This post is so long I have broken it into headings for your convenience. Lucky you, happy Christmas.
I had my online Christmas bookclub. Normally at Christmas we have a Kris Kindle. This year, we had to post out our presents to each other/deliver anonymously to doorsteps. It required a great deal of organisation and our most organised member organised. And it was nice but, actually, it made me quite sad. It just seemed to rub in how much we were missing small things and a (max €15) Christmas gift is not going to make any difference to that. I hope this time next year we’ll be back with live drinks and mince pies. I did ask my most middle-aged pandemic mother question ever to the group: “Where do you think I’d get a good online mass for Christmas?” Did they have views? My God, yes, they had views.
Daniel has been cycling to training for a good while now and, like all my children’s cycling expeditions, I am really nervous when he heads off. My nerves were justified as at the last training session of the year a couple of weeks ago, he went over his handlebars as he had to brake suddenly to avoid a car turning left into Tesco. In fairness, the driver stopped to check he was ok and he landed on his hands rather than his head. Instead of coming home he went on to training and he also had a near miss on the way home (a van braked suddenly and the van behind swerved to avoid him and nearly hit Dan, protected from oncoming cars by a line of paint which is what all too frequently counts as cycle infrastructure in this country). By the time he got home he was pretty shook. He was up all night with a sore hand but an x-ray on Monday morning confirmed nothing broken, just a bad sprain. Why do people cycling in this country have to take their lives into their hands when they go out?
Further cycling news: the corporation have removed the car parking in front of my parents’ house in Cork and replaced it with a cycle lane. I rejoice. My sister does not, partly because it came as a complete surprise to residents and, I suppose, she is the one who needs to park in front of the house. I am afraid to tell her that I am an enthusiastic supporter of Cork City’s cycle lane policies.
In other less than good news: the few of us physically present in the office have to sign in, I usually glance up the list to see who else is in and one day last week, I was not delighted to see that Rentokil had signed in earlier in the morning. “What’s the story?” I asked the man on the desk. Apparently a rat had been found on the ground floor having gnawed its way through the skirting board. Now my office is on the fourth floor so I’m assuming it’s just one rat and that they can’t climb stairs and all is well. Still I’ve advised my colleague on the 4th floor who keeps a bowl of nuts on his desk that he might want to reconsider that. I am indebted to my colleagues working remotely for the knowledge that rats are a huge problem in the other side of the building. One told me that when she was on a smoking break, herself and four colleagues saw a large rat sauntering towards the back door of the building which had been left ajar. Notwithstanding stamping and shouting by the unnerved smokers, the rat continued sauntering towards what he clearly thought of as his front door. One of the smokers had only just lit a fresh cigarette but she abandoned it and they all ran for the back door. As my colleague said, they were none of them small and they got stuck in the door while the rat wove his way in between their legs. People, let’s not keep food in the desk drawers.
In other smoking related news, my bicycle has a basket which people like to throw rubbish in, if its parked on the street, because they can. I was surprised to find half a packet of cigarettes the other day. It seemed a bit wanton. I presented the puzzle to my family. “Well,” said Daniel, “it’s not always Christmas.” I suppose not.
Dinner time conversation with my loving family wherein I said that Mr. Waffle and I have never argued over housework. This is true, it’s pretty evenly allocated (I would like to record yet again my thanks to my amazing mother-in-law who did a very good job on ensuring that all her children know that housework is for everyone). “Nah,” said herself, “somebody’s getting a good deal here. Who is it?” Mr. Waffle looked around the table, pointed at the children and said, “You three”. This is true also.
Unloading the dishwasher has become a point of contention now that we are all at home so much. Herself sent round a link to this hilarious article: The Stages Of Unloading The Dishwasher When You Live With Other People – The Shatner Chatner. Her father made a suggested addition to deal with a particular problem at our house:
He forgot the people who are still waiting for a sign from on high.
“Trust not this bleep from the machine, for verily the Evil One can take on any disguise to ensnare you. It may be a trap. Wait instead for the Lord appear and confirm that the dishwasher needs to be unloaded.”
On Saturday afternoon, I got a call from my brother saying that my father was not well and it might be a good idea to come down to Cork before Christmas. By coincidence, I was told that day that the fathers of two women I knew called Anne had died. I’m not very superstitious but, you know, still. I hot-footed it down on the train on Sunday afternoon.
My father was pretty frail, I thought. I live in fear that I will give him Covid, of course. He’d had a fall the previous week and looked like he had been out street fighting and he had a dreadful cough. The carers (of whom there are very many) were a bit anxious. I was a bit anxious. He was pleased to see me though. When he was less ill, he always liked to celebrated the winter solstice on December 21 and it was nice to be with him that day and reflect that the year is on the turn.
My poor father, though, he is so ill and so bored. It’s a grim combination. His eyesight is pretty much gone so he can’t read which is a huge loss to a man who read all the time. My brother and sister in Cork do an amazing job but it’s tough going. If it weren’t for the radio, I don’t know what he would do. For the first time in my memory he didn’t have the radio on at top volume at night. I’m not sure why but I didn’t find it a reassuring sign though it did make it much easier to drop off. He’s still mentally absolutely fine and it was nice to chat to him though his voice is suffering from his awful chesty cough.
Some gems from our conversation. 1920 was a big year for Cork: one Lord Mayor was shot; five months later the next Lord Mayor was imprisoned in Brixton, went on hunger strike and died 74 days later; then the Black and Tans burnt Cork city centre just before Christmas (see below the before and after picture from an exhibition in the Nano Nagle heritage centre). My father was born in 1925, does he remember any of his relatives speaking of these momentous events? Long pause. “I remember Uncle Dan saying that he had to renew his motor tax in Fitzgerald’s Park because the City Hall had been burnt down.” There you have it folks, stirring times. He also told me that somewhere in the house there is a picture of him boarding that flight in 1935. Where? He waved his hands expansively: somewhere. Aha, because it’s easy to find things in my parents’ house.
