The Sewing Tin

I guess every house had one and some still have. The sewing tin that was part of my growing up was round, blue and battered. It wasn’t very big but it was like a bottomless pit. Needles, pins, frayed pin cushions, thimbles, yellowing measuring tapes, threads of all hues, some with their beginnings waiting to be extracted from the little crevice on their wooden spools, others in a rainbowed tangle, buttons, buttons and more buttons, some still attached to small pieces of old shirts and blouses, others long separated from duffle coats and school blazers, darning needles, slick little needle threaders, thin wools intermingling and waiting to be used to darn socks, a scissors, well-chewed little pencil and crumpled bits of paper with crossed off To-Do lists in Mother’s slanty writing, a non-functioning but intact light bulb that played its full part in the sock darning that went on, especially late at night or very early on school mornings.

I had full access to the sewing tin from a young age and you’d be forgiven for thinking that I would have made a good fist of sewing when we were introduced to it in Domestic Science Class in Secondary School. I even had high hopes for myself but soon realised that our sewing tin bore no resemblance to the way domestic science teachers expected things to be organised. As a kid, I had actually embroidered hankies on wet days mixing colours like an artist and rather liking the spikey threads that stuck out at interesting angles.

School sewing, on the other hand, required that one master a variety of tasks before moving on to get to use the sewing machine and make a floral skirt for the summer at the end of first year.

It took me until Christmas to get passed Task One which was to hem a square – first by darning and then with genteel little stitches. I simply didn’t do genteel and the neat stitching ended up being done by the frustrated teacher who needed to be able to write something on the dreaded Christmas report.

Task 2, which was to make a buttonhole defeated me and I can still see the little piece of bloodied material on which I tried and tried and tried until it was so frayed and filthy that I couldn’t even see what I was doing. I’d look around me and most of the others were either holding their flowery skirts up to their waists just before putting in the zip. Imagine a zip. There were loads of them in Mother’s tin and I’d even managed to put one onto a nightshirt for my precious teddy bear. But, I was never going to be putting one into a floral skirt like all my friends.

Summer Report on Domestic Science sang my cookery praises and suggested home practice with sewing. Mother chuckled when she read the report and said we must darn a few socks but first that we’d make some fairy cakes.

I opted out of Domestic Science in Second Year and still love thinking about the old blue sewing tin. I was complete tomboy so the floral skirt wouldn’t ever have been worn or could it have changed my style forever?


My heart always goes out to youngsters at the start of the new school year. These three lads passed me the other day on their way home from school on one of the hottest days of the year. (How is it that the sun starts to beat down the minute term begins?)

Homeward Bound

It’s only when I look at the photo now that I see that they all seem to be engrossed in what I suspect to be their phones. What a contrast to the chatter-chatter-chatter that I associate with cycles to and from school when I was their age ~ everything from cribbing about teachers, grousing about homework, planning a trip to the pictures and, of course, comparing notes about the boys in the other school in town.

The other moment of contrast came when I heard a group of parents on the radio recently talking about how wonderful it was that the kids were back in school and that they (the parents) could have their lives back. They relished the return to the routine and having precious hours to themselves.

All I could do was think back to the sinking feeling I always had when son, Harry’s holidays came to an end; and indeed, my mother and and I waving tearful ‘goodbyes’ to my brother and sister as father drove them back to their respective boarding schools at the end of the holidays. Those were the days when there was no such thing as ‘five day boarders.’ Rather, the terms felt interminable and the time from the end of the Summer holidays to the few days off a Halloween seemed like an absolute age.

Having heard all about boarding school from the other two, I decided to stay put at home and even did the cycling (three miles each way)  for lunch everyday to take the harm out of school.

Have times changed as much as they seem to? Am I just a nostalgic old dinosaur?





Flying High


I have a bit of an obsession with airplanes and always find myself looking up to watch them flash across the sky.

I must quickly add that I have no great love of flying and am one of those people for whom turbulence is a teeth-grinding experience no matter how much anyone tries to reassure me.

But plane-gazing from terra firma gets me wondering about all the people on board: whether they’re coming or going, looking forward, backward, outward, downward, upward, noward; are they chatting, reading, eating, sleeping, flirting, worrying, praying, listening to music, watching a movie, smiling, sobbing; are they aware of where they are and conscious that people like me are madly inquisitive about them …..

And every single time I watch a plane, I hear echoes of my school days when some of my class formed a band and used to sing Leaving on a Jet Plane. They were heady days in 1973/4 when we were full of dreams, uncertainties, hopes, togetherness, girlish giggles and amo, amas, amat, amamos, amatis, amant …

Where do YOUR thoughts go when an airplanes flies into your line of vision? 





The mere mention of Valentine’s Day sends me back to my days in Secondary school and the buzz of excitement about Valentine cards.


Anticipation of the big day would start the minute February arrived and after-school activity centred on visiting all the card shops in town to gaze in secret hope at all the heart covered cards, especially the big cushioned ones that were displayed in their boxes on high shelves well away from our sticky, chalky fingers.

It was always about two days before the big day that the first Valentine would do the rounds in the classroom as one of the girls rushed in with a HUGE envelope ~ her cheeks flushed and matching the love hearts and the red S.W.A.L.K. that was now like a patchwork of romance.

I’d laugh and smile with the rest of them as I read the card with its flowery rhymes, hand-drawn hearts and the inevitable Guess Who? 

Year after year after year, I’d watch our letter box with aching hope but it wasn’t to be. Of course, my sympathetic mother tried sending me a few but I had to tell her that there was no use trying to cod me and she eventually gave me that knowing look of hers …..

While I’ll never know how many of the school day Valentine’s Day cards were real or mothered, I know for sure that I’m facing into yet another no-show Valentine’s Day. Hubby, of almost twenty-five years, scoffs at Valentine’s Day and contends that it’s all a racket to sell chocolates and red roses and that love isn’t a one day wonder that comes SWALKing in on February 14th.

Oh I know he’s right, I know, I know, I know …..

Now, lest you think I haven’t learned to cope with this, let me assure you that I am Ms. Valentine when it comes to forward planning for the no-show day.  This year, I’ve already stocked up on heart-shaped chocolate marshmallows, hanging heart ear rings, a fascinating book called Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper by Alexandra Harris and a ticket to my heart throb, Finbar Wright’s Valentine Eve Concert at the Theatre Royal in Waterford.

So go on tell me what Valentine’s Day was like for you as a teenager?