The Holy Grail

Recently I met up with a friend in the same boat as myself. Two under two.  Both girls. We love the bones of these little lassies.  We plan they will go to school together,  be friends or fight as maybe. I find that I am only recently leaving the house with Betsy and I think it is down to bad weather and illnesses. She is three months. My friend has only just moved back to this county, her home county, a few weeks ago. We have already experienced the mannerly visitations a new home requires so this drop in was casual.

Tea and Talk

This friend is a relation in law distantly and thus is how we are friends. To start therefore we were definitely ‘more polite’ shall we say when comparing war stories than when chatting the actual besties.

I brought one ( the smaller one) with me. Gigi was at playgroup. My friend’s eldest had been brought out on a trip by a nice Auntie. Her own youngest was asleep. This was lovely! We got to actually speak!

Both us us were in sweats and hoodies, peeled back hair. I was glad as my friend tends to be glamourous and always looks great. She still looked great, but I really felt more comfortable about my own lack of style. A shelf full of Benefit and Mac make-up  are going to rot and two dinky tailors’ models holding necklaces and chains are gathering serious dust since the birth of my first. Beloved little quirky pieces that I had time to mull over and select carefully are on extended hiatus.

A priority alteration.

Another new side to my world! It us interesting how altered a situation is made by babies. People who generally met in a bar over beers,chatted at weddings or at work, or other social occasions now have to bring a bag of bulging bottles, nappies and a variety snacks with them. You have to immediately clock where a nappy might be changed or a baby fed. It is definitely a bond when the person you are seeing is in the same boat! Ah you have the same bouncer, you announce! Sure, put her on the playmat there, no problem. Throw us that nappy bag, I can put it with the rest! You are desperate to help the other person ‘know that you know’ what it is like. Who would have thought?! Sudocreme over strawberry lip gloss, nappy bags over new handbags.

A snail could really make his home in my make-up bag unnoticed.

Our opening ten minutes was more relaxed than expected due to the acquiescence of our children . We smiled and referred to how different life was. How things were ‘a bit mad’. How obsessed the younger sibling is by the older. How  the older tries to ‘help’. How adorable (and potentially lethal) that is. Tea was made. Milk poured into jugs. Homemade buns offered.  I brought cake.

Minute on the lips…

Berries for the kids. These days we bring fruit and organic snacks as gifts to kids, not chocolate buttons! These are the times. So far, so mannerly.

Naturally occuring sugars only!

We all give advice to new Mums. Let the visitor make  the tea, we say. Take all offers of help, we order. Make plenty of frozen dinners we command. I have learned that we are our own we are our own worst enemies . One child in arms, the other might decide to be stranger shy. Therefore you juggle both. You offer tea. The visitor accepts but goes to make it. Bowlegged, you groan to a stand clutching your antisocial angels, declaring,  ‘God no, sure it’s no problem at all, done in a minute’, and you literally sweat blood making that tea. The visitor looks uncomfortable. However you won’t have it said you didn’t do it!The Lord himself wouldn’t stop me making that tea. How nice is it to be with a friend who knows!  In this situation I felt no guilt!  My host popped off gladly to make tea, light on her feet.She made a joke of the jug, telling me her Mother bought it for her. She reckoned her Mam was worried that milk would always be served a la carton otherwise. So on this occasion she got to employ it. We both scorned the pressure on us to have fussy tea sets and sugar bowls out for guests ( even though I love that stuff!). We hate the pressure although we love the china, we decided.  We oohed at the cakes, both mentioned our need to lose wobble but vindicated each other’s choice to indulge.  Her buns were homemade. Mine weren’t. She put out back up chocolate bars.  ( Post natal women need them).Brilliant!

The need to impress.

We compared sleeping times. Mine had a great night. Her’s hadn’t.  Up since four. I admired the honesty. Began to warm up. Discussed the laundry. Her eyes widen telling of her hate for these piles and how she dreams of a communal clothes room.  I knew no one liked laundry but I am so delighted to have someone who hates it vociferously to moan with on a Wednesday afternoon. She had Jeremy Kyle frozen on the TV screen . The confessions began. When the babies sleep, when we have fifteen minutes,  we watch trash with our sneaky Mars. Her’s is Teen Mom. Mine was Celebrity Apprentice.  We both coyly admitted watching the big shame kahuna…Big Brother. Please don’t judge us. We are intelligent, educated women. We have read Joyce and Wilde. My friend speaks Irish and reads Irish literature. So why do we feel we must defend ourselves?! We just do. We know it is time wasting tripe. It is just that we need chewing gum for the brain these days.

Take a backseat guys. Just for a bit.

My friend calls the time that  you may or may not get when both smallies sleep ‘The Holy Grail’. Immediately I felt it! Religious, sacred and a disaster to come close to grabbing only to let it slip away…


Indiana…let it go.

I lost my chance at the grail was more the Monty Python version of the day shall we say. I watched my moment with a greedy,  terrible for me, yet disgustingly delicious slice of Betty Crocker magic cake with Azera coffee whilst watching something brain dulling like Salvage Hunters slip away for ever. (Betty Crocker recipie: eggs, oil, water and magic yummy dust from a box. Mix . Bake. Poof. Cake! ).

Pacman eats knives!

