21 December 2009

Tell ya what: I do like Mondays

Monday is much maligned. It gets a bad name for creeping up on you. No sooner has Friday evening delivered you safely into the bosom of the weekend high, than Sunday night churns out its forlorn presentation of Monday's looming low (whether or not you have a herd of cattle to fodder of a cold winter's morning).

Today was a Monday which happened to have the honour of being the shortest day of this year. A day of frost, a cold blue sky, and a golden yellow sun. The day which turned the year - started us back again on the road to light, leaving dark, in the eternal cycle of nature's balance of contrast.

It was for that reason, no doubt, amongst a few others of note, that today was a beautiful Monday. So much so, in fact, that I have, on reflection, completely revised my view of Mondays. From this day I will hold the view that Monday is a lovely day. It will even compete with the beloved Saturday of my youth.

Here's the first thing (coexisting harmoniously as the last thing): Monday night. Here I am, writing, philosophising, whatever. And it's usually Monday night that makes this pleasure possible. Yes, there is the fact that the freedom of the weekend may bring to mind most of the material for the philosophy, but it is usually loyal Monday night, untainted by appointment or worldly need, which gives its time to you, and you alone. Invaluable thinking time.

On top of that tonight, with the sun set on the shortest day, and simply just to grace and honour the passing of the longest night, this Monday produced a twenty-five precent waxing crescent moon, in a clear black sky, as beautiful and as crisp as any ever presented over Galway.

Here's a second thing: If Sunday night has a problem with the view of Monday morning looming large, like a spoilsport to end the weekend's fun, then Sunday is the day to blame for that really. Monday is our safe landing from the weekend's festivities (perhaps excesses), life-giving though they are.

On top of that this morning, white frost entertained us no end, as it playfully slid several cars back down the hill outside our window. How the kids laughed, kneeling on the sitting room couch in their pyjamas, to see such sport. And how late we all were for school and work as a result.

And a third thing: At work on Mondays there is a work camaraderie like no other day. The shared stories of the weekend wonders. The talk about the songs. About the excesses. And a shaking of heads in surrender to the week, making like 'right-so ... lets-get-down-to-it-again'. Then greeting Monday lunch time like the arrival of a true friend.

On top of that this lunch time, I phoned my sister back (after six missed calls from her) to learn that she had got engaged: proposed to on bended knee by the Dane she loves ... while perched on the old horse-drawn mowing machine ... in the haggard at the back of grandad's old house ... where it's been since as long as we can remember ... waiting patiently for another day of glory ... like this short, sweet day ... this Monday.

On top of all that this evening: coming home. A Christmas coming. Jelly being made in funny-shaped, colourdy containers. Dinner - a casserole, all-in-one-pot, made from a special extra tasty, herby recipe. Time to share before the time to think. Family time. Stories. Plans for Christmas. Made on Monday, for Friday.

A woman used to cycle past my granny's house every Thursday on the way to Ballintober to get a few groceries. Every Thursday she also bought granny a Herald, and called in to her on the way home and they'd have tea. She had her own philosophies. One she brought up every Thursday was: 'When Tuesday comes the week is gone, Eileen ... is there seven in it at all?'

I've often adopted her philosophy - it has a definite place in project management. But it's only now I'm starting to realise its larger meaning - like the importance of Monday to the week, and the esteem in which it should be held.

Nature shows us that contrast is everything. Just as the day with most darkness shows us most light, so there cannot be contempt without respect.

In the months ahead, over an odd late night pint, I will consult with other men-about-forty as to whether this new philosophy has anything to do with a being-at-ease-with-the-world that possibly comes at this time of life. More importantly, though, every Monday morning I will celebrate the rounded pleasure of stepping out the front door, placing my feet squarely on the brick, and breathing in the fresh morning air.

13 December 2009

Fish - Night and Day

There's a little girl here who's good at rhyming things. Making a rhyme makes her grin. Coz she's a little bit proud, but mostly just pleased with the little quirk of beauty she's made up.

Last week she was home a day, sick. She was looking at auntie Niamh's blog. (ManAboutForty's failed to interest her beyond the pictures of a few letters, but Various was cool.) Approval was being voiced...
- What a cool idea [
International "Put Your Poem In A Shop Month"]! Imagine – you put your poems in shops for people to read!

Then I had an idea.
- It is cool. You could put your poem in a shop.
- Which poem?
- You know the one you wrote for mom's fish night?

This was a poem she had written for a night her mom had friends in for a cookery night. The theme food for the night was fish. The poem was called Fish Night. She had it up in the porch to welcome the friends in.

She thought about it.
- But we'd have to change it. You couldn't say 'Have the best night yet' for the one in the shop... And you'd have to call it Fish Day instead of Fish Night, coz the shop wouldn't be open at night...
- But that wouldn't matter, you could...

I just stopped myself in time. I was getting 'the look'. And she was right, of course. Okay... So we'd have to do a little re-write. But not a problem. A bit of excitement, in fact.

She set about it.

Qualification rules state that you've got to secretly stow your few lines away behind the milk (or other grocery item), then take a photo. Fine. By yesterday (with the 'home sick' days passed) we were all gung ho for the mission. We set out for Galway Bay Seafoods. Me with the camera. She with the page.

