Thank you 195 – 50 years

So I had this dream last night where I was going somewhere. To attend something. I’ve forgotten exactly what or where – although I think it might have been a church service.

Anyway there were steps. Up. Wooden ones with a narrow tread and a steep riser. Very narrow and very steep. More like a ladder and certainly steps that would fail any safety inspection. But there they were.

I managed the first couple and then no more. It was just too big a climb. Too far to go and perhaps too far to fall.

A man was stood at the bottom, in a tiled hallway of sorts looking up at me. I think he was encouraging me, telling me it would be okay, be worth it in the end. I didn’t believe him.

No prizes for guessing what was going on in my subconscious as the clock ticked from the 10th to the 11th. And there was me thinking I wasn’t bothered at all by this creeping age thing. I’m only a day older today than I was yesterday and I’m younger today than I will ever be again. And the alternative to not getting older doesn’t really bear thinking about. And who wants “died in her 40’s” on their headstone anyway. I told myself all those things in the last wee while and I believed them, mostly.

A very good friend of mine told me yesterday that in her head she is 27 and in her knees she is 500. My numbers are slightly different. Perhaps 23 and 45. There are other parts of me that are closer to 800 but you wouldn’t want to read about that.

It seems somewhat appropriate on this cloudy, windy Sorrento morning to reflect a little. On what has been and gone and what is yet to be. Things done and undone. Things that might still be done if at some point in the future I get my arse into gear and do them.

So here it is – a reflection.

Houses lived in – more than 20.

Homes lived in – 5

Countries visited – more than 20

Countries lived in – 5

Languages learned – 5

Languages forgotten – 4

Heart broken – 5

Heart fixed – 4

Parents lost – 1

Parents loved 2

Siblings – 4

Cousins – 9

Nieces and nephews – 7

Marriages – none

Weddings attended – innumerable

Funerals attended – also innumerable

Awards won – 3

TV appearances – 4

Godchildren – 2

Books read – thousands

Books unfinished – 3

Books written – 0

Stories written – lots

Blogs written – almost 195

Hospitalisations – 2

Broken bones – 0

Gastroscopies – 3

Cigarettes smoked – too many

Champagne drunk – not enough

Lessons learned – some

Lessons yet to learn – lots

Friends – many

Close friends – enough

New friends – anticipated

Resolutions – broken

Years – 50

Knees – pretty good considering.

So there it is. There it was. In a flash of an eye. 50 years!

Thanks, 50 years!

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Thank you 194 – Frank & Nora

So we are sitting here. The lights are twinkling on the tree. Fairytale of New York is in the background. Kai is having a red wine. I’m thinking about joining him. It’s the 23rd of December 2017 and somewhere in the last ten or so minutes we have decided it must be Christmas.

It’s filled with memories, this Christmas lark. And this morning I thought that I hadn’t done one of these memory pieces for a while. And maybe it was time. In these days, filled with memories. But what to write? Inspiration would come over the season I reasoned as I was sorting whites from coloureds to get a wash on. The housework doesn’t stop just because it’s Christmas. There was a pair of jeans in the mix. I’ve learned to always check the pockets. So I did. And I pulled out a feminine hygiene product. Unopened, safely wrapped in plastic. And I looked at it. For a moment I thought it probably would have been safe enough, wrapped in its plastic. But we have recently had to replace the vacuum cleaner and the fridge has developed the dreaded “fridge owned by a Haughey” door disease (and we all know how that ends when you have to order a fridge online at one in the morning). So I was glad I had found it. Replacing another appliance hasn’t been budgeted for. So I pocketed it. And as I did. I remembered.

Frank Ryan’s Bar. Queen Street, Dublin. Late 1990’s. Probably a Saturday night.

You’d head out early enough to get the right seat. Along the banquette about four tables in. Just before the gap to the back room where they played raucous pool. Just before the place filled up.

There’d always be a buzz in the place those weekend nights. It was before the madness of the Celtic Tiger but people had a little money in their pockets and Saturday night was made for drinking. And talking. With the regulars. And the odd stranger who’d ramble in. You didn’t get too many strangers on Queen Street in the late 90’s. They were only starting to develop Smithfield back then. It was still mostly locals and blow ins like me and Kai who’d blown in there briefly and made it our own.

