Sunlight in the Garden

working in gardenThe best time to sit in your city garden is between two and four on an April afternoon. The men will have finished playing soccer and returned to their desks and cubicles. The ball will no longer thud against the hoarding; the referee’s whistle will no longer scream, and the air will no longer vibrate with the blue-tinged views of opposing captains.

The neighbourhood pigeons will be flying tight circles of whooshing light. A bird you can’t identify will sing in the Japanese maple and a pigeon, plump and complacent, will perch on the lamp post.

The neighbour will not be playing the Wolf Tones or the Dubliners on his specially bought, specially set up outside speakers. His grandchildren will not be visiting. Your own kids will be at school or college and it will be too early to think about dinner.

The bell in Ringsend church will toll the hour and every quarter in between. The clematis will be flowering pink and white, hiding the bare patch in the evergreens. A jet will sketch a contrail across the sky and you will have time to watch its airy emptiness dissolve into the void.



Shutter Speed

Lovely Spring weather this week, so thought I’d reblog one of my Hush posts from last year. Enjoy!


After the school run, you stop at the park. The cherry blossoms are in bloom and you want to take some photos.

(You’ve been meaning to come for days. Why haven’t you come before?)

The park is quiet; commuters and students already at their desks. You stand alone under pink and white blossoms, watch stray petals drift from branch to ground. Petal-rain, petal-kisses.

(Why haven’t you come before?)

You don’t always like city parks. You prefer nature wild and rugged: an antidote to the confines of suburbia.

But you’re drawn to this park every spring, to its loping line of cherry blossoms. There’s something so delicate about the cherry blossoms. You want to hold your breath, tiptoe.

An elderly couple walk past you. The woman is reminiscing about the last time they were here. The man nods his head companionably.

You think they should have the cherry blossoms to themselves…

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Miss Brown and her Unfortunate Marriage

I’ve been collecting women recently. Ordinary women. Ornery women.

Dead women.

It began innocently enough. Last year, I came across an article that caught my attention, and I googled the name of the woman involved. Nothing.

I googled the name of her husband. Lots.

I tried to find out more about the woman. Failed. Tried to forget about her. Failed again. She popped into my head at odd hours; laughed at me from behind my back.

I couldn’t find out any more about her story, so I did the next best thing. I made it up.

Turns out, making up stuff is fun. Before I stumbled across Miss Brown, I’d only written nonfiction. But writing fiction, even the type based on real life, is liberating. I’ve been plugging away at it ever since, compiling a collection of pieces inspired by the lives of pioneering women.

To keep things fair, I write about women whose lives are already documented. To keep things manageable, I choose stories that relate to travel or transport. To keep things challenging, I limit the length of the pieces to five hundred words.

I research the women as best I can; try to place them in their historical context. The facts of their lives support the interior life I imagine for them. And some of those facts are astounding: circumnavigating the world disguised as a boy; being sentenced to hang for piracy; designing, building and racing aircraft.

Each woman I discover, ordinary or ornery, leads me to another. So far, I’ve found pirates and pilots, engineers and emigrants, prostitutes and proselytizers. The women are fascinating in their own right, and together they offer an insight into the challenges of being female throughout history.

I hope I do them justice.

And Miss Brown? Here’s the article I found her in:

The marriage of the famous airman, Walter Brookings, and Ms. Brown, the daughter of William Brown, a former Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania has been annulled by the courts of San Antonio, Texas.
The two had met at Palm Beach, Florida, the fashionable winter resort where Brookings was flying a seaplane. Brown told the court that she had been ‘hypnotised’ by Brookings after he had agreed to allow her fly with him. In the course of that flight – with the plane at 1,000ft – Brookings had proposed marriage to Brown and she had accepted. The wedding took place immediately, but Brown told the court that as her husband’s hypnotism had worn off, disillusion had quickly set in. She further said that she no longer admired her husband, except for his skill in flying.
Brookings (25) had previously been married and divorced.

And here’s my version of her story. Hope you enjoy.

The Airman’s Wife Petitions for Divorce

When I say I was hypnotised, I do not mean in a conventional sense. I did not fall under the spell of his eyes. My senses did not depart at his quick smile and ready laugh.

I admit I thought him handsome when I first saw him leaning against the plane. When he caught my eye and patted the wing, I did not hesitate.

We followed the curve of the coast, the seaplane’s shadow chasing us on the sand. Men raised their caps in salute. Boys ran after us until they were too tired to run any more.

Looking down, I began to understood the immensity of the ocean. I watched the waves approach the shore, saw how they turned back on themselves at the last minute.

We veered inland, flew over Lake Wurth. Above us, clouds stretched in a thin white line.

‘Higher,’ I shouted, and leaned over his shoulder. When we reached a thousand feet, he turned his head and mouthed the words, ‘Marry me!’

I said yes.

What came afterwards was not intolerable. But I was shocked when he said I could no longer fly with him. Anger pooled in my heart. I couldn’t bear the thought of him soaring above me while I stayed on the ground. When he asked if I was jealous, I laughed.

I was never jealous of the girls he took up in the plane, had already seen the way they looked at him. I knew there’d be girls like that at every race, every exhibition. I knew he’d smile at them and enjoy their company. I would have endured it all if they understood the gift he had given them.

But they were all so silly. Content to have their photograph taken with the famous aviator, thinking they stole a march on me when they kissed him behind the hanger. Your honour, I swear these girls must be blind.

It was not the man that hypnotised me.

It was the view.

