Life’s Not Fair

Bet you know – that you can say, hand on heart – that life’s not fair.

I’ve been parroting it for years. Knowing and saying without feeling.

There’s a tipping point in every life. And I’ve passed it.

I realise now that life, living – it’s the process of accretion; gain; growth. Followed by loss.

Some of us live with loss from an early age. That was not me. So my tipping point comes now.

My son’s friend – his closest friend for a long time – was diagnosed with Leukaemia three days after Iain died. She is a bright beautiful girl. Interesting and interested. Loving to talk. Always smiling and laughing. And with a large and very close family who will carry her along on their human tide of sheer determination and love. They are full of energy. They – and our community – have generated a tsunami of good intent. Unable to cure her themselves they have chosen action – their incomprehension has raised over £17k already for Teenage Cancer Trust.

I have tried to make sense of it all. I can’t. Aside from knowing there’s a science behind illness and that we all die. I can’t answer Why.

I think it might be easier if I had faith. I don’t.

It makes sense – to me – that I believe there is no more sense in me looking for sense in what is ‘the senseless’ than it is for me to think there is a God.

We live. We are weak. Fragile. Prone to venality and cruelties and obscenities. And also greatness. Wisdom. Compassion. Insight. Achievement in the name of the greater good.

As for ‘what it’s all for’?

Nothing. Or nothing more than the continuation of ‘us’. We are neither moral or immoral. We just are. Morality – the rules – all the laws – they are what we create in order to optimise our chance of survival and continuation. We form communities and societies to give ourselves the greatest chance of survival. We invent God because we need things to make sense and we need sensereasons if we are to continue to live. And surely only God ensures the fact of us makes sense.

We are a strange soup; detritus from the cosmic Petri dish. Just an accident. Inevitable, really, given infinity. A certainty to arrive at some point. A twist of the universal kaleidoscope – and suddenly all the conditions are right. Bingo. Here we are. Killing and healing and judging and loving one another.

There is no sense in that girl getting leukaemia. None. There is no ‘deserving’. No ‘rightness’. Just as there was no sense in my Gran dying of throat and lung cancer or my father having a heart attack at 40 or my mother’s malignant uterus. There was no sense in my husband losing his mother when he was 12. No sense in his father’s early catastrophic stroke. And then there’s Ebola, Aids, wars and famine – these four the piss-froth of senselessness.

Paris tonight a fresh apex of senseless.

Surely, surely, it is because there is no ‘Why’ that we have the biggest reason to live life to the full. Not to kill. Not to hurt. But to nurture. Because if this is it – if this is all there is – then we have a duty to one another to make this as good as it can be.

  • The fund-raiser for Erin can be found here: https://www.justgiving.com/Nicole-McCafferty/
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Holiday 2014

A month in Spain – I’ve returned feeling restless and unhappy with my lot.

This has happened before – I’ve felt worse about my everyday reality on return than I did before I went. Though this year I needed the holiday more than I’d ever felt I needed one before – so maybe that’s what’s turned me into this apathetic shuffling slob; the epicentre of malcontent…

It’s not even that the holiday was ‘the best I’ve ever been on’ or similar.

Though it was restful.

A month in the Priorat. Torroja del Priorat. A very small mountain village: five and six storey 17th, 18th and 19th century houses clinging to a mountainside – just finding space amongst olive groves and the most steeply terraced vineyards I have ever seen. So steep, in fact, that all grape-picking has to be done by hand.

The village was eerily silent from 10am until about 7pm – aside from the first week when bottling was underway in the massive Comarca building which sat at right angles to ours. You’d hear voices from behind the huge wooden arched doorways of village homes – and from the courtyards and cellers which lay beyond. You’d smell cooking – the garlic and the smoked paprika and the olive oil scenting the air. But you’d seldom see anyone.

Unless you were at the communal village pool – which itself lay on the highest plateau (signposted ‘Part Alta’ of Torroja), giving views of Torroja rooftops from at least 200 feet above and beyond that, giving panoramic views to Gratallops (Grata-yoops) and right across the vastness of the valley.

View from the track leading into Torroja del Priorat from the village swimming pool

The road to our holiday home… Torroja del Priorat

It is hard to do justice to the beauty of the place. Photographs from an iPhone just don’t cut it.