Only thing is, there's really no where to hide in this fish shop. It's just a room where they sell fish. And we hadn't bargained on the nice lady being so efficient getting through the other few customers that were there ahead of us. Our covert 'where's-best-place-to-hide-this-page-and-take-secret-photo-of-it' operation was cut short when we found ourselves top of the queue...

- Can I get you anything?

- Errm... Well... Some fresh crab claws and... errm...

The girl with the page buts in...
- And we have this poem we want to put in your shop...

So I had to come clean.

There was a hint in the experienced fish-lady's eyes of, 'so you're using a poor innocent child as emotional blackmail to fulfill your put-a-poem-in-a-shop fetish ... now that's really low'. But she played the part. She t
ook the poem, praised the effort appropriately in her Galway-Claddagh accent, then planted it standing in the ice behind the fish centre-piece.
- There – take yer photo 'way – no probl'm, 'grá.

You could sense a slight shifting of feet amongst the customers who had gathered to follow our progress. They had been amused, but at the same time some of them must have been planning on buying those particular fish that were coming in contact with crayon.

I offered that it would be fine on the glass on top. That wasn't a problem either.
- Wherever you like, 'grá – anywhere at all. Take as many as you want.

Out of politeness, but kinda knowing the answer, I also offered her a chance of immortality...
- Would you like to be in it yourself?

- Indeed I would not, 'grá ... the crabclaws are over there in the fridge.

Fish Day

Millions of fish swim in the sea.
They wriggle alot, and they are not like me.
These ones were caught, so we will have them for tea.
Try them. You will like them. Trust me. You'll see.

11 December 2009

I spy ... A Merry Christmas!

Before bedtime last night we sat around the Christmas Tree and played “I spy” with the eldest two. It had to be something on the tree.

Everything was covered, from the angel at the top to the stand that the tree stood on. But there was still one more. One last one.

Himself pipes up.
- I spy, with my little eye, something of the letter S.

We begin.
- Star … ?

- No – not S … M … Ispywimylileye sum-hn of the letter M. M, I meant to say!

- M. Okay … Is it … ? Hmmm … M.
- What could there be with M?
- Man?

- No

- M. M, M, M. I don’t see any M.

- There is an M…
Himself is starting to get giddy. He looks up at the tree. Up at his secret M— thing.

We’re out of ideas. Then I try a no-hoper…
- Maisiúcháin?

They all look at me
- What’s “moshucawn”?!
- It’s Irish for decorations…

Himself is unimpressed with my show of knowledge.
- Well that’s not it.

He’s dancing from foot to foot now. Hard to know whether it’s better fun if we give up. (Like we did when Herself came up with “stand”.)

Then I see it. Glittering in all its Newbridge Silver glory. One of those we got in Treasure Chest last year. Pretty things. Stamped out of metal and assembled and soldered together. There was an old gramophone, a Cinderalla carriage, a “world”, a windmill, a baby buggy we got as a present after the 2008 arrival … and this. This was HIS one. Because he loved them in the towns all over France the last few summers. Would spend the whole day on them.


He jumps in the air.
- YES!
He extends a full arm, pointing congratulatorily at the one who got it.
- YES! MERRY-GO-ROUND! You got it! You got it!

And he positively dances circles of joy, slapping his leg as he goes. He has left the room. Is he in Vannes, or L’Orient or Orléans, or somewhere? All of those places, and further. He is a champion jockey, on the way to another certain victory.

Our money’s on him. We look on and celebrate.

30 November 2009

Last of the Letters

ManAboutForty can do little these days without comparing (or contrasting) "new" life-events to events from more glorious days. It follows that this blog might become nothing more than a historic account of the prime of ManAboutForty. Well, maybe that's unlikely. Though it might not necessarily be a bad thing.

This past week I have watched as ManAboutForty slid steadily down the "ordered-by-date-of-last-update" list of the other blogs I read. (Okay, I'm only listed on one other blog, but the point is made.) It's now almost ten o'clock on Monday, and up to now I couldn't bring myself to report anything significant from the weekend.

And it's not like it was the least significant weekend of all time or anything. The baby of the house here was One. Ireland's rugby team rounded off a hugely successful year with victory over The Boks at Croke Park. (Even more significantly, I got to see the game.) And I went greyhound racing on Saturday night with two neighbouring men-about-forty, at which meeting we consumed over a gallon of porter ... each! (Can't remember the last gallon, and that's not because of the reason you might think.)

So, eventful enough actually. However.

Facebook photos have already been published to report the birthday party. The national press were always going to give sufficient exposure to the rugby match. So that leaves the night out at the dogs (slash on the porter). Here's the story.

Night at the Dogs

I remember everything; so there's a start. I even remember getting up in the middle of the night to get sick in the toilet. (As I hinted at already, the last gallon was a while ago. And the excuse is: we think the reason for the kids being off school sick recently is down to swine flu.) That might have been report-worthy. But the detail could not compare to a night in December '88 - a glorious first - when five Smithwicks left me locked into a cubicle in CJ's... (Read that with all the ambiguity that it suggests.)

So, really nothing new from the Night at the Dogs. But then.

