2014 Grateful 40

Some people celebrate their birthdays in style. Some ignore them completely. Others still, like my mate GB in Malta, visits a cemetery. He’s not fussy about which one; as long as he gets to a cemetery on the day, he’s happy. He’s been doing it for years; he says it’s life-affirming.

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I can relate to that. I have a thing or three for cemeteries, for the perspective they give and the calm they offer. Last week I visited GB’s favourite – Ta’Braxia – in part because I wanted to escape the madness, and in part because my mate Lori’s second anniversary was coming up and I needed to connect.

20140328_133153_resizedI hadn’t realised that back in 1915, Malta was treating the sick and wounded from military campaigns in Gallipoli (billed as one of the Allies’ great disasters of WWI) and the little-known Salonika, when in October 1915

a combined Franco-British force of some two large brigades was landed at Salonika (today called Thessalonika) at the request of the Greek Prime Minister. The objective was to help the Serbs in their fight against Bulgarian aggression. 

From these two campaigns, over 135 000 wounded found their way to Malta. It’s little wonder then, that the island’s cemeteries are full of foreign-sounding names.

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Fast forward to WWII. While it was never invaded, Malta was bombed… and bombed… and bombed. Such was her perseverance in the face of adversity that in April 1942, the island and her people were awarded the George Cross by King George VI.

In Ta’Braxia cemetery, about 2 km outside of Valetta,  lie many of those who fought in both wars. I was struck by some of the inscriptions.

20140328_133603_resized-1 (800x600) (800x600) And another that simply said: Life’s work well done. Now come to rest. That’s something I wouldn’t mind being able to say with a measure of honesty when my time is up.

Some died of fever, others had drowned. More still were the wives and children of serving military from Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and France. While the men were remembered for their bravery, the women were remembered for their roles. One headstone in memory of Georgina read: The good and faithful wife of Mr John Sullivan, head-master of H.M. Dockyard school, Malta. She was just 25 when she died.

It was a lovely day; just the right sort of weather to visit a cemetery. And we had the place to ourselves, apart from a gardener or two. There’s a lot to be said for taking the time to stop and pay your respects, particularly to those who gave their lives so that we might live in a better world.

It was a manic week entailing lots of people-time. I’m physically and emotionally wrecked. I miss Lori terribly and wonder how much she can see from where she is. I’m grateful though for whatever it was that planted this appreciation for cemeteries in me and for that need I feel to spend time with the dead. Some might think it morbid, but like my mate GB, I find it life-affirming.

 

 

 

il-banda

I still get occasional flashbacks to playing in the school band. I failed miserably with the accordion, had slightly better success with the melodica (mine was green and cream in colour), and finally settled on the recorder. To this day, anytime I hear Glenn Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy I’m back to marching around the GAA groundsmelodica in full uniform, playing my heart out. I can still remember the white shirt, the tartan kilt, the blue sash and the colourful broach. And for one tune in particular, all I remember are the notes:

Soh, lah, soh, fah, me, re, doh … it rattles around my head namelessly driving me slowly mad.

Malta has a great tradition of bands. As far back as the Middle Ages, playing music during feasts and processions was the norm, although back then, instruments were limited to drums and flutes. Even though band clubs existed in the mid-nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that the influence of military bands and the musical influence of Italian refugees escaping from their civil war became evident. Groups of individuals got together to form small bands. The community stepped in to sponsor instruments for those willing to learn how to play them and the band’s raison d’etre was to take part in the village festas.

IMG_1420 (800x557)In 1947, there were about 60 bands in the country. Today there is closer to 100. Every parish has one and some have more than one. The club itself is a social centre, where members and parishioners alike meet regularly.

IMG_1425 (600x800)In Birgu, one of the Three Cities, there’s a Belgian-owned restaurant next to the Band Club that has a huge colour photo of the band on its wall. It was the first time I’d fully appreciated the effort that goes into these bands, the seriousness with which they’re taken, and the importance of their roles in the community. As I looked at the picture on the wall, the chef in the open-plan kitchen was busy making complimentary tapas for the band to accompany their beers once they’d finished their practice.

And as festa time approaches, they’re practicing in earnest. Already, in some churches, the massive statues are being taken out of their nooks and transferred to their pedestals as they wait patiently to be processioned through the streets on their feast day. And leading the parade will be  il-banda.

