The word that keeps floating into my head today is ‘contrasts.’ In part, it is driven by the US Election results and the differences between Biden and Trump, even though they are similar in terms of being older, white males.
It is also to the fore because November is a month of curious contrasts and ones which I seem to notice more and be more appreciative of because of what can sometimes seem like the greyness of the month.
This morning, it is dull and dank here with cloud almost touching our heads but as I was coming in our gate a glint of bright orange caught my eye from the Berberis bush and the Mahonia out the back has turned her gleaming yellow lights on as if putting on a bedside light in the depths of night.
The contrast that has perhaps struck me most relates to mindsets. Joe Biden’s litany of personal tragedies would be enough to defeat a huge number of people. His courage in the face of such hard knocks is nothing short of inspirational. I have no idea how he will fare as President but I think he has shown that there are alternatives to giving up in the face of adversity.
We do not live an equal life, but one of contrasts and patchwork; now a little joy, then a sorrow, now a sin, then a generous or brave action.
One of the words that’s widely used in Ireland is ‘craic.’ I have no idea if it has been exported.
Basically, it means ‘enjoyable social activity,’ but it is used in a wide variety of ways:
#Greeting: ‘What’s the craic?’ In other words, ‘What have you been doing?/How are things?’
#Description: ‘He’s great craic,’ as in ‘He’s fun to be with’
#Irish stereotype: ‘People come to Ireland to enjoy the craic here.’ ‘Ceol agus craic is what people love about Ireland.‘ Or music and drinking are fundamental to Irish society.
#Boast: ‘We’re well able to make our own craic.‘ Or, we can find ways to enjoy ourselves. ‘I’m great craic when I have a few drinks on me.’
This is the first time I have used the word ‘craic.’ It grates on my nerves, for some reason. I think it has to do with the stereotypes associated with it and the undertones and overtones of binge drinking.
While I’d happily obliterate the word ‘craic,’ ceol’ or music is very close to my Irish heart.
The word ‘sound’ has been playing in my head for the last few days since I met a man who was taking photographs out on the Anne Valley Walk in Dunhill and he greeted me and said: Great to be in a place where you hear not a sound, isn’t it?
I nodded in agreement knowing that he was referring to the peace of the place but I was half tempted to say: Do you not hear the birds singing and the stream babbling? And what about your heart beating and those cows that are lowing? Oh, and if you come out here at midday, you’ll hear the dogs chiming in with the Angelus Bell up around the village church. And, hey, if you go on up towards Dunhill Castle you’ll get to hear the swan family.
Yes, the swan family that I thought had flown away are still around and they were making lots of noise as they were gathered together in a huddle.
Since my little encounter with the photographer, I’ve been thinking about Simon and Garfunkel’s, The Sound of Silence, that was such a part of my growing up in the 1960s and 70s. It was central to our early collection of 45s that we played over and over on our basic record player:
The lines of the song that always hit me were these ones:
And in the naked light I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening, People writing songs that voices never share And no one dared Disturb the sound of silence.
Listening back now, I still feel a profoundness about these words in terms of the huge difficulties that arise in relation to communication in so many ways, especially around war and building peace.
On a much lighter note, the word ‘sound’ is widely used in Irish slang. There’s the saying: ‘Sound as a pound,’ which is used mainly to reassure someone that a person or a machine is fine or unproblematic. In some parts of the country, ‘sound as a pound’ has been abbreviated to: ‘Sound out.’ So, ‘Ah Jimmy is the best guy to advise you. He’s sound out.’
As well as that, you often hear ‘sound’ used as a one word response in the context of underlining the fact that one is happy enough about some arrangement. For example:
Mechanic: I’ll have the car ready for you after lunch.
Customer: Sound. I’ll see you then.
To come back to my photographer ‘friend,’ it seemed quite ironic to me that he saw fit to break the silence, or Wendell Berry’s, ‘the peace of wild things, that he was so obviously enjoying.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
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…
Surely everyone has a few words that had them flummoxed for years. One that got me from Dad’s insistence that we listened avidly to the weather forecast from when we were about three days old was isolated.
Isolated showers confused me completely. How come they were icy some of the time ~ sleet, hailstones, just plain freezing driving rain, and other times they fell in soft gentle, even lukewarm raindrops?
There’s a bit of a double whammy with the one that got my mother when she was a child. She would be at Church chiming in with the prayers and coming from a farming family, her version of ‘Thy little one doth keep,’ was as I thought until I checked it out a few minutes ago ‘My little Wine Dot keep.’ I always knew she had visions of the hens in the haggard but being a townie, I didn’t realise that what she was thinking was: Thy little Wyandotte keep.’
