Faeries, Birthing and other Misapprehensions

Were you ever told stuff when you were very young that sort-of messed you up for a while? Some of the things that were told to me were imparted with the best will in the world, but they still set me off out into the world with some curious misapprehensions.

Let’s do two of these. Let's not get too serious, though, it’s only a bit of fun.

In Ireland, the last Sunday of July has always been something of a big deal. I don’t know if that’s true everywhere or not. Here in Mayo, it’s ‘Reek Sunday’ and people come and climb up our local Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick, in their hoards. Some do it barefoot. Some wear things on their feet; boots and shoes and such. Some, like me, don’t do it at all. Come on, it’s hard.

In Sligo, where I spent my formative years (i.e., lived) it was called ‘Garland Sunday’, and everybody went to the Holy Well where there were food stalls and boat trips and… other things. (I dunno, it was a long time ago.)

I have this memory of one Garland Sunday at the Holy Well and I’ll tell you a something about it. But we have to tread carefully here. If I’m honest (and I do try to be) this memory is little more than a series of dreamlike impressions. It was over fifty years ago for God’s sake. So, as I try to make a little narrative paragraph about it, there is inevitably a significant quantity of ‘colouring-in’ being done. For instance, when, in a minute, I come to describe my Dad lying back on a tartan blanket eating a ham sandwich, am I remembering that or am I filling-in something I subsequently glimpsed in an old photograph somewhere. I really don’t know.

It doesn’t matter anyway. Just keep in mind that what follows is probably 85% fabrication, which is a bit higher than my usual average.

So, anyway…

There we were, on Garland Sunday, up around the Holy Well (it all sounds impressively Irish, doesn’t it?) and we were having sandwiches and tea from a flask and I, being about six years old and a bit bored, set off exploring to the woods up the back. At the edge of the woods, there was a huge black hole that led in among the deep dark trees, and I stood on the edge of this hole and wondered if I should go in or not. Gradually, as I stood there, I became aware of an air of music emanating from the depth of the woods. I stood and let it ease over me for a little while then I concluded I definitely wasn’t going in there. I ran back to my family and perched on the edge of the tartan blanket. Dad must have sensed that some little thing was amiss, so he asked me what was up. I told him about the music that was coming from inside of the woods.

“Ay yes,” he said, working on getting his pipe lit, “that will be the Faeries. Best not go in there.”

My memory is this: even at the ripe old age of six, I quickly discounted that the music was actually coming from Faeries. That was Dad being mischievous, as he often tended to be. Most likely there were some houses up the back of the woods, which seemed infinite but probably were not. The music was coming from a house back there or maybe even from some kids in the woods with a cassette player.

I worked all that out for myself. Here’s the thing though. I worked it out on a rational conscious level. But, somewhere in some much deeper subliminal level, the idea of there being Faeries in those woods inserted itself into my psyche and lodged there.

It is still there.

If I drive ever drive past those woods, I can’t help but glance up there and mutter in my head that I heard music there once. And even as I mutter it, some deeper quieter voice from another place in my brain will still always intone that some old refrain.

“It was Faeries.”

My second-of-two misapprehensions in this little collection is an altogether more practical one. After my second sister was born, I would have been about ten years old. One day, I asked my mother how my sister had got out of her. For the longest while I had been aware of Mum’s tum and that there was a sibling in there waiting for me. Then, rather suddenly, she was there. I knew where she had been, I knew where she had come from, but how did she get out? Mum sat me down and explained her experience of birthing to me. How my sister had come into the world and my other sister and my two brothers and me. How we had all done it.

“It was easy,” she said, “there was a sort of an opening in the side of my tummy and she came right out, just like you all did.”

Mum was being straight with me, as I subsequently learned. All five of us were born by Caesarian Section. I’m glad she told it like it was, but it did set me off on a temporary misapprehension that all babies came into the world in this particular way. Days at the beach were spent, as a child, peering at bikini-clad ladies, not in any morbid pre-pubescent sexual fascination. Quite the opposite really, I was looking for that discreet exit that all the babies came out of.

I bet we all have little things like this. Things we get over easily but still never quite fully give up.

I’m pretty okay with birthing matters these days and with Faeries too.

If one thing still troubles me a little it is only that I sometimes wonder why, instead of ethereal melodies, the Little People in the woods were listening to ‘Sugar Sugar’ by the Archies.

Making Sure That Puddy is in Her Bed

I have a new part to my nighttime routine, and I thought I’d best share it with you. Every evening, sometime before it’s time to turn in, I put on my shoes and venture out into the back garden. It’s dark out there so I need the torch on my phone. I’ve got good at switching it on though, at first, I kept turning on Airplane Mode and other monstrous things. It’s not a big mission I’m on, in fact it’s the simplest of things.