At about ten o’clock the door would open. And in he’d come. A little fella. Always in a suit. With a tank-top over his shirt and under his jacket. A shiny face like his mother had scrubbed it to an inch of its life. And a flat cap. He said he’d been a printer but he looked like he’d been a jockey. And sometimes in the right light, he looked like he still was.

He’d shuffle through the crowd, stopping to say hello to one person, nodding at another. The people at the third table in the banquette would move,  if they were locals. If they were strangers they’d be asked to move. And he’d pop himself down with a smile and wait for his glass of Guinness to be delivered. With a smile.

People would stop and chat to him. As he’d sit there sipping his drink and keeping an eye on the door. If it was warm he might take the suit jacket off. But he usually left it on.

The door would open again about ten minutes later. And in she’d come. A little lady. Always in a skirt with a blouse and a matching cardigan. Or a jacket. On the cooler nights. Lipstick glistening.

She’d shuffle through the crowd, stopping to say hello to one person, nodding at another. Any stragglers at the third table would shuffle along. And she’d pop herself down with a smile beside her husband of fifty odd years and sip at her glass of gin that had already been delivered. With a smile.

We got to know them slowly over those weekend nights. Frank and Nora. Born and raised on Manor Street, where they still lived. Married for more years than they cared to remember and family all grown up and gone. The regulars in Frank Ryan’s were their family now.

This Saturday night we sat next to them. We talked amongst ourselves and we talked to them. About something and nothing. Like we did most Saturday nights.

The bar in Frank Ryan’s is narrow. There is the banquette and the tables. A stool or two on the other side of the tables and probably only two feet to the bar stools. It’d get busy by 11. When the latecomers would come in for the last pint or two. It was busy that evening. And a girl at the bar made a move to go to the toilet. She had to engage her core to get through the crowd and in so doing, she swung her bag and the entire contents went everywhere. She apologised, picked them up and made her way down the back, past the raucous pool players.

Whilst she was absent, kind-hearted Frank was making his way back from the bar. He stooped down and picked up something. Some of the detritus from the bag. He sat himself down and showed it to Nora. “That came out of Deirdre’s bag,” he said. “I’ll give it to her when she gets back. I think it’s some type of a lipstick,” he said as he stuck it in his suit pocket. It wasn’t some type of a lipstick.

I sat there and listened to them discuss it. I looked around at the crowded bar. At the 20-something year old men either side of Deirdre’s seat. I imagined Frank getting up and handing her her lipstick. Loudly. I didn’t know her but I knew she didn’t need the howls of laughter that would greet her. And neither did Frank.

So I turned to Nora. And I said. “Nora, that isn’t a lipstick.” “What is it?” says she. I didn’t know where to begin. So I began anyway.

“It’s a tampon.”

“What’s that?”

“Have you never seen the ads for them?”


“It’s for when you have your period.”

“Show me that thing, Frank.”

“What thing?”

“That thing of Deirdre’s you picked up.”

“The lipstick? I told you I’d give it to her.”

“Give it to me.”

She looked at it. She looked at me. I looked at her. We looked at it.

“What is it?”

I told her. I told her what it was and how it worked.

“Are you a nurse?”


She looked at me. She looked at it. And she laughed. Oh how she laughed. Frank had no idea why. Neither had Deirdre. But we both laughed. Together. A girl in her 30’s and a woman in her 80’s. Until there were tears. Then we laughed some more.

She put it in her bag. Said she’d give it to Deirdre later. I said she probably didn’t need to. That Deirdre would have plenty more. But she probably did give it back to her. On another Saturday. Because that was the type of woman she was.

When they left that night, she thanked me. For saving Frank. From himself. And then she muttered “lipstick”, shook her head and left laughing. They never arrived together her and Frank but they always left together.

I’d like to think they still wander into Frank Ryan’s on a Saturday night. That this Saturday night the door will open and in will walk Frank. And ten minutes later in will walk Nora. I know it is unlikely but I still like to think so. To picture them there at the third table, sipping their drinks, in their best clothes. And smiling.

Thanks, Frank and Nora.

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Thank you 193 – The 39 Steps

I meant to do this earlier and now the guys at Cues & News have got in ahead of me. Their version is infinitely better than mine but what can you do.