You can’t eat and enjoy cake in front of children.  Hypocritical to say the least when they are given carrot! I told my friend and she admitted to an all time low. Eating a Mars bar in the bathroom. Hiding on her toddler. Desperate for a bad energy kick after a busy night with a baby. I hear it. I feel better!

She wasn’t on the loo. Just hiding near it !!

I know that having healthy babies is the holy grail  itself. Believe me. My first was born a very sick little girl and we are blessed. I speak of the small things here. Small, mundane challenges and our selfish needs to make the day bearable when the pressure is on. Should we feel guilty for wanting that small time of pleasure when the rest of the day is a myriad of cleaning, feeding,  changing, rinse and repeat? Playtime with babies is lovely.  The smiles are unbelievable. I love those little wonders. I just need a Wispa every now and again on my own with a book or a bad TV show. Therefore the sleep time is important. Both asleep together is definitely the holy grail. My friend nailed it.

Don’t feel guilty Mammies, Daddies and Guardians. We deserve it.

Sometimes I just want to sit in silence and stare. It can be really nice.

What Katy Did: Tributing those childhood reads that made me who I am.

I was an only child for almost twelve years.  I then had a sister, which made all the difference. I tended to be thoughtful,  quiet and introspective which wasn’t always healthy for me. Fortunately I was social enough to try make friends. If living,breathing friends weren’t available however, I usually returned to those in my novels.

I have included a selection of the texts that had most influence on me as a young girl. There are more. I have only chosen the special ones! In most cases I have included an image from the original cover. I am a ridiculous hoarder when it comes to books and rarely move any on. I truly believe it has a lot to do with my twelve year ‘only child’ status. Giving away these books would feel like splitting a part of myself in two. I was traumatised by Toy Story 3 as you can imagine!!

  1. What Katy Did by Susan M. Coolidge
My original copy bought at a school sale for 5 pence, with pen mark on Katy’s mouth from original owners who didn’t appreciate Katy as I did!

This story was sold to me from the characters’ descriptions. Adorable names that hadn’t featured in my young world were introduced to me such as Clover, Cece and Dorry.  I loved this sprawling, mischievous family led by the well meaning but thoroughly troublesome older child, Katy. This was a story about transience. A motherless family and their small day to day incidents. Their semi -orphaned state was always present in the novel, yet never the dominating event. They imagined, explored and created and I envied every moment. Katy’s transience from tomboy to lady is all encompassing. The following ‘What Katy did at school’ and ‘What  Katy did next’ became as important to my life as that first beautiful book in the trilogy. I will never forget Katy!

I often work with children utilising  library work to promote literacy among boys.  It is proven that children will become more interested in literature when reading is modelled by an adult. What a pleasurable fact! What a fabulous reason to do something fun and not ‘work’. A few months ago in one such session, I selected my old friend, ‘What  Katy Did’ to peruse.  Imagine my joy to read about the Carr family once more over 25 years later. I had feared time would change them. Not Katy Carr! It was as gorgeous an experience now as then.

My small print copy. Many prettier versions to be had but this one has the memories.

2. ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I have noticed that much of my childhood classic reading involved children either orphaned,  semi-orphaned or in family difficulty. Mary Craven was another of those children. Her life was terrifying to me, particularly those early years. Parents that were neglectful and cruel in their lack of love for Mary made me feel totally uncaring for their deaths when they occur. Mary had money and privilege but it meant nothing.  She was spoilt and unpleasant, shouting and tantruming through life. I have always shivered through the scene where Mary is found by soldiers, totally alone, in an Indian compound where everyone had died of a fatal, rampant disease. My image was of a body strewn,  foul, odorous and overbearingly hot hell on earth, a dystopian nightmare.  The reader is thankful that Mary is so self-centered  that she is barely dented by this traumatic situation, not crying but shouting in commendation of the selfishness of others, blissfully unaware of her own failings!

The children make the story. Spoiled and unpleasantly rich protagonists and of course their opposite, kindly, empathetic, caring poorer ones ( I count the working Martha as a child).   Mary, like Katy Carr, undergoes transformation. She learns how to be kind, thoughtful and observant to the needs of others.Mary is brought away from India to live with a wealthy, reclusive, grieving, sickly Uncle suffering the loss of a beloved wife. Wealthier adults seem in constant peril in this novel!  Nature and Yorkshire seem to have a healing power for Mary. The down to earth Dickon contrasts a ‘frail’, egocentric, afraid, crippled Colin (Mary’s cousin) who is abhorrent of fresh air, thinking it a killer. The book teaches strong lessons about the qualities of outdoor life and the benefits on health, physical and mental  for children. Parents are not the heroes here and many adults must also see their errors. Mary and Colin are monsters created by their parents/ guardian, rich in money but entrapped from childhood wonder.

Redemption and healing

The garden is a magical place for them,  a real Narnia. Mary grows like a flower, even becoming prettier physically as she morphs into a nicer human. Colin has a physical and emotional growth as life with children in the outdoors, away from the smothering effects of the adult carers, allows him to walk again. He becomes a happier child and a nicer one, just as Mary did. The book has one of those endings where everything becomes as glorious as possible, making the deaths, the disease, the neglect and pain almost disappear. This is a book where magic can exist in the ordinary world, dystopia is upturned into utopia.

Midnight Feasts and Apple Pie beds!