I just want to see if Puddy is in her bed for the night.

I shine the phone light in the garage window and that usually does it, but sometimes it’s a little opaqued with condensation on the inside. When that happens, I have to peep my head through the side door that is now permanently slightly ajar and shine my light in.

Nine times out of ten, Puddy is in her bed. Sometimes she looks up to see what this light-thing is all about and what this idiot-of-a-human wants this time. The best times, though, are when she is sound to the world, curled up in tight little ball in the straw, with no clue that I am there.

Regular readers of the blog will know Puddy as the semi-feral cat who gave birth to kittens in a precarious position in my garage last spring and who thus instituted a series of events which has led to this moment, where she sleeps in her house in the shed, suffers regular name changes, and gets fed whenever she wants it (and many times when she doesn’t). You can catch that story via this link, if you ever care to.

As Autumn set in, Patricia and I resolved to provide some form of comfy base for Puddy in the garage. We went to the pet store and came among a small kennel which was assembled on the shop floor. I begged the girl to let me buy the already assembled version, but she wouldn’t do it, so we had to bring home an Ikea-style cat house in a box. Although I set to it with some dread, it was actually an easy self-assembly and it wasn’t too long before the little ‘housheen’ was sitting comfortably in a defensible corner of the garage. Once it was quarter filled with fresh straw, it was quite an inviting little place and the cat, normally highly suspicious of every damned thing, took to it with surprising enthusiasm. Trish added in a microwavable heating pad which she got online and which I thought was a tad over the top but which I still heat up and place under the straw every evening. The cat goes in every evening, sometime after dark, when the neighbourhood patrols have become quiet and uneventful. She forms a cosy half-egg-shaped nest in the straw and settles in for the night. In the morning she emerges, yawning, stretching and musically proposing breakfast.

Things have progressed quite a bit since my last report. The cat has gone from being called ‘The Cat’, through being called ‘Magda’ after her foster-carer who minded her while the kittens were being weaned and while she was off getting neutered. We also tried the name ‘Blanche’ for a while – because she is largely white and has always relied on the kindness of strangers. None of these seemed to fit and the cat patently didn’t give a toss either way. Trish suggested we might call her what I had been subconsciously calling her for some time now. So ‘Puddy’ it is. Like I said, she doesn’t mind, and I call her that anyway.

We feed her twice (and sometimes three times) a day. Sometimes she eats it up and, just as often, she licks off the gravy and leaves me to tidy up the rest because she’s had a better offer down the road. We can provide for her all we want but she is still a neighbourhood cat, and she knows it. Offers of food seem to come from a number of sources. I met a neighbour before Christmas who was off to one of those European supermarkets because he reckoned that he got the best value there when buying chickens for the neighbourhood cats. It’s little wonder my Tesco own-brand white fish can’t always compete. Whatever the source, the cat is now sleek and well-nourished, and she stalks our block with a keen eye and a ton of attitude.

But the biggest change has been tactile. The cat had always been completely hostile to the idea of being touched in any way. Any such advance would evoke hissing and hand batting and, if you didn’t quickly get the message, a lightning-bolt scratch across the back of your hand. But Patricia is patient where I am not and, over months of interaction and fun in the wilds of our back garden, after hours of quiet time together, and a fair quantity of antiseptic cream, the seemingly impossible has happened. Every evening, the cat, upon seeing Patricia come home from work, trots to her ‘petting-point’ on the paved part of the back garden. There, she permits Trish to stroke her and scratch behind her ears to both of their heart’s content. A bond has been built where such a thing did not seem possible, and both seem to benefit from it as there is audible purring on both sides.

As for me, I don’t push it. I feed and replenish the straw and microwave the thing. I’m a surly uncouth lump and I don’t want to undo any of the marvelous work that Trish has done in gaining Puddy’s trust. I think I shall remain the ‘hired help’ and enjoy those two getting on with it from a safe distance.

Will there be more developments? Will Puddy advance ever further into our lives as I know cats can tend to do. I can’t say. I have a little allergy which might prevent many further advancements but who can tell? I’ll keep you posted. You know I will.

But why do I do it?

Why do I go down the garden, hail, rain, or snow, every evening, before my bedtime, to see if the cat is in her place? I don’t know. I find it relaxing and reassuring in a funny sort of a way. I think it’s something about having been able to do something good and to see evidence of it, yet again, before the long day closes. To have helped another little soul in some tiny way – it’s as good a way as any of rounding off a hard day.