Back in the early days of September I found myself helping out at auditions for the fifth play of the year at Williamstown Little Theatre. I had just finished a four week stint in Sydney after a four week stint in Europe and had managed to costume the fourth play which was opening in the early days of September. I’ll do the auditions, I thought to myself. That’ll wrap up the theatrical year nicely, I thought to myself. If I can’t give my friend Barbara a couple of hours on a Sunday and a couple more on a Monday, then what kind of friend am I.

So we did the auditions. Lots of them. And we laughed. Lots of times. Loudly. I got home on the Sunday night and downloaded an e-book of the novel the play we were holding auditions for was based. And I read it. That Sunday night. When I should have been sleeping. All of it. To The End. It was all right. Not filled with humour. But okay.

By 7pm on the Monday, I was back at auditions. I thought I was tired. I had no idea what tired actually meant.

In our heads we had cast three-quarters of the play. We were still missing the hero. There were options, some really good options but we knew we hadn’t hit gold. Auditions were winding down, we were main-lining dark chocolate Maltesers and it was cold. Way too cold for September.

The last auditonee entered the room. He wasn’t auditioning for the hero but Barb, in her indomitable fashion, talked him into it. And we knew. We had him. We had the play cast.

Two short days later – and the night before The Seafarer was due to open, just when my theatrical work was done – my phone pinged. The depicted conversation ensued.


I didn’t faint. I should have. We had no idea how we were going to do it all. But we did it all. And then some. These are my takeaways from The 39 Steps.

  1. Printing and compiling 27 A1 (look it up) maps uses a lot of ink and magic tape.
  2. If you need the Scottish Moors hand painted on a stage curtain, Loraine Callow is your only woman.
  3. Period costumes have to be designed by Tony Tartaro.
  4. And Tony has to have a team of dedicated, enthusiastic, talented sewers.
  5. No idea is impossible.
  6. If you’re going to need a stage crew, call on The Nancey Boys.
  7. You don’t need a trick bow-tie when you’ve got Liam O’Kane.
  8. No idea is too silly.
  9. With the right team in place, you can achieve everything.
  10. There is no such thing as too much laughter.
  11. You will find paint in the most obscure parts of your body.
  12. Organise your space well and you can fit a bridge in it.
  13. And a train.
  14. If you need a BBC Received Pronuncioation Voiceover, Patrick Slee is your only man.
  15. Somebody nearby always has a trombone. You just have to ask.
  16. Cast well and all will be well.
  17. It is really easy to fold a map.
  18. Dion Sexton is a genius.
  19. Moving portraits are far more believable than moving statues.
  20. It’s the old jokes that get the most laughter.
  21. And the most groans.
  22. You can sleep in a box bed. Even when it is an actual box.
  23. Audience participation doesn’t have to be cruel.
  24. Get it right and you will be rewarded.
  25. But that is not why you do it.
  26. People who can play multiple characters are amazing.
  27. As is the person who has to play opposite them.
  28. Sometimes you need a nightly prop audit.
  29. And a room for wigs and props.
  30. The weather will not co-operate.
  31. But everything else will.
  32. Laughter is cheaper than therapy.
  33. You find yourself explaining how an older lady’s boobs go south.
  34. Then positioning them.
  35. If you sprinkle paint on the floor incorrectly, be prepared to remove it. Immediately.
  36. Wind (weather) and wind (coil) are easily confused.
  37. Excellent lighting and sound add so much to a production.
  38. You will always want to do front of house with Kerry Drumm.
  39. And you will always love to work with Barbara Hughes.

Roll on, Play one 2018 and

Thanks, The 39 Steps


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Thank you 192 – The Seafarers

These are some of my favourite moments.

That quiet time when the audience is settled in their seats, the show has begun and you can sit in the foyer. On closing night. Hearing the lines you know too well emanate from the stage. Lines that cut through you in their clarity, their brilliance, their humour. Lines delivered in accents that are almost familiar. Words that you don’t often hear in a September spring. Words more suited to when and where they are set. Words like Howth and Jaysus and Santy. Cold words for a cold place.

