2018 Grateful 15 | Meditations while oiling the garden furniture

I’ve gone a whole week without doing myself damage – am impressed with myself. I woke up knackered this morning but I think it was because I was dreaming about chasing the recycling truck down the street. Exhausting stuff.  Temperatures dropped 13 degrees overnight from a lovely summer 27 yesterday to a cool autumnal 14 today. I’m not complaining. This is my time of year. I love autumn. That cool crisp air, the geese-laden skies, the frog chorus from the lake. All good stuff.

It marks a setting in, a holing up, a getting ready to batten down the hatches and hibernate. Mind you, I’ve never let the seasons affect my hibernation but still, autumn is when it comes into its own.

I spent a gruelling few hours each day this week readying the garden furniture for its winter holiday. They’ll all be packed away in the barn, newly oiled, for a well-deserved rest as I plan to get a lot of use out of them next year. Painting linseed oil on garden chairs is about as close as I can come to meditation. The mechanics of it all are mesmerising.

On Chair 1, it struck me that this week marked the two-year anniversary of picking up the keys for the place in the village. Two years. It seems like a lifetime ago, as if we’ve always been here. The general consensus was that we’d use it the odd weekend. No one was more surprised than I at how quickly I took to country living. I have to be pried out of the place. Reflections on life in the village set me up to tackle the table and the lounge chair. I was making great progress.

There’s something deeply satisfying about seeing a work in progress completed. As each rung of the chairs darkened I came one step closer to the end. A little like life really. I’ve been through the 18th birthdays, the 21sts, the engagements, the weddings, the housewarmings, the christenings, the noughty birthdays, the big wedding anniversaries.  Now I’m at the edge of the funeral era where funerals are the most common meeting occasions. I started on Instagram a few weeks back for one of my other blogs – www.dyingtogetin (be sure to sign up for email notifications of new posts) – and posted an image of a gravestone from a cemetery in Geneva. It put my school French to the test but what a lovely sentiment. I think it was on Chair 2 that I started wondering about my own epitaph, what it would say about me – and it wasn’t until Chair 3 that I remembered I’m going to be cremated.

The chicken from next door kept me company for Chair 4. She’s looking rather motley, a tad dishevelled, somewhat defeathered. I think the other chickens are picking on her and perhaps that’s why she spends so much time at ours. Or perhaps they’re picking on her because she spends so much time at ours. Or perhaps she’s just moulting. Like everything else, there are at least three sides to any story – mine, yours, and theirs. I’ve had to cut back on my tweet reading because I’m finding it hard to decipher the actual story these days for all the sides they have.

By the time I got to the final chair, my back was killing me. I was cranky and irritable, and beginning to feel like my nose was lined with linseed oil. I swore I wasn’t doing this again next year. I’d have to figure something out. I’m just not as supple as I used to be, not that I was ever supple at all, but I’ve been looser than I am now. And then I remembered that this time next week, I’ll be three days into a month of daily Thai massages. That’ll put the s back into my upple. And do my back the world of good. And get rid of the knots and the stress and the pains.

Ah yes, chairs oiled and ready for winter. Me, soon to be oiled and ready for pampering. What’s not to be grateful for.


PS – I’ll be moving over to www.anyexcusetotravel.com for the forseeable future so if you want to continue reading, be sure to sign up for email notifications of new posts.

A Scottish man walked out of a bar…

Bring up the topic of football stadiums in Hungary and you’re guaranteed eyes will roll. So many have been built in recent years it’s laughable. The Field of Dreams approach of build it and they will come hasn’t quite worked out. These magnificent edifices stand against a backdrop of somewhat mediocre football in a country that is waiting (im)patiently for the second coming of the Aranycsapat (the Golden Team) of the 1950s.

Mention football to me and you’re guaranteed my eyes will glaze over. My passion for soccer waned when Jack Charlton left the Boys in Green to fend for themselves. While I have fond memories of Italia ’90 when the boys did Ireland proud, I prefer rugby.

