Never be afraid to practice in the rock pools of life before you dash into the vast oceans. (Puppy Stan)
Never be afraid to practice in the rock pools of life before you dash into the vast oceans. (Puppy Stan)
Things went a bit quiet on the Donald-front here in Ireland after all the hullabaloo over the lewd tape and the final debate. It seemed that it was game, set, and match to Hillary and that Donald had gone off in a sulk. But yesterday, it seemed that maybe the silence was akin to that you associate with a toddler who is up to mischief. We suddenly started hearing about Florida and the gap closing and that maybe he’s bouncing back with a chance. All I could think was how appealing the Moon or, better still Mars, suddenly appeared, even if it meant being all cooped up, floating around and living on what I assume would be lots of pop-a-pill and sips of stale water.
I was over at the John F. Kennedy Arboretum in Co. Wexford recently to see the Autumn tints. The trees were magnificent and I couldn’t but think of how JFK was,
rightly or wrongly revered in Ireland. (I somehow don’t think Donald would ever get to the ‘r’ of ‘revered.’)
Meanwhile, Pope Francis’ latest ‘edict,’ or whatever you call it, on cremated ashes has really upset me in a roundabout way. I’m not into religion, as you know, but the Pope’s new ruling that cremated ashes must be kept intact in a consecrated place has led to a lot of discussion in Ireland about cremation itself. The tone of the radio discussions that I happened to hear were horrible and cremation was made to seem like a cheapy, impersonal, rushed process. Many of my loved ones have been cremated and I have to say that I have never, ever felt any sense of the kind of stuff I was hearing yesterday.
Pope Francis can say what he likes about cremated ashes, but I certainly hope that mine will be scattered in some wild place by the sea, as I have requested.
The thing about all this is that we’ve got to realise that our time on earth, no matter who we are ~ you, me, The Pope, The President of The United States ~ is very finite and basically like a heartbeat. But how we use that heartbeat does matter ~ as we are not islands and other people will be coming along after us.
I was out at the beach around lunchtime today when the tide was making her way in ever so gently. The sea wasn’t rough but the waves were going in all directions ~ rather like the legs of newborn lambs.
It made me think of lace, intricate crochet, and well-worn hands knitting Aran Sweaters without any need to even glance at a pattern.
I carved the word wave in the sand and, as I was watching the sea come in to gently wash each letter away, I thought of the many ways in which we use the word: wavy hair; waves of grief; a wave of the hand; waving goodbye, crashing waves; whispering waves…
The village of Portlaw here in Co. Waterford ~ just twenty minutes or so from Tramore, holds huge fascination for me and there’s so much to write about it that I’ve been holding back for ages now.
But, it’t time to make a little start with this photograph which is one of my favourites of the last few months. I hope you like it too.
There’s few places that feel more like home to me than The Slip down at Tramore Beach. It’s a place that’s all abuzz in Summer when there’s a bit of sun. You see relaxation personified and lots and lots of colour ~ deckchairs, windbreakers, lifeguards, ice-creams, tanning bodies; and there are the scents of coconut sun cream, fish and chips, seaweed; sounds of kiddies’ excitement and freedom, waves splashing, chatter of old-timers …..
At this time of year, The Slip tends to be quiet apart from a few tourists, regular walkers, joggers and sea-lovers.
I love the solitude you find there in Autumn as the sun is rising. There is the company of the seagulls and the familiarity of it all as this is the place where I spent hours and hours as a babe in arms, with a babe in arms, readying myself for a swim, or just whiling away the hours watching the ebb and flow of the sea.
All this was on my mind as I stood their very early last Saturday morning, having been woken at all hours by the dogs barking at I know not what.
The thing about The Slip is that you can generalise about it all you like but it is never, ever the same as it was even a moment before or after. This is how it was while I was there on Saturday for that stolen hour or so half in my pyjamas, half in in winter woollies:
There was a big gathering in Dublin today to honour the Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, who is now 80 years of age. Watching him on the RTE news, alongside the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, I was reminded of one of the very first posts I wrote here on my blog. That was back in 2011 and it was highlighting how Brendan Kennelly was a social bridge in my life.