3. ‘The Malory Towers’ series by Enid Blyton

I know many young girls read these books and dreamed of this life at a boarding school.  I knew if I went to a boarding school in my country it would never compare to this world of goodness and kindness where bullies were stood up to and fights mended with a good sporting attitude.

Fairness always won…was this giving me a false outlook in life?

Darrell Rivers was fascinating to me. Firstly, there were no families called Rivers in my life and the name Darrell was as exotic as any I could imagine. I loved that she had confidence,  made friends easily, was sporty, smart and could act. However it was her flaws that made her more real than creation and Blyton did an excellent job here. I loved the Famous Five, yet they were quite Stepfordesque in their clean cut perfection (maybe not George so much) but Darrell wasn’t perfect. Each novel would show her overcoming her temper in a dramatic incident where comeback always seemed difficult,  yet she would manage it and no grudges were held. Malory Towers was an excellent world to dip my toes into in a literary sense, yet I knew boarding school and I would not have been friends!  The jokes and japes were all good fun, but really the apple pie bed seemed excessively laborious to create with very little reward comedy wise!

It just seems like doing a chore for fun without Mary Poppins magic

4. ‘Little Women’ by Louisa  May Alcott

My first beloved copy.

It is possible that this book has had the longest lasting impression in my life.  From naming my little sister Amy to visiting the house used as Laurie’s house in the filming of the 1994 Winona Ryder version of the movie in Victoria, British Colombia,  I adore this story.

I can hardly tell why!  The family were so good and moralistic, which appealed to a younger me,  but is that exciting? I loved the sisterly imagination at work, the writings and drama,  their ‘Pickwick Papers’ games and the cool rich friend next door. I imagined them all to be naturally beautiful and kind. Their flaws added to their beauty, even if I thought it was a bit rich to make Meg feel guilty over a dress, some champagne and flirting at a party.

Coquettish Meg is popular at the party but such vanity is not encouraged.

Jo’s temper was one I understood. Beth’s tragedy is tear inducing at the mere thought. I took years to forgive Amy for marrying Laurie and thought men must be very fickle. This book taught new lessons about sharing and fortunes but really my love for it was down to how I empathise with Jo. My sister told me once she always imagined me as this character when we were growing up and this was a high compliment! I reread this novel repeatedly at all stages of my life and still learned new things,  discovering more about transcendental attitudes, Walt Whitman and what Jo’s philosophy was. ‘Good Wives’ and ‘Jo’s Boys’ became much read and loved  novels on my shelf too, but it is the first classic that I smile upon every time I see the cover.

Who knows or remembers this?

5. ‘Zany Tales’ by Patrick Ingoldsby

One Christmas in Ireland, this book was showcased on the Irish stalwart that is ‘The Late Late Toy Show’. I am thinking 1987. This TV show airs live on a Friday night in early December and takes over a weekly talkshow replacing it with children reviewing the year’s toys and books available helping you think up what you might like Santa to bring. I know thousands of homes received a ‘Zany Tales’ that Christmas and rightly so. What a fantastic little book.

Pat had presented several kid’s  TV shows. Pat’s Pals and Pat’s Chat. They were loved. We were limited channel wise, calling our stations Bog One and Bog Two, so every child with a TV tuned in. Pat was a gentle, kindly man with long grey hair in a ponytail, a black ( felt I think) hat, waistcoat, bandana and I think badges. Badged waistcoats were very eighties! His physical image has a long lasting mark on my memory even if the shows are little more in my head than pastel colours and children in culottes and oversized t-shirts. One thing I clearly remember is that my Dublin cousin got to be a guest on the show once and I was green with envy. It made me feel very much lower in class, (living outside the Pale as we say) one of the country folk who never stood a chance of that sort of dream. What made it worse is that she was sick that day and didn’t even enjoy it. I can remember watching all the children crowd around Pat and my cousin slinking around the back avoiding the main events. It seemed cruelly unfair!

Pat’s eighties show. Not the one my jammy cousin attended!
Pat himself back in the day. A bit like a Dublin Willie Nelson.

So Pat wrote this incredibly funny book and I have a copy still on my shelf. I believe most of the country had one. Physically, the book was a bit like Pat himself, quirky and colourful, a bit out of kilter with the other books on the shelf.  It was an unusual size and wouldn’t stack neatly. A non conformist! Again, what I imagine Pat to be. Not to forget the illustrations! I often copied these in notebooks to colour.

Humorous and gifted, I learned that Pat sold his own books on the streets of Dublin often with witty signs over his head.  A quick Google search proved this.


Sarcasm and irony were part of my life from an early age.

One day I was in Grafton Street.  Hurtling down a busy side street,   I realised that I was passing a grey haired man, selling books. Ponytail: check.  Black hat: check. The crowd dragged me on. I had just missed my opportunity to talk with Pat Ingoldsby.

6.’Billy Bunter’ series by Frank Richards

My first one purchased at a market sale in the Isle of Man

These books are my Dad’s childhood world. His collection was lost when he married and moved and we have worked hard replacing them since. The gathering of these books and the Grey friars Annuals are a bonding experience we have had and I still look for them first when I am in an old or specialist book store. A treasure hunt ensued!

