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The ground is littered with a blizzard fall of leaves. Some of the houses have cleaned them up which is a crime in my book. Surely one of the beauties of this time of year is the burnt orange and golden confetti that crunches beneath our feet. A mist settles all around us, blanketing the town in miniature droplets, making straight hair curly and grey things black under a layer of damp.

The children look like little eskimos when they’re wrapped up in new winter coats, the only things exposed are faces and hands. Ringlets frame their faces as their hair coils in the heavy, dewy air. Today, they get to dress up in costume at school. The usual morning chatter weaves around us, however this time, it’s not coming from uniformed students, but a bat, three witches, two black cats, a superhero and a small, zombie bride. Fake blood, fake teeth, fake witches nails and fake severed limbs adorn their innocent little selves. They become absorbed into the school building and all is quiet again: monsters, ghosts and ghouls disappeared.

The heat of the house embraces me like a hug as I open the front door and remove my armour from the cold. With a meaty stew bubbling on the hob, my attention strays out the window to the forgotten back garden.

It settles into the season ahead, all desolation and bare, brown branches. Dotted around is the evidence of a summer of plenty. The barbeque, once full of red coals under sizzling steak, is now rusty and broken. A dilapidated greenhouse, not so long ago, the incubator of the vegetable patch, protecting the baby shoots, lies on its side, cracked and dismantled. Bamboo sticks left lying around, formerly the scaffolding for the tomato plants, not needed now as the tomatoes have long since been consumed by greedy mouthes. The children’s toys left idle, no longer jumped upon, rode around or decorated with sand pit sand, and are now sitting sad and neglected, covered in silvery webs and muck.

All produce has been removed and either eaten or promoted to indoor dwelling, like the pumpkins who had to be torn from their mother plant in a flurry of panic after an early forecast of frost. They reside in their superior setting now, growing ripe and orange, awaiting their fate – to be carved into horrifying features. The only life residing in this garden now is the occasional bird looking for worms, the stunted lawn and the cool October breeze rustling through the undressed plants.

I stir the pot and think of the pink cheeked children who will bundle back through the door in a few hours, disrobing and leaving hats, scarves and gloves in their wake on the floor. They’ll tuck hungrily into the hot stew, spilling it all over their costumes. I’ll complain but feel satisfied that they’ve something warm in their little bellies before they go back out again as little monsters,  hounding the neighbours for sweets and treats, warning of tricks for non-compliance.




My Cat Bob

BobMy cat Bob, Bob Buttons to award him his full title, is a cat among cats. In fact, he’s more than a cat among cats – he’s a leader, a trend setter, a feline eminence. We were a week away from moving into our new, first home: all bare floors and magnolia walls. The first thing that would grace our house would be a cat. We met Bob who was a six week old bundle of orange fuzziness and knew we must have him. Being forced to take him a week early, meant he had to live in a pet carrier until our house was ready. In it, he was cosy with a mini litter tray (a takeaway box filled with litter), his food bowl and a cushion to sleep on: a kitten bento box. To this day, he can’t pass a pet carrier without getting in, lying down and claiming it as his own.

So we finally moved in. He had a sniff around, decided it was modest enough and laid down his hat. Should he have had the ability to speak, he would have said ‘yes, fine humans. This will do.’ We subsequently purchased him a bed: the kind that hooks onto the radiator and is made of sheep skin. Did we have a couch for ourselves? No. We had an inflatable children’s armchair and a deck chair. But Bob would look down at us from his heated height and yawn at us: his uncomfortably seated comrades.

He was a playful kitten. His party piece, to rear up on his back legs and ‘box’ with us or his very entertaining crab impression: arching his back, his fur standing on end, ears flat to his head and run sideways, thinking his tiny, fluffy self formidable and terrifying. His favourite thing was to jump into our car and head off for a visit to my parents. He’d lie across the back window, watching the cars behind us. His other transport method of choice was across my shoulders, sometimes on my head when he was small enough. Being a new estate, we didn’t know our neighbours but I’m pretty sure they thought I had hideous dress sense: this orange stripy fur hat that doubled as a scarf. Once they knew the truth of my living garment, their opinion changed from oddly dressed lady to crazy cat lady pretty quickly.