I know that very, very few people read that post which was written from the heart about a man who had a huge impact on me, especially in my first year in Trinity College where he was Professor of English while I was a struggling Sociology student.
This is what I wrote back then:
Knowing that Brendan Kennelly celebrated his 75th birthday this week, I am prompted to recall my reaction to his collection Reservoir Voices (2009). Seeing the book on the shelf in the Book Centre in Waterford gave me a sense of comfort and it was almost like he was responding to a poem I had written about him a few months earlier. The poem, The Smile, related to my first term in Trinity College in 1975, when I was just seventeen and incredibly homesick. I had the good fortune to be able to attend a lunch time poetry reading of Brendan Kennelly’s early on that term and it was one of those bridges in my life that I have never forgotten. It was to lift my spirits and give me the hope I needed to press on and gradually come to thoroughly enjoy my College days.
That first day on Trinity’s cobbles
confirmed the hard-hitting prognosis
that my dreams of professional tennis
were shattered like my throbbing wrist.
Economic and Social Studies, what a prospect!
Brendan Kennelly dissolved my pain
for a fleeting hour, in a packed, steamy
room in Front Square. His voice,
his smile, his dimples inviting
me into his past, his solitude, his heart.
Economics was waiting to trip me up.
Tried to drill it in ‘til dawn
with mugs of black Bewley’s Java.
Saw familiar words on the dreaded paper;
momentary hope, head too heavy, faltered.
I scrambled through the September repeats;
got into my running with Sociology
and tennis. How many times did I
dash past Brendan Kennelly on the cobbles?
He’d smile; but why did I never slow down?
I must confess that I always hoped that I would inspire Brendan Kennelly to write a poem as I ran past him in my short tennis skirt towards the courts in Botany Bay. And if I am really honest, I hoped that I could be his muse like John Betjeman’s, Joan Hunter Dunn, and that he would immortalise me forever in lines like:
Love-thirty-love forty, oh weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy
With carefullest, carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak with your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.
I still regret that I didn’t seize a golden moment to speak to Brendan Kennelly which was presented to me in Ballybunion one hot Summer’s day in the mid-1980s. I was swimming in the sea at the main beach in the town when suddenly I caught sight of a familiar figure jogging along by the water’s edge. Yes, it was the man himself, in his native Co. Kerry, and there I was paralysed in the water just watching him run with the carelessness of Joan Hunter Dunn. I waited ‘til his back was turned and then sprinted up the beach to retrieve my clothes and disappear into the crowds.
No one was more delighted than I, when Toyota brought Brendan’s Kennelly’s voice back into my life with its massive advertising campaign and then, just a few years back, I heard a haunting programme in which he was speaking of his love of walking around Dublin just before dawn. Suddenly, I was catapulted back to the Dublin of my late teens and early twenties. Yes, I had walked those deserted streets on my way home to my bedsit in Ranelagh. I had known the peace he spoke of – a city with no traffic and the sound of birdsong at dawn. I also knew the comfort and coffee aroma of Bewley’s in Westmoreland Street, at breakfast time, with Brendan Kennelly sitting within my sights and reading with such concentration that I couldn’t possibly disturb him.
Plunging into Reservoir Voices, I was stunned to find that it was inspired by an Autumn sojourn in America where he experienced a period of intense loneliness which he tried to cope with by contemplating a reservoir near Boston College. The very idea of Brendan Kennelly ‘sitting alone … feeling abject emptiness’ stretched my emotions to their absolute limits. How could this be possible? Here was the man who had dissolved my angst in a mere hour and who I had assumed to be beyond the hand of darkness and dislocation readily admitting to his experience of it over a period of weeks. He makes the point that sometimes dark loneliness can lead to light. If I had happened to come upon him sitting alone at that reservoir, I hope I would have had the nerve to tell him how his presence was once that crucial light in my young life.
It’s getting dark earlier and earlier here in Ireland and when you’re a black puppy like me, there’s a kinda danger of becoming invisible.