 

Judged on their many merits

One of the perks of being a big fish (says she, literally) in a small pond (native-English-speakers in Budapest) is that I occasionally get asked to attend functions I would otherwise miss. Last Friday, I had the good fortune to be invited to sit on the judging panel for the International Schools’ Poetry Competition. I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down at the prospect of spending my Friday evening listening to poetry recitations. But if I’m to preach about the importance of community involvement as an expat, or the benefits of volunteerism for mental health and well-being, I have to walk the talk.

poetryThis is the eighth year that the International Schools in Budapest have held this competition. Contestants compete in four categories: 10–12, 13–15, 16+, and group recitals. They came from five schools: American International School of Budapest (AISB), British International School Budapest (BISB), SEK Budapest International School, International Christian School of Budapest (ICSB), and Britannica International School (the latter hosted the 2014 final).

poetry 3I read the order of events with a sinking heart, noticing that some poems would be recited by more than one competitor. The theme of the 2014 competition was water. I had mistakenly thought that the competitors would be reciting their own work and had been vaguely looking forward to hearing something of Budapest’s young creative talent in action. Trying hard to stem the growing tide of despair, I settled down to judge.

What ebbed and flowed over the course of the next couple of hours was inspirational. Each one of these young people had put time and effort into their recitations. They had given thought as to how best to interpret their particular poem. And while some might have gone a tad overboard on the drama, they were all a pleasure to listen to. A few chose particularly ambitious poems, difficult to interpret and even harder to do justice to in reciting. Respect.

peoe2Luke Miller chose James Whitcomb Riley’s The Old Swimmin’ Hole, a poem written in eye dialect where non-standard spelling is used to draw the speaker’s attention to pronunciation. With his rendition, he painted an evocative image of an old man’s reflection of his life, a picture that warranted a medal in the 13-15 category. Fabiana Vilsan’s winning recitation of Black Rook in Rainy Weather in the 16+ category was an insightful treatment of one of the very few of Sylvia Plath’s poems that I consider life-affirming. Tanvhi Chadha and Rebekah Brown showed great maturity in the group recitals with their extract from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. For me though, the highlight of the evening was James Howells’ treatment of Rupert Brooke’s Heaven in the 10-12 category. I sat, in awe, listening to this young man express his understanding of what might well be Brooke’s most memorable and wittiest poem. We three judges chose Howells as the overall winner of the evening.

My font of knowledge was replenished on that particular Friday evening; my faith in the future restored. Though some were disappointed with their performances and others perhaps a little taken aback that they didn’t place, each contestant helped remind me of some of life’s key lessons: (i) There’s no shame in making a mistake; what matters is how you recover from it. (ii) The easiest option may be the safest, yet to grow we must challenge ourselves. (iii) When it comes to drama in life (as in reciting poetry), less is often more. (iv) It takes real courage to put yourself front and centre for others to judge. (v) Modesty in achievement is a quiet indicator of self-confidence. (vi) Saying yes can be the key to a whole new world.

First published in the Budapest Times 28 March 2014

Making travel compulsory

I travel. A lot. And I love it. I like finding new places, seeing new things, meeting different people. And when I go back again and again to the same place, be it for work or pleasure, there’s an extra satisfaction in showing my special places to those who travel with me.

IMG_0365 (800x600)The Azure Window (Tieqa Żerqa)  in Gozo is one of those places. If you take an early-morning ferry from Malta across to Mgarr, then you can get there before the hordes descend and make it  too busy for comfort. I managed this one month with one friend and failed miserably with another some time later. The difference was inconsolable. The place was packed. First-time visitors were parroting the usual reaction – how amazing, spectacular, the blue – oh my what a blue…  Old-timers were looking disgruntled at the number of people there. Me? I was so sorry that the experience wasn’t what it could have been.

IMG_0370 (800x592)But the inland sea was relatively deserted because the water was too choppy to take out the boats. I was glad of this, in a way. To be fully appreciated, it needs quiet. Last month, we took a small fishing boat and travelled through the rock wall to the outer sea. It was the first time in I don’t know how many visits that I’d felt the need to do this and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve long since learned the value of realising that I can always come back – there’s no need for me to pack everything in to the time I have available. No where is going anywhere (except perhaps for the Maldives and the like, should sea levels continue to rise).