Another Journey Back

Tonight, there was a new comment on the blog. On the Letter from Wildwood. From another Anonymous - a "Manoverforty". We know not the day nor the hour. A trigger. A short search of the old letters drawer. More letters from then. (Bundled with an elastic band by my Personal Conservator, and marked "Private Letters".)

If ManAboutForty has run out of things to say, even before he starts, so be it. But the following extracts from two more letters from the nineties just happen to be the best thing he could find to get his blog "back up the chart(s)" this week. They are from another college friend.

L— is a present-day "manoverforty", is another father of three, and these were amongst his final two letters from the end of those days of letters. (A fact which is echoed ominously by the third last line of the final letter.) Things had moved on from the care-free urgency of getting summer-work. College days were over, and we were clawing at the coat tails of the merest scrap of a full time job.

At the time of the first letter, my friend had secured one of these scraps, albeit still living at home. I hadn't yet. In fact, I spent November of fifteen years ago painting a house that my uncle was renovating to rent to fishermen on the River Suck.

He is answering a letter I had written to him, asking him for the names of the recruitment agencies (names and addresses changed) that had obviously been so very successful for him. The reply has a certain tone of submission, energised with pleading. (Maybe borne out of writing so many job applications.) This plea is now from the other side. A plea (to the still jobless me) not to come (rather than go) "gently into that good night" in which he now found himself; after all the effort. I could still go back while I had the chance.

The plea could not be heeded, of course, and by the time of the second letter, about seven months later, the darkness had descended.

December '94
Picture this, Sunday evening, 6.00pm. Our kitchen. The roast just out of the oven, the roast potatoes will take another 20 minutes. Have not eaten since 10 o'clock. The stuff that Sunday dinners are made of.

Disaster strikes! Door bell rings, greetings exchanged, and enter stage left, without que, aunt, uncle and cousins. Suddenly the previous urban bliss recedes, dimishes and reduces along with the roast. I gradually realise the roast potatoes are not divisible by this increased number, at least not in my favour.

This would not have happened in Castlebar. Oh woe, woe, why did we move? The answer: so that my kin could be closer to my roast potatoes.

6.30 - no sign of dinner. Clinking of glasses. The muffled sound of conversation from the rooms below.

The roast and I somehow connect cosmically. I feel his empathy: "Who are these infidels? They took no part in my selection, procurement, preparation and are now to gorge upon me," he cries.

"My ... dinner!," I cry, "Cest la famille et fåmé!"
Question: Who did not get me a job?
Answers to appear periodically throughout this letter.

Now Mr. M—, your chosen subject is dickheads and employment agencies in modern society. (The two terms used are wholly indistinguishable by law.)
Bloom's alternative route through Ireland's iniquity.

Q1: Who is reputed to have written the first recorded PFO?
A: Michelle O'Regan, Paul Keane & Associates, Lee House, Lee Quay, Cork. 021-5131318

Q2: What agency discovered and decyphered the now famous hieroglyphs on King Tut's (B.E.) pyramid - "APICS/MECH,ELECT DEG+2YRS. HI-VOL EXP MFRING ENVIRON + C/C++/Win. C£neg. ."?
A: Shane O'Loughlin, JDCS, Munster Hse, 36 Uppr. Fitzpatrick St. Dub. 6

Go back ... before it's too late! Find another way! I'll be fine, don't worry!

Sorry – moment of weakness.

Now here’s one that comes highly recommended from the Marquis du Sade: Industrial Selection, 32 Highfield Park, Dublin 2. Do me a favour … find out who this “AT” is, and where he lives, so I can burn his house down and sell his family into slavery.
Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present, fresh from their successful debut at La Scala, Milan (where they played a convincing Iago in Verdi’s Othello (not surprising): Project Management, 13 Melbourne Rd, Dublin 2.

Q3: What is the name of that famous team whose supporters sing, “And you’ll aalllllways waaaalk aaloooone, you’ll aaaaallways waaaalk allone, alone, alone”?
A: Tom Flannan and Associates, Quay Hse, River Quay, Limerick – 425644 (I think).

Q4: Here’s an easy one: who lives at Nestor Hse, Leinster Avenue, Foxrock, Co. Dublin?
A: That’s right: Peter Nestor & Associates. (Associates get about a lot, doesn’t he?)

Q5: Who has got the most honest name in the business; those fine young cannibals?
A: Head Hunt, 87 Fairhill Street, Dublin 2

Q6: What agency doesn’t give a shit whether you live or die?
(You’ll have to be a bit more specific.)
Sorry … and lives at Arthur Hse, Patrick St, Limerick – 061-317563?
A: Carlton Personnel Group.

It was all very innocent to start with. One day I wrote to one agency for a job, got no reply, but I was bitten, hooked, addicted. Soon I was writing to 20 agencies a day. Had to steal to pay for stamps. But I was happy. What a buzz, man. But then it went all wrong.
One of them replied to one of my letters!

You can’t imagine the shock. I stopped there and then. I knew I was getting in too deep. What was the name of this cruel torturer? I’ll never forget them for as long as I live. It was McMurrough & Associates, 2 Edward’s Quay, Cork. 021-322970. Bastards! May ye burn in hell!

This is taking a lot out of me, you know. I don’t know how much longer I can go on for, so please find enclosed a list I made in a mad youthful fling some time ago. And now I am passing it on to you. The king is dead; long live the king.