Evan was with us for the first 9 days. Despite the quiet of the place he enjoyed his stay. There wasn’t a lot to do – besides swim, rest, walk, eat and drink and admire views – not usually high on any 17 yr olds’ holiday agenda. Our days began to blur into one big day… with the church bells – so intrusive and loud to begin with – becoming muffled and then lost in our sleepy haze.

We ventured down the mountain most days. We were 40 minutes from Cambrils and Salou – a perfect distance. Not too far if we wanted to join other holiday makers on the perfect beaches of the Daurada – just far enough to avoid them becoming the focal point of the break and changing the balance of the holiday entirely.

Cambrils is still a working fishing village – though its primary income must come from tourism and package holidays.

Cambrils

Cambrils merges into Salou – which merges into La Pineda and Port Aventura and latterly into the industrial hinterland of Tarragona. Salou and La Pineda are purpose-built package holiday Meccas (mainly for the Russians) – with Port Aventura advertised as ‘the largest theme park in Europe’.

We didn’t go. My youngest children have a warped fear of fun fairs and water parks. They would’ve tholed a visit if their older siblings had been with us (though Lew has a pathological fear of water parks and heights…) – but they would not be convinced that a visit would be a good thing – branding it ‘boring’ and refusing to explain beyond that.

In fact, if I am honest, Jamie is at that awkward age where everything (aside from loitering in Lanark with his mates) is ‘boring‘. Ana just copies him. Though if you’d to point that out to her she would swear blind that he was copying her.

Mind you – on our return it was hilarious listening to Jamie describing the places we visited to my Mother. All those astonishing, overwhelming and beautiful places which had been written off by him as ‘boring’ at the time were suddenly ‘great’, ‘really interesting’ ‘enjoyable’ ‘fantastic’…

Tarragona really was a surprise – which really highlights my ignorance. Formerly Roman ‘Tarraca’ (at one point the capital of the Roman Empire), the city visibly rests on its Roman foundations – concrete blocks of multi storey flats built onto the exposed massive blocks of Roman sandstone and of Roman streets.

A short walk from the impressive 1950s Rambla Nova (built to a style proscribed by Franco), down narrow streets and you are suddenly confronted by a preserved Roman street  – a raised and incongruous plaza surrounded on four sides by modernity- the newer city peculiarly 30-40 feet lower than the ancient.

Roman Street amongst modern flats – Tarragona

The Roman amphitheatre is breath-taking. The engineering that went into its making is astonishingly advanced. And it commands views right over the Mediterranean Bay. Deliberate – a show of wealth and power. And it would have been a place of gore and death. But today – well…

Amphitheatre – Tarragona

 The medieval quarter was impressive too. Lots of narrow cobbled streets, marble steps and blindingly white sandstone (there was the ubiquitous clean-up and conservation project on the go). The Cathedral was very attractive as churches go – though I’m never much into all that glitter and gold and bloodied Christs that make up the interior.

Evan in the fore-ground looking reasonably impressed

Painted gable-end – old quarter in Tarragona

We sat in the street cafes and ate the tapas and drank cervesa and the salty sparking Vichy Catalan (this is Catalunya after all). We gorged on olives – mainly arbequina – small and hard and aromatic. And on chiperones and boquerones and calamares. Jamie would eat little but calamares or chiperones bocadillo. With patatas bravas – chips, really! Ana existed on croquettas (any but usually chicken or ham); on chorizo and on melon and curado de jamon serrano. And tortilla. And rabbit stew.

We took the bus to Barcelona. And were humbled by the city. From Parc Guell to Camp Nou; Barcelonetta and the old Bull Ring; to the Sagrada Familia, the Ramblas, the Bouqueria and the Placa de Catalunya. Too big for two short days. A taster which has us planning our next visit.