IMG_0371 (800x600)IMG_0385 (600x800)There’s a particular type of coral that only grows here – it’s purple and as eye-catching as a coral can be. With one hand on the side of the boat and the other on my camera, the choice between being tossed overboard and capturing the essence of what I was seeing made me long fleetingly for the days when cameras needed plugs, bulbs, and tripods. Days when a choice wouldn’t be a problem as it wouldn’t have existed.

I was torn between enjoying what I was seeing and my compulsion to share what I’d seen. I was reminded of a Venetian writer whose name I can’t remember telling me to leave my camera at home and enjoy the moment. But what about those who will never get to Gozo, and boat through the wall, and get to the other side – shouldn’t they be able to come too?

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I’ve never been much of an artist. My rather dark wardrobe will testify to my lack of imagination when it comes to colour. Yet there was something quite surreal about this purple coral as it mediated between the gray walls and the blue sea. Had it been a colour spectrum, the purple would have been out of place. And yet there it was, in all its glory, mediating between two shades of similarity – a foot in both worlds. And it reminded me a little of me…

IMG_0407 (593x800)On the journey back inside, what looked like an impossibly narrow opening gradually opened up. Crossing this gradual revelation was like travelling through time, in slow motion. And although I’d seen the inland sea many times before, this was the first time I’d looked at it from a different direction. There was a lesson in perspective there… should I choose to learn it.

Malta is one of the few places I visit repeatedly  – and each time, there’s something new or something old seen in a new light. And more often than not, that new light comes from seeing it from someone else’s perspective, experiencing second-hand the pleasure they get from places I’ve shown them. What’s not to like about travel, I wonder? Were I queen for the day, I’d make it compulsory.

IMG_0413 (600x800)Travel to Malta with Air Malta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the waterfront. Take 2.

I’ve been coming to Malta on and off since 2011 – maybe three or four times a year. And just when I think I’ve seen it all, I get to have another think. Granted, when I’m here, I’m not on holiday so my viewing time is limited. That said, the Maltese are very hospitable and more than happy to show you around. And, of course, if someone comes with me who hasn’t visited before, that opens up a whole new realm of things to do.

I’d never thought of taking the ferry from Sliema to Valletta and only did so this weekend because I’d asked a couple of lads if they knew what bus we’d get to get to the Valletta Waterfront. A young Serbian friend had taken me there for a drink years ago and I wanted to share it with the lovely IM. They told us that it would be quicker to get there by ferry, something I’d never thought to do before. On checking the map, I saw that Valletta was surrounded by water on three sides (new one on me) and I was sure ours was the side the ferry docked. When it comes to directions and knowing where I am, the more certain I am that I’m right, the more likely I am to be wrong.

We stopped to eat in a restaurant in one of the old watch towers in Sliema and asked our very helpful waiter if he could verify my assumption. In pitch-perfect Maltese English, he said he’d never heard of the waterfront. But he turned out to be Hungarian, so I proceeded undaunted. We hopped off the ferry and turned right – towards some likely looking umbrellas. We wandered up the coast road, past the five-star compound that is the Excelsior Hotel (home of said umbrellas and man-made postage-stamp-sized beach) and ended up in Floriana. Not where we wanted to be.

Not in the least bit proud, I stopped at a group of three and asked them how we’d get down to the waterfront. Oh, said one of the girls, you mean the Grand Harbour… (duh). Well of course now that she said it, that’s exactly what I meant and of course I knew where it was but I didn’t fancy snaking my way through the streets of Vallette for the next hour or so. But then she told me to the glass lift from the Upper Barrakka gardens. Lift? I’d been in the gardens last month and hadn’t seen any sign of a glass lift but at this stage I was like a chicken worrying a speck of blood. Relentless.

P1170861P1170848And there it was. All 58 metres of. And there it’s been since December 2012 carrying as many as 21 people at time taking 25 seconds to descend. We took it down to the Grand Harbour and seeing nothing but a massive gunship, asked directions yet again. Five minutes later, we were on the waterfront.  And it was just as I remembered.

Nearly 20 or so warehouses, dating back 250 years, line up alongside the quay. Back in the day it was here that the Knights of St John would come to unload their ships. Today, these warehouses are restaurants, shops, bars, and clubs. It reminded me a little of Im Viadukt in Zürich. A lovely use of old space, and quite tastefully done.

