Wednesday, June 30, 2010

BREASTS ... WOULD BE NICE!


Breasts!

It is a historical fact that, breastfeeding was not  favoured amongst the middle and upper classes of the 19th & early 20th Century, and wet nurses from the working classes were employed to feed their offspring. Believing I was living in a more enlightened age, I  was somewhat horrified on Monday to read about an article that deputy editor Kathryn Blundell of Mother and Baby had written in their July edition, titledI Formula-fed. So what?, in which, she describes breastfeeding as 'creepy'.It has caused quite an explosion of condemnation from both the pro-formula and pro-breast quarters. Before I go into the nitty-gritty of what she said, and the tone of what she said, let me first say categorically, that an expectant mother should be able to make her own decisions about the environment in which she gives birth, and provided she has been made aware of the pros and cons of a home birth, as an example, she should then be fully supported and encouraged in her decision. Following the birth, and baby has arrived safely and soundly, then he or she has to be fed! Mum has probably already made her decision, as to whether she is going to breastfeed or bottle-feed, in the weeks leading up to the birthing event. Again, whatever her choice, she should feel secure and protected, having been given all the information required to make an informed decision.



Young mums, particularly during their first pregnancy, have really no idea what to expect, even with all the best intentions of ante-natal prepping. The perpetrators of this 'magazine advising age' that we are living in, really do have a moral responsibility to, at least, endeavour to get it right! Now of course, Kathryn Blundell is entitled to her own point of view re the merits or otherwise of breastfeeding, but as deputy editor of Mother and Baby, not unlike the newscaster reporting, for example, on Afghanistan or Iran, whose remit is to  present the news impartially, should in her position of considerable influence, in my opinion, give both sides of the 'breast is best' debate. There are always two sides to any debate, and this particular argument is no exception. Ms Blundell, in mine and in the opinion of thousands of other women, not only crossed that line of impartiality, but she did so in a tone of language that defiled not only motherhood, but also, the essence of being a woman. 


                 Pablo Picasso's Breastfeeding

The benefits of breastfeeding are well-known, containing just the right amount of sugar, fat, water and protein for the healthy development of the child. The World Health Organization says the following:

"The vast majority of women can and should breastfeed, just as the vast majority of babies can and should be breastfed. Only under exceptional circumstances can a mother's milk be considered unsuitable for her infant. For those few health situations, where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative - expressed breast milk from an infant's own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet nurse, or a healthy milk-bank, or a breast-milk substitute, fed with a cup, which is a safer method than a feeding bottle and a teet - depends on individual circumstances."

Yes we are human, but we are also mammals with breasts that produce milk for the purpose of feeding our young offspring ... the most natural thing in the world! However, judging by some people's ignorant reactions to mothers breastfeeding in public places, who would have no problem ogling pictures of naked women in the daily tabloids or top shelf magazines, reflects a distorted view and a certain discomfort towards women's sexuality and sensuality. In my opinion, this perception held by many men, and even more disappointingly, many women, is not well-served by articles of the nature, penned by Ms. Blundell. Unfortunately, I don't feel any of this will change, until women feel more comfortable with their own bodies and their own identities, and stop seeing themselves as an extension of the 'man' in their lives.

In her article, Ms Blundell says,  'I wanted my body back. (And some wine) ...I also wanted to give my boobs at least a chance to stay on my chest rather than dangling around my stomach. They're part of my sexuality, too - not just breasts, but funbags. And when you have that attitude (and I admit I made no attempt to change it), seeing your teeny, tiny, innocent baby latching on where only a lover has been before feels, well, a little creepy.'

Inspite of being fully aware of the health benefits, she continues:  'There are all the studies that show it reduces the risk of brest cancer for you, and stomach upsets and allergies for your baby. But even the convenience and supposed health benefits of breast milk couldn't induce me to stick my nipple in a bawling baby's mouth.'

She adds: Ask most of the quitters why they stopped and you'll hear tales of agonising three-hour feeding sessions and - the drama! - bloody nipples.

How in the name of intelligence, did the editor of that magazine allow that piece of sad, fear-mongering writing to be published. It beggars belief and has left me feeling quite astounded and outraged. That's where the cynical side of me clicks in. Is this just a publicity ploy to entice more people to buy the magazine, or is it a way to bring the whole breastfeeding debate back on to the table? If it were the latter, then I would forgive to a certain extent, but I still find the whole tone of the article rather sad. Here we have a seemingly intelligent woman referring to her breasts as 'funbags'. Surely descriptions like that should remain in the domain of freudian-fixated men, who find it difficult to use the word 'breast', because of a need to differentiate from the breast of their own mothers, resorting therefore to derrogatory terms like, 'tits', 'rack', 'Bristol cities' ... and so on.


 

Some would argue that she is placing her sexual needs before those of her child. I would say, why separate them at all!

What do we do as lovers? We might go out to dinner into a romantic ambience and EAT together and then HAVE SEX together. Naturally, dinner isn't necessary for the sex, but they do make a lovely combination. Logically speaking, why should breast-feeding your child during the ritual of dining, interfere with the ritual of love-making? I can almost hear the response to that question from some quarters. Like 'Well what if he/she is a light sleeper? What if he/she is collicky? What if he/she just doesn't sleep? Of course, there will always be exceptions to any rule, but there are those who just love to stay firmly stuck in the swamp of negativity. I felt incredibly sexual and sensual during pregnancy and later during breastfeeding. Perhaps this sprang from an inner strength of invigorated confidence that eschews from creativity and responsibility.




