Just when I thought I’d never sail again…

This week saw a return to sailing that, a few weeks ago, I feared might never happen. I’d had 14 fractures in my arm and wrist from my accident at the start of August and they’d given me the impression that putting Humpty Dumpty back together would have presented less problems. I can’t describe the sense of elation I had, then, when I was able to set off in my little boat and do all the rope tugging, tiller gripping and hanging on that was required to take her around the island of Ireland’s Eye and safely home. I’d set up a small camera to record the momentous occasion and my thoughts and all began well. I was just saying how, when I’m on the water, I make it a rule to switch off the technology, however, when, the radio mic cut itself off – offended, no doubt by my gadget-laden hypocrisy. My point was, though, that sailing is more than a recreational pastime for me. In fact, I get the same boost from it that I get when I walk on the Camino de Santiago. When I’m on the boat I get to switch off the world and loose myself in my thoughts and nature. It’s a chance to recharge the batteries. As Dublin’s much loved singer songwriter Damien Dempsey puts it; “Howth was the place I buried my troubles at sea”.

Lately I’ve had so many friends confide in me that they’re feeling a sense of anxiety all the time. In most cases they’re not even sure what it is that they’re anxious about. I suspect that it could be something to do with being so hyper-connected all the time. Social media and carrying the internet in your pocket has massive advantages. When I was a good bit younger and traveling to see the world there were so many people that I met who I would love to have stayed in touch with but, although I carried their phone numbers around in an address book for years, it would have seemed a bit strange to randomly pick up the phone and say “Hey, it’s that Irish guy you met in Mumbai.” Now, though, half my Facebook friends are people I met in those kinds of circumstances and, even if we don’t talk frequently, I have a good idea what they’re up to in life and if I find myself in their part of the world or they find themselves in mine we touch base. The downside, though, is that lack of separation between social life and work. I’ve never worked nine-to-five hours but there was a time, quite recently, when you knew that after 5pm you weren’t going to be contacted by anyone who did have that kind of office job. The first time I sent a document to a civil servant on a Sunday night and got an immediate response totally shocked me. It’s now quite normal. People don’t seem to switch off.

I don’t know if you have something that you do to step off the rollercoaster for a while but I hope so. If it’s particularly good please do share it with us in the comments. Out on the boat is my little “zen zone” for an hour or so while I potter around Ireland’s Eye and watch the seabirds. When I need a real break I spend a week walking to Santiago along the Camino, just switching on the phone once each day to make sure everyone’s okay before switching it off again and getting back to chatting to the people that I bump into who are usually also there to escape the digital ratrace for a while.

If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading 🙂

 

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The strange case of the green suit…

There are two things that stand out for me about this week. One is, I suppose, a milestone and the other… well, it’s just hilarious.

Anyone who has seen earlier posts will know that my Mum has Alzheimers and that we take turns in looking after her in her own home. My day on duty was always Sunday but now I have her Friday evenings too. The problem is that she still associates my presence with Sunday and she associates Sunday with a particular green suit.

Unlike my sisters, being a male my Mum insists that I’m out of the room when she gets ready. That has led to a difficulty. No matter what I lay out on the bed for her each Saturday morning, she ends up in her green ‘Sunday’ suit because of her ‘Declan/Sunday’ association. This was the week that I finally came up with an ingenious solution.

With the necessary approval from my fashion-conscious Mum, I got a nice blue print skirt, blue blouse and blue cardigan ready. Then, instead of laying them out on the bed, I took the clothes out of the room with me. I’d prepared warm, soapy water and a towel in the ensuite and I got her to throw out the night clothes she’d taken off to be washed so that I could be sure she was in her birthday suit. Moments later I could hear her splashing about quite happily. Then I heard her call out.

“I’m washed now. Where are my clothes?”

“I’ve got them here. I’ll give them to you one by one so you can get dressed. Okay?”

“Okay.”

So far so good. I was delighted. I opened the door a crack and handed in her underwear. Then I waited a minute or two.

“Have you got your underwear on?”

“Yes.”

I repeated the procedure with the blue blouse.

“Have you got it on.”

“Nearly. I’m just trying to get the buttons done up.”

“Do you need a hand?”

“No… There. I’ve got it.”

“Okay. Here’s your skirt.”

I handed it in through the gap.

“Thank you.”

She had no difficulty with that.

“Okay. Is that it?”

“No Mum, I have your lovely cardigan here.”

I passed it around the door. A few moments passed.

“What shoes will I wear?”

“I can come in now and help you chose them if you want.”

“Okay.”

I opened the door and my mouth dropped. There she was in her green suit. Of the blue clothes there was no sign.