This collection started later in my life. I was about eleven years old when my Dad talked about them and I spotted one on holidays.  The rest of the trip was spent touring the towns on the island digging out these treasures and weren’t we particularly lucky at a store in Peel run by an old lady straight from one of the pages in the novels she sold.  We returned to this shop again on other trips and memories were made. Naturally technology and the Internet took the delight out of the lucky bag style search eventually but the bonds were formed between father and daughter, which I now appreciate.

Postal orders were a central image in the series as Bunter is constantly waiting for an elusive gift from home which he would proceed to spend on buns and cakes. I loved that Dad sent postal orders to these books from shops in the UK when Amazon was only being born in a rural hospital without epidural. Bunter himself was incredibly unlikeable yet the hero at all times. Golden boys and bullies, half -holidays and football games made up only the backdrop of this book’s life just as it did for Bunter. His search for food was as relentless as a jungle cat’s might be and I loved him. He told magnificent lies, ate in marvellous gluttony and was an outstanding coward. All things bad! I don’t know how these books appealed to an Irish tweenager in the early nineties and I definitely didn’t have friends with the same tastes to discuss them with but they were my favourites at this time. I still pick them up and laugh!

Gloriously frightening and completely different.

7. ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and six more’ by Roald Dahl

It is impossible to choose a Dahl number one favourite.  All I will say is ‘Matilda’ was the first book I truly loved. ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is the full reason I am always a little overweight. I read ‘Boy’ in salacious delight, terrified of canes, envious of chocolate tasting and in awe of the revenge mouse in a sweet jar trick. It is ‘Henry Sugar’ however where I first engaged with and felt the power of the short story. They were very adult in many ways and maybe they disturbed me at times. Yet I read and re-read and re-read them so many times the book has almost come apart.

Henry Sugar was a wonderful character. His dedication to the task! I remember the Indian guru training him in detail and his learning the most marvellous trick of seeing  through the impossible. Naturally he uses it in an immoral fashion and wins a fortune at the casino. What does he do? Fling it to the winds as you see from the cover, the most amazing image. Such a detailed story, Dahl’s passion on every page.

Calm and focus!

I loved the story of a farmer finding an invaluable treasure in his fields. I still feel the terror and trauma of reading about the destroying of a swan and how it shockingly predicted for us the horror a young man must go through as a result of bullying.  Dahl used real newspaper clippings and stories as inspirations that only added to the drama. ‘Based on real events’ always has a wonderful draw as a statement. Dahl is an influence of the young lives of many children from many generations. I salute him.

My first historical fiction novels.

8. ‘Wildflower Girl’ by Marita Conlon-Mckenna

A fictional account of children of the famine was documented so beautifully and chillingly in ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ that it was inevitable I would read more of this lady’s work. I was in primary school when I received this novel for my birthday and it was the popular book of choice at the time. It was also promoted by adults, teachers and parents meaning you were a good child for reading it, unlike if you were caught with your Sweet Valley High books or God forbid,  a Virginia Andrews. Don’t worry…I read all these too! These children must make their way, David Copperfield style, through a famine distressed country, encountering terrors and in fear for their own health. As they survive,  I was fascinated to read about     years later as she emigrates to America. Fragile and young, her story is terrifying and inspiring.  I loved the sleeve on the book as it seemed so important and grown up to have a hardback and dust jacket ! In fact the image was inspiration for my school exam project for art.

The stories were tough but manageable for a young reader. One scene stays with me where the main character,Peggy, loses a tooth and manages to repair it by steeping it in milk. Always seemed a bit dubious to me! A story of a thirteen year old who survived the famine now making her way alone in a foreign city was entrancing to my simple but charmed young existence.

Reach for the moon!

All of these novels influenced me whether they took my sleep, made me jealous, laugh or cry. I don’t know if reading about troubled lives made me feel anxiety. In fact I think I felt the opposite, comforted and safe in my home where the horrors couldn’t get me. The girls and boys in these books were quite different from the ones around me and I definitely had moments of living in a fantasy land and maybe not in the real world. Hurrying along my friends saying, ‘buck up’ like Darrell Rivers met with snorts of derision. What was I talking about? I wouldn’t have it any other way though! I am not like my peers. I never was. I reached for a different side of the moon free growing up and as Frost says, ‘that has made all the difference’.

There are many more wonderful childhood books I would love to tribute.  I will leave those for another day! Maybe some readers might share theirs?  Thank you!

Exploring Belgium

One small country with one enormous story. A history steeped in red, baring witness to war throughout the centuries. Somewhat frozen in medieval time, reminding the world of days that helped build our modern doorsteps. For the current world Belgium has brought us such cultural delights as the Belgian waffle, Belgian beer and my personal favorite Belgian chocolate. Capture

I am excited to announce that I will be adventuring to Belgium in May of this year. Belgium holds a personal connection of it’s own to my country and province, being a place where grandfathers have perished and battled not so long ago. I am hoping to enjoy a trip filled with history and deliciousness. Oh and maybe a few surprises along the way.

So in loo of my impending journey I am overjoyed to have had the chance to interview Yolaine from Jolijnslittleadventures. She has shared so much helpful information about her country with me, and it…

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Cupid shoots Poetry

Poetry and I are friends. In fact, poetry is a central part of my job. My passion for verse is bottomless. Thankfully!  I don’t believe myself actor enough to fake it. I teach teenage boys poetry. A LOT of poetry. Outsiders often comment. Not for all the money in the world, they say, could I do that. I have found however that if you love looking at mouseholes enough and have some oratory skill then you can definitely convince someone else to have a peek too!

