then it was covered in salt and allowed to dry. I might have got this a little back to front, so please don’t quote me. It was stomach retchingly smelly and he spoke very fast. It was also very slippery and I was trying hard not to fall into a pit as we traversed between them. I can tell you that the Berbers skins are camel and cows and the Arab skins are goats and sheep. Finally, we were deposited in the ‘exposition’ where Roisin was offered 7,000 camels for me. Photographs were taken, blankets and rugs were laid out before us, bags commended, to no avail. We were unceremoniously dumped on the front door step, feeling guilty. We did tip the boy who toured us though. The tannery had been worth it.

Now we felt au fait with the Berbers, we pushed our way through the actual Berber auction, though this had not been our intention, just a wrong turn. Skins lay all around. Men haggled. My phone was whipped. It was very irritating. Roisin had just told me off for keeping it in an outside pocket. I have all the trip, I said, I keep having to whip it out for the gsm. With no phone, now we were dependent on our map reading skills which even if Roisin didn’t keep turning it upside down were pretty useless in the Medina. But we found the Ben Youssef Medersa.

Of course, the Medersa had never been closed (though someone did corroborate the King’s brother story). It was full of people anyway, by the time we got there, taking selfie’s and photographs of each other in the courtyards, doorways. It was built in the 12th century as a school for boys who thirsted for knowledge. It had cloisters, prayer rooms, courtyards, and tiny monk cell like bedrooms. The wood was dark, ornate, carved, and painted in natural colours: indigo, cinnamon, mint, argave. The mosaic tiles were beautiful, and perfectly symmetrical. Like knowledge itself, the maze of corridors led you on and on.

After that we deserved a nice glass of wine. El Limoni, an Italian restaurant, was on our way home, on the one road we knew in the Medina. It had a lovely courtyard, a gorgeous mixed salad of crab, herring, ratatouille, cheese and local wine – all of which we enjoyed at our leisure.


Later after further sunbathing and foot relief back at the Riad, we headed back down to Place Jameel to watch the sun set from a roof terrace. We were also graced with a flock of a hundred or so geese winging their way south, silhouetted in the orange sky. Roisin took photos. I wrote poetry. We then headed to another recommended bar which we were also advised to leave before 10.30pm as it got a little sleazy. It was already 9.30pm when we got there via a three mile trek along some of the plushest avenues, full of swanky villas, gleaming casinos, boulevards of palaces and apartments, creepy boys. We had stopped to ask directions from an older Arab looking couple who seemed to know where they were going but they were Parisian Arabs on holiday and didn’t. They would find out, and asked a taxi driver, arms gesticulating, finger shaking, heads nodding. This way. They led, we followed. Lost, they asked again when we came to the fanciest looking Casino I have ever seen. The doorman gesticulated something different. We thanked everyone, assured them that we now knew, and battered and beaten finally found The Comptoir. We joined the queue of sleek young, well dressed and coiffured men and women to get in. At the entrance we saw red plush velvet, gold gilt mirrors, high polished. There were chandeliers, tapestries, a double staircase with a beautiful black hostess booking people into supper. The glittery tinkle of coins and conversation mingled with the silence of high value notes and power. Is there a bar? We asked. We were pointed up stairs and trying to glide as best we could, we sat up on a bar stool amongst the cocktails, the magnums, the waiters polishing, flourishing bottles, mixing drinks while behind us the play boys and girls streamed in. After two glorious glasses of wine, we settled into our barstools. But it was time to go. The door man got us a taxi back and Sunday we rested, feet up and sunbathed.

Eid in the Atlas Mountains

Monday was Eid. The baying sheep across the medina were all to be slaughtered. We decided to go on a trip to the Atlas Mountains. We clambered on the bus which toured some pretty fancy hotels in the posh part of Marrakech picking people up.  We ended up a pretty mixed bunch. There was a bizarre African family with a wagon of a mother who ignored her sons, fingered every piece of jewellery, and loved having her photograph taken, pushing away her younger son trying to join her. The teenage son posed alone, regal, arms crossed, grim look on his face. The younger son scrabbled around, always wanting to be first of our possé, getting underfoot. The father was completely non-descript. All of them refused to even acknowledge us let alone respond to our greetings. There was an older English couple who hadn’t been told they were to go on a hike up the mountain but they managed with true English grit and wit. There was the young German couple from our Riad (an accountant and a logistics management student), another instantly forgettable young American couple, and two Muslim lads, Nad and Memet from Colindale in London with whom Roisin and I hooked up. They worked in Heathrow security. We hiked up to a wonderful waterfall high in the mountains, and had lunch in the river…literally, we left our shoes on the bank and chairs sank into the silt as you sat on them. It was absolutely gorgeous to have the water rippling around my poor hacked, blistered, embittered feet!