The other thing that stood out this week happened when I had an unexpected free class in college. I went to a coffee shop and ordered an Americano. Then I sat down, took out my laptop and wrote the first passage of my new book “Sticks and Stones”. I’d been carrying the story of the Pins and Needles sequel around for weeks but had been afraid that, for some reason, it wouldn’t translate to the written word. After an hour I was done and I’d written something I was very happy with. There’s another 89,000 words to go but I’ve laid the foundation. I had a thought. There was a copy of Pins and Needles in my bag. I took it out and wrote on the inside cover something like: “Here in this cafe on whatever day it was I’ve started Sticks and Stones.” Then I signed and dated it and, when nobody was looking stuck it between a bunch of other books on a bookshelf for someone to find some day. Maybe it’ll just sit there and nobody will care but there’s always the chance that my next book will be great and that book will make a fortune on ebay…

 

Alzheimers and the moral dilemmas

 

(approximate transcript of my video post: https://youtu.be/s7oOJA7_nrw)

My gorgeous and charismatic Aunt Theresa was laid to rest in the past few days. Two of my sisters travelled to England to represent the family while we held the fort looking after Mum. It’s been such a poignant time. Mam’s the last one left of her siblings now, yet, because of her Alzheimers she’s lost in her own particular world where she’s no longer sure of who’s alive and who’s gone.

Her earliest memories are of standing in a World War II air raid shelter and watching a woman push her baby into the waiting arms of an air raid warden as a piece of shapnel decapitated her before just as she reached the door. And, shortly after that, sitting on a train with her mum who told her to wait because she was just slipping out to the toilet. As the train started to pull out she started screaming for someone to stop it because they were forgetting her mum. A nun in the carriage slapped her legs and told her to be quiet. That was the last time she saw her mother for several years. She’d been evacuated to the countryside where she has horrible memories of abuse by the people who were obviously getting some sort of allowance to take her in because they certainly weren’t doing it for love!

Her life wasn’t easy. Dad adored her but he was self employed and worked long hours while she was left at home with an ever growing number of kids and, because they’d moved her from England, no real friends or family support.

We grew up to the sound of mum complaining constantly to Dad who never argued back but would disappear climbing mountains. That frustrated her even more than any arguing he might have done.

It was only when dad was forced to retire through illness that we watched them fall in love all over again. They were like a teenage couple. Inseparable. That’s what made it even more heartbreaking to see her lose him. They’d been together for over 50 years but had only really found each other in those last ones.

So now she’s alone at the head of the family in age but as dependent on our love as if she was a child. And I guess we’re trying to give her the childhood now, that she never had then. So we won’t tell her that her sister has gone on. We’ll shout at the TV when ireland play, watch Nanny McPhee or The Quiet Man for the umpteenth time and listen to the same memories of her youth that seem a lot clearer to he than what happened an hour ago. And, every now and then, amid the repeated anecdotes that we no longer can verify as accurate, she says something profound or insightful. And we know that we’ve not lost her yet.

The agonies of letting go… and thanks!

inside paper comparison

I’ve been agonising over paper choice for the bookstore versions of Pins and Needles. The white sample is from a printer and the other is the Amazon paperbacks copy.

I’ve spent the week with my head in a spin about paper types, paper colours, fonts, font sizes, cover thicknesses and other such technical considerations as Pins and Needles was prepared for the printers. It’s available on Amazon in print-on-demand format where it will also be released in e-book on September 1. That bit was quite painless. If something wrong is noticed I can still make changes. With thousands of copies rolling off a printing press it’s a different story. Whatever decisions I make or errors that go unnoticed are unchangeable once that machine starts spitting copies out.

To get some inspiration I popped along to the launch of lifestyle youtuber Melanie Murphy’s new book Fully Functioning Human (Almost): Living in an Online/Offline World at Eason on O’Connell Street. It proved to be a master class in how a book launch should go. Melanie’s speech was informal, honest and, it appeared, effortless. A chair and table had been set up for signings but, instead, Melanie mingled, chatted and laughed with friends, fans and family, making everyone feel special by somehow finding the time to talk to each person. The book is a real beauty – and, having been living in ‘book publishing preparation mode’ myself, I know what I’m talking about. The production quality is top class and the layout of the book very clever. It’s sectioned off by theme and has quirky illustrations which make it visually engaging. I came home, the proud owner of a signed copy, and began making mental notes of the things that I liked about it. One was the off-white paper that Melanie had used. One printer had sent me a copy of Pins and Needles on the paper that they recommended I should use. It’s the whiter one in the accompanying photograph. The other copy, with the creamish finish, is the print on demand finish from Amazon. To me, that off-white looks more like the real thing. I hope you agree – it’s what I’m going for.

Finally I want to acknowledge all of those who reacted with such support and care to my last post about the accident and my steps to recovery. It was truly heart warming and made it quite impossible to feel sorry for myself. Thank you!