It’s handy sometimes when you want to get up to a bit of mischief but, in general, I prefer to be seen, and sometimes heard!
So, Jean and me have been making the most of sunsetty walks, especially on beaches.
I get all almost paralysed with excitement when we get into the car for one of these precious expeditions.
Then on the beach, it’s all go:
Shadows are awful strange things, aren’t they? It’s like having a twin or something. I like the name of a book that Jean told me about that she adored when she was small: Shadow the Sheepdog. I’m not a shadowy kinda dog cos I always want to be in front not trailing along behind.
You’ve no idea how much running and racing I do after seagulls. I think I must have been having a breather here.
Time for bed now. Can I tell you a secret? I can’t bear the pitch dark so have a little light on in my ‘bedroom.’ Maybe I’ll grow out of that when I’m older but for now, I neeeeeed it.
Talk soon and sleep very tight.
P.S. Jean says that I prove that black and brown don’t clash like she was always told as a child. Does this make any sense to any of you?
The world is full of highly complex and challenging issues ~ wars, starvation, greed, absolute poverty, inequality, quiet desperation, physical agony, homelessness, hopelessness …..
I often think that there is far too much of an ‘I’m alright, Jack,’ attitude out there and that there is a ridiculous level of crazy positivity knocking around, which essentially acts as blindfolds and earplugs to the hurt that is just around the corner, if even that far away from any of us.
I really worry about the message that the massive emphasis on positivity sends out. In short, I feel that stuff like: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ essentially makes people who are in horrible situations feel like it’s their fault for not being able to get out quagmires that would be overwhelming to absolutely anyone.
Some people, though, have a way of doing very simple things that reveal all that could be great in a world that often seems to be losing its way and imploding into ‘I’ ‘I’ ‘I-ness.’
Here’s one example of such simplicity which I happened upon, as I was out and about the other day here in Co. Waterford:
Today was one of those warm, warm days here in Tramore.
The sea was calm, blue and lovely. I drove out along The Copper Coast and had my swim in the glorious shelter of the tall cliffs out at Ballydwane Cove.
As I soaked in the water and then dried off with my back toasting against a sun-kissed rock, I wondered if there were any better ways to de-stress.
Other things on my list include:
#1. Being with Puppy Stan
#2. Digging the garden
#3. Taking photographs
#4. Writing a journal
#5. Walking in woodlands
#6. Reading poetry
#7. Watching the fire
#8. Listening to audio-books in bed
#10. Wave watching
What would you add to/subtract from this de-stressing list?
I’m listening to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men on audiobook at the moment and feel completely intimidated in my writing. I have been knocked sideways by his ability to create a sense of sound through great choice of words. The other writer (also a Nobel Prize Winner) who I see as having that extraordinary talent is Irish poet Seamus Heaney.
Part of my birthday expedition yesterday brought me to Hook Head Light House in Co. Wexford ~ which I’ve written about here many times before. It’s one of those places that I love both up close and from afar. On dark nights in Tramore, we can see the light of the Hook, like an old friend, smiling in the distance. And to be beside this 800 year old lighthouse is just something special.
It was coming towards sunset when I got there yesterday and I just stood in awe, like I always do, gazing at its solidity out there in the wilds of the Hook Penninsula.
Just beneath the lighthouse, facing out to sea were two very ordinary, well-worn kitchen chairs. The sight of them, clearly with a history, but now empty, completely knocked the wind out of my sails.
I was glad that the chairs had each other and they looked so comfortable in their ‘companionable silence,’ to steal from W.B. Yeats.
Their emptiness was piercing, at one level, as they reminded me of Mother and Father’s empty chairs in their kitchen after they had died ~ first one and then the other. Their chairs faced each other, though, at either end of the kitchen table, not like this pair.
The little glint as the setting sun caught the chair on the left gave these a sense of warmth, a sense of hope, a deep sense of ongoing love. I felt that if I waited I would see the lovers return to watch the sun set fully and the bright beacon of Hook Lighthouse take over but time called me too ~ called me to go back home to our kitchen chairs that we’ve had for twenty-five years now.