King of Crom in Marrakech

That night we decided to go the Piano Bar, as recommended in Rough Guide. The Piano Bar turned out to be in a five star hotel near the Place el Jameel and the piano player turned out to be on holiday. So we sat in the hotel courtyard beneath lemon and orange trees, near a 50 metre pool, in darkness and listened to live African drums and singing. And we ordered a bottle of wine. As we were about to leave we bumped into a man who turned out to be the King of Crom castle in Fermanagh who was offering to play CATS on the piano. Delighted, we joined his party who included the Queen of Cutra Castle in Gort. They had popped over to Marrakech for a birthday do. So good to meet the neighbours!

9,000 Camels and Cooked Sheep Heads

Our final full day was spent in the Bahia Palace (amazing symmetrical decoration) and the Souk, bargaining and buying, laughing, eating, and watching the heads of the sheep being cooked on coals in the streets and queues of people lining up by the butcher’s slab with sheep parts. Talking of animals, I was offered 9,000 camels for Roisin. Memet was quite impressed when we told him (we met the lads at the airport and waited together for our flights home). It seems he knew about camel prices. We never worked out why they barbequed the sheep’s head. Joseph had been disapproving when I told him about the queues of people getting the butcher to cut up their sacrificial sheep saying they should do it themselves but I didn’t ask him why they cooked the sheep’s head. I thought it might get lost in translation.




London, Cavan, the Happening

Yesterday, when I woke up, the early morning sky was green and navy in London and speckled with the orange glow of street lamps. Opposite, the Lidl logo shone brightly and the Clapham Road was beginning to rumble with traffic. A solitary burly man waited at the bus stop and I felt a pang of loss. A new day was dawning in the city and I was sad to be leaving. I sat in bed, supping a mug of tea before setting out to take my place on the Stockwell downward escalator, sit on the blue and green weaved tube seats of the Victoria Line and stare from the Stanstead Express across Hertfordshire’s golden meadows and Lee Valley walks. Maybe I should come home, I wondered. I clambered up the aircraft steps and flew over a sparkling blue sea. Ireland’s eye winked at me as I landed and the Sugar Loaf and Bray head opened their arms in welcome.

After a hectic weekend in London, this morning it was good to wake to a silent, reflective yellow and white Cavan sky and birdsong in the stillness of mud (my garden was recently churned up by the tractor tyres when we emptied the septic tank). In London, I had divided my time between my newly arrived daughter who has started work in the city, and my mother, an anxious tiny, hunched 88 year old whose face has become an etched scrawl of charcoaled lines into which her yellow eyes disappear when she stresses. In contrast, my exuberant, energetic daughter’s beautiful big blue eyes flashed bright on her pink downy face and were full of enthusiasm and glee as we bounced around Brixton Market, yummy mummy cafes in Clapham, explored Fortnum and Masons, Piccadilly, Waterstones and ambled around St James Park where the spring flowers bloomed with fervour and gloried in colourful  sunlight.

It was strange to experience the contrast between the dark and light sides of life in such proximity. In the mornings, in her basement bedroom I held and stroked my mother’s tiny mottled, bony hand in comfort and in the afternoons I took my daughter’s arm to share in her thrill and love of new life on the sunny streets of London. It made me think.

As my hip has nestled itself into my bones in the last months, life has been quiet, and occasionally I have wondered if I am in the right place. However, the spell in London worked its magic. It gave me a jolt. I love London. It is always happening. There are always people at bus stops, and on tubes, in parks. They might be stressed, they might be in love, they might be sad but they are always there. London is always happening. Living in rural Ireland, I think I had forgotten that life is always there. Yesterday, on my return, I walked (and I don’t take that lightly now) into Drumbriste (my home) and took a phone call asking me to help out in the celebrations of The Rising in Cavan this weekend. It was great to be asked.  And more is happening. AT The Edge, Cavan is back early next month and actually, I am thrilled with all the readers for the whole year. Wonderful, highly respected Irish authors and poets are happy to come and support AT The Edge, Cavan and it has boosted my morale. I am going to Cuirt in Galway this week and performing in the Spoken Word event, and at the end of the month I go to Listowel writers week. Then in June I am off to Thessaloniki in Greece (by way of Athens) for a week’s fiction course with the British Council. It’s all pretty good. I have a collection of poetry and short stories ready to send out to publishers (should I feel motivated and strong enough to receive the inevitable rejections), and I am in the closing stages of my first novel. Spring has finally sprung, and my face and space is closer to my daughter’s than my mother’s. I must try and keep it this way.

