Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lemon-frosted doors

It's the most refreshing thing in the world to gallop away from the city when all you want is to run like a pack of wolves in the wilderness. My dear friends Fink and Alice and I had one such giant hooley just as January was giving up the ghost and coming to a close.

The whipping wind dance

We raced down to The Burren in County Clare for some of the most beautiful holidaying I've had in a long time. We drove like lunatics, cruising around corners to see pearly moss mountains open up before us, up so high that we landed right in the hearts of clouds, ears popping, cows lowing, gasping at trees knotted and twisted by the same cranky old prevailing wind.

Burren hound

We drove on. Lines of laundry billowing and snapping in the Atlantic winds were propped even higher with yard sticks. "Must be great drying out", we said. Daft pillar posts raced past, thrilled dogs barked at the heels of our car and then the great hillock of a lovely old badger loomed up by the side of the road, not a mark on him, soft and plump and still. Although protesting from the back seat meant we couldn't add him as a fourth passenger.

Poor badger

Maps were spreadeagled around the car and when not even they could help us we nipped into friendly looking houses and pubs to gobble up local knowledge about secret high roads and by roads. On one such occasion, we hesitated about darkening the doors of a pretty rough looking pub but the thoughts of driving around til midnight trying to hit upon the elusive Doonbeg propelled us through the lemon-frosted door.


There were giants of old men inside. Huge farming men leaning at a great tilt to the counter, slouching on bar stools and generally having a cosy evening. They turned out to be very friendly and enormously helpful and while Fiona, our savvy navigator, memorised directions about roads that ran parallel to G.A.A. pitches and through fairy forts, Alice and I marvelled at an absolutely ENORMOUS jigsaw over the fireplace of a ship caught in a storm.

Lenten Jigsaw 2007

I asked one of the men at the bar about the jigsaw and he told us that during one particularly ferocious Lent, where all the men had given up drink, they would gather together in the evenings and make the jigsaw in the pub. Then when the great monstrosity was finished they got it specially framed and hung it with pride of place over the fire.

This drawing is about when Lenten jigsaw camaraderie turns stern and violent.

Each piece of the jigsaw being played out like a poker game.

skull tassles

I'll admit I went a bit bananas doing this drawing. I got stuck on patterns that day. I couldn't help myself. First the jigsaw patterns, then his daft cardigan and if you weren't feeling seasick enough...wallpaper patterns. Sorry chaps.

Lent 2005

Lent 2008

Lent 2003

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I want to tell you about a remarkable act of kindness. My friends and family have hot ears from hearing the tale told with my cheeks peach and flushed, my midlands throat trying its best to rise to a pitch that would convey the wonder of the story. To them, I send an apology and an appeal to let me tell it again. (Though let's be honest, not for the last time. Give me half a pint and any chat about cards and you'll hear it again.)

The story came up again after a visit to my aunt's house yesterday. My cousin Elaine spotted my "I love Bridge" sticker on the dash of my car (yes, on the inside. I love the sticker so much that for fear it would be stolen, I stuck it on the inside.) And so we got talking about my foray into the world of bridge.

Stumbled upon in Copenhagen by the good soul Fiona Hallinan
in a shop purely devoted to all things bridge!

In the dying days of last summer I met with my friend Michelle in a beautiful old park in Dublin to learn how to play bridge. Michelle went to an all girls school where they were taught how to play bridge in first year and then played it throughout their time at school. On Valentine's Day the boys from the boys school would come over for a bridge tournament and before the big bridge rumble the girls would go around and offer them heart shaped chocolates on little plates! Anyway, I digress. Michelle taught me the bare bones of bridge on that gloriously sunny day in the park and so we became bridge partners.

If only we could all find the time to lay aside
our guns and play cards

On my way home on the very busy train I found myself sitting beside an elderly gentleman. I'd just got off the phone to my sister, wheezing laughing at the lovely old etiquette and archaic rules of bridge, when I happened to glance at the notes he was reading. Written at the top was 'Introduction to Bridge' followed by a hundred and one different bits of Morse code to let your partner know you've got a terrible hand, are panicking and need help.

I struck up conversation and we talked bridge the whole train journey home! We poured through his notes and talked about how he would catch up on his wife, an avid bridge player, in no time at all. I told him all about my day. And when I complimented his notes, he hesitated out of politeness, and then offered to post them to me. I wrote out my address, we shook hands and exchanged names. He folded that piece of paper into the most sublime set of rectangles and then carefully put it in his pocket. We shook hands again and I stood for a brief moment waving on the platform.

Every morning I expected to see a letter but nothing came. I'd resigned myself to my address having been lost, the rectangles too small, the wind too strong or the will too faltering. Until....about a month later a package arrived in the post! I'd long forgotten the promise of post from the man on the train. Puzzled, I opened the package and out tumbled a beginner's bridge book and inside, the most beautifully written letter!

It was coming up to Christmas time so I made him this Christmas jumper card and sent it back to him. No word since. For a little while I thought we were going to be pen pals. Eventually sending each other bridge conundrums, musings on the weather and funny articles cut out from the newspaper. That would have been lovely...though with the way the price of stamps are soaring, it would have worked out to be quite a pricey friendship. I joke. I joke. The exchange was lovely. Unexpected flourishes of kindness. There's no beating them!