How goes the painting? Or, like Behan said, “No – real fucking painting”, when asked what he did for a living.

On reflection, and looking at this letter, my hand-writing is terrible. Go on – admit it.

Did M— do much hovering at the weekend? Does G— really talk like that in the mornings? What are you doing for lunch?

I read somewhere that you must ask questions in a letter. The reason why escapes me. You will surely have forgotten the questions by the time you answer them.

I am fine. I eat, sleep and breath quality now. In fact I know OSI backwards at this stage.
2 or maybe 3 weeks later.
(It’s all a blur.)

It’s me again. Sorry for the wee delay, but I work in print now, where late delivery is a fine art.

I am coming up to Galway-West on St. Stephen’s Day. Or the next day.

Question Time again.
Where will you be on those given days? What would you like from Santa? How did your interview go? Does a bear shit in the woods?

I assume at this stage you have painted faster than I have written and you have been repatriated with your family. So I will send this letter there.

Fond regards,

“And the sky line is like a skin
On a drum I’ll never mend…
And all the rain again
Falls down on the works
Of last year’s men.” – LC.
- encl.
Seven months later I had a ‘real’ job; complete with car and “requirement to travel on company business”. Money was in circulation. The days of stealing to pay for stamps were over – our new employers were comfortable enough to overlook a relatively minor abuse of its franking machine. (As evidenced by the invaluable source of historic information which is the envelope.) Rigourous finance departments, aware of the virtual extinction of personal letter-writing, were clearly bending their attention more towards abuse of the subsidised “free-scone-for-morning-break” scheme.
Money might have been in circulation, but some things stay the same – like Christmas will always incur loans that need repaying.

July ‘95
Things you can do with £40 if hadn’t given it to L— in the first place.
1. You could give it to a friend, who tardily pays it back.
2. You could pay back a friend who gladly pays it and who waits patiently.
3. You could put in your pocket and bring it to Germany.
4. Buy £40-worth of gobstoppers.
5. Think of 40 ways to spend it.
6. Write a letter based on the question.
7. Not give it to friends who promise to pay it back speedily.
8. Buy one roll of screen-printed foil security labels.
9. Get a criminal record, i.e. D&D
10. Give it to a charity … oh, you did that already.
11. Invest in L—‘s Gilt Edge, Silver Lining Enterprises.
12. Don’t invest in L—‘s Gilt Edge, Silver Lining Enterprises.
13. “Take me away from all this, Ashley”, for £40.
14. Make an anonymous donation towards the reconnection of the lads’ phone.
15. Buy something you do not want, or will ever want.
16. Spend it all in the one shop.
17. Don’t spend it all in the one shop.

I’m losing my ability to write entertaining rubbish.
Enjoy Germany.
Temptation is a terrible thing.
- encl.

20 November 2009

Letter from Wildwood, NJ

First of all, welcome to ManAboutForty's blog. It has been a while in incubation. Getting these things set up takes time. (For me anyway.) There's been a serious period of absorbtion - getting one's head around the concept. ManAboutForty of 2009 is young enough to have kick-started in tandem with the technology genesis of the eightys. But in 2009 he's advanced enough in years to take his time adapting to the business of blog. I mean, sending out your stuff in e-mails on Mondays, to report on the glorious weekend emotions, was supposed to be the 'new thing'. That was the advance from letter-writing, right? We still used to write letters to each other in college in the nineties. And even after college - while we still had no jobs - until ... well - until we got work e-mail addresses and mobile phones. Then communication became so much simpler, so the letter-writing more or less stopped. Trouble is - the e-mails stopped then too!

Starting a blog, I'm told, means you need to have something to write about - preferably something that people might like to read. The blog kind of has a single, coherent raison d'être. And a name that might fly the flag of this raison d'être. You're asked by the hosts to supply a 'description' of who you are - an 'About Me'. I suppose it helps blog readers to choose blogs of interest...

I still write letters to people. And send the odd e-mail on Mondays when the emotional experiences of a weekend get the better of me. So I do have things to write about. And some people like to read them. Over the past I-dunno-how-long, then, I've made several attempts to look into setting up a blog. Some of my family and friends have them already, so that was a big help in the absorbtion process. You could read their blogs and see the ties that bound their themes. But each time I had the evening put together to 'do it', the time turned by while I read these other blogs. Sometimes I got as far as clicking on the 'Create New Blog' button, only to find the requirement to complete the on-line details too daunting, and besides, it was getting late by now and I still hadn't written the thing I had planned to write and would never write it if I spent the time setting up this blog...

Nonetheless the process was moving ever so slowly forward. Even if the mechanics of setting up the blog repeatedly fell at the first hurdle, this was for a good reason: to write. To submit reports surrounding the experiences and emotions of living in Galway, Connacht, Ireland, being a father to three children, husband to their mother; attempting to play out the final start-stop quarter of my own prime, but mostly prioritising time-out to preparing three novices for theirs.
The blog's name sort of came to us (me and the raison d'être) one evening earlier this week. Then the three of us (me, the raison d'être and the name) sat up until the early hours of this morning getting the thing set up. We didn't stop until ManAboutForty came to life.