My poor students are prisoners of poetry!

Poems are too depressing. I often hear this. I agree. The poetry we force our children to study often is. So today, as a Valentine’s gift to poetry, I handpicked a few poets and their works that my classes engaged with and are linked by a central theme of love. My interest in these particular poems is how their subjects appear versus their topics in reality. Famous for, renowned for, or presumably about love are how they outwardly seem. In reality,  however, other themes pervade that make me question how much these poems deserve to be filed in the ‘Romance’ section. Really, these poems made excellent classroom discussion making my day feel worthwhile.


‘On Raglan Road’ by Patrick Kavanagh.5ef2328e89bbf2551714809a0aa8600b.jpg

‘On Raglan Road’ is one of Ireland’s great poems. Set to music,as ‘The Dawning of the Day’ it can often be heard as a plaintive ballad, sung without accompaniments and to a crowd where a pin could drop with a mighty crash. Easy to teach as most pupils will have heard  the tune and I find that boys like to hum along to Irish ballads learning the words as they go. A truly great love song from Kavanagh to his beloved? So it seems. On closer inspection however,  my class and I thought not!

On first impressions, the poem appears a devotion to love. Beautiful autumnal day, her wonderful dark hair and the alliterative and real Raglan Road itself all magically combine to the romance. He personifies the dark locks as ‘a snare’ that he might ‘one day rue’. We probably should see the threat peeping out here to true love. Kavanagh tells us himself! Yet the ‘danger’ is cancelled out through the imagery of the ‘enchanted way’, a metaphorical love road that he travels. He ignores the grief he believes that may befall him. At this point, Kavanagh appears very much the lovestruck young man, a puppy dog at her feet. She is all powerful. I feel I  wrongly imagine a magnificent, yet somewhat icy woman. Then I must remind myself. We only have Kavanagh’s image and words, one sided to say the least. I think I must give the lady a chance before she is mischarged, another Boleyn girl associated with witchcraft by an egotistical dominater! Harsh words? Read on the poem!!

‘A snare that I might one day rue’ Kavanagh

Kavanagh imagines himself dating her as such and how it is like walking a cliff edge. It is a ‘ravine’ where he may plummet at any minute. He is making no headway with her, ‘I not making hay’ mourns . I wonder if this girl is not wishing Kavanagh might just leave her alone? Is it possible he is being blinded to her indifference? It does not seem that they are dating at all. We think that she has the made the mistake of being nice to him and he is now imagining more than is real. Can this happen? Both male and female students have thought yes, it most certainly can!

Is Kavanagh arrogant to push his chances with a girl that may have no interest in him romantically? Look at the third quatrain. A distinctly self- pitying Kavanagh tells us of the ‘gifts of the mind’ and ‘poems to say with her own name’ he lavished upon her. This is fine and nice of him! He feels his written work is a wonderful gift of talent that she may not be appreciating. However,we see bitterness appear in the final stanza as he appears to refer to himself as as ‘angel’ wooing a creature of the earth, a mere mortal, ungifted perhaps as he might be, and who may have put him in danger of losing his ‘wings’ as realisation dawns that she doesn’t love him. Arrogant Kavanagh! My students have asked me was Kavanagh in fact gone so far to as to stalk this girl? A modern teenager’s outlook on love. If he had Facebook would he have hounded her? As it stands, he only seemed to meet her by chance on the streets of Dublin, as life was before social media, and as she was ‘walking now away from me so hurriedly’ this surely was a sign that she was disinterested. She may as well have pressed ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow’!

She’s just not that into me

Is it a love poem? We aren’t sure if love is here.Obsession maybe. My class don’t feel it deserves to be seen as a true love poem as it gives creedance to obsessional behaviour! I cannot help but love this poem however. Kavanagh most certainly writes beautifully. I will always stop talking and fall into the silence of a hushed crowd when someone chooses to gift us with singing this beautiful piece. It is just a niggle that I have actually listened to the words and know all is not well with love in this case!


‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Duffy isn’t wasting any money

It is the title that made my students confused here. They expected flowers and chocolates, promises and favours. What was the onion all about? The boys really didn’t see what Duffy was getting at. Was she serious? Would she really give her lover a symbolic vegetable? Or was it only words? They reckoned their girlfriends would not be impressed by such a pungent gift. They definitely decided they wouldn’t like to receive it. This excludes one well meaning chap who thought it would be fine if you were starving hungry! Interestingly,   I found that teenage girls loved this poem. The ongoing metaphor worked so simply for them. One girl raved about this being her favourite poem. It made me wonder. Would these girls have appreciated this gift or indeed given it themselves?

Strange looking flower…

Why I chose this poem is because of the underlying sinister element that I often find with Duffy. Her poems fascinate me and I return to them for class discussions as practice work even if they are off exams that year. From the outset, we are tricked by Duffy. The title plays a mind games with us as we imagine the connotations associated with Valentine’s day. However she then uses adjectives and verbs such as ‘fierce’, ‘possessive’, ‘lethal’ and ‘cling’, assaulting us with a love that is vicious or violent in imagery. We are left with an image that should be the antithesis of a Valentine: a knife. Yes, she is just chopping the onion. Do we feel safe? No. Is this the stereotype of love we expected? No. Love as a strong scented, cloying nasty stench  that will not leave you hardly inspires you to desire a relationship. Has Duffy written a love poem? We argued that she had. Do we want irony for Valentine’s day? Overwhelmingly, the answer was no.