But when I ran into the new Business Development Director for Vác FC the other day, I was surprised at how excited I became at the thoughts of having a Hungarian team I could support. One whose values I shared. One whose colours I could wear with pride.  Scottish-born Patrick McMenamin pulled his last pint in 2017 after a 12-year run in The Caledonia Scottish Pub in Budapest and now he’s landed his dream job. He gets to talk football all day, every day.

The second division team is currently playing in the TVE stadium in Budapest’s third district while their own is being renovated: cue eye roll. But it’s a necessary renovation to comply with the new requirement that clubs must have 600 covered seats for their viewing public. When Phase 1 of the development is finished, Vác FC will have an overall capacity of just 1350, and given that the biggest crowd in recent years numbered some 1100, this plan would seem to be based on logic rather than a pipe dream.

But Chairman John Marshall, Head Coach Zoran Spisljak, and McMenamin himself see Vác FC as more than a football stadium. In fact, the S word is an unmentionable one. What the boys are building is a facility that will be open for community use. Think meeting rooms and conference space. Think garden fetes and BBQs. Think workshops and skills sessions. The new and improved Vác FC will be heavily focused on the local community. The players, too, will benefit as schemes like Investors in People are initiated and each footballer is recognised as more than simply a fast pair of legs.

‘Football in Hungary’, says McMenamin, ‘doesn’t have enough good stories. We’re going to write a great one.’ The team is lucky, he says, in that Marshall isn’t chasing promotion. They’re aiming for a top-six finish this year, taking it one goal at a time. With the recent addition of Spisljak as Head Coach, the emphasis is now on more than simply football skills. At the cutting edge of sports coaching, Spisljak is well-regarded for his holistic approach. He recognises the importance of developing his players as people. Their working lives are short. They need to be able to do something when they retire. Any decent FC should help prepare them for life off the pitch while simultaneously developing their prowess on the pitch. And Vác FC seems to have all the hallmarks of a decent club.

I’ve been a fan of Spisljak for a number of years since seeing him work his magic with the players atBékéscsaba (I interviewed one of them for this column some years back). Couple this with Marshall’s pragmatism and McMenamin’s enthusiasm and Vác FC could well become a template for community-focused football clubs.

McMenamin’s mandate is to develop business relationships and attract investors. He’s touting the Társasági Adókedvezmény (TAO) programme whereby 50% of corporate taxes can be diverted to the club of your choice and in addition, your business will receive a 6.5% rebate on the other 50%. And yes, no doubt some eyes will be rolling at the thoughts of even more stadiums being built on the back of these diverted tax forints, but Vác is keeping it simple. ‘Fit for purpose’ was the term used. A club that develops young players, builds on their strengths, and prepares them for their post-football future. A club that works co-operatively with the local community. A club that leverages corporate social opportunity and gives businesses a reason to invest.

The more McMenamin talked about their plans, the more enthusiastic he became. He’s not a one for negativity, preferring to surround himself with positive people who believe in a shared tomorrow. A chat with Spisljak over a cup of coffee about the future of Hungarian football, led to a second coffee with Marshall and the offer of a job.

McMenamin, himself a player with the Budapest Old Boys Club, has been kicking a ball since he was seven when he played Right Wing for St Cuthbert’s RC Primary School back in his native Scotland. What he likes about the Hungarian set up is the Football Association’s commitment to developing home-grown talent. Players in the Second Division aren’t blinded by big money and fast cars; they’re honest, decent young men who wear their jerseys with pride and play their hearts out for their teams. That’s something to be nurtured.

Me? I don’t care a whit for soccer, but I was completely caught up in what this club could be. Many expats struggle to find a local team to support when they relocate. They’re not bound by club politics or traditional loyalties and the choice can be difficult if nothing is ruled out. If McMenamin has his way, busloads of us will be visiting Vác on a regular basis to support our new team and experience the local hospitality. There is life outside of Budapest, he said. It’s just waiting to be discovered.

And, were we to sit down in three years’ time, what would you be telling me, I asked. He thought for a minute and then said: I’d tell you that the city of Vác has a football club they’re extraordinarily proud of. Enough said.