Then, this morning, 20th November 2009, like many things that finally fall into place by some kind of providence, the material for ManAboutForty's first blog presented itself. It seemed perfect. It would bind lots of things together. The 'About Me' sentence falls a bit short, but this material could summarise nicely who ManAboutForty is. So what better way to complete the set-up than with the maiden blog itself.

You see, this morning, I read a note that I had made a few weeks back, that today was the fortieth birthday of a good friend from college. This friend has never worked for MI5, but for the purposes of this blog, and to protect his identity (slash reputation!) I'll call him M—. M—, like me, has also become a father of three since we parted ways in the early nineties. He hails from a small, rural town (if that makes sense), on the Roscommon/Galway border, and it happens that he went to secondary school there with a girl called G—.

Pay attention now for a few paragraphs, please, so that you may get maximum benefit from this blog.

You see, that girl called G—, also went to college with M— and me, and now shares the joy and torment of teaching and loving the same three novices that ManAboutForty loves to teach. G— is my wife. Hope you're still with me.

Back to M—, then. No sooner was I reminded of M—'s birthday, than I thought of a letter that G— and I came across here at home one day a few months ago during a tidy-up. The letter was from him - M—. It was written, not to me, but to G—. All those years ago, early nineties, while we were still in college. When we still wrote letters, as I said. That's the scanned image above. Looking like the piece of history that it is. From a time when ManAboutForty and his cohorts lived wild and free. From Wildwood, New Jersey, where M— and another friend went for a summer to work.

ManAboutForty's first blog is his "Happy Birthday" to M—. Even if it only got started on his fortieth birthday, and didn't get finished until the Sunday because of all the 'time-outs' of life-about-forty. But part of the reason for the delay is the epic length of this script - a product of the sheer wealth of time that we had back then. (And that's with even leaving a few bits out.) I've done my best within the limitations of typed text to reproduce the layout. Where that wasn't possible I've scanned a bit.

Enough from me for now - I'll just let the Letter from Wildwood, NJ explain the rest. It's pure history and pure poetry rolled into one - many times better (and much more time-efficient) than watching a whole series of "J-1 Visa"-type documentaries on RTÉ. (By the way, M—'s other college friend was J—. You'll see him throw in his few shillings' worth along the way, as was always J—'s wont.)

215E Magnolia Av
Wild Wood
NJ 08260


Dear G—,
This is the 17 page letter that I promised in jest. However we have no radio, no TV, no money and no food, and besides we're bored so you can get a letter.
It's been a funny auld week. The weather has been hot and clammy one day and cold and wet the next. We did get one day of heavenly sunshine however. Job-wise it has been also a bit up and down. At the moment we both have jobs. We are working our arses off in the Armada Motel. J— is a "maid" and I'm a laundry engineer. (I wash, dry and fold sheets.) We were also expecting to get another job (i.e. "security, food, shelter" - J—), but this hope was brutally dashed for at least another few days.


Myself and J— are living in an "Efficiency" Apartment. There is one room encompassing a kitchen, dining room, study, conservatory, bedroom, and of course a bathroom. As you can gather, it is incredibly efficient.


Wildwood is a wonderful place.

"The sun shines out of everybody's ass, everybody is so nice you can tell it's false, it's a show for the visitors" - J—.

It's like Salthill gone crazy (only worse). The boardwalk is two miles long and lined on both sides by arcades, pizza parlours, casinos, T-shirt shops, T-shirt shops, $5 stores, 99c stores.

Perhaps the strangest things about the boardwalk are the sounds. At first it seems like a constant jumbled din of tangled noise, however, you can pick certain characteristic sounds like "100 shots a dollar".


"Come on buddy a free shot"

"Free fudge" being shouted by stall minders who are getting paid probably less than us. The one sound that really annoys everybody over here is the recorded warning blasted out by the sightseeing tram car that shuttles people up and down the boardwalk. It goes something a bit like this:



WATCH ... ...

This may seem harmless, but after 14 hours on the boardwalk it gets to you.


We expect to be working on the boardwalk some time next week (Touch Wood) ... It will be just like working on the bumbers in Ballygar carnival.

The only sort of normal sound on the boardwalk is the screaming of low flying seagulls and they sound even louder and more "out of tune" over here than they do at home.

The Tourists

At the moment most of the tourists are either 18-year-old kids who just graduated from college (Hi-school) or army veterans who walk around with little green army caps on their head so we'll know them.


The street around our apartment is full of students (Hi-school). All they do is sit around for most of the day, maybe go to the beach, whistle at the pretty girls who walk by, or roar loads of abuse at each other ... That is during the day. At night this street is crazy. J— reckons it's because we live close to the "pub lane". The legal drinking age over here is 21 so I think all the kids must be drinking home brew.

The thing that really pisses me off is that every American kid has a car, and every American kid's car has a very loud stereo. I eventually found out that the kids hire mega disco speakers and put them in the back seat of their convertibles. They then drive around the city at about 3-4 am and blast out rap and Hip Hop to all the streets.


It is a little bit off-putting to be woken up at three o'clock in the morning to the sound of "Who's in the mother-fucking house?" Eventually we learned how to sleep through this. The trick is to listen to Def Lepard on a walkman at full volume before you go to bed. If you can sleep through that you'll sleep through anything.