Next time try roses!

Sonnet 130  by William Shakespeare

Thanks William. ..I think

Shakespeare and love are almost synonymous.  The original rom-com writer, I believe the Jennifer Anistons and Hugh Grants of this world should be on their knees in gratitude to this writer as they make their millions with his perfected formula: single people, meet cute, terrible mix up, resolution, kisses and weddings. Can you think of a single successful rom -com that doesn’t match this formulaic style, from ‘Much AdoAbout Nothing’ to ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’? We love it.

I speak the truth good Sir!

How is it then that my favourite love poem and the one my students cannot get enough of is ‘Sonnet 130’? It is here that Shakespeare falls away from expectations. It should be a love poem. Yet it does not match criteria! Where are the comparisons to a summer’s day? In fact, her eyes are ‘nothing like the sun’. He directly attacks age old and clichéd similes by giving a more ‘real’ impression of his mistress. My boys are horrified. Does she smell Miss? What’s wrong with her hair?  How come she walks heavily? They all have a chuckle when breasts are mentioned, as boys do, and I go on to explain how a suntan symbolised your lack of wealth and necessity to work in Elizabethan  and Jacobean times. They laugh and talk about the ‘orange effect’ that tanning has now and how obsessed girls and guys are with it. Slowly our  Taylor Swifts and Kristen Stewarts revert this style once again as their breasts are not ‘dun’ and then it is time to move on from the breast talk!

young-girl-531252__340.jpgIs it a love poem? Most definitely so. Unlike Duffy, Shakespeare saves it in the end by calling his love ‘rare’. We cannot help but feel though he is saying despite your normalities,  your flaws, your imperfections I cannot help but love you. Do lovers want you be told this? Probably not. Do they therefore want fibs and exaggerations? My class reckoned yes. So, my ass probably does look big in this…at least I hope the mistress didn’t  ask baldly candid William Shakespeare the day he wrote this sonnet as he had definitely drank truth serum. She would probably clip him across the ear to hear the answer.

A most impractical cup. Duffy would surely agree!

A triad of love poems that are in fact not that loving! I still love each one as a work of art.

Glorious Food Memories: Bruges, A city of Biscuits

Bruges by Night

My last blogs have been on the topic of being a Mother and my times at home, both wonderful and gritty, tough yet tremendous. I feel I want to develop further from this theme, if just for a while so I can really immerse in the happiness exercise. Therefore, I choose to fantasise about food moments gone by!  Myself and Mr Paper spend many an hour happily immersed in the nostalgia created from a conversation opener such as ,’ Do you remember when we ate at…(fill in fabulous eating experience here!)’. We indulge in memories of foodie feasts from our pasts and on our times travelling.  We promise we will bring the girls on adventures in the future to revisit these manna havens. We try to eat out at the many beautiful places in our country, but with such young children it is not always comfortable and also unfair on them when the local cafe is much more suited to youngsters. The good old sausage sandwich is an excellent long standing friend but we must add variety! So today, I am furnishing a list of some of our more marvellous mealtimes. We hope to bring you to some of these places,Gigi and Betsy, when you will enjoy them! Here is to creating a little bit of food envy to those who may read. I will publish each one in turn, so as to really give proper credit to each food memory. Today I will focus on Bruges, Belgium.

1. Bruges.

Cute biscuit tins…the Bruges after party

Belgium was the destination for our ‘Mini-Moon’, a short break taken directly after our wedding that would act as starter to the main event later that year. Travelling has always been a passion. We felt our marriage should be marked by journeys!

Bruges was selected as it was not a far flight, appeared deliciously olde world from images we perused, and not overly large. Relaxation was key to this holiday. Many a trip has been spent ‘walking the legs off ourselves’ trying to take in every aspect of a large city such as Rome or Barcelona, but not this time. We also have watched ‘In Bruges’on many occasions, as I am a fan of theatre and Martin McDonagh, and this went someway towards the choice we made. Not the most romantic movie I will grant you!

Whatever my expectations of Bruges, my first sensory impressions were knockout. Stumbling from a taxi after a red eye flight, two days after three day wedding celebrations and in dire need of rest, we were overwhelmed by the aroma of baking biscuits. This was not a once off smell. In fact, Bruges smells largely of chocolate and biscuits at all times and this makes it akin to a land in Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree series. Energised by the waft of sugary happiness, we indulged immediately and before rest. Waffles, cream, strawberries and chocolate. The reason we have faith in a higher being.

Heaven on a plate

Our food adventure didn’t end there. It was only gloriously, magically beginning!

If you have ever lost a significant amount of weight, you may understand what I am about to say. In Bruges, I was packed with a whole new wardrobe for a smaller, indeed healthier me, created for a wedding day. Oh the joy of dressing up, eating marvellous gastronomic delights, feeling a tad bloated but being able to genuinely ‘walk it off’ with a stroll around those fantastical streets…what a memory. On Sunday in Bruges, music is also piped through the streets acting like your own personal classical soundtrack. That nasty weight returned with baby one and two, but I will get there again. I just want to revel in the memory of dresses fitting me and feeling no guilt when dipping that last strawberry into a puddle of chocolatey joy!