Some neighbours may not have been as fond of our marmalade moggy as we. He was often known to sneak into their houses and either rob things or repose on their beds. A lad living behind us, stopped us one day, asking if he was our cat. Dubiously, we muttered ‘yes’ and ‘why?’ As we cringed, he explained that oftentimes he’d come out of his shower to find Bob laid flat out on his bed, fast asleep. We uttered a hurried apology and ran inside, issuing a futile scolding to the impervious Bob.

Once retiring from burglary and breaking and entering, he turned over a new leaf and became a superb neighbourhood watch-man. During a particular incident on our street which made the headlines country wide, Bob could be seen on the six and nine o’clock bulletins, sitting on the victim’s wheely bin, scoping out the crime scene. Not one detective or police car got by without a thorough inspection of the chassis and sometimes roof. The street felt safer with Bob on the case, I’m sure of it.

So Bob was our baby for the better part of four years. A new cat, Molly joined us and while they are reasonably amicable, they could take or leave each other. Then real babies came along. On bringing our brand new baby daughter home for the first time, we of course worried about ‘the cat sleeping on the baby’s face.’ We needn’t have worried. Bob couldn’t have given less of a hoot if he’d tried. Things got real when the baby became mobile. Bob was now a moving target. But, being as laid back as ever, he accepted this fate and was often rewarded for the tail pulling with a rub, cuddle or playful headbutt. Eight years later and the two, along with our second daughter, are the best friends you could find. Adding a dog into the mix didn’t upset him either. Retaining his alpha status, the dog is put swiftly in his place with a nail studded swipe. He can regularly be seen following us half way to school. Once he gets as far as he has the bottle for, he’ll sit and wail until we fade out of view.

As he settles into his geriatric years, (he’s now twelve) he’s still got that spark of devilment in his eyes. But he is slowing down and prefers nothing more than the company of his ‘mammy’ at night by the fire. Not deterred by working on a laptop or any kind of device, he will firmly place himself between it and me and there will be no moving on him. He’s also decided that he’s too good for his litter tray, preferring to pee into the part of the garden wall where the cap stone is gone and the cavity block is exposed, leaving him a perfect little hole which he’s adapted to be his urinal.

Whether it’s a ginger cat thing, or whether he was just blessed with having bags of personality, there isn’t and could never be another like my cat Bob.