Ana – after Mother FC, Barcelona is her favourite team
Sagrada Familia (back of it) – work in progress – and not expecting a finish until 2026.
Torre Agbar – this poor photo gives no indication of the shimmering surface – iridescent, burnished glass and metal in blues and reds
Chinese Restaurant on the Ramblas -look at the skill of the wrought iron work and the stone masonry  – beats wee China Chef in Lanark… The ‘bubbles’ on the front are parasols.
Street art on the Ramblas
Bouqueria on the Ramblas – the colour and noises and smells of this beautiful market were overwhelming

Xavi’s shirt in its glass box – reflecting some of the hundreds of trophies Barcelona have won
Jamie in repose – feeling bored no doubt – at the Barcelona Olympic village

Reus was also a surprise. Don’t write it off as ‘just the airport place’. Perfectly proportioned placas – fringed by perfectly proportioned buildings – covered in Catalan Independence flags… The Gaudi Museum is worth a mention. And the food was very very good – fast, fragrant and fresh. Lots of seafood – and everything served with flat leafed parsley (an old-fashioned herb which is mostly relegated to soups and stews here).

Jamie and Robert walking towards the Placa del Mercadel in Reus.

Reus – Placa del Mercadel – we ate in the restaurant pictured

And Sitges! That elegant Riviera-like seaside town. Gay, stunningly beautiful, just the right side of seedy. I need to find our photos -but here is a little taster:

Spain. Catalonia. Ah. I loved reading about their Indyref…

There is nothing about this country that I do not love. Whether Castilian; Galician; Navarrese, Basque or Catalan (apologies to all those I’ve missed) – I love Spain.

It is a country built for people. The public spaces are beautifully maintained; easy to use and as a result, well-used; and they prioritise people over commerce or cars. Cities are alive. Unlike here, city centres are human and lived in – with residential properties and the needs of their inhabitants met by the commercial properties which are their servants (not their masters). Their pedestrian crossings prioritise people.

Spanish engineering and design is advanced and it works… Not for them dank concrete crumbling multi-storey car parks – instead the air conditioned vast and deep (sometimes four levels down) underground car parks which direct you with electronic arrows to your space; or the roads that tunnel through the Garaf mountains – for a km or more; or the road system that is so well-signed that we didn’t use our maps or satnav despite travelling 3100kms over the month. The modern architecture is astonishing – striking beautiful floating boxes of glittering granite and marble and glass and metal. But otherwise the blend of Colonial spanish with Gothic; beside Gaudi or Gaudi-esque and Romanesque and Mudejar-style buildings -these are the buildings that populate my dreams.

The village we lived in was poor. The lifestyle of locals was simple and revolved around farming. With a few rich in-coming foreigners having bought into a lifestyle and offering a slice of that lifestyle with the Hotel Abadia del Priorat (a casa rural) or similar. But Fincas with large plots of land can be bought for as little as 35000 Euros.

Hotel Abadia del Priorat – entrance

Rents – even in the cities – are affordable (or look as if they are from this Scottish perspective). With three and four bedroom apartments in good areas going for 400-500 Euros per month – a fraction of what would be paid here – though admittedly wages are lower and the economic situation very different.

I’ve come back to a cold house that desperately needs a new boiler (the current one is done, finished, over); to quotes of £3500 min; to rain and to the fear that I will not be able to hold out doing this job until the new business is up and running.

I’ve allowed myself to sink a bit. General unhappiness with my lot made worse by the brief vision of a life lived elsewhere.

Ach. I’m not daft. I know that there’s a great deal to be thankful for. Not least, Dad’s radiotherapy is proceeding without too many problems and he’s upbeat and looking well. And I’ve always known that change must come from me – so I’ve only myself to blame if I’m still unhappy in the same way this time next year,,,

Here’s my favourite photo of the holiday. It’s a grumpy Ana – not happy that her three hour stint in the pool had to come to a siesta-end…

A wrinkly cross Ana reluctantly leaves the pool after a full three hours in water… Torroja del Priorat

A Guest post for elsewhere…

Thought you might enjoy reading a guest post I authored for the MumsandDadsnet.com site…

You can find it here: http://mumsanddadsnet.com/2014/03/24/family-care-grandad-delivers-baby-dad-calls-midwife-older-brother-sister-watch/

Big thanks to my talented friend Jamie Marzella for the accompanying photo (gable-end and communal garden of my house/Row)

Relief and pain and family trauma

There are no words sufficient to the task. My child is alive. Fear has eaten this week. Fear and rage and a dense, deep, bitterest despair that drums in your ears and throat; that burdens every breath.