Bruges is crammed with bijou biscuit stores, piled high with freshly made nibbles of all kinds. To add to this, the lover of cutesy knick knacks will be in raptures here as the choice is not just what biscuit to choose, but what precious keepsake tin to buy.

Irresistible dust collectors

Chocolate needs more discussion…as always. Belcolade is the brand of magic molten excellence that Bruges calls chocolate sauce.

Chocolate Brand-Belcolade_tcm373-94174.jpg
It deserves the plug

There are many museums, tiny ones, in Bruges on all types of subjects, yet many are missable and indeed forgettable. This does not include the Chocolate Museum! Aromas lead you from room to room with historical facts, exhibitions of implements for making chocolate and a really fantastic display of chocolate work models.  What really makes this marvellous? The choclatier at work making these delights, and the gift of a piece to eat yourself. This one piece is undoubtedly the most lovely sweet I have eaten…still warm on the inside!

My gran aunt once told me these were snails!

These clever men and women then lead you into my favourite room in this museum-the giftshop.  I piled high. Bags of Belcolade buttons come home with me and for weeks our evening treat included melted chocolate and a fruit platter of pineapple chunks, strawberries and grapes for dipping. Heaven! Not desperately unhealthy either! Weeks after our return from Bruges passed before I returned to the old favourites, the Cadbury bar and the Bourbon biscuit. My palate had been retrained in Belgium, albeit for a short time.

Clearly good for you
Chocolate Everything!
The beautiful magic palace that holds Bruges’ chocolate museum

Bruges does not just hand you dessert. Far from it! We had many beautiful lunches and evening meals.  Stews feature heavily, often with game. My husband preferred the beef meals. Moules frites are of course everywhere to be found and the square boasts many food trucks selling their favourite hot snack, essentially fries with a mayonnaise dip. Mayonnaise and I are not friends, so my husband was in heaven with his extra dip. Hot chips clasped in gloved hands beside an ice rink in a fairytale city was enough for me!


Beers are a central part of Bruges’ gastronomic offerings and we ‘tasted and tested’ as Patrick Kavanagh once said, choosing the more lighter lagers as our favourites over the darker or fruitier ales. Quirky names and bottles made the beer experience even more enjoyable. Wine was always an excellent option in a variety of prices and vintages. Excellent accompaniments with our meals. Or for an evening tipple.

Bruges is a food town that makes you cherish and savour and stops you eating for the sake of gluttony on holiday. As it was our Mini Moon, we went in style, staying in an exceptional hotel (it featured in the movie!)and were pampered with champagne and celebratory giant cookies as we resided through New Year’s Eve. I don’t think we would be able to repeat the expense we lavished on Bruges, but we would definitely not lose the experience if we went again as the city is so wonderful.  People were friendly and helpful. This is a food blog post, but I cannot leave out mentioning the historical tour we took of Ypres and Tyne Cot alongside many other sites of battle and tragedy. As an English teacher, I am drawn to the poetic reminders.

A paradoxically horrifying yet beautiful read

Belgium suffered through location and it is heart-rending to see but very important not to forget what happened before in this lovely place. Visiting the Beguinage, wandering the beautiful streets and feeling as an extra might have felt in Audrey Hepburn’s ‘The Nun’s Story’ is powerful to experience.

The lovely Audrey

I once saw Belgium as a victim of war, but now I will forever  associate Bruges with the aroma of delicate vanilla and spun sugar whilst remembering the strength in its people. Belgium will always stand out to me as a wonderful nation. Honestly too, a little part of me will alsi see Bruges as a wandering fairytale land from Blyton too! It will be a privilege to bring the little Papers to this town of sweets, biscuits, history, lace, faith and beauty.

From goblin inspired beer…
To delicate lace mementoes

Next on my list of food memories to share include the following. Stay reading to really engage with the green eyed monster of food envy!

2.  Dublin

3. Granville Island, Vancouver market

4. Alaska

5.Montana. Sweet Pea Festival, Bozeman

6.Gordon’s Wine Bar, London

7.San Gimigano and other towns, Italy

8. Argentina



The Magic Stolen Hour in the Eye of the Storm

Storm after storm has battled our coastlines. Rain, wind and hail repeatedly threaten the passivity of our outdoor lives. Last night, we felt  the wrath of storm Imogen. This morning,there are broken flowerpots and ceramic animals laying about the front lawn, but myself and the girls are nestled gently in the eye of the storm. Peace has descended. Calm has arrived!


Both little ladies have been sick. Today is the first day in two weeks, I can honestly say the little Papers are healthy and well. The storms have raged, yet they too have passed! King Lear can finally sleep. Relief and normality are sipping tea and nibbling Hobnobs at my kitchen table. They can visit anytime!


The eye of the Storm is a wonderful phenomenon that I learned about as a child  through watching ‘The Wizard of Oz’. I think we shall have many more gales to weather but this morning, we are looking at that iris and pupil with smiles.

