A wise person does at once, what a fool does at last (Baltasar Gracian)
Yesterday I received a text from a market research company recruiting for a focus group. Would I take part in a discussion that lasts 100 mins and pays £65? And the clincher – do I take multi-vitamins?
I understood enough to know that these groups don’t gather a bunch of people to talk about why you’re NOT their customer. So first opportunity, I popped in to my local chemist and stocked up on vitamins. I hadn’t realised I was so deficient! I’ve got my effervescent vitamin C tablets(blackcurrant) and my calcium pellets enriched with Vitamins A and D. I told the cashier to hold off on the Wellwoman pills -but I might be back for them.
By the time the group would meet in mid January, my reasoning went, I’d be able to compare,complement and complain with the best of them. I’d listened to the pharmacist and even made notes. I had my crib sheet on stand-by when I finally got round to calling Tracy from market research. Last chat I’d had with her, she’d forced my hand and gotten me to concede that I wasn’t an Asda customer. I’d talked myself off the panel and I wasn’t going to do the same again.
But you know what she tells me – they’ve got their quota. My reconnoitre trip to the pharmacy cost me the job. Unlike me, the other ladies contacted had got straight on the phone.
Next an opportunity comes along for Sawyer. Does he get scare easy and how is he late in the evening? The boy is fearless. He didn’t flinch through all the Harry Potter movies and he chuckles through Dr Who. I worry about his detachment sometimes. He loves to stay up late and only gets grumpy when I enforce his bedtime curfew. But his clincher – does he like dinosaurs? They haven’t featured in his boyhood yet. But a ticket to ‘Walking with Dinosaurs – the Arena spectacular’ is too great a gift to pass up. I’ve been to the charity shop and a fortnight from now my boy will know his Troodon (brainiest dinosaur) from his Plateosaurus (dumbest)
As the promotional material prompts – Don’t wait another 65 million years. Look where my hesitation got me earlier in the day. Though at least I’ll have strong bones and will be less likely to succumb to colds.
This last year has been a struggle. I’ve felt stagnant, paralysis, inertia, lost. Though interestingly nothing that would keep me awake at night. In fact sleep was a relief, a welcome break from myself. Only it wasn’t. I’d wake up in the morning and feel I had completed the most gruelling mental workout. A virtual marathon. I had bizarre dreams that I could recall in vivid details but only for a couple of minutes. Then dissipation and utter exhaustion. Of course I should have kept a sleep journal. DH was a bystander. He could feel my pain but do nothing about it. His acknowledgement was appreciated though. More than once he’s said “I’m so glad I don’t live in your head”.
To my credit, I’d always dress for the day. When I worked part-time, I’d watch some daytime TV. Not so now.
Though these last few weeks I’ve been tested – I tripped upon the housewives of New York when babysitting my god-daughter and we were both hooked. A year old, she has time on her side. I have not so try hard not to switch on the telly.
I had thought that ‘it’ would come to me – my purpose, the path, my next steps. I networked. It involved plenty of chats over cakes and coffees. I got around. I met some new people, reconnected with others. I was candid about my situation – redundant and trying to figure out what’s next. Open to offers and suggestions. I could feel myself bristle when well-intentioned ex-colleagues told me about vacancies for posts like the one I had just left. On occasion I sent in an application – completed half-heartily. Of course it came to nothing.
A friend recommended a consultation with a holistic therapist. She felt an energy healing session might unblock me. I blogged about it here. I didn’t mention that Colette, the healer with clairvoyant tendencies, was constantly being interrupted by the spirit world shouting out a message for me – simply the word ‘Words’. Did this mean anything to me? Not so much then.
I went down the volunteer route. I thought it might make me work-ready as opposed to work-shy which I worried I might be becoming.
All the time, in the dark. I was still at the bottom of that well/the rut.
Then I started to feel movement. Cracks. Chinks. And things started to line up, patterns appeared. Life, my life started to make sense. My choices or lack of started to make sense. In about a week, things happened that trumped decades. If there was a moment, it might have been receiving the letter from my sister. A simple cover note paper-clipped to a photocopy of an article from the British Journal of General Practitioners on Therapeutic writing. ” You’d be good at this”. I think I’ve found my purpose. It seems so obvious now.
It might be good enough to fool Santa, but our easy to assemble, flame retardant tree is not good enough for DH. He pines (I know, I know) for the real thing.
And I concede that after four years service from our local garden centre’s best, our life-like tree has paid for itself. But this tree has become an old friend to me – it’s woven itself in to our Christmas traditions. Just as I don’t like freshly cut flowers in the home ( it doesn’t seem right to uproot them for our pleasure and I hate to watch the petals drop and stalks wither) so it is with felling a Christmas tree.
Our artificial tree will be the go-to spot on Christmas morning when the kids find out if they’ve been naughty and/or nice. Last year my son found two potatoes (beautifully gift-wrapped) amongst his toys in his stocking. When he’s been naughty during the year, I’ve predicted a sack full. We’ve another 15 days to find out if my boy has been good enough to fool Santa.