First published in the Budapest Times 14 September 2018

2018 Grateful 16

Well, that was the longest five-day period I’ve put in since I did my leaving cert all those years ago. The days seemed to drag interminably and my brain was doing weird things. I’ve not had a concussion before. I thought I was grand when the CT scan was clear, so I just did what I’d usually do. A comment on my last blog post telling me that I shouldn’t be writing or reading or engaging with screens of any kind threw me a little. But hey, sure I was grand.

When I woke Thursday, the world had tilted a little. Ever so slightly. But it made walking in a straight line somewhat difficult. It didn’t help that I had collected  my new glasses that morning. I couldn’t tell the difference between concussed teetering and varifocal wavering. Truth be told, I felt a little drunk.

Lesson No. 1 – Do not try to get used to a new prescription while concussed.

I took the tram over to the Medical Center and lodged my litany of complaints: nausea, headache, dizzyness. She told me that I’d received a nasty bang and was more than mildly concussed – I’d been upgraded to moderate. I was to go to bed and sleep as much as I could. I wasn’tto read, write, watch TV, or drive. No computers, phones, laptops, or kindles. I wouldn’t feel like eating but I was to drink 3 litres of water a day and take my painkillers every 4 hours.

Lesson No. 2 – When you’re concussed, all you can do is sleep.

The trouble was that the bed I wanted to be in was 200 km away and the only way to get there was by train. I set my alarm to go off 15 minutes before I was due to arrive and fell asleep not two minutes later. When the train arrived, I felt much better so decided to go grocery shopping. Usually, I’m quite systematic about this. I know what I need and can do the circuit in 10-15 minutes.  No dithering. But my brain was confused. I was addled. And as I bounced around the aisles, nothing would come into focus. Did I need or didn’t I became questions of magnanimous proportions. I bought stuff I usually avoided and didn’t get what I needed.

Lesson No. 3 – When you’re concussed, avoid making decisions as they make your head hurt even more.

When we got to the house, I made a vain attempt to put away the groceries. I reached for the biscuit tin and found two lone chocolate chip cookies languishing inside. I popped one into my mouth, telling myself I needed the sugar. Apparently, when you’re concussed, your brain uses up all the glucose in your body as it needs the energy. I emptied the packet of larger bickies into the tin, shut it, and put it back. Two minutes later, I had a crisis of conscious that scared me senseless. I had visions of that lone chocolate chip being set upon by the bigger cranberry-and-white-chocolate bullies. I saw him being shunned, ignored, and even smothered. I took a breath and reasoned: perhaps they were nice bickies who would see he was different to them and be curious, welcoming, and nurturing. But I’ve turned cynical lately. I’ve seen too much sidelining and discrimination. I did what I had to do. I opened the tin, picked him out, and ate him. I told myself it was for his own good. Life in this detail was too much to deal with so I went to bed.

Lesson No. 4 – Concussion does mad things to your thoughts – but it’s temporary.

I slept for 17 hours straight that night, with all sorts of weird dreams. In one, Elon Musk was holding open auditions. He was on a mission to find new talent and then sponsor their career to stardom. He was looking for his next protegé. The talented Mark D was in the line-up. He was to conduct a symphony he’d written: Tesla Roadster in 7th Gear. Everyone else was milling around, anxious to get on with it, dressed to the nines in tuxedos and ball-gowns when in walks Mark D, seven hours late, and dressed, as Musk said himself, as if he were about to give a tutorial in an Oxford study. The whole thing was being staged in a farmyard. The neighbour donkey woke me before I found out what happened.

In another, I was working with a novelist, a married man, father of two, who was living in a closet in a hotel room. He’d hang his kids up at night while he and his wife folded themselves into their separate drawers. The room’s occupants didn’t seem at all put out by this. When we met in the ensuite bathroom, he told me that he wanted to retain the rights to veto the casting, were his book ever made into a movie. He wanted to be sure that Freddie Mercury played the role of the nun who singlehandedly saved a species of spider from annihilation. I have a vague memory of debating whether or not I should tell him that Freddie was dead.

In a third, I was on a cruise with the Pope and his entourage. It was an all-singing, all-dancing Vatican romp with a new single about to be launched. I had a press pass, there to specifically cover the lyrics as claims had been made that they were simply a modern-day rendition of an old Robbie Burns poem.

