Generous to a fault

My boy has always been generous with his friends. Their wish his command. So a child expresses an interest in his toy and he’ll hand it over and not just for the duration of the play date. “ You like it? Have it. Take it home”, he’ll urge. He hasn’t given the shirt off his back yet but that’s only because it wouldn’t hold much truck with 7 year olds. Right now Match Attax cards are the modus operandi for young boys.

match attax

I get to hear about his losses from his vigilant sister who knows her younger brother’s tendencies well. Sometimes he’ll pay heed and she’ll thwart a transaction. Last week she managed to get him to revoke a “swap” involving his precious (and expensive) Lord Voldemort wand. He’s not massively in to Harry Potter but give it a year or so as his reading improves, like most 8-year-old boys he’ll immerse himself in the ways of the wizard, rummage through the bottom of his toy box for his cape and spectacles (if he hasn’t already given them away). His visiting friend has the benefit of older brothers and hits these milestones first, already displaying signs of HP mania. My boy was prepared to let it go for a foil bag of Match Attax (rrp £1 from most retail outlets) but for his sister’s intervention.

When we are at school fetes he’ll ask for extra money,invariably to sub another child. It’s not necessarily about paying cash either. The boy is big on paying compliments. I’ve driven to parties with pals of his in the back seat and what if he isn’t promising his friends something (at the moment it’s an invite to his next birthday party) he’s complementing them on their sporting prowess or their ranking in the classroom.

Today I heard them reciting their lines in the year 3 assembly. The other boy has double my sons but wishes he had more. Seemingly so does my boy “I wish I could give you my lines so you’d have more,” I hear him say.

An older boy who rides with us from our school is humoured daily. Previously mates, the four year age gap is having an impact now. He has no patience for my boy anymore. Flattered once, irritated now. So when my son says he too is a Chelsea supporter and is going to join the local football club on Saturdays he’s told to stop copying. And he does!  He tells me he’s not bothered about his weekend training sessions and Man U are his team henceforth. It almost makes me weep.

Last week on the eve of his first confession when we popped in to the local supermarket my boy asked if we could buy something for our priest. Like what I asked? Maybe a bottle of wine to take in to the confessional my boy suggested.  Needless to say we didn’t.

He was so happy to find himself with a Match Attax special edition gold card. He had it for all of a week. Yesterday he swapped it with the boy with the older brothers who we had around after school. I noticed his friend looked glum as I drove them home. He was silent and drawing sad faces in the condensation on the window.  His sadness due to my boy resisting his swap.  Half an hour back in the house my daughter comes to me upset. Her brother has swapped his precious card. I pull him aside. He tells me he wanted the swap. That his friend is now talking to him and more importantly he’s happy and that in turn makes my boy happy. He does regret it later but maybe that’s because myself and my daughter “kept going on about it”. If we hadn’t brought it up again it’s unlikely he wouldn’t.  I started to talk about friendship. I tell him he’s enough of a draw because of his lovely nature and that he doesn’t need to dismantle his toy cupboard to gain friends. He doesn’t want to hear it, becomes angry and starts to cry. I’m not comfortable with my boys generosity. Where does it end. Will he be a soft target for extortion when he’s older. Does he not value himself enough. Do we not?  Am I seeing myself reflected in his action? I am a people pleaser too and that trait has not served me well.

My son is sensitive to others feelings and wants to see people happy.  That’s admirable. But there’s more going on here. I havn’t figured it out yet but like his sister I will stay vigilant. And I’ll remember to praise my boy, frequently, and not with another packet of Match Attax but with a simple well done or a hug. As I reflect on my own self-worth. The sins of the fathers and all that jazz…

Time travelling

Homeward bound. On the car ride from the airport, like a child returning to confession, I calculate how long it’s been since I was last back – 6 months this time. I note that the gaudy mansion,a shrine to excess,  across the road from my parents, has a Sold sign and I hear that the previous occupant, a disgraced pop star who handed over the keys to receivers and skipped the country to avail of UK bankruptcy laws, is back and in the black. He’s bought a more modest home on the far side of town. His recently published memoir hasn’t gone down well with the neighbours. I make a mental note to buy it.

I’m told the local shop has stopped trading. It too displays a stake from an auctioneer. I’m not surprised. It can’t have been easy keeping up while the town sprawls outwards making the run in to the big stores an automatic reaction. I loved that shop. My first steps to independence would have been walking unescorted to it, staying as close to the hedgerows as I could get(there’s a path now). I’d work from a list of messages for my mother, scrawled on the back of an old envelope. I’d surreptitiously pocket some pennies from her change until a few weeks on I could include a purchase of my own. Most likely toffees or a bag of crisps.

As the car wheels crunch the gravel on the drive I drink in the sight of our house.  It looks pretty much  as it did when I lived there. The trees have matured and thickened as i have but I’m home too often to pay attention to those increments.

My physical journey over, my metaphysical one beginning with my first step over the threshold. When I walk through the door I breathe in the smells my son has come to associate with Ireland for I often carry them back with me. They linger on our clothes, in our pores. He’s not with me on this visit so I know when he greets me on my return he’ll inhale Ireland and remark on it.