And you hear laughter. For even if the words are cold and the place is cold, there’s a humour to them that warms you. That makes you smile. A Dublin humour. Cut through with wit and bitterness and that rhythm of speech you find on,y in those few miles that circle the Liffey. And even if the stage accents may not be as bleedin perfect as they could be, they’ve found the rhythm and the humour. And the bitterness and the wit.

It’s almost interval. When the crowds will come out looking for wine and tea and sweets in a box. There was a run on the red this evening. Which was unexpected. Given that it was the first warm day in months. But they all wanted red wine. God knows what they’ll want at interval.

Then they’ll go back in for the second act and it will get quiet again. For another hour or so. Til it’s done. After all the rehearsals, all the costume fittings, all the prop gathering, all the set building, all the set dressing, all the line learning, all the dialogue training, all the performances. It’ll be done.

And we will gather the props to return them to their homes. Wash the costumes. Dismantle the set. And start again.

It’s been a blast this one. A motley crew of men coming together for a show. A brace of women to dress them and manage them into some sort of shape.

These are some of my favourite moments. These ones where it is almost done.

Thanks, the Seafarers.

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Thank you 191 – her

I blame Williamstown Little Theatre. Back in the mists of 2016 I said I wasn’t doing theatre stuff in 2017. Said I didn’t know what the year would hold so I couldn’t commit. Thought I’d maybe get serious about the future and get the hell out of dodge. Thought I’d maybe get serious about the writing lark and get this blog into some sort of publishable state. Or finish that bloody book. So no theatre.

Yet, here we are. Started the work on the 5th play of the year. Committed to some sort of involvement in the first two for 2018. Still no book. Still not much of a blog. Nothing since April. Not even a thought of it.

Except today. For if there is nothing else you do today, you remember.

There was a time when you remembered only what happened on this date at that time. There was a time when you remembered all the years that came before. There was a time when you imagined what happened in all the years before you. There were all those times.

And now there is only this time.

When you sit in a cab, on a plane, on a train, in a workshop, at a lunch, in a meeting, on another train, on another plane and in another cab. When nobody around you knows that this day has a resonance only you and yours understand. When you go through the motions and laugh at the jokes and roll your eyes to heaven at the blue sky thinking. Because that is what you do. Because that is what you learned. From your mother. Who took her last breath. On this date. Almost at this time.

You can’t say you’re exactly sad although you may be. You can’t say you’re exactly happy although you may be. You can’t say you’re grieving although you may be.

But you can say you’re grateful. For being lucky. For having had what a special person described as a “lovely Mammy”. Because she was lovely. And funny. And smart. And fair. And annoying. And beautiful. And cranky. And kind. And shockable. And afraid of heights. And a really bad singer. And a daughter, a sister, an aunt. A friend. A bridge player. A letter writer. A bloody good cook. A frenzied knitter. A lover of snooker and tennis. A fan of the team who was doing better. A stamp collector. An ironer. A wife. A prober. A wearer of embarrassing hats. A difficult person to argue with. A nurse. An actress.

And a mother. My mother.

So, on this day, on this date – fraught with memory and emotion – I am grateful. For her.

Thank you – Her.

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Thank you 190 – Tony

Well it’s been a while. There have been days when I’ve thought about another thank you. But it just seemed too hard. In a world as crazy as the one we currently find ourselves in, sometimes it is too hard to find the gratitude. Or the news is too interesting or there are dishes to be done or meetings to attend or visitors to entertain. And finding five minutes to write is a challenge.

But there are other days. More auspicious ones. Where you can only be grateful and remember. A feast of memories. And so it begins.

An Intermediate Certificate mock history paper. Eight sections. You completed three. C – Renaissance and Reformation. D – 19th century. F – Modern History. You didn’t do the other five sections. Unless you did. You recalled facts on history you’d never learned. And your error was shared with the class. To great hilarity. But you didn’t make the same mistake when it came to the real exam. And you dropped history immediately thereafter.

You made other choices after the Inter Cert. And the choices you made were polar opposites to some of your classmates so you ended up in a group of 26 who spent varying amounts of time together. So we shared only the non essentials. Like Civics and Religion. You knew yourself better and chose wisely. Art and Technical Drawing. I chose less wisely. History and Accounting. 