P1170857P1170847Spoiled for choice, we settled for cocktails and a platter of cold meats and grilled vegetables at a restaurant called Crave (which boasts a 1.2 kg burger…for sharing, course).  Sitting by the edge of the water, we looked out on to small sailing boats and massive navy vessels. Around us, the crowd was slowly swelling  as more and more people came to enjoy a Saturday night on the town. A grazer’s delight, every sort of food imaginable was on offer. Reading the menus might take time, but everywhere appeared to be doing some sort of business. Not bad for what is still officially winter and off-season for Malta.

P1170858On the way back to the lift (last climb is at 9pm and I didn’t fancy the hike if we missed it), we had a glorious view across the water towards the Three Cities. Malta lights up beautifully. Gobsmackingly gorgeous as some of the buildings are by day, by night, lit up, reflecting in the water, they’re really quite spectacular.

For me though, the best evening view in town is that of the arches in the Upper Barrakka  gardens which dates back  to 1775,  a gift from some Italian knight or other. The usually packed seats are empty and the place is quite still.  Add a balmy breeze and some stray thoughts, and you have an atmosphere conducive to solving most of life’s problems. The novelty never wears off.

(C) Miklos I

(C) Miklos I

 

 

2014 Grateful 41

You know those plants you have in your living room, he asked, what do you call them?

Maud, Thelma, and Louise, I replied, wondering why he wanted to know.

I meant, what kind of plant are they?

They’re yuccas.

Did you buy them?

Nope. I sort of adopted them from a mate who moved to Dubai and needed someone look after his girls. The one to the left, Maud… she’s had eight kids that I’ve pawned off on other friends.

20140320_190212_resizedI was wondering where this was going. The Feng Shui lady said they were bad news – I should get rid of them because of their pointy leaves. Granted, this was back when Maud looked like a small forest all on her own. Since she birthed all those babies, she doesn’t take up nearly as much room. But her leaves are still pointy. I’d resisted all entreaties to get rid of all three ladies so far, and wasn’t quite able for another onslaught of well-intentioned advice. And, I’d grown quite fond of my girls. The place would be very quiet without them to talk to.

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That’s good – good that you didn’t buy them. You’re not supposed to buy them. In Australia, they’re known as the happy plant – plants that you give to people. When they get too big, you lop a bit off and pass it on.

Well, was I ever grateful that I hadn’t gotten rid of them altogether. And, better still, apparently yuccas flower – big white flowers. They haven’t show anything but green all the years I’ve had them, but it’s nice to know that one day they might surprise me.

At the end of what was a cantankerous week, where I wasn’t in the best of form, I’m grateful for random moments like this one that illustrate so beautifully that there’s always more than one side to any story. It  also emphasised what I already know but all too often forget – I should trust my gut. Yes the experts might say one thing, and the books another, and friends and colleagues give different advice still, yet ultimately, that feeling in my gut won’t steer me wrong. The thing is to remember to listen to it and not to drown it the opinions and expectations of others.  Note to self.

Hire that algorithim

I’m all for living in the present. For getting through the next minute, hour, day, or week without any major catastrophe. I’m in favour of seizing the moment, of being at one with whatever it is I’m doing, of living the experience. I subscribe to the philosophy of being present, even if it’s something that most of the time I fail miserably in doing.

I’m not a planner. I’ve only ever had one plan and when that ended in abject failure at the age of 16, I resolved that the only plan I would have would be to have no plan. And yes, my pension has suffered accordingly. It only recently dawned on me that someone would have to look after me in my old age and, without children to depend on, it is either going to be shacking up with my similarly placed girlfriends in a real-life version of the US TV series The Golden Girls, or… well … I don’t even have a plan B.

But it seems that I’m not alone. In a talk at the American Enterprise Institute think-tank earlier this month, Bill Gates put into words what so many are failing to fully realise: the day is fast approaching whereby human endeavour will be replaced by technology. Yes, technology will take our jobs and do them for us. We’ll have no income, no pensions – and then what?

Hire that algorithim

The whole idea of software substitution may sound a tad alien – honestly, can you imagine people being replaced by software programs? Before you say ‘no way’, think back to 20 years ago and ask yourself if you could have imagined a voice called Siri scheduling meetings for you on your iPhone or being able to find out where your mate is by tracking their last post on Facebook.

Maybe the heart surgeons are safe, but those that do less skilful jobs certainly have cause for concern. And if the business of business is to make a profit, I can’t see many CEOs refusing cost-saving initiatives that prefer algorithms to people. But is it only low-paying jobs that would be subsumed by software? Apparently not. Last year, the Economist predicted that relatively high wage earners like accountants, real estate agents, and even commercial pilots would lose their jobs (and incomes) to software in the next two decades. And if there is no need for accountants, then think of all those business schools having to reinvent themselves. Are they planning for this eventuality now?