Both little girls took extra sleeps this morning. Their calm little faces, free of the torment of what they had suffered are works of art to rival any of that in any national gallery. When I stopped staring, I used that magic stolen hour wisely and happily.


My dogs were cuddled and released to run outdoors. The laundry pile is finally diminishing, as if Alice in Wonderland visited and left behind her ‘Drink Me’ bottle in the dark night.girl-29409__340

The last pile…for awhile!

Breakfast was eaten and digested guilt-free and at a regular pace.

Loving that!

All toys sit patiently awaiting their little leaders to wake with commands. Wind occasionally rattles in my chimney. The makings  of beef stew are poised for cooking. Baby Betsy casually mooches awake. She is cooing.I see Gigi in her cot ‘reading’ her books. My girls are well again. Bring on the storms! We will stay happily indoors. All is well in the Paper household.




Muddy Puddle Mornings

I loved the consistency of my morning! Radio shows, table settings,rashers and sausages at the weekend, yoghurt and cereal through the week. Mr Paper would finish cow milking at ten on the weekends and we would eat and plan the day. Mid week, I drove to work, hit the staffroom at eight thirty, coffee, yoghurt, a chat, a giggle. All quite gentle activity! Becoming a Mam of one meant some alterations to this solid morning structure. The staffroom chat was a little shorter. The breakfast at home may be eaten with a little one on the knee. A feeding took place before a shower. Dressing whilst cooing at the cherub in the crib.Achievable? Yes!Having another baby? Making morning a whole new ballgame.

This isn’t my actual baby. Precious though!

Little Betsy is amazing. The new madness is nothing to do with her. I am being an honest Mammy here! Chance only makes her the second little Paper. She would happily coo as I dress. This is now added to with an interactive almost two year old chanting (albeit adorably) ‘brush teeth Mammy’!’ ‘ go now Mammy!’. ‘Bye bye!’. Really, I am thinking bye bye shower. Bye bye carefully chosen outfit! Add bye bye lazily savoured breakfast! Relaxed mornings are officially on hiatus!

Who has time for a saucer?!

Mornings have now become the most unpredictable part of the day. Since the new baby arrived, waiting for our standard routine to start the day to even itself out is like waiting for Godot.  It has been tricky to say the least. These little girls seem to have a gene like that of twins.  If one is awake, although she is quiet, the other will begin to mooch,  cough or even wake despite being in another room! I see all on the monitor and am amazed by this.  Originally I thought it must be coincidence.  It happens too often however.  It makes me realise! I may have something akin to twins here.

I think I almost qualify for the official  title of ‘Mammy of Irish twins’ as our girls were born within eighteen months of each other. Really, Irish twins need to be born within the year, but I will defend my title regardless! These little women are so in tune with each other. I can hardly believe it.

We had our routine with little Gigi to a fine art.  Our house is two storey, with a winding stair. Beautiful when originally designed but hard on the feet when carrying a taller than average little lass down the stairs  (who is a late walker)and when you are heavily pregnant.


Nonetheless, it worked! Gigi would eat breakfast and depending on the day we we would drive to crèche or depending on the morning have a buggy stroll. If it were raining, as often here, a little drive to one of our Nanas’ homes would happen. No cartoons required and Gigi didn’t know or care about the all consuming telly-box in the corner. The little blessing that is Betsy arrived approximately two months after Gigi became a confident walker…just in time! Betsy brings so much joy and so many changes. Naturally my worries were that Gigi would handle the changes badly or that I would not be able give her the same close attention. Morning time has handed me the heaviest challenges but we are getting there!


Betsy sleeps in a crib in our room. Gigi has a larger cot in her own room. They both sleep well. I found dealing with it in the first few months easier than now for some mad reason. That reason is probably fatigue! I expected night feedings. I was fine with midnight nappies. All was ok. Betsy then gave us the gift of sleeping through the night. Suddenly, my body feels it is fully entitled to a night’s rest and oh my God I cannot BELIEVE I must get up and feed my little doll if she needs an erratic midnight feast! This is tongue in cheek. I am mocking myself as you might guess. However, morning comes and with it, great uncertainty. There is no surety that food will be eaten. Toilets visited. Showers had! Hair kept on head!

Sometimes I look for the big red button that isn’t there

Cartoons are now my new best friend. When Mr Paper is busy, and it is just us three in the morning, sit down breakfast has become up and down breakfast. This we can handle. Just about! Add illness to the mix? Now you are bringing trouble. Gigi has had several bad bugs recently. If Peppa Pig wasn’t around, I cannot imagine how we would have gotten through. Myself and my other Mother friends joke (but then nod seriously) that sleep, Calpol and Peppa Pig is the cure for all ailments. TV guilt now lives in my house! Peppa has allowed me coffee. Toast. Even a toilet break. I thank that little pig! Mornings may have changed around here, but adding the muddy puddles make them a tad easier.


I have not returned to work yet. I don’t know how the morning will work then. I feel trepidation and fear! I do know one thing. We managed every thing else. We can surely manage this. One morning, in probably the near future, all the Papers will be sitting to a casual breakfast. I will remember the madness that has gone before. Possibly fondly! A tear will come to the eye. The girls might roll their own navy blue eyes as I patter on about the baby years. As the emotions of struggle fades, I am sure that, besides the tough times that come with it, I will become nostalgic for muddy puddle mornings x