I am in no way bashing those women who make a well-informed decision not to breastfeed their babies. As I said, earlier, women should be allowed to make all their own decisions. However, even without the pre-requisite of scientific evidence, you do not have to be an 'Einstein' to realize women were given breasts, which lactate following childbirth for a REASON. And perhaps that reason might just be ... feeding their baby!

I breastfed both my daughters very successfully, with no drama or bloody nipples! (I'm sorry I didn't have any photographs taken of those very close moments of bonding). I made up my mind very early on in pregnancy that I was going to breastfeed my baby and even though I didn't make ante-natal classes, I managed to get to Laleche League meetings, who promote and support breastfeeding mothers. They were absolutely wonderful. I used to dream about breastfeeding, I was so determined. But then, I adored being pregnant and took an extremely relaxed view about the whole thing. My neighbour, who passed away quite recently, and I loved her dearly, would come across to give me advice, after all she had had 11 children herself. My mother was in another country, so I think Mary somehow felt responsible for me. However, she often told me about the gruesome things that could go wrong, but, not being particularly impressionable, I kept myself going by reminding myself that millions of women all over the planet were giving birth at that particular moment. Some, whilst holding onto a tree, and then going about their normal daily tasks. I was extremely naive about it all. I had never seen a nappy, nevermind put one on, until I had my own baby, but my intuition told me, that pregnancy and childbirth is a very natural process, and that if something went wrong, someone would help me.



Granted, there is much more information out there in relation to pregnancy, childbirth, pre-menstrual tension, menopause etc. and for some people that is a good thing, but sometimes, I wonder whether all this talk and hype demystifies the magical nature of woman and motherhood.. I adored being pregnant,  breastfeeding, taking my children everywhere with me, and dreaded the summer holidays being over, and indeed, would have liked more children, but it wasn't to be. I never, for one moment, felt they stopped me from doing anything. I love being a mother and am so, so looking forward to being a grandmother, when the time is right.

We are living in an age of 'designer-style' birthing, where more and more mums are resorting to unnecessary caesarian deliveries, rather than facing into the prospect of a hard labour, and indeed some have even succumbed to the idea of surrogacy, to avoid the changes in their body shape etc., that pregnancy necessitates. Freedom of choice is essential, but there is a prevailing sense of 'going against nature' when these procedures are performed unnecessarily.

I want to say to any expectant mums or younger friends of mine that might read this blog, that the birthing process was no picnic, but was so terribly worth it! When I was able to  hold my babies so close, and feeling their suckling of my breasts, in the knowledge that I was giving them the very best start in life, was one of the most magical parts of my life. Don't be put off by the horror stories. Listen to your intuition ... it will seldom let you down!

And on a lighter, perhaps even ironic note, I came across the image below, on the internet, whilst searching for lovely images of breastfeeding mothers. It is a painting from Honore Daumier (1808-1879), who was a French printer, caricaturist, sculptor and painter. His many works provided an often satirical commentary on the social and political life of French life in the 19th Century. This piece is called 'Republique'



So, Ms Blundell, whether you breastfed or bottle-fed your baby is not the controversial part of your article. More the message you are sending to thousands of readers, that a woman who does make the decision to breastfeed, faces the prospect of  bloody nipples, a drama-filled world, feeling asexual, with breasts that sag all the way down to her navel, in a manner that can only be described as cringeworthy!. 

Pet names for our sexual organs  and erogenous zones reside quite healthily withiin the erotic fantasia of love-making between two individuals. Its quite another thing, however, for a woman to describe her breasts as 'funbags' to thousands of other female readers. Perhaps, I'm quite simply, an old-fashioned kind of gal!

But girls, let's just call our breasts, whatever the shape or size, ... BREASTS! 

BREASTS ... WOULD BE NICE!



Ciao for now!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

VARIETY ... THE SPICE OF LIFE!

Lisvernane 6th Class Boys (From Left: Aaron, Jack, Me, Patrick, Cormac!

What a crazily busy week ... not even a week ... more a few days! Last Friday, I was invited to dinner, which was prepared, cooked and served by 6th class of Lisvernane National School, nestled in the beautiful Glen of Aherlow. I had had the pleasure of working with the children of this wonderfully creative school, through drama, since last September. They were able to show off their very considerable talents and growing confidence to their parents and friends in a show in their local community hall two weeks ago. Driving to the school every Wednesday from the Bansha direction, enabled me to see the glory of the Glen of Aherlow and the majesty of the Galtee Mountains in their ever-changing light, and witness autumnal gold fade into wintry white, thawing into yellowness of spring, and cataplting into lime green of summer. It was one of the highlights of my week. Of course 6th class are moving on to secondary school now and I shall miss them, (particularly the 'brazen four' in the above photograph), when I return next September.