There were lots more – including showing up for a job as second-in-command to Barron Hilton in my PJs and then ruining the interview by insisting that he was Ronan Keating trying to pull a fast one.

Lesson No. 5 – When you’re concussed, dreams will be more vivid than usual.

I stayed off the screens – didn’t use my laptop, or my kindle, or my phone. It was like stepping off the world for a few days. Himself read me my messages and replied to those that needed replying to for me. When I wasn’t sleeping, I made some jam, cleaned the kitchen, and did some laundry. I had to do something. But I had to be careful of sudden movements. I moved in slow motion, got incredibly frustrated, and tired easily. I’m back online today but just for a couple of hours. Then a couple of hours more tomorrow. And so through the end of the week.

Lesson No. 6 – Recovery is a slow process that all the wishing in the world won’t hasten. 

I’ve heard stories of those who haven’t had a scan after a blow to the head – be it a fall or a bang or whatever. And weeks or months later, when the undiagnosed brain bleeds come to light, it’s touch and go. My scan was clear. I’m adjusting to the new glasses. I can handle the bright sunlight outside. And am finally back reading. One chapter at a time.

Thank you for your thoughts, concerns, and good wishes. I’m very grateful.


Ah, sure I’m grand

About midnight last night, I was walluped across the head by a chap I’d never as much as said hello to. My glasses went flying to the floor and had there been room, I’d have taken a nosedive with them. When I screamed to my Jesus, the chap turned and looked at me, and said sorry.

We were standing, ready to disembark from the late-arriving RyanAir flight from Dublin. The woman in 1C wanted to get her bag. He was in 2C. I was in 3C. Neither of them had much by the way of a reach, but rather than wait or even ask for help, she tried to stretch across. He then went to help. I was in conversation and wasn’t paying much attention until he swung wildly and caught me on the top side of the head with yer woman’s suitcase. If it weighed under the 10kg limit, I’m a size 8.

Jesus! I roared with the pain of it all. They looked back to see what the commotion was. I bent down to retrieve my glasses, thinking that if they were to have broken, it was a good day to break them as I’d a new pair to pick up today. But they were fine. My mate told him what he’d done and he apologised, three times. What could I say but

Ah, sure you’re grand.

What is it about us former convent-school girls. Why can’t we make a fuss when a fuss is needed? My head was throbbing. The force of the weight had clicked my jaw together and my teeth felt as if they’d been assaulted. My eye was thick and my cheek even thicker. But the more he apologised, the more appeasing I got. Anything to avoid a fuss.

By rights, I should have told the flight crew, gone to the airport doctor, and then gone to the ER to get checked out. All this I learned today when I did go to the doctor.

I went to have her check my finger and the lovely scar tissue that’s building up. I wanted to be sure it wasn’t infected. And sure while I was there, I thought I’d mention, in passing like, the clatter I’d gotten the night before. She ran the usual follow-my-finger, watch-the-light, touch-your-nose neurology checks, only tutting a little at the light thing. I’d passed. Then she had me stand, feet close together, hands by my sides, eyes shut. I lasted 2 seconds before falling to the left. I was impressed. It was a  spectacular fail.

She apologised and told me I wouldn’t like what she was going to say next. And I didn’t.

An ambulance? Are you mad? I’m grand, I came here by tram. I’m fine.

But you mightn’t be, she said. There could be all sorts wrong with you. You need a CT scan. You need to go to the trauma centre immediately.

Do I have time for a coffee?

I didn’t hear that, she said. If you’re not going by ambulance you’re to take a taxi.

Across town at 4 pm? I’d be quicker on the metro, I said. She wasn’t impressed. I don’t think she’s had many patients who’ve been taught by the nuns to hold their whist and offer the inconvenience up for the holy souls in purgatory.

Thankfully, I’d arrange to meet the very capable KG afterwards for coffee so the Doc was happy enough to release me to her care.

I broke my promise, though, and took the metro. I could blame it on the bang on the head. Sure I wasn’t in my right mind.