It takes more than a couple of years for a practice to become a family tradition but we’ll get there. As our neighbours took their leave on Friday night, they signed up for next year’s LATE ‘Late Late Toy show’ party at ours. The Late Late Show is the world’s longest running chat show, aired weekly by the Irish broadcaster RTE since 1962, and hosting an annual toy extravaganza since the seventies.
Regrettably I can’t give my kids an Irish childhood but I can offer them a few nuggets from my own along the way and the toy show is one such. So iconic it has it’s own Wikipedia entry. Parents starting their Christmas shopping before the show would do so at their own peril. As a child I’d write my letter to Santa only after seeing all the latest toys, road-tested by other boys and girls lucky enough to be tasked with the job of reviewers (back then, mostly sons and daughters of RTE personnel).
Speak to any Irish person about The Late Late and they’ll have their own antidote to tell. Maybe it’s about squirming on the couch beside their parents while the nation was treated to a tutorial on using a condom. As an earnest fourteen year old I once wrote to the programme, neat hand-writing on a pink ring jotter pad, in response to issues raised on the previous week’s show. I didn’t tell my family about this, and remember my heart pounding, as Gay Byrne said his post bag was bulging. He went on to show a selection, leading with mine. Well, the phone didn’t shop ringing all night and while it wasn’t referred to from the altar next day (the show used to air on Saturdays) it was all they could talk about in the church after mass on Sunday.
So for the second year in succession, DH set up the laptop to our TV screen, found the show on RTE player and my kids got The Late Late toy show experience, a week or so after their Irish cousins and decades after me. Our lovely neighbours, also with Irish cousins and references, joined us. And wouldn’t you know it, our kids watched intermittently (though more than last year) whilst running amok playing their own games while we adults were glued to the toy demonstrations and kids entertainment acts.
Last weekend at Dublin airport I’d stocked up on another iconic Irish product – Tayto crisps. And packets of the biscuits of my youth – Jacob’s Kimberleys and Boland’s Figrolls. Served with hot chocolates and Irish coffees. Time (and my children) will tell if memories are made of nights like these.
When Mary Robinson took up residency at Aras an Uachtarain, the official home of the President of Ireland, she famously placed a candle (electric I understand) in the window to represent the Irish diaspora and it was to shine like a beacon welcoming home sons and daughters of the island. That was in 1992. Nice touch. Dublin airport was never so subtle though for years it tarted up the concourse in giant baubles, santas, penguins, snowmen, cribs. An inferno to Robinson’s candle. But like the candle in the Phoenix Park it was a homecoming. And appreciated by the returnees.
So what’s going on this year… I’ve never seen the place look more restrained at Christmas. Austerity measures perhaps? Or is it that on account of the massive expansion with the second terminal any amount of decorations is going to look lost. Or it could be that they’ve come round to seeing that less is more.
Underwhelmed I caught a bus straight from the airport to my hotel in Dun Laoighaire passing through the Dublin Port tunnel and South side villages. All the while observing. And all the while with a dull ache. And that’s how it is EVERY time I return home to Ireland. Is it a longing, I don’t know. The Dublin busman (complete with witticisms) was back in his seat having been absent or possibly promoted during the Celtic years. I noticed that a lot this visit. The international workforce, evident on previous trips, wasn’t so visible. Or is it down to assimilation.
By evening, The Gathering was complete. Checked-in and catching up. That’s the only homecoming I need. We calculated that we’ve been coming together like this (in a hotel and away from children and husbands) for almost ten years. The four daughters with Mother. This year, as it’s his 80th next week, my dad was invited along. There followed two days of lobby coffees, full Irish breakfasts (white and black pudding please) swims, saunas, steams, card games, knitting and crocheting circles and did I mention the shopping….
We found this one boutique in Glasthule that catered to all tastes -now that’s quite an ask. So my younger sister bought a fitted maroon Pleather mini-dress, middle sister got a sequin encrusted jumper, older sister got smart trousers, mother got two hats and I was treated to a stripy Missoni-esque tunic top. I bought stocking fillers and Christmas decorations from some of the very pretty independent gift shops that are prevalent in these affluent South Dublin suburbs.
In the mornings we’d head out as the night sky was lifting, in time to see the sun rise over the sea . We’d walk down Dun Laoighaire pier or on the wide pavements that skirted the coast road passing the forty foot, a popular bathing spot since the mid 1700’s. Once the preserve of men, now all dip there.
People’s park, a hundred meters from the hotel, hosts a popular market on Sundays. I was all shopped out so paid more heed to the food stalls I could have had a bowl of Dublin Oysters or a shot of Jameson’s whiskey added to my latte. I should have bought a badge with Feck on it. There’s always next year.
Before I caught the airlink coach on Sunday, the six of us went to mass together, as we had done so often decades ago. My mother strode down the aisle positioning us a couple of rows from the altar. The prominence doesn’t bother me any more. My dad still sings off-tune though not as loud. My self and my sisters added some colour to a sea of grey heads in the half-empty church. It seems these days, practising Catholics like the Christmas lights in Dublin airport, are thin on the ground.