                                    
From dinner guest (and washer-upper!) in Lisvernane to gangster's moll, Kate (above: me as a brunette... does not suit you daaarling!), on Friday night in a murder mystery play in a pub in Holycross. What an absolute blast! Two rehearsals, then go for it. There was a script, but much of the dialogue and action was improvized. Getting paid to frisk guys in the pub for pieces was hilarious. The patrons erupted, rising to the occasion. I loved the whole thing of having to think on my feet! From Friday night to Saturday afternoon in Cork, (I had already driven to Adare in Co. Limerick, that morning, to meet a girl to discuss her wedding flowers) where I played the role of Rose in a piece called Days of Roses written by UCC MA student, Aoife McCarthy. This is a very moving piece about the onset of Rose's dementia and underlines the undying love that exists between Rose and her husband, Eddie. As it was introduced by one of my very favourite songs, Tom Waits singing Martha, I found it even more difficult to hold back the tears, that were to come later on in the piece. I then played a completely different role in the guise of the Stepmother in Snow Grey, another play written by UCC MA student, Niamh Quinlan. It was an absolute pleasure to be involved with such well-written, moving pieces. I had a genuine lump in my throat! I wish all the MA students, the very best of luck in their theses.


What Shoes Shall I wear?

From Cork, drove to Killarney (lovely drive through small picturesque villages) to attend the annual AIMS (Association of Irish Musical Societies) Awards Ball, which was being held in the Gleneagel Hotel, the same  night. It has been held there for the last 7 or 8 years, chiefly, because its one of the few hotels in the country that can cater for 1000 upwards. The Ball is the focal point of this weekend, where award nominees, from all over Ireland, assemble with family and friends. Once the meal is over, the winners from the various categories are announced, midst nail-biting excitement. The ceremony resembles that of the Oscars, and indeed, it has grown from strength to strength over the years, and is executed in a highly professional manner.


My Partner for the Evening!

Both HMS Pinafore and Oklahoma, that I directed in Clonmel, received nominations. Unfortunately, we didn't win the final award, but hey, to get nominated in the company of two others, from the whole length and breadth of Ireland, is a great achievement and a wonderful recognition of all the talent in St. Mary's Choral Society. A night of cheoil agus craic was had by all. Meeting up with old friends from other societies, that I had perhaps first met 27 years ago, while pregnant with Katy, was quite scary! Left the Gleneagle after four in the morning. I love being up at that hour, watching the world wake up, bathed in that special first light, to listen to the first birdsong of the day. It makes me feel so happy to be a part of this 'magical spectacle' that happens every day, on our doorstep, imagine!  Like a child ... I get so excited. 


Ruins of McCarthy Mor Castle taken at 5 am

I  had left booking a hotel until the last moment and wasn't able to get into any of the usual ones. How fortunate, was I! I eventually booked a room at the Lake Hotel on the road out of Killarney towards Muckross House. The room was extremely spacious and airy with spectacular views of Castlelough and McCarthy Mor Castle ruins from the bedroom balcony.


   Brochure photograph of McCarthy Mor Castle at night

McCarthy Mor Castle was apparently the last castle in Ireland to fall to Cromwell's army. General Ludlow was responsible for the destruction of the castle at Castlelough and Muckross Abbey on the same day in 1635 AD. From this medieval castle, Donal McCarthy ruled the two Munsters as titular King of Desmond. It is said he had a passion for securing as many trophies from the plumed helmets of Elizabethan troops. He was known locally as 'Dan the Feathers'. He collected so many that women from the locality were employed in the making of beds. He is reputed to have been extravagant, with a fondness for a drop of the hard stuff, but nevertheless, a strong leader, who protected his territory with diplomacy rather than force. The English chivalry dubbed him, 'The Robin of Munster'.

Queen Victoria may have stood here!

The Lake Hotel was built in 1820 on the shoreline of Castle lough. Queen Victoria stayed there in 1861 during her visit to Ireland. In 1940 the hotel was acquired by the Huggards of Waterville and operated by the late Hilda Huggard. The Huggards were also presented with Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo by the Irish Government to restore the castle to a top quality hotel. Hilda's family are still involved in the hotel and continue the Huggard traditions of hospitality in the Irish tourism industry


I'm gonna reach out and grab ya!

When we arrived back to our room in the early hours, I made coffee and sat out on the balcony to soak up the early morning atmosphere. A deer wandered down to the edge of the lake. He waded there for some time looking for food, I presume. I took several photographs of him in the silence, but, unfortunately, failed to capture him or the moment on camera. Poetic justice perhaps! Well had to get a couple of hours sleep. Didn't really want to miss any of this magic, but knew I'd be wrecked later, if I didn't.


The Majesty and Mystery of both Lake and Trees

After three or four hours sleep and breakfast, we headed out to walk along the lakeshore. Mmmm....heavenly!


 Like the Sun in all its Glory

I would have liked to have spent more time exploring, but as it was Father's Day, Emma, my eldest daughter, was flying home from London to surprise her father. So I made excuses about having to get home for something or other. The plan had been that Emma was coming home on Wednesday to sing at our friend's wedding on Thursday


A Blue Invitation

I am not, in general, a hotel person, but there was something incredibly relaxed and calming about the Lake Hotel in Killarney. I could have stayed there for a long week-end or perhaps even longer. I will go back there sometime during the Summer or Autumn, armed with food, coffee and cigarettes, to live, for the most part on the balcony, writing, reading, and watching the longest running spectacular production, of all time, 'From Day to Night and Back Again'.  