He is alive. When we thought he had died. Thought he still would die.

This is how it happens. How quiet ordinary lives cross over on an early sleepy Sunday morning. How a thudding door opens to policemen with words of pain and darkness that sleep’s confusion cannot process to meaning. How a car journey to Accident and Emergency passes without memory of road or place – but only of how I cannot get wheels to turn fast enough. Of the ashen aged look of my husband’s face. Of the fear in us. Bleak and black. How the ticking clock thrums and how every passing minute where there is no news from the ambulance or paramedics or the nurses or doctors is filled with the fear of loss. Unspeakable hideous incomprehensible loss.

And then of my beautiful gentle son gradually returning to himself and us. Broken. But here. Blown pupils a black pool of intoxication and of relief and remorse and dark sorrow.

We have all suffered. His brothers and sisters. His grandparents. The traumatised friends who witnessed his descent into hell and who stopped his fall with brutal restraint and emergency calls.

But yesterday, into that space, bleak, numbing relief had squatted, there was, too, a deepening realisation of our inter-dependency; of love; of the reasons we have to give thanks and to be grateful. And – from all of us – this desire to be close together – to hug one another tight.

There are painful words to be spoken in the days ahead. Tears are only now beginning to flow.

For me – I remain filled with fear – of what the ringing phone will bring; of Lewis’ speeding car on dangerous roads; of Megan walking alone at night in the city; of Jamie late home from a friends; of Ana running and playing along the river. This reminder of what can happen – of what does happen – to ordinary families and ordinary mothers and fathers – it has punched a deep hole in the taken-for-granted everydayness that sanity and equilibrium rely upon.

But this too shall pass.

Festive Cheer from Bah Humbug

The mall spills festive cheer from every orifice.

The perfect Yule confection towers above us as we enter the centre atrium. The conical tree is bedecked with this years colours. Unsubtle silver and aqua baubles clamour for our attention – a surface covering of shiny pustules.

The silvered house for Santa and his reindeer is like a beacon to Mammon, beckoning all the little children to come unto it. Where they can spill their avarice into good ole Santa’s ears whilst the adult carers spill the contents of their purses and wallets into the hands of Santa’s little helpers.

I remember I was as greedy as any other child. I didn’t noticeably curb the excesses of my letter to Santa. Though I was well aware – by the age of 8 and thanks to the ridiculous impossibility of aspirations to the clandestine or furtive in a cramped two bedroom terraced Cooncil Hoose – that my Ma n Pa were ‘Santa’.

I did modify my list so as to include those items that Ma n Pa could reasonably afford. Though of course I stretched the boundaries of affordability.

I remember the building frenzy of excited anticipation that peaked on Xmas Eve. My brother Derek and I would be swept along in a perfect cataract of desire and satiated pleasure; of sweeties and wrapping-ripping; of giving and taking in return.

There was never a Xmas that disappointed. Though I remember Scottish Granny giving me a hairdryer one year that melted two weeks later – and which she returned to the shop but never ever replaced. And a t-shirt that I hated instantaneously on sight – and which I buried at the bottom of my drawer.

I look back now and can see into the perfect bleb of the memories and at the centre of it all is the family-visiting, the noisy hustle and bustle of our big extended family.

The 25th of December to the 2nd of January were the busiest and ecstatically happiest – spent with my hard-drinking and hard-partying and simply religious Irish Granny and my Communist Granpa and all my aunts and uncles and cousins and the Irish relatives. The small two-up two-down house just down from the Steel Works would be bursting at its seams. The never-ending trail of neighbours bearing bottles of whisky and vodka and rum. The singing. When you were sweet 16… When Irish eyes are smiling…Wee Cooper O Fife… Wee Deoch n Doris…Auld Lang Syne…Ae Fond Kiss… The vast meaty cauldrons of Scotch Broth and the huge metal ashettes of steak pie. The perpetual peeling of tatties and scrubbing of carrots and shelling of peas. The steamy kitchen opening into the small garden and Granpa’s Doo Hut and the old 18th Century trunk which Granny hated and which had been banished under a lino covering to the garden space under the back window.