At the hospital, we checked with security and took the lift downstairs as directed. The statue we passed on the way should have prepared us for what was in store, but I wasn’t really paying that much attention. As we were getting out, some poor chap in a wheelchair was getting in – he looked like he’d had better days. Leg in a cast, arm in a sling, a bandage on his head. There were lots of people milling about, dodging trolleys being wheeled hither and tither. I could feel the anxiety unravelling inside me and as the hours of waiting stretched ahead. But then we saw a sign for CT and MRI and buzzed ourselves through that door into a place I recognised. I knew we’d crossed the line from public to private, from insurance to out-of-pocket payment. And I was right. But faced with the choice between a bill for about €60 or a free 8-10 hour wait among the wounded masses, I was glad I’d gone to the ATM on my way over.

Some 2 hours later, I’d been scanned and released. No lasting damage apparently. Just a mild concussion.

I’ve a superstitious vein running through me and have a thing about leaving through the door I came in so we made our way back into the milieu. We passed a body laying on its side on a trolley facing the wall. It was covered from the neck down with a black bin bag, I said a silent prayer for the poor soul, wondering if they were alive or dead, but not waiting to check. I’m not a medic.

I was lucky. I had the wherewithal to pay. And although I’ve earned it, the privilege weighed heavy on me. Had I not, I’d still be there, taking my chances, and hoping to get released this side of midnight.




2018 Grateful 17 | Quince

Google, there’s such a thing as too much information. I had thought I spent hours yesterday processing my quince harvest, making quince jelly and quince butter, only to find that they may not be quince at all.

Wikipedia tells me that the quince is

a pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear, and bright golden-yellow when mature.

Mine are definitely yellow but look nothing like pears. There are two trees out front – I thought both were quince but her next door tells me that the windfalls I have ripening on the windowsill are not worth eating – the tree is for decoration only and indeed, it does have some lovely flowers on it when in bloom. But I was sure the fruit was quince. One tree still has green fruit, the other bright yellow. Those had to be quince but they look more like small apples than pears.

Then I found a picture of the Constantinople apple quinces and breathed a sigh of relief. That effort hadn’t gone to waste.

They’re a quirky little fruit, loaded with all sorts of medicinal properties. Shakespeare called them “stomach’s comforter.” Some other tidbits I gleaned from a couple of hours searching for a likeness include:

  • Quinces in England were first recorded in about 1275 when Edward I had some planted at the Tower of London.
  • Seeing his beloved in the courtyard of the temple of Aphrodite, Acontius plucked a quince from the “orchard of Aphrodite”, inscribed its skin and furtively rolled it at the feet of her illiterate nurse, whose curiosity aroused, handed it to the girl to read aloud, and the girl finds herself saying “I swear by Aphrodite that I will marry Acontius.” Apparently even saying it aloud meant she had to go through with it. I read all the ones I picked and nothing.
  • The humble quince has been considered the catalyst of the Trojan War, as told by Greek legend. [I could find no more on this.]
  • Puréed quince can be used as a substitute for brown sugar or raisins on oatmeal – a healthy start to your day.
  • Quince is best known for its strong, tropical and fruity aroma. This fruit was an inevitable part of wedding ceremonies in Ancient Greece. Bride consumed quince to ensure pleasantly smelling, “perfumed lips”.
  • The world’s largest quince weighed 2.34 kg (5 lb 2 oz), measured 21.5 cm (8.5 in) in length and had a circumference of 68 cm (27 in). The quince was grown by Edward Harold McKinney (USA) in Citronelle, Alabama, USA in January 2002.
  • The term “marmalade”, originally meaning a quince jam, derives from marmelo, the Portuguese word for this fruit.
quince jelly

Quince jelly

quince butter quince paste quince cheese marmelo

What the butter looked like before I put it in the unregulated oven to dry out…

So after hours (and I mean hours) of slogging over a hot stove (and it 27 degrees outside), I have three jars of quince jelly and a slab of not very successful quince paste (as it’s known in Australia) or quince cheese (as it’s known in the UK), or quince butter or marmelo (as they call it in Portugal. The half-jar of extra jelly won’t last long. The stuff is delicious and I’m not a jam woman. The quince butter as I said didn’t turn out as expected as I don’t have a regulator on the oven so it cooked too much. But I’m going to give it another go next week when I have all ten fingers to work with and have the wherewithal to take on the quince bush again. And if there’s enough fruit left to try another batch when I get back on Wednesday, I’ll be ever so grateful. Of quince, I want more.