If this is the road we’re heading down, how can we prevent the predictable social unrest that will result from wide-scale unemployment? Accordingly to Bill Gates, governments will need to get business on side. This is particularly relevant in Hungary where taxes are so onerous that employing people is a very expensive venture. I asked a number of business owners what it would cost to hire one employee and pay them a net salary of 100 000 huf – the answer was the same from everyone – double. Is it any wonder that the gray economy is alive and well here?

Were I up for re-election or even hoping to unseat the incumbent ruling party, I’d be thinking of substantially reducing (or even doing away with) employment taxes. I’d be doing everything I could to incentivise companies to employ more people so that we could reach a state of full employment where everyone who can work is working and paying the appropriate taxes.  But then again, I’m not a politician.

First published in the Budapest Times 21 March 2014

Disillusioned

I’m a tad disappointed this week. I thought perhaps it was just the post-Paddy’s Day blues. When you have had such a good time, it’s hard to come back to reality. But what I’m suffering from isn’t just  case of the colours. And it’s more than disappointment – I’d go so far as to say that I’ve become disillusioned.

I’ve written a couple of posts on Firkin – that fab Hungarian band that plies its trade in Irish punk. Their stage energy and enthusiasm are hard to match and the passion they bring to their music would convince anyone that they’re Irish through and through.

IMG_1370 (800x600)IMG_1397 (800x600) (800x600)I saw them play in the basement of Instant on Sunday. My third time seeing them live. Even though the acoustics sucked, I was carried away by the foot-stompin’, head-bangin’ music – basking in the energy and the vibes emanating from the packed stage. With a lead singer (Marthy Barna) who could give Colin Farrell a run for his  money, and a flautist (János Péter) who tickles my fancy every time I see him in action, what wasn’t there to like.

IMG_1390 (800x600)And then Barna asked who in the audience was Irish. A couple of hands went up and a couple of souls shouted out. He dedicated the next song to them with the words ‘Because you’re Irish, this song’s for you’. My heart was melting (with the heat, most likely, but the emotion was there, too). Then came the song: F*&K the British Army.

Cmon lads, how long as it been and you’re still getting high on this stuff? The room, the majority of which was Hungarian, erupted. It’s obviously a popular song. Now I like some of the old rebel songs – it wasn’t long ago that I was on a bus back from Mohács urging the inimitable GO’R to give us a belt of the Men Behind the Wire, cautioning everyone present to remember the times in which it was written. For me, it’s more an account of how Belfast used to be that an incitement to hatred in 2014. That was then. This is now. And you might say I’m splitting hairs here,  being hypocritical even. Perhaps I am.

Yet this mindless appreciation for anti-British sentiment really bothered me. We’ve come so far. It’s not 1980s San Francisco or Boston, or even Dublin. We’re in 2014 for God’s sake – in Hungary. A country that has had its fair share of occupation, a country that wants to move forward. And there they were – my heros, Firkin – doing their bit to set us back. Not deliberately, I’m sure – which to my mind, makes it even worse.

Now, I thought I might have been overreacting. So I mentioned it to a few others – Irish – who had missed the gig. They weren’t impressed either. I’m all for patriotism. I’m all for the underdog standing up and being counted. I’m all for the power of music to band people together – but if there’s a cause, let it be mindful, and let it be current.

Maybe I need to lighten up…

 

 

 

Beyond expectations

I’m a firm believer in managing my expectations. If you tell me it’s going to be brilliant, I’ll settle for great. If you tell me it will be great, good will do just fine. Add this expectational reticence to an innate dislike of superlatives and you’ll rarely, if ever, get a ‘best day ever’ from me.

IMG_1328 (800x600)But, hand on my heart, and ready to admit my reluctance to publicly commit to something ‘fantastic’… Sunday, 16th March, in Budapest was as close as you’ll ever get to an AWESOME from me.

IMG_1239 (600x800)When I turfed up at Szabadság tér at 1.45 I was a little worried. All the publicity had said a 2pm kick-off to the parade and all present, if they’d spread their arms and tried to multiply might have made 100. But, in typical Hungarian/Irish (If there were any two nations in the world who share the same disrespect for time, these two are it) fashion, the times were flexible and by 3.30 the numbers had swelled to 1403. And I know, because I was (and have been for three years – duly noted on my CV) the parade’s official counter.