From Killarney back to Tipperary on Sunday lunch-time. Barbecue in the garden Sunday evening ...Dad suitably surprised and happy. Everyone excited ... 'chat and catch up time!' From Tipperary to flower wholesalers in Limerick at 8am Monday morning to collect greenery and sundries. I was doing the wedding flowers for Nell, daughter of my very dear friends, Nancy and Jim, who was getting married in Bansha church on Thursday. Rehearsals in Tipperary town on Monday afternoon for my group 'Class Act', who were presenting our version of Hansel and Gretel on Tuesday for their parents and friends. Buckets washed, filled with water and conditioner for greenery and peonies (which require more time than most flowers to open.) Bowls and trays filled with oasis and taped. Thank God Emma had come home early! We were creating floral arrangements for both the Church ceremony and the wedding reception in Kilshane House. A mammoth task. Kilshane House and its sumptious grounds provide an absolutely wonderful setting for wedding celebrations.. Indeed, the weirdo of rock, Marilyn Manson, held his wedding party there, following his marriage to burlesque artiste, Dita Von Teese.


                                Kilshane House

Tuesday morning, arrangements greened, costumes to be fixed for evening production, props etc. to be gathered. Twenty minutes before final rehearsal, text message to say Hansel could not make it. Great! Had to collar an unsuspecting victim to fill in, script in hand. All went well. Finished at 7.30pm. Parents and children happy ... I think! Back home again. Make bows for bay trees and walk-through aisle arrangements. Wednesday morning, on the road to Limerick at 6am to collect flowers. Loaded them into the van and back home by 8.45 am.


Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese - Wedding reception at Kilshane House

All flowers have to be cut and conditioned, but hydrangeas require a special treatment. I had to cut 100 blue hydrangeas, dip them into boiling hot water first, then put them into a cold bath, cutting the stems again under water, and leaving their heads submerged in the cold water for two hours, which required being weighted down. Anyway, it was flowers, fast and furious, all day and almost all night. The wedding was at 1.30 pm the following day, which meant I didn't get to bed until 5am Thursday morning. Up again at 7.30am to finish arrangements, bridal and bridesmaids bouquets, button holes for the gents etc. Arrangements had to be delivered and positioned etc. then, in Church and Kilshane. 189 pink rose buds to be placed in the fold of each napkin, floating candles and peony heads to decorate the pond in the conservatory, candle ring arrangements for the windows on the way to the orangerie, fireplaces, bouquets for the mums etc.etc.

There's always an adrenalin rush with wedding flowers, with the whole 'will I make it thing' going on. (Perhaps, that's just me!) But made it ...phew! Nell and her family were delighted with the flowers, Emma sang like an angel, and I had a ball. It had been two years since I had arranged flowers for a wedding and I'd forgotten how much I love it and how utterly enthralled I become in the process, and Wednesday night merging into Thursday morning, was just so ... so special. Just the moon, the flowers, and me!


My floral arrangements in Reception Hall of Kilshane House.

That night, as I walked from house to garden work station, under an arbour of honeysuckle and roses, I caught the moon smiling at me, and then a moment was born ... a moment of entropy. All that was in my mind and my heart floated out beyond the confines of flesh and bones, and as the spirits of the night entered me, we became one, the night and I.. It was so perfect, I thought I would die! Tried putting it into words.


A PERFECT MOMENT TO DIE

In a moment of fairy-lit stillness,
A moment of wide-eyed crystal,
On a heady wedding eve,
Draped in the navy before birdsong,
And watched by yellow-faced moon
Through vapour veil of fairy breath,
A hydrangea, painted with love in blue,
Kissed blushing peony, smiling in pink,
And like your hand on my arm, that day ...
A perfect moment to die.


Maureen Walsh © 2010


What a week. What a crazy, beautiful week!



Ciao for now!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

CATHY DAVEY

 

I was driving somewhere recently, listening to the soft, dulcet tones of Philip King on RTE Radio 1 programme South Wind Blows. Philip has been around in the arts world for at least the last twenty years. His roles have included film producer/director, music producer, songwriter, musician and radio broadcaster. He possesses an engaging style of delivery, and plays a varied menu of music.

As per normal, my senses were multi-tasking. I had one ear on the radio, the other on the conversation I was having with myself; one eye on the road and the other on the fields, clouds and hedgerows. Suddenly all my senses were alerted and focused on a piece of music that I hadn't heard before. I was blown away by its exciting, exhilarating rhythm, her unique singing, and its 'hook' (really good song has a 'hook' - The thing that grabs you!) comes in a 'chorus of cello' (cello and saxaphone have to be two of the most sensual instruments). The title of that song is Army of Tears, which went straight to No. 1 in the Irish charts. The cellos really do provide a sense of 'marching'. ...quite wonderful!

Whilst buying a CD for my dad for Father's Day, yesterday, I spotted Cathy's latest album The Nameless,  which includes the track Army of Tears and just had to buy it. I was able to play the whole CD on my way to rehearsals in Cork, today. It really is something else! She has written and produced this album. Not only that, she played most of the instruments to boot! I find all the tracks appealing in their diversity of style. I suppose if I had to pick favourites, they would be Army of Tears and Lay your Hand. Her vocals remind me a little of Kate Bush, who was way ahead of her time in musical terms. Cathy Davey is a force to be reckoned with, and I think she is going to be a huge star! Her lyrics are beautiful:

LAY YOUR HAND

Oh I don't know how you're supposed
To relay the complicated message of
Desire. No I don't know how to do it when
You look at me, I look away. We've nowhere 
to go and nothing to say.
Lay your hand on me, see if it belongs.
We're all tangled up in evolution,
Can't work out the simplest of sums.
Lay your hand on me and no-one could 
Deny, there lies the vital information,
So eloquently put that it could
Make you sigh.
Everyone knows that delicate time
When all you want is lying beyond your
Finger tips. But language is hard, lanuguage
is cold, language is too rude and 
Angular. No no we need another method
For our lips.
So lay your mouth on mine and no-one
Could deny there-in lies a friendly
Explanation of how the fundamental 
Laws apply.
Lay your mouth on mine and I wont 
Ask again if you only do this one
Thing for me. No question worth
Asking would remain. 
Lay your hand on me. 