The army vets are just a little bit different. For a start they all appear to be veterans of WW1 as they are all (or rather look like) about 90. They are also grossly overweight. It is easy to see why, as all they seem to do is sit around the pools in their motels, swapping old army stories and drinking beer.


Speaking of beer, last night we went to the Irish pub here. It's called the Harbour Inn. We were worried that we might not get served as J— is not quite 21 yet. We got really worried when the bouncer at the door asked us for ID. However, when he saw the front of the Irish passport he let us in. It is a strange kind of Irish pub insofar as it is not painted green, the bar staff are not walking around in leprechaun suits and there isn't set dancing every Wednesday night. In fact it's just like an air-conditioned Laffey's or Hole In The Wall.

There was a band playing there last night. They played some blues, rock, etc but nothing Irish. The truly brilliant thing about American bars is the Pitcher of Budweiser. This is a big jug of Bud that holds approximately 4 pints and costs only $4.


You could get locked for £5 over here.

Unfortunately (fortunately) we had work this morning so we could only stay in the bar for about an hour last night. ... That's enough of mundane matters, now for the important things...


The Beach

Wildwood beach is world famous. ("If you're an American the world is New York I think." Now it's world famous in Rosommon.) It stretches for miles with golden sand and blue clean water with crashing white horses. Every 50 yards there is a life guard, and every 100 yards there is a shop to sell you whatever you'll be stupid enough to buy. (I bought a blue baseball cap.) I think Bórd Fáilte should hire me to do their brochures for Rossnowlagh Beach ...

As I said before the beach stretches for miles and on a sunny day it is covered with bodies. Most of these bodies are beautiful brown bikini-clad American girls, or bronzed big-muscled American adonises. There is also, however, a fair sprinkling of lobster-red or snow-white Irish who tend to stand out a LITTLE.


Modesty prevents me from telling you what colour I am at the moment ...

A most impressive feature of the beach is the lifeguards who stand on their stands and wave their mahogany arms about like windmills, pointing at people, pointing at waves, pointing at sharks ... They are also whistling perpetually at people. However, nobody seems to know who the whistles are intended for and nobody seems to care. They keep up this hectic schedule from 10am to 5.30pm. Then at 5.30 they quit. People still swim in the sea. It seems to be a case of drown if you like...


That about sums up the beach. I'll bring you (yawl) back a sea shell.



As you can see from the last page I am running out of things to say about Wildwood so I'll give you my impressions of New York

New York

We landed in JFK in NY on last Friday (14th). My first impression was how huge the airport is. There are miles of runway everywhere. When we eventually disembarked (alighted, got off) the plane we were led like sheep through corridors, up stairs and around corners until we came to U.S. customs. Me having "nothing to declare except my genius", as a fellow Irish man once said, got through immediately. However, J— had to explain the presence of a strange Irish porter cake in one of his bags. They decided it wasn't a bomb and let him through.


We spent our first night in America in a YMCA hostel in the west side of NY. We were later told that this was the pits.

Out first night was constantly interrupted by police sirens and drunken brawls around the hostel. There was no air conditioning in the hostel so I was pretty hot and uncomfortable.

The part of NY we saw was big and dirty. There were people lying around on the streets. There were four lanes of traffic speeding without care for pedestrians. I soon learned that walking half way across this wide road was not a smart thing when I nearly got run down by a convertible tearing down the middle of the road.

The area I was in was pretty seedy. In fact I got offered a reduce price ticket to go see some EXOTIC DANCERS.


Luckily I was wearing my +miraculous medal so I wasn't tempted.

Brief interlude. It has started to rain again in sunny Wildwood. Wish you were here??

Back to N.Y.

We stayed in J—'s uncle's house on Long Island for two nights. We met their family, their son's fiancée and her family. We okayed the marriage. We also got our first ride in a convertible. It was wonderful until it rained. Did you know it takes a long time for a convertible to convert back to an ordinary car. I got soaked.

We came from New York to Wildwood on the bus. It only took 4 and a half hours. It reminded me very much of the Longford bus from Ballygar to Galway, as the driver seemed to stop at every town along the route.


I promised you 17 pages and being a man of my word you'll get 17 pages. I'll have to figure out some very witty way of filling up the next page and a half. I could maybe write a poem or a song but would probably consider it cheating so I'll just continue writing until I get some inspiration.

It's still raining.

I've just remembered that you were thinking of going to England for the summer. I hope you get a nice cushy job if you go. I hope you get this letter. If you see [several other class-mates listed here] give them my best and pass on any worth while element of the aforementioned verbal diarrhea.


Could you please keep this letter safe as I feel I might want to read it again sometime. If J— and I decide ... to stay over here I would like this opus to be presented to the museum of human endeavour in M— Memorial Hall in Ballygar.

I don't know about you but I never thought I'd see the end of this letter. I feel like I've been talking to you on the phone for the last hour so I'll hang up. See you in September. Enjoy the summer. Hang tuff!!

Loads of love,



P.S. I'm expecting a 34 page letter back ... All the best in the results ... This letter was probably written on ozone friendly, recycled sugar free, fat free, and colesterol free paper. It doesn't taste as good as Irish paper. [an arrow points to a corner of the last page - nibbled off]



Hear you're working ... Hope you're still sane.