CAA: Caffeine Addicts Anonymous

  People drink coffee to wake them up, yes? But what about when the need for coffee wakes you up. You open your eyes on a fresh, sunny morning and smile for a quick second until the pounding and hammering starts in your head. Your temples feel like they might implode as your temporal lobes scream out for some caffeinated relief. You reach out to find your other half to ask him to bring a cup up to you so that you can ingest some before having to actually get up but you find he’s not there, gone to work early…. Probably drinking his own cup of freshly brewed Espresso from the new pod machine installed in his office. Lucky Bastard.
            The kids are stirring so the panic sets in as you realise you can’t cope with their ‘Mammy, she took my teddy’ or ‘Mammy, I can’t find my uniform’. So, before they wake fully, you drag your heavy headed self from bed and somehow make your way downstairs in your haze of sore-headedness. That sound, that beautiful sound of the kettle switching itself off as the plume of eager steam spits from its’ spout. The glug of the hot water hitting the freeze dried granules and that instant hit of aroma fills your nostrils and leaves you with a sense that relief is on it’s way, it’s just cooling slightly in your favourite mug.
            Back in bed and after maybe five minutes cooling time, that first taste. Sweet, bitter, round, full. Just another few minutes and the caffeine will be assimilated into your blood stream, travelling straight to your head and soothing your aching temples with little imaginary coffee bean shaped hands. “Ahhhhhh” you hear yourself say just as the kids burst in the door full of riot and loudness. But it’s ok now. Coffee is here.
            For me, coffee was always an accessory to socialising.  Sitting in a café with friends, sipping occasionally while discussing the merits of Smirnoff Ice versus Bacardi & Coke or more currently, Pampers versus Huggies. Invariably, the beverage would be still sitting in the cup, left to go cold and neglected by conversation. Nowadays, the first cup doesn’t survive past the arrival of my friends. It lies empty, except for a small ring of brown around it’s inside and some unground particles of beans at the base indicating that coffee once resided here. The banter begins and the second cup is on its way.Hurrah.
            In Italy, Rome in particular, coffee has reached a new level of necessity. In the case of Dublin, you will see suited Captains (male and female) of Industry, rushing around, briefcase in one hand, polystyrene cup of the good stuff in the other. In Rome, they don’t even have time for that. They stick their beautifully tanned index finger up at the barrista to indicate one please, the espresso cup is placed in front of them on a counter and they down it in one, pay, then leave, briefcase in hand, caffeine fuelled smile on their face. They walk out into the sunshine, ready to start their day as glamorous, fashionable, Italian business types.
            I did wonder as I sat in the Roman café on Via Nationale drinking my Americano (which the barrista almost laughed at when I ordered) if these people suffered the same as I did when they woke. Did they too drag themselves out of bed, hastily and sleepily dress themselves, grab their cases and hurriedly make their way to the nearest ‘dealer’. Probably not. They looked calm, collected and dignified. Not like me when I arrive at the kettle in the morning, a tangled nest of hair on my head, half dressed, eyes struggling to stay open. Even the dog knows not to look me in the eye until I’m suitably caffeinated.
            Such is the hold of caffeine on the body that once a friend of mine tried to give it up. She couldn’t understand why the withdrawal headache was still affecting her two weeks later. It turned out she was taking a pain killer that contained caffeine so was not only medicating her pain, but feeding her addiction unbeknownst. Caffeine was guffawing smugly and telling her ‘you can’t get rid of me so easily!’
            So, I give serious consideration to giving up coffee as I squint to try and block out the morning light that’s irritating my headache so much. But the lure of the coffee aroma as I pour in the freshly boiled water from the kettle convinces me otherwise.

Technology: The Age of Lazy

            Evolution is a slow and necessary process. The earliest primates looked at their stubby, medial finger and thought that it would be really handy if one day, it opposed the other four. Then, after evolution had its way and turned the thumb downwards after millions of years, homosapien never even gave it a second thought. Through the various ages we have evolved to use our surroundings and materials to our advantage, thanks to that down turned, opposable finger. For example: the stone age where we used primitive tools made from stones: the bronze age, where we made jewellery, weapons and household items from – you guessed it….. bronze: the iron age, where we learned to ….. iron things (?)….My point being: since the opposable thumb came into being, human evolution has evolved at a heart stopping rate.
            Nowadays, during the fastest changing age of all: the age of technology, the thumb has become an even more invaluable tool than it ever was, allowing us to swipe and type. And not only that: the Age of Technology is to lazy people what the bronze age was to people who liked wearing bronze stuff or the iron age was to people who liked ironing.
            This all became apparent after an Xbox 360 arrived into our lives and showed us just how lazy we had become. My husband, sitting beside me on the couch, asked me to pass the games controller. After much groaning on my part that it was four inches from my outstretched hand and I wasn’t willing to bend anymore, he told me not to worry, took out his mobile phone, swiped an icon and now it was a games controller. 
            I don’t even need to get up, walk across the room, wait a painstaking twenty seconds for my pc to boot up to check if an important email has come through. No, I simply take my phone, click a button and it’s all there, in my tiny little phone.
            My thumb has forgotten the art of writing. In school, I had the neatest penmanship in the class, my handwriting neat, pretty and an art in itself. But today, should someone annoyingly ask me to handwrite something which can’t be sent by text/email, I sigh, tut and take out my redundant pen, scrawling an illegible mess on the paper, most often, a cheque. I am waiting for the bank to ring me one day and ask if I’m sure I want to pay Mr. J. Doe sixty thousand, five hundred euro, when in fact the cheque was made out for twenty seven euro and three cents.
            Even driving has become lazy. I no longer need to look behind while reversing as the tv mounted on the dash board shows all behind me. Simply pressing a button means the car can park itself – gone are the days of my disastrous parallel parking attempts: back and forward, back and forward while the pedestrians snicker at my crapness. No, all I need do now is choose my spot, press the button, move my feet on the pedals a bit and voila! One perfectly parked car. Those self same pedestrians marvel at my parking prowess and look upon my symmetrical vehicular placement with admiration.
            So while I sit on my couch, pondering these leaps of change and evolution, my stomach rumbles and I argue with my husband over who will answer the door to the take away delivery guy.
            “I’m enjoying this movie, can’t you get the door?” I complain.
            “Just pause the tv!” he replies.
            “But I can’t find the remote.”
            “It’s right over there….. hold on….. ‘Xbox, pause’. See, it’s voice control. Movie paused, answer the door.”
            “Tut. Stupid technology.”