Says it all ... the ineloquence of words! Thank you Mr. Philip King for introducing me to Cathy Davey, an Irish girl, from Dublin. I am hooked!



Ciao for now!

Monday, June 14, 2010

CRITICAL COMMENT - HEALTHY AND HELPFUL? ... ABSOLUTELY!



Just a quick word to say thank you to those who offered constructive critical feedback re. my short story, 'Moonlight Sonata'. I have reworked it and re-named it. And, of course, that doesn't for one moment mean, I won't be revisiting it again ... and again, until I'm happy with it ... if there is such a thing! I probably did publish in haste, but then again, there's nothing like taking the bull by the horns and facing the music. Ideas for blogs, stories, plays and poems are coming thick and fast. However seeing images in one's mind is one thing ... painting them with words is another. That's the challenge!

It is my intention to write a novel ... my first, and in all honesty, I'm a few years past the first flush of youth, and 'Blogging', I believe, provides a laboratory for expermimentation, and perhaps a way, to cut a few corners, from the 'Learning How to Write' process. I am looking forward to having more time to deliberate over one phrase ... one word! And I'm certain my writing might be too...too banal, complicated, nonsensical, flowery ... whatever, at times, but hey, I enjoy it and, if by some stroke of luck, I arrange a sequence of words in a manner that pleases another person ...wow!

That reminds me of a trip to see Colm Wilkinson playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables in Dublin a few years back. I had already seen it in London, but as Colm had been the very first Valjean, it was of special interest to see him playing this role back in his native country after so many years. Most of the singers during that performance sounded as if they had come off a conveyor belt. They seemed to have the same kind of stage-school style of vocal timbre and projection. That is apart from our Colm, and the lady who played the role of Fantine (whose name escapes me now), who had undertaken opera training in Canada. They were outstanding, because they stood out from the uniformity of the others! Back to the point I'm making (worse than Billy Connolly!)Colm Wilkinson made a physical gesture as Fantine lay dying in her bed, which outshone everything else about the show. He took her in his arms or put his arm around her (no romance going on, just a genuine friendship) and it was so incredibly powerful in its truthful naturalness, that it was worth the trip to Dublin just for that gesture alone. It was simply beautiful! (On hindsight, I might have already spoken about this in an earlier blog to a lesser degree.)

A song or a piece of music can beloved for one phrase, one note, one chord change, or perhaps the way a performer sings one word. I was painting 'The Colliseum' at the week-end (food for a later blog) listening and singing along to one of my very, very favourite rock/folk bands, Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks, lead singer with the band, sings with inspired expression from the depths of her soul. To hear her sing a simple word like 'Gypsy' from the song of the same name, is quite unforgettable.

Anyway, if you revisit the short story, (renamed IVORY), or indeed visit for the first time, please feel free to comment on that or anything else, and be as critical as you darn well like. It's all for the learnin' ain't it!!!

Thank you.


Ciao for now!

Friday, June 11, 2010

FROM MOONLIGHT SONATA TO IVORY TOWER ... AND BACK AGAIN!



A Short Story.


IVORY 



The bespectacled accompanist positioned his creased Prince of Wales checked rear on a faded, gold, velvet King Louis XVth stool. Crafted in curves to follow soft, round buttocks, it was perhaps similar to one that might have been found in the salon of  Madame de Pompadour, one of many mistresses to the seriously unfaithful King Louis XV. Fifteen years after Loius XV's life of debauchery ended, during the French Revolution of 1789, the jading stool might have supported a TB-stricken courtesan as she masked  consumptive shadows with powder and rouge. The faithful ally rescued silk and lace; artillery, flung, for the most part, with feigned abandon, during rousing rituals of striptease. The silent witness eavesdropped upon hungry, clandestine kisses, cumulating in frenzied love-making, interrupted only by intriguing revelations of espionage and discussions that rendered strategic war policies. The shabby French spy was now bed partner to an over-strung Baby Steinway from Hamburg…left-over relics of past glories, like the World War II veterans, who were now seated in an overbearingly stuffy room, which would soon precipitate a snoring chorus, whereupon being nudged, the awakened would whimper, ‘Did I miss anything?’ … ‘We showed those bloody Germans a thing or two, didn‘t we!’ Medalled, then forgotten heroes, with minds, still stranded on the beach at Dunkirk, were invisible now behind unwashed, unhallowed windows. They had been assembled, like the children, they had grown old into, to be distracted for a while, by artistic effort.