I got a job as a maid.

16 November 2009

November means Christmas Cakes

I went to a rural, three-teacher National School in Co. Roscommon. In those days family sizes were bigger. Our's was a family of five, which was kind of average for the time. But there was a set of twins in my class, and their's was twice the size - the twins coming somewhere in the middle of three other boys and five girls. They were very aware, therefore, of the sacrifices that their parents made to rear such a clann, and I was always struck by their pride when reporting events from home. Invariably these reports were preceded by a question to the listener: you might be asked, in May, for example, whether you had yet ‘turned all yer (pronounced "year")turf’. You would answer proudly that you had – ‘finished it all that weekend’. But your boast would be short lived as you quickly learned that the twins had worked with their dad til sun-down on Saturday, and had now finished all the clamping. (Clamping, of course, being a whole stage beyond turning, in the turf-saving process.)

That was a typical May conversation. But pride was alive and well all year round.
Today is Monday, the 16th of November 2009. The 16th of November 1981 would have been a Monday too. The black board would have stated this at the top – ‘Inniu an Luan, an 16ú lá de mhí Samhain …’ And it might well have been on this day twenty-eight years ago that another leading question was cast in my direction…

- So, has yer mother made yer Christmas cake yet?

She had. In fact only that weekend she had made a second one. And had even put the almond icing on the first one she had made during the previous week! My excitement grew. This looked water-tight. At last, I thought, a chance to get one up…

- She has – she’s even made two.

I held back from revealing the ‘almond icing’ bit – kept the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’ in reserve as a final blow in the event that Mrs. H— might have, for once, been restricted by the more mundane duties of a busy home-maker, and not had a chance to ice her cake.

But the twins’ reply was instant and deadly. The trap that had been laid with care now snapped its jaws firmly.

- Our mother did three – and that was just this weekend.

Then the jaws of the trap proceeded to chew steadily.

- That’s seven she’s made so far.
- And she’ll be icing two of them tonight.
- Not just the almond icing – the real icing.
- And she’s making two more next weekend.
- That’ll be it, then.
- Ya – that’ll be nine Christmas cakes.
- And that’ll be it, coz you should only make Christmas cakes in November.
- You could make, say, an ordinary cake, alright.
- And she’ll probably make loads of them.
- Ordinary cakes.
- But no more Christmas cakes.
- So unless ye make seven Christmas cakes next weekend, ye won’t have as many as us.
- And that’ll never happen.
- Ne-ver.

The image of all those golden brown cakes – some iced, some still steaming and wrapped in grease-proof paper was forever etched in by mind. A symbol of the glory and beauty of an honest, innocent Ireland.
In 2009 my generation’s weekend’s don’t seem to be as full of such glory as those weekends of yore. (Indeed. Thirty years of elapsed time qualify our memories for the ‘yore’ category.) We have moved on since then. Moved ‘up in the world’. Become richer in belongings, and poorer in time. Poorer too in beauty – in more than one sense!

Last Saturday morning, at swimming with the kids, I was chatting to another ‘poor, rich, inglorious’ dad. Someone else was being paid to do the teaching, so the dads were filling their time discussing life.
The other dad said to me, ‘we won’t feel Christmas coming now, will we?’
‘No,’ I replied.
The image of the nine Christmas cakes came into my mind, so I tried a line: ‘Time to be making the Christmas cake, if you’re going to make it at all … ’

That line often falls on ears uneducated in the wisdom and ways of traditional Ireland. But on Saturday, as he scanned the pool for his son’s progress with the breast-stroke, my companion’s eyes revealed a ‘knowing-what-you-mean’ and betrayed a twinkle of nostalgia.
‘That’s right. I was down at home in Mayo on Sunday and my mother must have had four pots on the boil with puddings in them.’

Knowing where I stood in the pecking order of Roscommon home-baking greats, I wasn’t going to top this Mayo man. But we had a good chat about cakes and puddings and all of those home-baking values that, we agreed, were going to be lost on the generation who now availed of the wonderful facilities of places like this swimming pool. We went on to observe that our own wives, for some reason, didn’t seem to practice those same, traditional, home-making skills with the same fervour that they must have seen their own mothers do. Maybe it was because they hadn’t enough time – busy with work and that, we supposed; and shopping and stuff. Yeah.

But still. Even beyond cooking. What was going to happen to all the skills like sewing and dress-making and darning and knitting that were passed down through the generations?

By a convenient chance, I even happened to be wearing a wool jumper that my mother knitted for me when I was in college twenty years ago. (Twenty? Yes. Ouch!) It was grist for our mill. My friend couldn’t believe how well it looked. And do you think some of them would knit something like that now-a-days? We were on a roll. Our grandfathers would have been proud.

But seriously, were our children now destined to perish in today’s cold world, for want of a good wool jumper, wearing only them skimpy clothes that wouldn’t cover your hand? Or be poisoned with all them Es you get in processed food these days, for want of the few minutes it takes to throw together some flour and eggs and a fistful of raisins and fire it in the oven? What good was their breast stroke to them then? Or the butterfly? And all these new facilities? When they’d be dying with colds and flus and not the strength to use them. Life’s priorities were all wrong.