The carpet on the staircase is the one my dad laid in the seventies. Swirly patterns in burnt orange. I don’t sleep in my old bedroom. Since my wedding I’m offered a double bed to accommodate my husband and though he’s not often with me, I’m still given quarters reserved for marrieds. I remember my stay when I was nursing my new-born. The pop-star was in residence then, and at the height of his career. I’d watch as his helicopter hovered overhead and then parked on his landscaped lawn beside his artificial lake and behind the 12 foot wall he erected to keep out prying eyes. It works for all but our house which is built on high ground and stares across in defiance.

Thankfully the celtic tiger was retreating so efforts (by the pop-star) to turn the green fields around us in to shopping centres and apartments were thwarted.

Each room in the house hurls me back and that’s without eyeing the photos spanning decades that sit on every ledge. Upstairs my old dolls are arranged on shelves in my bedroom. My mother takes them out when she has young callers. There’s a wardrobe in one of the rooms with 4 wedding dresses. I don’t look at them this visit. The real treasure for me sits under the dressing table in my old room. Stowed away in a paper shopping bag with rope handles. I think the store sold underwear. “Flirting has no rules” runs down its side. It is home to my diaries – 10 tomes spanning 12 years. They cover teenage angst, hopes, dreams, disappointments, triumphs, awakenings, emigration, first love. They also hold secrets about OCD and food, doubts, guilt and fear. And I reacquaint with them every time I’m home.

There’s little evidence of literary craft within but rather a quaintly pedantic account of a childhood and beyond. I cover trends and costs. I refer to purchases I made and include shopping lists. I mention names and events long since forgotten that I still can’t recall. I refer to happenings much bigger than me. “Space shuttle challenger crashed with 7 dead” headlines a Tuesday where I headed to town after lectures, bought purple shoes for £10 and watched Dynasty before bedtime.

If I didn’t keep a diary I wouldn’t know that I sent an article to Time Magazine when I was 17. I got back the nicest PFO letter telling me they were flattered to know they had a young reader in Ireland and encouraging me to keep on writing. How could I have forgotten that?  But I did. What optimism and self-belief I displayed.

If I didn’t keep a diary I wouldn’t know the extent of my obsessions and that conquering my OCD made room for my food issues long before I was ready to face off both.

If I didn’t keep a diary I would have forgotten what a constant supporting presence my parents were. They might not have said I love you but it’s written in ink in other ways on these pages.

Reading back over my early days in London I’m consoled to trip across carefree moments amidst the days of fear and bewilderment. I was an usherette in the London Palladium.  I sold a tub of ice-cream to Jeffrey Archer.

My OCD insured I wrote daily and I’m thankful of that now. When I think of all the hours wasted on rituals and checking I remember my diaries.

If I didn’t keep a diary I wouldn’t have this well of memories and writing entries probably kept me sane. On visits home, I get to catch up with my parents but I’m also met by older versions of myself and the opportunity to befriend and learn from these many-mes’.

diaries -covers

diary pages



MAGIC…a fortnight in to our new year and my word companion for 2015 has landed fully formed.  It started off as BELIEF and has morphed into MAGIC. I wasn’t totally satisfied sitting with belief. I thought of self-belief, always good to focus on, but wanted something more encompassing than that. Trust and belief in others, in the universe, looking for the good in people are all noble notions. But I felt I was missing something. Until I had an encounter a few days in to January.

We were heading into the city for a London day. We’d been given a gift of tickets for the annual Christmas show at the legendary Magic Circle.


 Founded in 1905 the Magic Circle is dedicated to promoting and advancing the art of magic. Their HQ is near Euston, on a cobbled street that in walking down it you feel you are travelling back to the inaugural meeting.  Members, many of them famous, have sworn to keep secret the tricks of the trade and keep the magic alive. I’m all for that. Reality has it’s place and it wasn’t in here. Roaming magicians mesmerised us before the show started. The gift shop had that effect on my son. I enjoyed the museum with props, artefacts and old photos on display. I spotted Tommy Cooper’s Fez. He was a member. The theatre is small and intimate. The show mixes magic with comedy and mystery. You feel like you’re being given a little peek in to the world of these custodians of magic.

Some of our party were trying to work out the mechanics behind the illusion. Not I! I was quite happy to suspend belief. I’d left it back on the cobbles.  At intermission I asked one of the magicians when he knew he wanted to be a magician.  He was always interested in magic and describes himself as a showoff so he joined the young magicians club at the magic circle as soon as he could. He went on to work in banking and said he knows his association with magic helped him nail his first job. Now he’s a magician full time. I wonder if my boy would have a flair for it. He’s a show man for sure. He said they don’t have a club for my cohort but that shouldn’t deter me. Though I loved the show and would love to have the skills of a magician I don’t think I’ll be studying a deck of cards anytime soon. But that doesn’t stop me from inviting MAGIC in to my life.

With the workshops I run for children and the ones I’m developing for grown-ups too I know they’ll be special because through 2015 I plan on taking a little magic and wonder with me wherever I go.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Roald Dahl.