By the way, just to follow up my last blog about the frogs, the swarm, spawn and ribbit ribbit ribbit across the bog. Apparently, they were all mating! They all do it at the same time over a 24 hour period. So it was all happening then on the bog, I just didn’t know. Now that is the story of life!



Sunny Days of Labour, Old Friends and the Rise of Poets!

The gold edged green sycamore in my London bedroom window is tremendous in the early morning sun. I muse how it is that that such golden glory heralds decay. Next time I am here, it will be bare. I love the colours of Autumn and the descent into cosiness of winter and lights of Christmas.
I have just listened to a rather graceful speech from John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, introducing new Labour finance proposals and reviews. He is class! I used to work with John at the Association of London Authorities and it was always a pleasure. He is creative, determined, and ruthless. But he is also graceful, very intelligent and persuasive. There is no better person for this job.
The election of Jeremy Corbyn this month as Labour Leader has lightened my heart considerably. It has been a pretty amazing month: I launched my debut poetry book, AT The Edge, in both Cavan and Galway (and in London with my friends), I saw The Sound of Music on stage in Dublin with my daughter, we had a brilliant Poetry Slam in Cavan in the Town Hall, I loved the performances and exhibitions in Cavan on Culture Day, particularly the launch of the new Town Hall programme but my highlight, the event that makes my heart dance, is the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader and John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor.
For so long now, I have felt betrayed by our political leaders. I have been dismayed at the spin and the political trudge down what seemed to be an inevitable path of big business and deregulation. I felt horrified and powerless. I could feel the icy fingers of cynicism inveigling their way into my blood stream. I was surprised at this because I am naturally a positive person who likes change, difference and passionately believe in people being able to mould and influence their own lives. But nonetheless I could feel myself folding inwards, turning away. I felt old and curmudgeonly. Maybe this is what led me to my poetry. If so, that is rather unfortunate because now I am so happy, relieved to hear and watch Jeremy Corbyn respond to the aggressive, oppositional media with charm, respect, directness and openness. Already, I hear, the murmurs of ‘naivety’ from those who think they know. But I don’t care. I am interested, engaged and hopeful. Can you have a happy poet? Well, let’s see! I hope so!
Now, I must get up and go into the London sunshine. I wish I was at the beach in Brighton! But actually, I would never have given up yesterday afternoon. I was with my daughter and oldest and best friends, reading my poems to them and their children over a champagne brunch. I guess that might make me a champagne socialist…but it was only two hours !testi coleslondon bruchreading


Planning Christmas in the Middle of the Night

The wind outside sounds like the sea raging in the dark. Spray, waves, tidal rhythms as it blows through the sky, tossing and turning. When I lived in Shankhill, Dublin, I used to think the tumbling sea sounded like the roaring of lorries on the A1 in London. The mind in the middle of the night is amazing.

Now I am thinking of Paella. Tomorrow ‘the girls’ come round to ours for their Christmas Night. Six or seven absolutely beautiful 24 year olds whom I have known since secondary school. I suggested I cook Paella for a change. They will bring lovely desserts.

Other things that need to be done now keep popping into my middle of the night maelstrom: I must walk Poppins,  I need to swim. I should change sheets and organise the Christmas dinner. I forgot the red current jelly. Hah! that meddlesome middle of the night mind is stressing with me. Christmas Dinner will sort itself. The Duck is in the fridge, the red cabbage, potatoes, bussels, green beans, parsnips are the in the pantry. The Christmas pud with amaretto hidden in the middle ready to burst free with a bite nd linger on the tongue is by the fish tank.

All I have to do is remember not to drink too much of the traditional cream Baileys I bought at the airport on my return from London. I am always so disappointed when I over turn the dark bottle (and I don’t know how this happens so often) and instead of a flow of creamy liquid splashing over the rocks of ice in my glass, a disappointing dribble of the merest drop slides out and hangs miserably between the cracking cubes, an insipid milky colour which I can’t even get my tongue around.

Happy Christmas, everyone. Enjoy the next few days. Happy New Year, too, and thanks for reading….

Bring it on, 2015!