Granny had a kitchen hatch which opened into the small space that served as Dining Room. I was fascinated by the hatch. A hole in the wall through which bowl after bowl after plate after plate and glass after glass would be served up.

Granpa made the food. Though Granny controlled it all. The men would be served first. I remember that. Then the women who would fuss over plates and cutlery. Our Tennants and McEwans and Bells and Grouse. And then us wains. Too numerous to be fed in one sitting, there would be several sittings. The food would go on all day it would feel to me.

Granny would have decked the house in gaudy tinsel. Chasing, twinkling, lanterns and jaggy floral bauble-shaped lights lined the outside window-frame. There was a Baby Jesus in his manger on the table at the window – sleeping peacefully under the sparkly wee tree. Later there were garlands of metallic red and green and gold to festoon the low ceiling. And the lava lamp would be outshone for a change.

The trim phone would trim-trim-trim with messages from over-the-seas and from the next street over who wanted to announce their setting off to join us.

I remember the house sung to the Belfast Brogue and raw Lanarkshire dialect. And my Granny’s voice would remember itself as strong and Northern Irish.

And in the middle of it my Mother’s beauty would be incandescent and light up the room – outdoing the fairy lights. Every man’s eyes would be on her. But even then, every woman would love her. Her glamorous but tasteful make-up; her subtle jewellery; the scarf tied just so; the dress cut to accentuate the turn of her waist, her fine bones, her generous breasts.  My Granny would say ‘Catch yer self oan. Our Mary was born t’ be a lady but thur was no room fur her’ and every one would laugh and nod and say ‘Sure and Mary is a beauty still, Martha’.

And Great Uncle Alex would search me out with his eyes and gesture toward me with his wide-open arm and always say ‘and where’s our wee stunner. Yer a beautiful lassie sure. Come and sing us all a song.’

They were mostly all dead by the time I was 16. Granny and her brother Alex of cruel cancers. Aunty Nessie later became too frail to travel. Communist Granpa would drown his bereaved sorrow for years before joining them when I was 21. So, by the time I met R and was pitched womb-first into a home of my own, the circle of extended family had shrunk.

And R had no experience of family. I had to teach him how they worked. Introduce him to ‘the rules’.

Perhaps that is why we have 5 children. But even if that is not one of the reasons it has always been my sorrow that they cannot ever know what that little house was like, filled with the generosity and joy of a family that spanned the generations. So I have tried to create my own pale copy.

We have tried to steer them from the gross want-want-want. We taught them a socialist redistributive Saint Nick who might take what money your parents could afford to give him – but who would decide how to equalise the distribution across a world of children. Though they also joined the nativity at the Salvation Army…

Every Xmas Eve we would sprinkle magic dust on the road outside to guide Santa to our house… Though later they each would be ‘reported’ to their School Teachers by angry parents who complained that they had debunked Santa and made children cry…

Ana at 9 yrs is well aware that there is no Santa. But she enjoys a charade of whisky and shortbread for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. The older two stumble home on Xmas Eve at 3am from the pub celebrations – and suffer for it in the little ones’ enforced 5.30am rise.

But they all want to be here. Stirring bread or cranberry or mint or apple sauce. Carving turkey and lamb and ham. Lighting the Xmas pud. Fighting, squabbling, laughing.

It’s a cliche of middle-age to bemoan the appalling and rampant consumerism; the loss of the Xmas message in the mountain of tinsel and pound notes.

I was like Pavlov’s dog in that mall yesterday. All bristling and indignant at the stark monuments and little alters to Mammon. I’ve recovered myself in time.

We imagine the past as some better place where minds and motives were purer; where there was an innocence; where greed was not as greedy and want was not as naked.

It’s all balooney of course. Greed and want are still greed and want, regardless of the scale.

And when you scratch the surface, when you speak to people of what they enjoy about their Christmas rituals, we come down to the same base: that we value most the time spent together, simply sharing company and whatever victuals we have.

I can’t believe that I’m writing of Christmas and it’s only October. I was going to moan about the mall and the consumerist industrialisation of what could otherwise be special (even for an atheist). But having gone through all of the above I’m actually looking forward to my December.