Delicate Negotiation

Georgian Door, DublinThe woman on my doorstep is beautiful. She has short blonde hair and speaks with an Eastern European accent. She wants me to switch electricity suppliers.

“No thank you,” I say. But she is not so easily dissuaded.

“You want to save money,” she says. “Yes?”

I tell her I have a policy not to sign up for anything on the doorstep.

“You are right!” she exclaims. “So many people come to your door. Do you know how many electricity companies there are?” She tilts her head skywards, pauses for a moment.

“Six,” she says. “There are six.”

“Also,” she says. “Dog’s Trust.”

I reiterate my policy, smile to show it’s nothing personal.

“When I take this job,” she says, “I cannot believe what I have to do. Coming to people’s houses. Asking them questions and checking their meters.”

She steps a little closer, leans towards me.

“They don’t like that,” she says.

I glance behind her, mutter something sympathetic.

“The people on this street,” she says. “I’ve never met such nervous people. Not since I take this job.”

“Not one will let me in,” she says. “Why are they so afraid?”

I shrug my shoulders; tell her I need to get back to dinner. “I’ll check the offer online,” I say.

Her eyes narrow.

“The discount online is 6%,” she says. The discount now is eleven.”

She holds the clipboard in front of me, focuses intense blue eyes on mine. I hesitate longer than I should, before shaking my head no.

“Tsk,” she says. “Tsk.”

Then, lifting her chin upwards, she smiles. A wide, open smile.

“It was very nice to meet you,” she says.

And turns away.


A moving grove

Several years ago, I was driving along the coast road, taking my time in the heavy fog. It was early morning, a week or two after Christmas, and the road was quiet and disconcerting. I was already on edge when I rounded the corner and saw a crowd of people standing in the water, huddled together in grey misery. What on earth? I pulled in and the sea people resolved into trees, but that didn’t make sense either. A forest rising from the water, wreathed in fog?

I had stumbled upon Transplant, an art installation by Barbara Nealon and Tara Kennedy. The artists had planted hundreds of Christmas trees on the beach, and the tide had come in and surrounded them. It was a magical thing: a kind of Birnam Wood encounter, and I was grateful to have experienced it.

I admire artists who create work on such large canvases, exhibit in such a democratic way. There was another art installation on the beach recently. I missed it (what was I thinking?) but enjoyed learning about it in this video.

Hope you enjoy, too.

Tall Story


The first poem I ever loved was Sea Fever by John Masefield. Something about the opening lines intrigued me, although I was too young to understand why. For years, I thought it was the jaunty rhythm, the romantic imagery.

It was only later I began to understand the nature of compulsion; the need to return to a place over and over. For me, like the sailor in Masefield’s poem, that place is the sea.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I’m lucky to live close to the sea: a five-minute drive brings me to Sandymount Strand; a fifteen-minute drive to Dollymount. On days when I can’t decide which side of the bay I want to be on, I walk to the Red Lighthouse and stand in the middle.

Tall Ships Dublin 2012

I have no desire to board a ship. Or travel. To me, the sea is most lovely when I’m walking beside it, tasting its sting. (These days, I’m not so enamoured of regular rhythm, at least in poetry. But the regular rhythm of the sea? Absolutely.)

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I find a particular pleasure in standing on the shore, watching the ships come and go. The ships are mostly car ferries or container ships, but every now and then the Tall Ships arrive and Masefield’s poem comes alive before my eyes.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

The Tall Ships are due back in Dublin this summer, and my son is hoping to crew on one of them.

I must show him Masefield’s poem.

Tall Ships




Fixing the Focus

IMG_7807Years ago, I had an old Nikon that I loved. One day, the cover of the battery compartment came loose and the batteries stopped holding their charge. The camera was unusable.

It never occurred to me to have the camera repaired. Or to replace it. Instead, I stuck a band aid across the battery compartment and carried on.

I’m not sure I’d have come up with the same solution today. Somewhere along the way, I acquired the notion that problems are complex and require professional solutions. I developed a habit of over-analysis, which led, predictably, to paralysis and procrastination.

Little things became big. Simple things became complicated.

And so I’ve been taking stock, wondering if fixing the small things might be a good theme for the year: the cracked glass in the photo frame, the dryer door that gets stuck. It sounds simple, a kind of broken window policy for the home. But it might encourage a return to resourcefulness, a renewed sense of competence. Who knows? It might even seep into other areas of life.

I still have that old Nikon and all of its (expensive) lenses. The lenses don’t fit the camera I use now, but I’ve ordered an adapter that should fix the problem. It cost me the price of a paperback.

Happy New Year everyone.

Words in the Air

I started to study sign language before I knew there was more than one.  I learned the alphabet for British Sign Language when I was about ten. I still remember it, even though I never had a chance to use it. (There wasn’t much call for British Sign Language in Dublin. Besides, I didn’t know any D/deaf people.)

When I lived in America, I took classes in American Sign Language. By then I knew at least one (very small) deaf person. I loved the classes, but failed to make much progress.

Undaunted, I started studying Irish Sign Language when I came back to Ireland. Years later, I can just about say hello, but don’t ask me to interpret what other people are saying. People sign fast in the real world–way faster than in the classroom.

Still, I’m a great lover of sign. It’s a language of beauty and grace; of meaning made visible. I still hope to become fluent, but have years more study ahead of me. Meanwhile, I offer a little Christmas treat. Here is the choir of St. Mary’s School for Deaf Girls (Dublin) performing Fix You by Coldplay.

Happy Christmas everyone!