The recipe I followed… or tried to follow…

Doctor, Doctor

Those who say that Hungarians don’t have a sense of humour must never have sat in the waiting room of a village GP. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One of my birthday presents was a retro apple corer that came with a 10-year guarantee. I was a little dubious when I opened it, as I immediately thought of our late apple tree and the very poor harvest we had this year. But after I battled with the quince bush yesterday to relieve it of its fruit and decided to try my hand at making quince jelly, I thought I could put the corer to good use. Quince are for all the world like little wizened yellow apples. The thing worked like a charm. I was peeling through them, loving the gadgetry. But then I got a little cocky and lost the run of myself. I wasn’t paying proper attention and instead of coring a quince, I cored my little finger. Lord knows, I’m blunt enough to need sharp implements, but my focus is another matter entirely.

After much ado, various consulting phone calls to medical friends, and a trip to the next town to get some steri strips, the blood finally stopped. When I woke this morning it looked okay but to be on the safe side, I took myself down to the village doctor whose bi-weekly visit had dovetailed nicely with my mishap.

I was dreading it. Not because I’m afraid of doctors but because I didn’t know the protocol. I doubted that there’d be a take-a-ticket system or even a receptionist to take a name and call me in, in turn. And I was worried that my Hungarian wouldn’t stand the pace. I had googled all the important words:

  • kés vágott  (knife cut) – easier than trying to explain a retro corer
  • vérzés két óra (bleeding for two hours) – it did, honestly!
  • tegnap este (yesterday evening)
  • nagyon mély (very deep)

I figured I could string them together and make a reasonable go at explaining myself.

I met a chap outside having a smoke and asked him where the doctor was. He took a little time to untangle my pronunciation but then  pointed the way. The 8 people already waiting looked up when I went in and as is customary, each of them said hello. Hungarians are extremely polite in such situations with greetings commonplace in all walks of waiting rooms and in lifts. I smiled at everyone, knocking thoughts of any further conversation on the head with my mangled jó reggelt (good morning). Feeling very uncertain of myself as a külföldi (foreigner), I made a beeline for the corner and sat.

I had planned to pull out my kindle and although it would be perfectly acceptable in Ireland, or the UK, or even the USA, somehow it felt as if I’d be snubbing my fellow villagers. Hungarians are big on protocol. So, I sat. And I watched. And I listened in a vain attempt to figure out what was going on.

They were a mixed bunch: a Roma family of three and another young Roma woman; two middle-aged men; and two women, who between them had seen a fair few birthdays. There didn’t appear to be any seating order and while everyone but me had some paperwork with them, I didn’t notice anyone who came after me being given anything to fill in, so I figured I was safe. When the door to the inner sanctuary opened, I saw two women inside but I couldn’t tell which looked more doctor-like. Both of them saw me, looked a little quizzical, clearly not recognising me, but said nothing.

Outside in the waiting room, there were no private conversations, no whispering. Everyone spoke at full volume and others chipped in, arguing the toss when there was something worth debating. There was some talk of the German house that had beem broken into last week. There was more talk about someone dying. And there was a very animated conversation about someone who had done something yesterday.  They swapped ailments, told stories, and chatted about the person who’d just gone inside. Any coughs or groans that leaked through the walls were greeted with either classic diagnostic facial expressions or sniggers – depending on the perceived credibility of the patient.

Not one of them looked sick. Or seemed off colour. They were all in great form. Had we had some pálinka, we could have been at a party. I suspect that for some of them, the visit was a social one. They were in and out so quickly that they’d barely time to warm the stethoscope. There were lots of perscriptions floating about and little blue-and-white passport-type books that I was irrationaly envious of.