A Family Story or a Mother’s Tale

The lad is attacking this graduate scheme with an enthusiasm that has me convinced aliens really are living amongst us.

The Real lad did not spring happily from bed at 5.30am to catch the first of 5 trains for that day. The Real lad would not complete a 15 hour shift – and want to get up at 6am the next day for even more.

The Real lad had a snooze when he did anything taxing that lasted longer than 5 hours. He was a nocturnal boozing party animal who stored sleep for the weekend-a-thon. He was a laughing boy – the high octane joker of his group. He was a tricky wilful toddler who had an Aspergian response to change and a deep violent aversion to travel and shops.

R says that the signs were always there of the man who was to emerge as a leader of DIY teams, spouting HR wisdom and the touchy feely psychobabble that drives sales. And I stop to think and remember.

He’s a clever do-er, our son. An action man. Impressive school grades were his – but all that sitting still and writing bored him. He needs to be on the move.

R says: remember – when he could crawl that was not enough because he could not walk; when he could walk that was not enough because he could not run.

R is right. As usual.

At 18 the lad manages an 11 strong team of people – some of them old enough to be his great grandpa (honest – that bit made me begin to rethink my prejudice against global retail groups – though only a wee bit). Those same people who met him with initial suspicion – but who embrace him now with genuine warmth and respect even though he has had to discipline some. His appraisals beat anything his father or I have ever achieved. He is tipped to be running his own large store by his mid-20s.

And all of this excites him. He is amazed by life itself. He is meeting it all head-on and with a smile on his face.

When he speaks to me now it is as an equal – though also an occasional superior. He has learned more in this last year than I did in 20 years of working. There is a reassuring authority in his assertions. He has his father’s seriousness and capacity for hard work – his deft managerial touch. His occasional piss-artistry he gets from me.

He enervates a room – though can exhaust with a relentless energy. Even in sleep he is restless, consuming calories with a fast burn. And if he sits it is to invade your sofa space – even on an otherwise spacious sofa.

I remember he used to tell clothes and belongings from their smell. Hand-me-downs were betrayed by their scent – that’s Stuartie’s clothes he would say when Jill sent me Arran woollies and jackets which Stuart had out-grown.

I don’t ‘do’ bragging about my wains – I never did. But I have a sudden and new-found desire to hold him out to the world – to say ‘look at this fine young man! How good he is and honest and decent and funny to be around. See how proud I am.’

And at the same time I have an intense and deep sense of loss.

I know I’ve written about how their sudden adulthood surprises you. How you turn away one moment and they are grown. How it all passes so quickly. How my mother and my grandmothers were so poignantly right to say ‘don’t wish them older. You’ll wish away their lives. Enjoy them now. Right now. It all passes so quickly.’

But the sudden realisation of the passage of time and their childhood is like a punch to the solar plexus. It knocks you breathless with the force of all that is gone. All those times that cannot be relived – except to replay in family gatherings where the stories that have gone into the making of them and us are told again, binding us, one to the other. Making us family again and again. Bringing the children still in them out and to the front.

Our Family Narrative built of all the little remembrances. The day Louis bit Megan’s bum and left teeth marks. The day he thumped her on the head with a loosened handlebar which she had tried so hard to fix for his toddler hands. The day Jamie tumbled from the table top where he had climbed to reach the chocolate. The day of Lyn’s wedding when flower girl Megan fell on her mouth knocking out front teeth to be captured forever in photos – a toothless and bloody lipped girner.

e.f. – you made me think. You all did.

This is what matters. This is what makes sense of it all. That we have cared and loved and worked and fought to bring us to moments like this where we can stop for a while and appreciate.

Appreciate. And comprehend what has gone before.

I turn my memories over in my mind like pages in a book that is still to be written and whose end I will have no memory of. They are reassurance and they are vindication. Talismanic in the power they have to transform and to connect.

And because I cannot help myself do otherwise, I wonder where they will lead.

Band of Sisters

And in the artists’s cream and wood and heart-lined kitchen sit a band of sisters. All dirty cackles and gentle laughs and squeals and whoops melding into a frenetic Concerto of voice. The air thick with hot, rich saffron and coriander and curry; vibrating with the releasing energy of eight women.