I don’t recall too many conversations in that old classroom on the rare occasions we were both there at the same time. It seems there were brief moments where I remember a quiet comment coming from a far corner. A comment that made me laugh. Made me notice. Something somewhere. A connection.

I do remember sitting on my parents’ kitchen counter trying to talk someone out of taking my parents’ car the night we over celebrated leaving school. 17 and 18 and 19 year olds in a parent free house too early in the morning. I don’t know if I ever told you that the keys were in the drawer under where I sat. That I knew they were there though I’d sworn they weren’t. I remember the start of tension brewing in that kitchen and, I don’t know how you did it, but you read the situation and diffused it. And I don’t remember ever thanking you.

I remember Joanne being born and a quiet conversation in the loudness of a Charlestown disco. I remember Aengus stretched out in a hospital bed and you in another one. Two future professional cyclists knocked out before they had a chance to shine.

I remember friendship growing between two families and nights out that still make me smile. Or cringe.

I remember a quarry. 

And being hungover at Mass. And Elaine Kilcoyne’s wedding. When we thought we were all grown up because one of us had gotten married.

I remember us seeing Tony Burke and Anne Ryan together for the first time.  In Toffs. That was the night of the quarry.

I remember more weddings. And nieces. Lots of nieces. 

I remember the week the Germans came to Tubbercurry. And sitting round the table in the back of Nathys on the Thursday night of music week with Maureen and Clare Duffy and the Germans and you arrived in with a Donegal woman. She was quiet. But I remember liking her.

I remember another wedding. In Moville. And the piss being taken out of most people. And the news breaking about the imminent arrival of another niece. 

I remember walking down The Rocks in Sydney and hearing a laugh that makes you feel good emanate through an open window in a nearby pub and turning to Kai and saying “he’s in there.” And Kai didn’t know how I knew. Not then he didn’t. He would now.

I remember nights in Germany.

 I remember years of story telling.  And jokes half told. Where the punchline gets lost in gales of laughter. 

I remember nights in Donegal. Four of us squeezed into one hotel room. And nobody sleeping. Just laughter and more story telling.

I remember sadness being eased by your presence. And joy being accentuated by it.

I remember 30 year reunions and the questioning looks of some who didn’t know we’d found each other just as our schooling ended and our lives began.

I remember most of it. But especially the quarry.

Thanks for being my friend and happy, happy birthday, Tony

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Thank you 189 – Ríonach

It was cold in that hallway. Always cold.

You’d stand there with a coat or two on. And a scarf. Your gloved fingers fumbling with coins and A buttons or B buttons. You didn’t make many calls. You didn’t receive many either. You were easier to find in The Palace Bar where your mother could leave a message and John or Liam or David would tell you to call your mum or your mother or your Ma when you’d invariably drop in.

But you got one call in that hallway that you still remember. One you were expecting. One you’d hung around that hallway waiting for. And when it came on the 19th December 1995 you didn’t care that it was a cool, wet miserable day with an easterly wind and no sunshine recorded. Anywhere. On the entire island. Except maybe in that cold hallway. When the news came that a child had been born.

It was cold that December in New York. Always cold.

You’d need two or three coats. And a scarf. And a hat or two. Your gloved fingers fumbling with coins but no A buttons or B buttons. You didn’t make many calls that trip. You’d emailed lots. Long, rambling emails about the things you saw and the thoughts you had. Phone calls though? You weren’t making any of them.

But you found yourself on the 19th December 2002 with a pile of quarters in a phone box. Shivering. Until a seven year old voice came down the line and agreed that yes, today might be her birthday and yes, it would be Christmas next week. And when you told her how lucky she was, she told you, in no uncertain terms, that yes, she gets one good week and the rest of the year is shit. And a little ray of sunshine warmed through your layers and you laughed until the tears froze on your cheek.

It’s warm today in Melbourne. Not exceptionally so but warm enough. The clock has ticked over on the other side of the world where a now 21 year old is probably sleeping. It’s a little too early to ring. But there will be a call. There will be no fumbling with coins and certainly no A or B buttons.

But there will be laughter. And there will be warmth. Here where it is warm. And there where it isn’t. Lots of warmth. And laughter. And love.

Thanks, Ríonach.

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