They shuffled and plastic seats groaned, as the pianist fished self-consciously into his battered leather music case for his manuscripts, and as he did so, the story of his bachelorhood was told by unkempt shirt-cuffs. He had a pallid ‘indoors’ face, that seldom said, ‘hello’ to the day or to his neighbours for that matter. There was just him, his mother and Henry the cat. His mother, an Irish emigrant from Middleton in County Cork, had always been an unhappy and unfulfilled person, and had never made a secret of the fact. She seldom got out of bed these days, and apart from Mrs Mellor from Strawberry Lane, who performed all the ‘female’ duties, his life’s routine revolved around that of his mother’s. He wished, sometimes, that he'd wake up one morning to find she had died in her sleep, and then immediately hating himself, he'd commit himself to endless decades of the rosary, which had been instilled by the leather belt of his Catholic mother. The space where black and white keys reigned, would gradually mediate between duty and guilt, restoring an equilibrium of ivory nothingness. 


The fidgeting audience didn’t know, nor did they much care,  that he had stayed up all night transposing, Down by the Sally Gardens, based on a poem by W.B. Yeats and Drink to Me Only, lyrics from Ben Johnson’s 1616 poem, Song for Celia, and several other well-known songs, into the key of C for Charlie. Charlie! A face like a Toby jug and a lifestyle akin to the jug’s namesake, Sir Toby Belch, a fun-loving, character from Shakespeare’s, Twelfth Night, meant that Charlie, a high tenor once, now sang everything at least two tones lower. He had always loved Charlie. At university, Charlie had been the only one that had seen beyond this forgettable figure, that others perceived as weird, if not, slightly unhinged. They hadn’t performed together in forty years … an ocean of time had elapsed since then.


Following their graduation, Charlie became a priest, albeit one with a robust desire for the good life, he went to work as a missionary in Africa, and believing quite sincerely that he could make a difference, he remained in Africa for ten years, before returning to Maidstone in Kent, the adopted home of his Irish family. During that time, there was very little communication between the two men, but on the rare occasions, that an airmail envelope made a surprise entrance through the mouth of the front door, it always read the same as the last. Charlie persuaded that all was wonderful.


The pianist had had one love. She was a young flautist, Maria, whom he had met at Oxford in 1965. Her laughter and light-hearted teasing eased his melancholy on summer evenings meant for sonnets of love like those penned by Francesco Petrarca for Laura and Dante for Beatrice. As they were both fascinated by history and architecture  he passed a remark, one afternoon, that there was a wonderful view of St. Michael’s Cathedral from his bedroom window. Maria was enthralled. They joked about Professor Johnson, their German lecturer, whose tight grey trousers had split that morning as he bent down to pick up a piece of chalk, only to reveal that he was wearing no underpants. They giggled so much, that even as they held on to one another for support, they fell helplessly towards his bed, dappled in the yellow of approaching twilight. Laughter exhausted, she turned to him and sighed. ‘Kiss me, Archie.’ Nervously the piano man moved his lips towards hers on the pillow next to him. She had closed her eyes. He watched her closed eyelids for the first few searching seconds, but was unable to halt the tide of certain surrender. She took his piano fingers and gently cupped them around her breast. It was warm and soft … so different from the coolness of his ivory existence. She guided his hand to the buttons of her blouse. He was drowning in the silkiness of her skin ... the taste of her lips… the smell of her breath. Suddenly, he was dragged back into the reality of his ivory world, by a cold, rasping voice. His mother had returned to the 'two up and two down' earlier than usual. ‘Archie … Archie … where are you?’ she bellowed, as she bulldozed from room to room. In order to protect Maria’s modesty, Archie hid her in his wardrobe while he distracted his mother's attention to the guttering at the back of the house, that needed to be repaired. Maria slipped out of the house and Archie's life that day. He never kissed her or felt her softness again. She teased a long-haired cellist now. The 'beatnik' wrote an 'Adagio in G', just for her, and played it, just for her. On a Sunday evening during the finale of Summer, Archie decided to take a different route home, after a meeting of the local historical society. Turning the corner out of Mulberry Avenue, he was seized by the familiar strains of Maria's laughter. It wafted through an open upstairs window, floating downwards onto Mayberry Lane, like cherry blossom in May. Then there was silence. Archie crossed to the other side of the street and as he turned  to look upwards, he saw two dark heads joined together in a searching kiss. He lay in bed later that night, his hands behind his head, the shadows of passing trains dancing on his wall, and relived that yellow afternoon for the hundredth time. Archie gave up then, just as he had done with Beethoven’s, Moonlight Sonata. He was convinced that his trembling fingers and his dithering mind would bring life to neither! Woman nor music. He was destined to be one of Nature’s 'fumblers'.


The old soldiers, who were now stirred into a wakefulness by the opening bars of Beethoven’s, Für Elise, even though they would have preferred something less serious, less classical, might have been able to pity the musician’s acne-scarred face, forgive a fraying shirt-collar, a greasy head brushed and swept flatly to one side, but the shoes …absolutely unforgivable … brown leather shoes, scuffed and unpolished. They could not fathom an addiction for art that came between ‘spit and polish.’