They came in waves. We numbered just four at one point when the next wave hit and five more joined our merry bunch. Some older, some younger, some together, some alone, each one saying hello to the room and getting a chorus of greetings in reply. Hungarians are sticklers for their sziasztoks.

When it came to my turn, an elderly man cut ahead of me. I stood, uncertain what to do as the room held its collective breath. But he assured me he wouldn’t take a minute, didn’t venture past the threshold, and reacted well to the good-natured jeering he got from the crowd.

I took longer than anyone else had. I’m sure I upset some karmic balance. I was swabbed, plastered, tetnused (even though I’m current with my shots, I didn’t manage to get this across). As I was leaving, I held my freshly bandaged finger aloft as if in evidence to justify the time I’d taken and landed briefly on one sympathetic nod as I departed with a final Állo and a szép napot (have a nice day) thrown in for good measure. I think the doc  wants to see me tomorrow afternoon at her practice in the the next village over. Why I’m not sure, but I’ll go along out of curiousity and because she told me to and hope that that’s indeed what she said.


2018 Grateful 18

People ask me why I blog. No one reads anything any more, they say. It’s all pictures. So I went on Pinterest in an effort to drive traffic to my blog. I doubt it’s worked as I’m not giving it the attention it needs. But then Pinterest was yesterday’s news, they say. Today it’s Instagram. Spare me. I know we live in a world driven by social media and an insatiable need to connect, but it’s doing my head in. I tried Twitter and apart from giving me something to do if I’m stuck in a queue somewhere, that hasn’t helped much either. I know I rarely click through to read what’s been posted because the story is so often in the headline. And my Twitter feed during the Pope’s visit made me question why I ever felt the need to know what some people think. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Anyway, I decided to give Instagram a go – but only for my latest blog devoted entirely to cemeteries, epitaphs, and gravestones.  That way I can keep track of how successful (or not) it is. I’m not holding my breath. For me the effort needed doesn’t warrant the return, but I’ll give it bash for a few months and see.

So back to why I blog if so few people are reading?

Friends in far-flung places are curious about what I’m up to, particularly life in the village. Those posts seem to resonate. Other acquaintances liked the Budapest Times series. Those who travel have switched over to my travel blog – an offshoot of Unpacking My Bottom Drawer – where I now post all my travel stuff. Trouble is, if I’m not travelling, I don’t post so subscribing to that is a little like binge watching a box set – all or nothing.  Readership on that is sketchy, but for me, it’s a record of where I’ve been and what impressed me – an aide memoir, if you like, one that’s there for public consumption.

That’s a lot of why I blog – to keep a record of fleeting thoughts and quiet moments; of people, places, and events; of books I’ve read and plays I’ve seen. My memory is slowly dissolving to the point that I can read something I wrote 10 years ago and wonder who wrote it as it rings not the faintest of bells.

But it’s the Grateful series that really keeps me anchored, the one I can’t miss, the weekly blog that keeps me focused.

Back in 2012 when I started the series, Grateful 18 was about a trip to Eger and how ‘my appreciation of the ordinary, the mundane, has grown in leaps and bounds’. In 2013, I was grateful for my love of reading and for those authors whose ability to paint pictures with words transports me to other worlds from the comfort of my couch – and in particular Peter May and the lovely Finlay McLeod. In 2014, in Week 18, I had a meltdown (I’d forgotten all about it) but was saved by a young friend, Deak Attila and was grateful that age is not a barrier to friendship. In 2015, I was

…keeping fairly constant company with a lovely man who has the most amazing green eyes and even more amazing hands. He’s in his mid-fifties, Jewish, Israeli, and absolutely and utterly fascinating. He goes by many names but the one I like most is his real one – Gabriel Allon.

Now, that I remember well. Wow. The following year, when Grateful 18 came around, I was in Rosslare revelling in the quacky and the zany having visited a house that had been shipped to Ireland in pieces from Paris in the 1900s and then put back together. In 2017, I was in the village enjoying a watermelon prayer flag a friend had crocheted and reminding myself to make better use of my time.

This year, 2018, I’m grateful that I’m in the habit of being grateful.