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Sunday 28 February 2010

What we talked about....

....when we talked about nothing.

Lobby talk:

“Did you see him?”


“Yer man, whatshisname.”

“Oh, yea, he’s staying here with his wife.”

“Must have arrived last night.”


“He was sitting outside reading that book, you know, the one that won the IMPAC.”

“The horses one?”

“Yea, Out Stealing Horses, I think.”

“Loved it. By Per Petterson, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, think that was it.”

And here’s another one as we enjoyed dinner in a high-class restaurant off the orangery:

“Well, did you?”

“No, I never slept with a policeman.”


“...but I did sleep with a policeman’s wife!”

We all cracked up at that one.

Instant friendship:

“But I can come with you. I speak Spanish, it’s absolutely no trouble at all.”

Ulla could and did and without her our visit to A&E would not have gone so smoothly. She translated, filled in forms, held hands, and guided us through the system with ease. P, having fallen down some marble stairs, emerged after her ordeal looking like Frankenstein’s moll with large black stitches running up her gashed arm. We could not repay Ulla’s kindness but we can pass it on.

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Thursday 7 January 2010


"But I'm not depressed", I said in protest to my grumpy doctor as he scribbled a script for valium. Without lifting his head he said coldly, "I didn't say you were depressed, I said you had Depression".

I left the surgery feeling worse - if that were possible- than when I went in. My symptoms were odd: I couldn't easily push the pram, my legs buckled when I tried to stand up, I went through the motions like a robot with sluggish batteries. I found it very confusing; my feelings were all over the place and I had no idea what it meant to have Depression. Two valium later my left eye started to twitch. No way, I thought, I'm not having this so I flushed the rest of the bottle down the loo.

I slowly returned to the whole of my health with some better understanding of what had happened to me but when it returned, in another form with different symptoms, I, once again, had no idea what it was. My new doctor (one who believed that there were alternatives) did not put a label on what I was feeling; he merely handed me some small white homeopathic tablets with the instructions: "take as on the label and go easy on yourself". Blessed relief, it worked.

With a few more years clocked up I now know what rocks my boat, what sends me under as if to drown the life out of me, and the ability to remember that it will pass, in its own good time. And when it does, I once more get out my reading glasses and get stuck in to the delicious retreat that a good book provides. Today, the book that has me in its thrall is The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie by Agota Kristof, an intriguing tale of which I will tell you nothing so as to encourage you to find out for yourself. It's fascinating so far and I'm only on page 55!

I tell you, dear reader, of my occasional dealings with the dreaded "Depression"; it comes, it goes, its grip as relentless and unyielding as a straightjacket, its wake a trail of devastation – but luckily I have a very short memory. I tell you not so as to elicit your sympathy but simply to tell those of you who occasionally succumb to this debilitating illness, that you are not alone.

Posted by Mary

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Tuesday 24 November 2009

The Incredible Mr Kavanagh

If I suffer from even the slightest headache, I pack up and go to bed early; hobbling around on an ingrown toenail makes me feel dreadfully sorry for myself; and don’t talk to me about backache! I still remember the time I decided to water my garden - after dark - and fell headlong into the rose bush. For days afterwards I walked around with two nasty gashes up my face feeling like a war hero. I was on the receiving end of many a furtive look as I walked the aisles in my local supermarket, but I sported my wounds with pride, glad however, that the evidence of my late night gardening would soon disappear. How on earth would I fare if I had really had something to complain about?

Arthur Kavanagh came into the world in 1831, the fifth child of an amazingly strong-minded woman who considered him another beloved son to be treated no different to the rest of her brood. Kavanagh enjoyed the rough and tumble of family life in Borris House, Co Carlow, where he had an excellent classical education; he also loved to escape into sport at which he neither excelled nor failed. The only difference between him and his brothers and sisters was that he had neither legs nor arms but shortened stumps with hands and feet attached. Had he been born today he would be labelled ‘handicapped’, treated separately from the rest of his clan, sent to a special school, mollycoddled, handled with care and generally made to feel different. Our Mr Kavanagh, however, had expectations of a full rounded life, and what he got was more than most people are capable of achieving in the ordinary run of things.

I discovered The Incredible Mr Kavanagh by Donald McCormick at my local library in Deansgrange, and I have lived with him in my head ever since. I had browsed the biography section looking for something to amuse and entertain me through the long winter evenings, and though I certainly was amused and entertained, I was also reminded to live this life of mine with a bit more gusto and a lot less namby pamby behaviour; life is there to be taken and enjoyed and lived to the full.

Arthur Kavanagh was a skilled yachtsman and sailed as far as Russia, India, Persia and Kurdistan. He rode horseback across Europe and Asia and was an accomplished huntsman. At the age of thirty-five he was elected Member of the British House of Parliament where he served for eleven years, becoming the first MP to obtain permission to tie up his boat on the Thames at Westminster so that he could live on board when in London. Arthur survived his older brothers to become heir to the family estate in Carlow which he managed efficiently and fairly (he was know as a good landlord who cared for the people in his area in a time when so many tenants were badly treated and left in dire circumstances).

There’s an hilarious piece in the book where Arthur’s future wife, Harriet, screamed with fright when she first set eyes on him; at the time, he was standing on the hall table looking very odd and slightly scary in his black cape preparing himself to go out in rough weather. He was actually a very handsome man and once she got over her shock they were well matched and went on to have six healthy children of their own.

On Christmas morning, 1889, with his family gathered round him, Arthur Kavanagh died at the age of fifty-eight. I have just touched on his extraordinary life here and can only think, in awe, of how much this Carlow man accomplished in a time when he could well have given up without trying. There’s a lesson in there for all of us.

