The Bee’s Knees

Rolling over on my ankle the other night wasn’t a great idea, especially as I have broken it twice already and sprained it quite a few times before.

Waiting for X-ray results on Tuesday morning in a very Covid-aware hospital had me thinking all sorts of crazy thoughts.

Times when I was in school and if anyone said something was the bee’s knees, there’d be a chorus of ‘the spider’s ankles.’ Can you even begin to imagine a a spider’s ankle? All spindly and creative, I’d say.

And, ankle socks came flashing across my radar. My summer attire as a kid was T-shirt, shorts, ankle socks and sandals. Ankle socks meant freedom from school knee socks or dreaded thick woolly tights. Then a time came when I wouldn’t dream of wearing ankle socks as they seemed so childish but I loved that my mother always wore them as a fashion-statement linking bobby socks of her heyday with the resurgence of ankle socks in the 198os.

As my ankle bulged out over my shoe and throbbed, a crazy moment came back from the 1987 ankle incident. I had fallen on the pavement in Dublin as I headed for the train home to Waterford for the weekend. I scrambled up and knew I was in a pickle. A helpful passerby told me that there was a doctor’s surgery across the road. We’re talking Friday evening on one of the busiest roads in Dublin. It might as well have been somewhere across the world. All I remember is hopping on one leg into the traffic like a mad woman and amazingly it was as if Dublin stopped for me. The lady doctor took one look at my lower leg/ankle and advised I get the train saying: You’ll need your mother.’ She called a taxi, instructed the driver to help me onto the train and paid him! Her kindness made me cry and almost did again as I sat in the waiting room the other morning.

Luckily, another very nice doctor – a big strong good-looking fella with kind eyes and a calm voice. Musical tones – ‘no bones broken. A sprain ….’

I was discharged with an elastic bandage to be worn like a ‘football sock,’ a leaflet on managing the injury and a masky smile.

No crutches, hard plaster or dire need for Mother. I’d love if she was still alive and well and lavishing me with TLC but I can only smile as I remember her putting a cut up ankle sock over my toes to keep them warm that time in 1987. She never threw out an ankle sock in her life so had a vast array to choose from – bobby socks and all.

Dear Mother …

January 29th, 2017

Dear Mother,

January 29th will never mean anything else to me except your birthday. It’s far more significant than May 31st ~ the day you died in 2009.

It felt ‘your birthdayish’ from the minute I opened the front door early this morning to bring Stan for a walk. The birds were chirping in the Monkey Puzzle and the snowdrops in the garden seemed to have multiplied a hundred-fold since yesterday.

It was Men’s Final Day at the Australian Open so I planked myself down in front of the fire and the television from 8.30am until around 12.30 and savoured every single rally in a brilliant match between Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Federer won in five sets and  would you believe Rod Laver presented him with the cup.

I was thinking that you’d have been listening to it on the Radio if you were here  and  got to thinking then how it was you who got me into tennis in the first place and how it was your father who got you into it. I wonder who introduced him to it?

The game was played in the best possible spirit and Kipling’s If kept coming to mind. Roger even said in his speech that he would have been quite happy to share the tournament with Rafa. You don’t hear that very often and needless to say it had me balling, probably like half the people watching. So much for Dad’s ‘killer instinct,’ for today anyway.

I can’t imagine what on earth it would have been like to grow up in a house where sport wasn’t on the agenda or dogs,  gardening,  your trifle, poetry, the sea,  rules about ‘no sweets before lunch,’  diaries, crosswords, slogans,  horses, everyday phonecalls when we never ran out of stuff to say … never, ever, ever …

Harry and I went out to the beach in the afternoon with the dogs and we drew a huge heart in the sand and wrote in it with an old stick – the kind you always managed to find when the situation demanded. We agreed that writing in the sand is much nicer than going to a grave. I’d never given the’no grave’  bit any thought when you were adamant about cremation. It’s not an issue, you’ll be glad to hear, because we always seem to go to places you loved ~ or should I say ‘beaches you loved’ on special days like your birthday. Must be that every day is special cos we’re at the beach every day!

I came across a poem the other day that I thought you’d like and then I wondered if you knew it as it was written by a woman who lived from 1918-2001, not too different from your 1921-2009.  Anyway here it is:

At the ship’s bow. It was my eye that drew
the perfect circle of blue meeting blue.
No land was visible. There was no sail,
no cloud to show the mighty world in scale,
no sky and ocean, by my gaze defined,
were drawn within the compass of my mind
under a temperate sun. The engine’s sound
sank to a heartbeat. Stillness all around.
Only the perfect circle and the mast.
That moment knew no future and no past.

(Amy Witting)

It’s strange not getting you a present or even picking your little bouquet of snowdrops. Remember that year we were in Tenerife for your birthday and I got you the post card with the flamenco dancer with the real skirt and wrote it in terrible Spanish from our phrase book?

Well, there’s a touch of that today. I have a photo of a robin that seems to have been waiting for today. I hope you like him. Imagine him singing Happy Birthday; much more melodious than me ~ that’s for sure.


Lots of love,

Jean xxx




Today has been a day when the word Understand has been playing over and over in my mind. It all started  when I playfully said to puppy Stan “You’re the Stan in ‘Understand” on a walk a while after I found him chewing his way through a hardback book of poetry from Ireland called A Fine Statement. (I’d have been raging with any other animal or person who had torn the book to shreds, but I blamed myself for leaving it within his reach and also admired his taste in poetry!)

But what about Understand? What does it mean; what can it mean?

Here’s my latest effort at defining it:


And in case you’re wondering about the photograph of the leaf which I took in Mount Congreve yesterday, it made me think of the much loved hands of my late Mother, who adored trees,  as she grew more and more fragile, yet ever more insightful and understanding.

Mount Congreve Garden, Co. Waterford
Mount Congreve Garden, Co. Waterford



What Makes a Good Mother? ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 224

There’s all sorts of jokes about the typical ‘Irish Mammy’ but my question today extends far beyond that: what are the ingredients of a good mother? 

I had a mother for over 50 years: I’ve been a mother for over 18 years and I’ve been observing mothers for more years than I want to think about.

I’ve known people who hated their mothers, loved their mothers, hated motherhood, loved motherhood …… and I’ve spent hours today looking at quotes about mother and motherhood and there’s only one that appealed to me:

“She taught me what’s important, and what isn’t. And I’ve never forgotten. And that’s what mothers do, I say.”  Steven Herrick

There’s so many theories about motherhood that your brain would be bamboozled.

After a day (or is it a lifetime)  of reflection: here’s my list of some of the ingredients of a ‘good mother.’  I’d love if you could add (or subtract from this list):

1. Generous with her time

2. Warm

2. Patient

3. Encouraging

4. Communicative

5. Smiling

6. Willing to make Gingerbread Men

7. Poetic

8. Sporty

9. Eccentric

10. Young at heart

11. Empathetic

12. Funny

13. A good cook and a great cookery teacher

14. Honest

15. Adventourous

16. Calculatedly neglectful

17. Colourful

18. Passionate

19. Private

20. Open

Now, please tell me what you think. I really want to know.