So, go on, tell me about the word/s that play/played tricks on you. Don’t be even the slightest bit shy about it!!
In these days of positivity, you’re not really meant to admit to being stupid about stuff but I’m bursting with words and sayings that sing idiocy. And, who among us doesn’t lie, sit, dance, waver, wave , reel, do handstands and U-turns on the idiotic continuum most of the time?
It’s great to have a repertoire of words with which to tick oneself off for foolishness so just in case you’d like a menu, here’s a few starters.
#1. Meet the eejit …
#2.What a big galute!
#3. The Irish didn’t create the word amadán for nothing.
#4. Okay, okay, I know I’m a right gom.
#5. I think I’ll give grinds on loop-the-lu-las after that performance.
#6. They obviously saw this gomdoodle coming
#7. How could I have been such a clown?
#8. Yes, I’ll have to admit it after THAT: ‘I am a complete and utter head-the-ball.’
#9. As Dad used to say, ‘I’m thicker than the walls of China and they are thick indeed.’
#10. In the immortal words of Uncle Wilfred, ‘I’m a little eegit.’
This BIG sign in a shop window in Waterford has been playing on my mind since Sunday morning ~ and has brought me from chuckles to parenting, to economics to child-trafficking and, of course, to good old punctuation.
The trees are coming into leaf like something almost being said.
There’s so many sides to almostness and I seem to have been witnessing a good few of them lately. The trees coming into leaf are one of the blissful examples while spending time with a very dear friend who is breathing her last has been highlighting another side of this ubiquitous aspect of life.
Somehow, it seems to me, as I think about these opposite ends of the spectrum, that there are times when words don’t feel quite right. Rather, there is the shared knowing, the being at one, the companionable silence. The time for words will unfold in its own natural way and shouldn’t be forced.
Just as the tide ebbs and flows, so too does the collection of stones on the seashore change. Oftentimes, the voice of the stones is drowned out by the sound of the sea but high up on the shoreline they call out to those who seek inspiration.
Two stones spoke to me yesterday as I walked along Annestown Beach. They only needed to say two words to draw me in and tickle my imagination.
The word ‘fair’ has been bouncing around in my head rather a lot lately, and more than ever this morning as I took the Puppy Stan around the block, which passes my late parent’s house.
I met a neighbour who was bemoaning the fact that the sun has gone ahide. For now, I’d be describing the day as fair.
But, round the corner, by the school, I passed a woman pushing a very small boy in a buggy. Or, to be more precise, they had stopped and turned right round to watch a huge yellow machine, with all sorts of wide attachments, making its way slowly along the road. The little boy’s blue eyes were brighter than bright and his curly fair hair was billowing in the breeze.
Passing my parent’s house, I couldn’t but think of the way fair was always on Dad’s Richter Scale of how he was. You’d always have to look into his eyes to know if he was codding or not and he generally was!
Rotten –Fair – Good – Never Better
And what of that saying: Fair Sailing which was always the parting blessing of the distinguished Irish broadcaster, Tom MacSweeney on his maritime radio programme on RTE Radio 1, Seascapes.
Fair is never far away from discussions of Life, Love and the Meaning of Happiness.’ How often do we hear: ‘It’s not fair …’ when someone dies young or when random trouble befalls people? I must say I don’t think that life owes us anything so this concept of fairness or unfairness tends to bug me a bit.
However, I have a very strong sense that that we should do all in our power to see that there is a fair distribution of wealth. I think this goes right back to my mother’s teachings around dividing treats, like cakes. She would ask one of us kids to divide the cake in five ~ one bit for each member of the family ~ and when she saw that one slice was bigger than the rest, she would always insist that that piece be given to someone other than the cutter! A lesson never, ever forgotten!
Fairs were very much a part of farming life back in the day and I associate them with haggling and farmers sealing deals with a spit and a handshake as well as long journeys home on foot with a few cows, sheep or even a horse or two in tow.
School reports are a place where Fair always rhymed with despair and basically meant ‘Jean is completely and utterly hopeless at sewing/music/dancing …. but I think even she knows that. Pity but that’s the way it is.’
Fair is never a great sign either when it’s used at Nurse’s Stations in response to enquiries about the well being of loved ones. There have been times when I’ve hated the word with a passion and the dark look that goes with it.
But one can’t hate the word fair for long, especially if you live in Ireland.