Nevertheless, those with social graces still intact, applauded Archie‘s honest, but average rendition. The player stood up to take a bow. His fingers had obeyed him for the most part. The organizer and MC for the afternoon’s artistic escape, left the room then to fetch Charlie. When Archie had left him in the library almost an hour beforehand, Charlie was swigging from a brandy bottle that he had stashed in his black leather bag, next to his rosary beads. Archie begged Charlie not to drink anymore. However, he knew that his well-intentioned friend had gone past the point of getting off. Charlie was adamant he was fine as he swayed, and that he wouldn’t disappoint anyone, including Archie, as he pointed a waving finger. Charlie was an alcoholic, of that there was absolutely no doubt. He hadn’t left Africa. Africa had left him. Charlie thought he could change the world. The dawning of his delusion and arrogant defeat, fostered  a lonely dependence on a substance that promised unerring friendship. However, the comforting, assuring, confidence-boosting elixir had transformed itself into demonic keeper. Archie had witnessed some of Charlie’s agonizing periods of withdrawal; the hallucinations, the shakes, the vomiting, the depression, the hopelessness and the final shame of wanting to die. It was always the last time ... but never was. Archie muttered a prayer as he left the room of books. He turned at the jam of the door to look back at his friend once more. A grin met him, while a hand reached into the bag …for the bottle … next to the rosary beads.


Outside again, Archie continued to pray silently, as the old boys continued to waffle and wallow in their stories of war. The MC re-appeared, and as he caught his foot in the edge of the threadbare carpet, it caused him to trip, and the mask of calmness began to peel away, revealing an increasing panic. The old men started to snigger as he regained his composure and navigated his way towards the man at the piano, whispering into his ear. Both men’s heads nodded in acknowledgement and chests heaved in apologetic defeat. The MC then walked towards the podium and explained that Father Hennessy would not, after all, be performing this afternoon; that he had suddenly been taken ill and consequently, Mr. O’Brien would play some old favourites that they could sing along to. There was a loud cheer from a newly-enthused audience.


Five minutes into a Vera Lynn selection, the door was flung open widely, causing the MC to topple a second time. A dishevelled Charlie staggered into the steaming drawing room. The full-throated, but raucous singing from the men stopped instantly as if the money in the meter had run out. The priest stumbled towards the curve of the piano, shouting, ‘Hit it there, Archie!’  Horrified,  Archie, silently pleaded with God for mercy, and commanded stubborn fingers to pursue the black and white keys that floated away from him. The old army and navy men’s tongues were hammered shut in amazement and disbelief as Charlie, local man of the cloth, launched into song. Slurring over the words that he remembered, he strained to hit the final top ‘A’ of Gounod’s, Ave Maria. In his bid to reach and hold on to the summit, an unsteady Charlie stood on one leg for what seemed an eternity, before folding like a pack of cards. He lay crumpled, laughing one minute and crying the next; his hands flapped, uncontrollably in a bid to hide a face, bereft of dignity. Archie looked on with sadness, at this spectacle of annihilating humiliation.and waste. 


He stared at  fumbling fingers and lifted them gently towards black and white keys.  No longer cool, they were warmed with possibility and the promise of yellow. He began to play ... Beethoven’s, Moonlight Sonata.....








Maureen Walsh © 2010



Ciao for now!


IRELAND - BOXING TOWARDS THE RED CORNER?



Eamon Gilmore - Labour Party Leader

The latest Irish Times MRBI Poll, published today, shows the Labour Party under the leadership of Eamon Gilmore heading the posse with 32% of the populist vote. Listening to the Pat Kenny radio programme, I find it incredibly irritating to hear whinging Fianna Failers and Fine Gaelers denigrating the rise in support for both the Labour Party and its leader with references to the demise of Gordon Brown and the Labour Party in Britain and the problematic socialist government in Spain and suggestions that Eamon Gilmore and his troops would not be able for the challenges that this financial fiasco wrought. Yeah right... if the situation wasn't so serious ... one would be forgiven for laughing into their pallid, overweight faces. As it is, they are stupid, arrogant, and insulting! Yes, there is a world recessional crisis and perhaps, as happened in Britain during the National Emergency of World War II, there could be a real argument for a national government in this country.

Everyone knows that An Taoiseach Brian Cowen's economic policies as Minister for Finance under Bertie Ahern exacerbated the impending financial disaster. I believe Bertie Ahern knew about the impending financial disaster before most and that was much more likely the reason for his flght from office, than the unearthing of a laundry filled with dirty washing by the Mahon Tribunal. To a large degree, I think Brian Cowen is carrying the can for Bertie, who is getting away scott-free at the moment. Ironically, disgraced Charlie Haughey warned of Bertie. Paraphrased it went something like, 'Well if you think I'm bad, watch out for Bertie Aherne!'.Well he would know, wouldn't he? Back in the 80's Brian Lenehan Snr. carried the can for him. In all honesty, how does the present government expect the people of this country to trust them  to lead us out of this financial hell-hole, when they are largely to blame for dropping us in there in the first place.

No-one is suggesting for a moment, that the Labour Party is in a position to win a general election, should one be called for in the morning, but people are looking at them seriously as a strong alternative party for government for the first time. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Ireland is finally moving away from Civil War politics, even if it that has only been brought about through financial necessity. Over the last ten years there has been an enormous influx of immigrants settling on this island, enriching us, for the most, with their language and culture. While we are a part of the much larger family of Europe, it is still vitally important that Ireland upholds the individual dynamics of its identity. During the years of the Celtic Tiger, Green Ireland became Beige Ireland.