In the end we concluded that the future of the country was now up to us. The fathers. If our wives would not diligently pass on the wholesome arts of baking and sewing and knitting and everything else, then we had to do it. Yes. This generation held the holy grail, but we couldn’t just rely on the other half to pass it on. Didn’t we fathers of 2009 see our mothers doing this stuff too, and didn’t we know it just as well – if not better? Wouldn’t we be just as guilty of failing our children if we didn’t pass on that knowledge? Something had to be done. And the work would start here. Today. This was November. Christmas was coming. And it would simply not happen if we didn’t act today and make, at least one, Christmas cake.

So if you’ve been too busy recently, and didn’t find time nor reason to give to some of the traditional pleasures, here’s how my family arrived early this Monday morning at having one steaming, golden-brown Christmas cake emerge from our simmering oven.
We had to go home after swimming. Before exciting the children with the prospect of an impending lesson for life, we had to make sure that this project was not going to interfere with the ‘other’ plans that are made for weekends. At home, the idea was greeted with general, if guarded approval. Indeed there were other plans: the puncture on the wheel of the buggy had to be repaired, bicycle breaks had to be repaired, there was a room to be tidied, and some miniature Sylvanian ice-creams had to be recovered from a u-bend under a sink (don’t ask!)

Assurances were offered – that a Christmas cake project would not compromise these tasks. The path was cleared, and the kitchen table was cleared. The children of the new millennium were prepared to sit up and listen.
The first thing to be aware of, and to plan for, is that projects like this need to be divided mentally into discrete, homogeneous sub-tasks – chunks that can independently start and finish, with long time-gaps between them if necessary (to keep those ‘other’ plans on track, or just to keep emergencies at bay – like feeding starving mouths that can’t fend for themselves, for example).

I’ve identified five such chunks.

The first is to get a good cook-book from a shelf, look up the index and find the page with the ingredients. (The first recipe I got required soaking fruit for three days – not ideal for a weekend activity, so we got a different book.) Either way, with the right book you can simply write down the list of things to get, or see if you have any of it already, and just write down the stuff you don’t have.

There’s nearly always something odd that you’ve never heard of before. In our case it was crystallized ginger. Google images was handy just to show us what it looked like, but it was still going to be a challenge to find, we figured, in the standard Home Baking isle of Dunnes.

Anyway, that’s the first chunk done – making the list of things to get.

The next chunk is getting the stuff. Ideally if it could be coincided with the weekly shopping in the supermarket, that would be good. This way you involve the children, while also freeing up whoever’s left at home to break the back on the other jobs – and you come home to a clean house, with fresh air billowing through it, washing machines going, sun streaming in the windows, and an overall sense of cheery control.

Getting the crystallized ginger can be seen either as an exciting treasure hunt, or a stressful health-food shop-hopping odyssey, with too many kids in tow. I got a happy medium, thankfully – happened upon a great little place back the West on Sea Road. Right next door to the printing shop where I had to get some posters printed for our upcoming drama production. It looked just like a place that might have crystallized ginger. And the man was cheerful. And the woman found it eventually. She was sure they had it – and they had.

So we’re in business. Everything we need in a small, flat box: raisins, mixed peel, dried apricots, stoned dates, crushed almonds, eggs and butter. Sultanas, currants, Irish whiskey, flour, light brown sugar, orange zest, mixed spice, nutmeg, ground cinnamon, a ten-inch tin and grease-proof paper already back at the ranch.

The third homogeneous sub-task is probably the most satisfying: putting all the dried fruit in a bowl and dousing it with whiskey (or brandy). Once this is mixed well, it needs to be left for two hours. This we did on Saturday, and that was it. We only got time during the rest of the evening to visit the magic bowl of fruit and alcohol occasionally, to give it another satisfying stir, and throw in an extra dash or the crature just in case. France beat Ireland one-nil. Then we went to bed.
On Sunday, in a gap of time between breakfast and lunch, the troops gathered around the fourth piece of the puzzle – the somewhat dreaded (for adults), I always think, and mysterious (for everyone) cutting of grease-proof paper to line the tin. How many layers? How many nicks? Pie times the diameter. Minimise waste. But above all make sure the damn cake doesn’t end up stuck in the tin. Got it done. Left it aside. Out of the way. Ready for the final assault.

Final phase five is the longest – it would have to wait until after the county hurling final. Portumna five-nineteen, Loughrea one-twelve. A family there supporting Portumna all wore hand-knitted caps and scarves. Fair play to them. And Ireland beat Chile in hockey. Fair play to them.

The end game.

First cream the butter in a bowl until soft. Then add the brown sugar and blend until fluffy. Add the eggs, one-at-a-time. Then the almonds. Then the orange zest. Sieve the flour in with the three spices, and mix forever.

Add all the fruit into the big, glorious mix, and forgive the twins for always feeling so proud.

All that butter mixed with egg and sugar – and we used to love to eat that stuff?!

Mix and wish and don’t tell anyone. Mix again, and wish again – a family wish each this time – wishes that stay in the family.

All into the cake tin – mixture, wishes, hopes and everything. Into the simmering oven over night, while we slept and dreamed. And on this morning, Luan, 16ú Samhain 2009, before we went to school to meet our friends, golden brown steam filled our senses, to send us on our way.