IMG_1256 (600x800)IMG_1260 (600x800)Irish wolfhounds, leprechauns, and a larger-than-life St Patrick dominated the fair. If it was green, it was worn. The Jameson stand was drank dry in 3 minutes flat. Balloons? Hats? Boon dangles? Flags? Everything was there for the wearing. As the parade, with police escort, wended its way to Nagymező utca, to Instant, few had any idea what this particular ruin pub enclosed. Three floors of Irish bands, Irish music, Irish dancing, Irish food (courtesy of Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant)  … what was not to like? More than 1000 people, all wearing the green, went from floor to floor in search of everything from traditional diddley-eye to punk belly dancers. It’s my third year at this gig (I was in Malta for one of them) and I can say, hand on my Irish heart, that it was one of the best days (nights) out I’ve had in years. Kudos to Mark Downey and his IHBC team for pulling this off.

IMG_1302 (800x600)What made it great was that the Irish were in the minority. Far from the soft t’s and the dropped h’s… the sounds that were taking up the bandwidth were Hungarian, and French, and Spanish, and African… it was a real, live, showcase of multicultural diversity that made me ever so proud to be Irish.

IMG_1352 (600x800)And yes, I know there are those who abhor expat events…. and there are those who dread mixing and mingling with people they wouldn’t cross the street to say hello to at home. But, honestly, for as long as I have lived abroad, I can’t remember a day like it. A day where ambassadors (like that bloomin’ Facebook page) and the like mixed with the wherewithals; a day where people left their business cards at the door and became people with names rather than titles; a day where it didn’t matter what language you spoke; a day where it was all about camaraderie, about being Irish – or part-Irish – or not Irish at all. Who gives a flying fandangle?

IMG_1365 (600x800)As my good mate FC said to me – just think, that today, all around the world, people are celebrating the Irish. What other race could pull that off? And I thought… for a while… and came up with nothing.

If you’re reading this in Ireland and are jaded about the whole Paddy’s Day thing… I suggest you look at flights now. Because as this celebration goes from strength to strength, next year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations will be one almighty party. Don’t say I didn’t warn ye!

2014 Grateful 42

How I could have held my head high and called myself Irish when there’s so much that I didn’t know about St Patrick is beyond me.  I can’t explain this recent obsession with the man. Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis of sorts. Never before was I so curious about him and yet despite all my research, I still have little more than a cup of tea and two biscuit’s worth of information. I started off being a tad embarrassed about my lack of knowledge, given that I’m Irish through and through, but in hindsight, I doubt very much that I’m the only Irish person with such a knowledge deficit.

IMG_3413 (600x800)I never knew, for instance, that St Patrick was the patron saint of paralegals and engineers. Or that his patronage extended not alone to Ireland but also to Nigeria and Montserrat. I had never heard that it took him so long to drum the religion into us that the walking stick he had stuck in the ground took root and grew into a tree. And while I am familiar with the wearing of shamrock and perhaps a harp on St Patrick’s Day, I’d never heard of the two St Patrick’s crosses.

For years I’ve been trying to persuade people that the shamrock is not a clover only to find that for years I’ve been wrong. The name shamrock comes from the Irish seamróg, which is the diminutive version of the Irish word for clover, meaning ‘little clover’. Another bubble burst… the embarrassment.

Despite being known the world over as St Patrick, Patrick was never formally canonised by a pope. And I never knew that when he died there was a fight to see who’d get the body – the Battle for the Body of St Patrick went over my head. Or that when he was buried he was watched over for 12 days and nights, or more like 12 long days as night never came – it was daylight the entire time.

IMG_3396 (800x599) (800x599)The first St Patrick’s Day parade was in New York back in the 1762 when some Irish soldiers serving with the British Army apparently marched across the city to a pub in Manhattan. Funny … the first one in Budapest was in 2011 and we ended up Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant.  mmmm… maybe it’s all finally beginning to make sense.

At the end of what has been another hectic week, I’m grateful for the fact  I have retained enough Irish to be able to wish the blessings of St Patrick’s Day on you all. Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir. Wherever you are tomorrow, how ever you’re celebrating, know that I’ll be with ye in spirit. And if you’re in Budapest – mine’s a Jameson and ginger!