The tourist industry, which includes every single one of us, has to re-evaluate its approach to visitors and holiday-makers. Ireland has a gloriously, varied geographical and cultural landscape, that should be treated like gold. (Mind you, Ireland has just come in at the bottom of an EU safe-bathing list. Lads, isn't it enough to be up to our necks in s--t , without having to swim in it!) Ireland was once known world-wide for its hospitality, but there is no doubt that that perception has been changing over the last decade or so. Truth is, we have become lazy, living off our reputation. One thing is for sure. The 'ripping off' should STOP NOW! 

Back to the rise of the Labour Party. I have been a Labour woman all my life, not because I have communist leanings, but because whilst trying to achieve a better life-style for myself and my family through hard work, I am still very aware of Johnny down the road, who is unable to work for whatever reason, Bill and Mary, on old-age pensions, who worked hard all their lives, and in so doing, contributed to the tax coffers of this island. As a socialist, I was hugely disappointed with the expense scandals of  the Britain's Labour-led government and its decision to ally itself with the U.S.A. and invade Iraq without any evidence that they possessed weapons of mass destruction, or indeed, posed any justifiable threat to the West.

I think last year was probably one of the worst years I can remember. The people of this country lost faith in its spiritual, financial and political institutions in one scandal after another. All in the space of one year! What's most enraging, is that those who perpetuated those implosions, walked away with golden handshakes and pats on the back, as if they had only behaved like mischievous school boys. What sort of message is that sending out to those who won't get out of bed in the morning to do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, or to those, for example, who find pushing drugs, pirate CD's etc.more lucrative. 

I am not under any illusions about political party politics, but Ireland is in dire need of a change! There needs to be reforms in attitude and direction. The populus needs to see a fresh, dynamic government  that is transparent, accountable, risk-taking, inclusive and hardworking. A mixture of business men, academics and socially-skilled motivators and interlocutors. 

The rise in the Labour Party's popularity shows a desire for change if nothing else. Civil War politics are dying and not before time. There is undoubtedly some tough medicine to be taken, but a better bedside manner, from whoever leads this country, would make the swallowing process more palatable. Repeating a comment I made in a recent blog, when the leader of this country says loudly and clearly, that he has to answer to no-one, makes my blood boil, because I thought, perhaps naively, that we lived in a democracy.

An optimist at heart, I believe Ireland is perhaps not boxing towards the red corner, but dancing towards the light of a NEW DAWN!



Why Not ....Michael D. Higgins for the Park!

I am in the middle of another blog, but needed to have a rant. Well it is Friday after all and not just any Friday. Today marks the start of the World Cup in South Africa. Ah .... I get quite lonesome for 'Italia 90'. That lousy Frenchman screwed our party! Enjoy anyway ...sob ...sob!


Ciao for now!


Monday, June 7, 2010

KINKS - LAZING ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON

The Kinks

The Kinks were a favourite band of mine during the 60's. Thought they were cool! I was reminded of them and their lyrics yesterday ... 'Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon.' It is Sunday ...Whit weekend ... sun is shining ... lazing, collecting wild flowers, drinking tea, eating apple pie and cream in the garden, catching, and having my photo taken, holding my first chicken (Alive, I hasten to add complete with feathers and 'nosy neighbour' cluck). Lying in the grass I drifted into my own world. Outside voices receded; enveloped by Nature's inbuilt surround sound system, I followed the strains of a misfortunate, misunderstood and much-maligned blue-bottle.




BLUE BOTTLE

If I stood on rainbowed wings,
Would your blueness stain my feet?
If I painted words of black with blue,
Would you trust ... and show me ... You?

I do not understand your song ...
But I long ... I long
To share your mind, your eyes... where an echo ends;
Bathed in sapphire,
Lit by you.



Maureen Walsh 6/6/2010 ©

Blue-bottles first became a source of interest to me about three or four years ago, whilst sitting in the empty church on the isle of Inismahon. Apart from the fact that I like mostly to be inside any church when its devoid of preacher and flock, there was a particular pervading stillness and calmness about this church ... that morning. A very attentive, hypnotic version of Jesus looked out at me from a glorious stain-glassed window. My attention to the fostering eyes and hands of the King of the Jews, was diverted to an extremely distracted blue-bottle. His persistent approaches into my space, and the fact that his chatter was the only sound in the place, commanded more scrutiny. The more I looked and listened, the more I was convinced he was trying to tell me something ... to show me something. He knew things ... things I would never know! After all I don't understand blue-bottle ...his language. It will probably all remain a mystery!

Lazing on A Sunday Afternoon! Ah ... !



Ciao for now!
                              

Friday, June 4, 2010

REBEKKA GUDLEIFSDOTTIR - PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITION

Babes in the Wood

I was introduced to Rebekka's work some months ago and find her work intriguing. I follow her blog with interest and am delighted to learn that she is exhibiting in Mountcharles, Northern Ireland from May 14th to August 14th. I love the theatrical artistry of her work. She has a fascination with the surrealism of dolls as you can see from the wonderful but 'spooky' pic. above.


Self-Portrait

Just a couple of tasters for you. Her collection includes many inspiring nature shots!  Based in Iceland, Rebekka also designs and knits her own sweaters.

Why not give her a customary 'Irish Welcome' and go see her exhibition this summer. It will be well worth a visit. Or click onto her website. http://rebekkagudleifsdottir.ie/. I think you will thoroughly enjoy. Her prints can also be purchased on line.

Northern Lights




Ciao for now!