I join the table, sitting on the hand-painted purple chair fetched by Sharon. Shirley and I are folded into the company. Food pressed on us. Glasses pushed into our hands.

I know these sisters from home. A home I left a long time ago. I remember them, barely. Their names are like little rag-momentoes from a cloth I once wore tightly around me. My memories distort down the years.

I absorb their clamourous shot-fuelled energy. I bask in their heat. I press my nose up against the faultline of age and religion. It seperates us now as it has always done.

Their shared histories fill the air and I listen for little anchors of shared experience. The home that tumbles from their stories is a magical place of feral children camping for the summer in council territories; of borrowed tents burning down in Belgium and of school newsletters lamenting a ruined holiday for one child and a ruined tent for another. Of 4am milk and rolls stolen from doorsteps. Of Church Hall discoes and Ranas Nightclub and the hiss of hairspray and hormones which sizzled in the sticky carpetted anarchic Mukky Duck.

They race a meandering path through the past – remembrances splitting off into fast and high cadenzas which trill and twist and end raucous. Here is the day my mother’s new ceiling light was smashed by the exploding Asti Spumante cork. And here is the day I smashed her mother’s ceiling light and had to go to BHS to buy a new one. Here is the day Batty laughed and drank even more. Here is the day I found my sister’s durex – and gave it to my mother who sat purse-lipped and puritan for her return. Here is our school and that teacher who knitted and disappeared us into dunce-corners to face the wall and sent us for cigarettes and balls of wool. Here is the priest and our first communion. Here are our families: a tangled close community of blood and adversity; of time and of place.

There is no malice here, but a bouquet of love and welcome – yet I sense I am on the outside. We lived in the same village and knew the same people but we have arrived in this house and this kitchen by paths determined by our distinct clan belongings. There is a distorting veil of slight, mild, age difference and then there is different school and church and surname between us. We emerged from a community sundered by religious bigotry. A bigotry nurtured by seperate schools and Christian churches; originating from the same small Irish towns and villages. Our ancestors worked cheek by jowel, hating and loving and hating one another. Phalanxes of Celtic Begleys and Sweeneys and Hughes and Kellys lining up to face off the anglo-sounding planters, the Bells and Taylors and Halls and Stewarts.

We hide the inter-marriage and absorb the interlopers into our camps. Protecting our difference, fiercely.

My birthing tradition is Ulster, the signing of the Covenant, Orange Walks and King Billy. The anti-papist flute placed in my hand to encourage my musicianship. The shame of shipyard discrimination and the closed anti-catholic shopfloor and of Drumcree and the Victory Jig, denouncing me as Paisley denounced Pope John Paul with a bannered ANTICHRIST. Mine’s is the Red Hand and the Union Jack. The Shore Road where my grandparents lived and worked and marched and which gave birth to my mother. I am Keady. My fields are Freeland fields stolen by the Republic. My town become a Border no-go for gun-running and bomb-making. I am Omagh, outraged.

My warm sisters have hearts full of the Gervaghy Road righteousness of the oppressed minority. They have blood memories of famine and poetry. Theirs is the bravery of the fight for freedom against a British army operating a shoot to kill in occupied territory and colluding with the rank loyalist paramilitaries. Dublin and Easter Rising and the shame of partition. Shinty and the Shankill. The Troubles starting in 66 with the death of a shopkeeper. The death of the Hunger Strike martyrs: Bobby Sands’ face beaming Christ-like from the Falls Road Sinn Fein buildings and genuflecting to bless all those who would follow him. Of Ogra Shinn Fein in Derry and Christy Moore and the Wolfe Tones comemorating Francis Hughes. Misty romanticism versus English Protestant brutality. They are larks in barbed wire.

Here we are now, in this warm kitchen, in the early hours of an iced and frosted morning, sharing our stories and spilling our laughter and booze with an embracing generosity. We rise away from the past and feel our way to our shared experiences. We bleed and suffer and worry and love just the same.

And finally I sense our real bonds as women and mothers and creators of our own warm worlds assert themselves.

I hug my new friends to me.

And I am thankful for this road which led to my beautiful Sharon and her white and wood, warm artist’s home.