Up to when I turned 11, we had a woman who lived in our house and minded us and cleaned – Cissie. We were all very fond of her but when we moved house, she left us. The first intimation that I had that we were moving house was finding her at the kitchen table in tears saying she was never going to work with children again because it was too hard when they left. You might think that my mother’s careful perusal of the Saturday property supplement might have given me a clue but no. I was gutted. We all were. My sister, who was only four when we moved, used to march out of the new house announcing, “I’m going back to my own Cissie”. Cissie went to work as a cook for a religious order and, as far as I know, she only visited us once after. I tried to find out from my father why we didn’t see her. I felt that perhaps there had been some kind of row. My father was not illuminating on this matter but he did say that she made an excellent lamb stew, “As old Mr. Browne used to say, you’d ate your fingers after.” Mr. Browne was apparently a neighbour’s father. I found myself harnessing the power of the internet to try to find her last year. I got an address from Council records where she had bought out the ground rent from a house. I sent a letter but never got a reply. When I went to write my Christmas cards this year, I thought I’d try sending one. I looked her up and found her straight away on RIP.ie. She died in a nursing home on August 4 this year. I feel sad that I hadn’t made more of an effort to find her years ago. I might do a post on her – one for another day.
My brother tackled me about the Christmas list herself had sent him. “Honestly,” said he, “would ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ really be a Christmas read for you?” I guess not.
It was nice to be in Cork at Christmas. I went in to the Crawford. I gave the Share collectors a few quid having put in some time in that role myself many years ago. I went into the market. Of course it was full of spiced beef. There was a butcher standing at a dedicated stall that only had spiced beef. I paused and looked, “You see,” I said to the young man, “I didn’t know I’d be in Cork before Christmas and I’ve already bought my spiced beef in Dublin.” “Nightmare,” he said succinctly. Under his sympathetic gaze I bought another kilo of spiced beef. I’ll be eating it until next Christmas.
I came back to Dublin on Tuesday afternoon. The Government announced that the country would be locked down again from the 26th so very glad I got to Cork. Like a fool, I managed to lose my train ticket. The woman on the desk was very eager to help and suggested I buy a replacement online as it was €20 cheaper. But my phone’s browser was not the latest version and it refused to let me book and I only had five minutes to get on the train. Nevertheless she was very reluctant to sell me the more expensive ticket and insisted on hunting down a refund form in case the lost ticket turned up. I made the train with moments to spare. It was very traumatic. The whole adventure cost me €140. I could have flown more cheaply. Never mind, I was very glad to have got down.
Our local lovely, lovely Christmas market went ahead. We thought it might be cancelled but it was not. We put up our Christmas tree and further decorations. My sister came to visit us- briefly for Covid compliance reasons.
Last weekend we went for a walk up to the Hell Fire Club. Possibly our most successful walk ever. Necessary ingredients: I told everyone that we would be doing it on the Tuesday before to acclimatise them to the idea; it is a short walk and only half an hour’s drive from our house; we left the house at ten and were back by lunchtime; the weather was delightful. Not all of these are replicable.
Yesterday we watched “A Muppet Christmas Carol” as is traditional at this time of year. There was some reluctance from herself: “It’s so long for the adventures of a felt frog” she said. It was good all the same. Michael Caine’s best work.
Today my father went in to hospital. The GP thinks he might have pneumonia. He’s in a bed [I mean not on a trolley in A&E which is always the fear] but he’s going to be all alone there on Christmas day which is a bit miserable. I think the hospitals will let you in if someone is at death’s door but not otherwise. So not the best news on Christmas Eve but, I suppose, good news in one way that they won’t let anyone in. I’m very glad I went down earlier in the week. I hope they will be able to help a bit in hospital with IV antibiotics. It’s just grim and, no two ways about it, it’s a rotten time of year for it in a difficult year.
In late incoming Christmas news:
My friend in Brussels tells me that there is a meeting tomorrow because of Brexit urgency. God love them. Her brother-in-law sent them a surprise ham for Christmas and now it is stuck in Kent. If it arrives, he advises her to dispose of it carefully. As she said herself, “We feel so topical.”
My doctor friend in America sent me a picture of herself and her husband (also a doctor) getting the Covid jab and it filled my heart with joy. The end is nigh, in a good way.
A former boss now retired sent me a hilarious message about going to Kilkenny to tend her aged sister. To fully appreciate this you have to realise that the narrator is a woman of unimpeachable respectability in her late 60s:
I have been running the gauntlet of Garda checkpoints every fortnight to visit [my sister] and get her groceries. A Garda pulled me over and said my tax was out of date. She said she had no option but to seize the car. It was towed away and I was taken off in the back of a squad car. Luckily I had my mask on! I had to pay the tax and a ransom and umpteen taxi fares to get the car back. Now I have a criminal record. See what happens to those who do good works.
This afternoon we went for a cycle in the park.
This evening we streamed Christmas mass on the television. The children were really good and even got dressed up for it but it was all a bit odd. But better than nothing.
Tomorrow herself is doing a Christmas breakfast and we are going to the cousins for Christmas dinner. I rejoice. I asked herself what I should wear. “Maybe that green dress that I like?” I said. She asked, “The ‘female politician goes for centrist vote’ look?” Yes, that’s the one.
Notwithstanding everything, I hope everyone has a lovely Christmas, it’s been a long, long year. Back with more quality content in 2021.