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Thursday 19 November 2009

Rattled Nerves

"It would help you to read it, settle your nerves, calm you down a bit", she said as we made our way down the M50 in the pouring rain. She was right, of course, but I think I need the adrenalin rush of living close to the edge all the time. Otherwise I’d never do anything. And I can’t bear wasting time – my time, that is – hanging around, waiting for things to happen. If there’s any free time going I want it to be experienced while my feet are up; not standing upon another’s fancy. But still, she may have a point and perhaps I should get myself a copy. After all, what’s my hurry? I can still hear my father’s voice as he often used to say, "When God made time, he made lots of it!"

We sped away from another two-day session in Mullingar where we were further enlightened on how to tackle difficult problems, from the perspective of an effective manager. But between you, me and the wall, there was one particular area that everyone failed dramatically to address: how do you deal with a person in the workplace who has an unacceptable level of personal hygiene? Imagine, if you will, our group in role-play: Me, as manager, and Blue Eyes giving an Oscar winning performance as the wronged employee giving me such a hard time. I found myself backtracking, sidestepping the issue, squirming in my seat, while she ate the face off me, threatened me with her union rep, and said that really she had no idea what I was talking about. Then it was Desperate Dan’s turn. He tried "desperately" to control Blue Eyes while she tore strips off him, too: "Sure the aftershave you’re wearing stinks the place out. I don’t know how you’ve got the nerve to complain about me!" In the end, after we collapsed with laughter and realised how utterly impossible such a situation would be for such a hapless manager, Blue Eyes came up with a solution: Decide on a code of conduct with input from all concerned, discuss, come to agreement, make sure everyone has a copy and in the event of an issue, refer to the code. And the award for best actress goes to...

Perhaps every workplace should have a copy of Self Help for Your Nerves by Claire Weekes. First published in 1972, it is still recommended by doctors today as a useful tool in dealing with anxiety disorders. This Australian GP avoided the term 'nervous breakdown' as she felt it to be unscientific. Instead she came up with "nervous illness" and concentrated on three areas that she decided were central to the issue: sensitization, bewilderment and fear. She based her work on personal experience of nervous illness and that of her patients and was greatly respected in her chosen field.

My driver, who was suffering from a bout of nerves brought on by watching Thierry Henry’s illegal handling of the ball in the Ireland/France game, drove home from Mullingar fuming. She hadn’t slept the previous night and had probably been replaying the disaster in her head as she tossed and turned in her King-size bed. I can just imagine her, smoke coming out of her ears, reaching for her copy of Self Help for Your Nerves to throw at the television as the awful events of the match are shown again and again in repeats and replays. But she’ll have to pull herself together by tomorrow morning and turn back into an effective manager whose main concern is for the well being and welfare of her staff – however odoriferous!

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Monday 19 October 2009

Alice & Allen

Alice and I have just been to a show for the over 50s in the RDS where we were like locusts in a field of wheat searching out free samples, goodies, key rings (like we need ten each), make overs, juices and a lovely tub of ice cream that will only serve to add to an already expanded waist line. We stood in line and watched the inevitable demonstrations: a floor mop that will do everything except mop the floor while you’re out; headphones to listen to the radio while you’re in the garden admiring your petunias; electronic salt and pepper grinders with grades going from fine to coarse; a spikey mat - the modern day equivalent of the bed of nails – on which to torture yourself while reinvigorating your pressure points; face creams and various beauty products made from seaweed and other life giving products (I treated myself to some much to Alice’s disgust) and a powder that, with a few judicious strokes, will make you look as if you’ve spent hours in front of the mirror (and I bought some of this as well; Alice said the suppliers would be laughing all the way to the bank. On the way home she moaned that she hadn’t bought some 'cause she thought it looked damn good on me).

Then it was on to the health testing. Cholesterol: we were both grand, slightly up, slightly down, no big deal. Blood Pressure: Alice was told to get herself checked out by her GP while I grinned at her, knowing that the sphygmomanometer gave me a favourable reading. I didn’t bother taking the eye test as my myopic peepers are something I have learned to live with; Alice, on the other hand, has 20/20 vision, a fact confirmed by the dishy young gentleman on duty at this counter. Then it was off to have our lungs tested for possibility of COPD. If you think I am smug, now is the time to turn away. I gave up smoking eleven years ago, not without a struggle, precisely because I couldn’t bear the thought of becoming ill in my old age; Alice didn’t. My reading was perfectly normal while my dearest friend was told she had the lung capacity of an 83 year old. Dear oh dear!

I can see that I’m going to have to buy her Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. This is a book that allows one to smoke as you read after which thousands and thousands of people have been able to stub out their last fag and look forward to a brighter future without this particular addiction. Carr was a heavy smoker himself; he smoked for over 33 years, and managed to puff an amazing 100 cigarettes every single day. When he finally kicked his addiction, at the age of 48, Carr realised that it is the fear of "giving up" that causes smokers to continue smoking. Smokers then perpetuate the illusion of genuine enjoyment as a reasoned justification of the absurdity of smoking in the face of overwhelming medical and scientific evidence of its dangers. Remember that, just in case it didn’t sink in first time round: There is overwhelming medical and scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking on your health.

When Carr died of lung cancer at the age of 76 many people implied that he was a charlatan. I mean, how could this man go around helping addicts to give up when it killed him in the end? I noticed smokers light up with greater satisfaction as if this man had fooled everyone by not living to 107 and dying of something more mundane, like influenza or utter boredom.

Alice and I are great friends. We go way back, so far back that she blames me for her having taken up smoking in the first place; perhaps she is right. I hope, that one day, she will blame me for having made her give up her killing habit. After all, I will need her good company when I’m stuck with a zimmer frame to toddle round looking for bargains, and free key rings, and tubs of delicious ice cream.

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