Riding Gear

 I inhaled the early morning country air as I stood, bathed in the April sun. What a great day for it, I thought. The cold, sub zero winter had meant that we hadn’t really done much, had been restricted by the bad weather, sometimes housebound by snow. But today was different. Today Spring, maybe even the very earliest of Summer was here. It felt good. It felt good not to be wrapped up in duck down stuffed jackets and layers of wool and fleece.         

He felt it too. There was a spring in his step. We hadn’t met before, he was new to me and I to him but I thought we’d get along just fine. His blond hair was highlighted by the suns rays. He was giddy, excitable. It perturbed me slightly but I figured I was in control. I wouldn’t let him get out of hand. We walked along the country path, a nice easy pace to warm up. He wanted to go up the hill but I was too nervous for that so refused him.

We decided to pick up the pace and canter up the field. The cool breeze felt therapeutic on my face and in my hair. His hair too danced along to the same rhythm. But something in him changed. He became agitated, skittish and I knew he wanted to be somewhere else. Suddenly he bolted. Took flight across the field. The rocks and hilly bumps in the grass whizzed past in a green and brown blur. I panicked. I pulled sharply on the reigns to reign him in and remind him that I was boss and unfortunately it worked and he stopped dead.
I struggled to balance my weight in the stirrups, grasping his rough mane in my hands but it wasn’t enough. I took to the air, sailing over his head. It took what felt like minutes to hit the ground. First my hip, then my arm, shoulder and then head. I felt a split second of relief that I seemed uninjured until the next split second arrived with a hoof in my back. Pain ripped through my pelvis. Any air that resided in my lungs had been evicted by the force and I now realised I was dying. This, lying on the ground, gasping, begging for my lungs to work, was how I was going to die.
The smell of the grass, soil and equine excrement filled my nose but got no further. The cool morning air that I had so revelled in only moments before, was refused entry to where I needed it most. I thought about my children, they would be devastated. My husband too. He had warned me this was dangerous but I refused to listen. And now I was dying and he was right: that almost never happened! I continued to gasp while I heard the steady beat of hooves coming towards me.
‘Help me’ I managed to croak. It took as much effort as I imagined climbing a mountain would take. ‘Please help me’.
Suddenly arms were around me, telling me to calm down and take deep breaths. I protested that I couldn’t breath but the voice was insistent. Just take deep breaths, you can do it. And slowly but surely, my lungs relented and took a gasp of air. I thought about my children again and my husband. I was going to live and I’d have to tell him he was right. I sat for what felt like an hour but was probably only minutes, just rejoicing in the ability to breathe again. I greedily took great lung fulls of air. But then it was time to stand up. No problem, I thought. As I lifted my left leg, a pain shot through me like an ignited arrow. My heart sank. I wasn’t getting away as lightly as I had hoped. I hobbled back to the car and sat, overwhelmed and sobbing. Embarrassment, shame, pain and embarrassment again ran through me. I had messed up. I was supposed to know what to do in the event of this happening. I had lost my nerve, felt too much fear. He sensed that. He didn’t know how to deal with it and this was the result.
I lay on the physiotherapists table the next day, wincing at every one of her touches. I imagined this must be what it’s like to be massaged by someone who really hates you. She told me to go home and rest, which I did. I lay in bed, hot water bottle behind my back and opened my computer. The sudden urge took over me and I began to type and type and type. My prose was not a long one. It read “Horse Riding Equipment for Sale”.