I don’t need Puddy to be in her bed. She is still at least partly a wild thing, and she must come and go as she pleases. If there are nighttime assignations to be honoured, down the road or in some adjoining back garden, so be it. But it is somehow very pleasing to know that she knows she has a base that she can return to whenever she wishes, out of the rain, the wind, and the cold.

I don’t need her to be there.

But it’s always nicer when she is.


Plus ├ža Change…

There is always a Christmas Post here on the blog. In all the years, through all the Christmases, there has always been something seasonal. The subjects have varied down through the years, How Santa is Real, Off Colour Seasonal Jokes, Insular Christmases, Yuletide Ghost Stories. You name it, this old blog has covered it. Hell, there’s even been a Covid Christmas Blog. I didn’t think there’d ever be another.

Some years, Christmas Day falls really close to my Sunday ‘Blog Posting’ day and that’s always kind-of handy. For those years, I can perhaps squeeze some words out of the festive marinade I’ve already steeped myself in. Not this year. Here I am, Saturday afternoon, and Christmas Eve seems a million miles away. There are four days work left to do and a lot to do in them. There is shopping and stocking-up and even some more baubles to be hung on the semi-decorated tree.

Maybe that’s why it’s hard to get seasonal yet.

That’s the bother. This post has to be the Christmas Post because it will be all over bar the shouting by the time next Sunday comes along. But, yeah, I’m not feeling it. Maybe it’ll kick in f I keep typing. So, keep typing.

In trying to concoct a blog post for Christmas this year, most of my thoughts have been about Christmases past and thinking about how long ago they were but also how not very different they now seem to have been. This is a thought sparked, at least in part, by having read ‘Small Things Like These’ by Claire Keegan, which is a very, very good book. In it, an Ireland is described which seems particularly old and tired and like something from ancient history. But here’s the thing, it’s Christmas 1985.

Though I loved the book, my brain found it hard to parse this literary vision of 1985 with my own memories and experience. The Ireland of the book seems more like a 1950’s place than a 1980’s place. Granted, by 1985, I was gone to London. In 1985, I went to Live Aid, Ghostbusters and Gremlins had already been out for a year, Shakin’ Stevens was Number One. This was not a time of coal trucks and power-wielding convents. This was not such an old time.

Except, of course, it was.

I’ve growing a theory off the back of this. A bit like that human ear on the back of that mouse. It’s simply this: Things that happened in our own lifetime do not seem so old. Things that happened even one day before we are born, seem ancient and from another world.

For me, my Christmases don’t seem to have changed very much at all over the 58 ones I’ve had. High Society and Ice Station Zebra have always been on the telly. There has always been a good exciting present to receive. There was always food and family and fun. Nothing’s changed.

Except, of course, as we all know, everything has changed. Those film I mentioned may be still around, but they are now buried on some classics channel where once they were the main attraction. Gifts have grown in size and quantity, as has the food and drink. Most profoundly of all, the Family is a different Family – my Family. That Family of 50 years ago (also my Family) is scattered and some are (tragically) gone.

All feels the same, yet all is changed. It’s like that old French phrase except reversed.

I look to movies from my life span, and they don’t seem all that old. The Beatles, in the clips I’ve seen from that new documentary, seem fresh and vibrant. I look to something made before I was born, like West Side Story, and it's like it is from another planet.

It’s all just another Christmas illusion. Last night, on the telly, ‘Die Hard’ came on. For perhaps the first time, it looked a bit dated and old. Perhaps that’s because I only saw the opening ten minutes and that’s a part I rarely see. There are openly displayed guns on planes and smoking in airport terminals. The hero ogles every other female as if they are a piece of meat. It’s from another time, just like I am. (It’s still great when it all kicks off though).

'What is the point of this story?', as Paul Simon once said, 'what information pertains?'

I don’t know, really. Christmas is a time for reflection, yes, but the reflections can be distorted and given a golden hue, as if reflected in one of those baubles on the tree.

Best not to dwell on it all too much, perhaps. Elder son arrives on the train on Tuesday evening and Younger son is fresh returned from London. Once again, it looks like we will all be allowed to be here together, under this roof. That’s the best thing ever. It should be nice. It always is. But the weight of the years bears down a little, the trickling fear of the virus creeps persistently around the back door.

And, where once a toast to absent friends was nothing more than a series of words to be spoken, these days the memory of those absent friends sits across from us at our table and smile at us with their eyes, from across the years.

Thank you for stopping by the old blog this year. It has meant a lot. I wish you a Happy Christmas and hope it brings you some light and warmth and a little respite from the everyday.

Nollaig shona dhuit.