Blue Monday

Back in 2005, a publicity stunt by SkyTravel introduced the world to Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, apparently the most depressing day of the year. The chap behind it all, Cliff Arnall, used the following formula to come to this conclusion:

frac{[W + D-d] T^Q}{M N_a}

where W= weather, d= debt, T= time since Christmas, Q= time since failing our new year’s resolutions, M = low motivational levels, and Na= the feeling of a need to take action. I can’t find what D is and have no clue what the units of measurement are. But hey – it’s a formula.

I’ve never managed to remember that this is the day on which I’m supposed to be at my lowest, if I fit the parameters. But I don’t. It’s cold outside. Bitterly cold. But I’m a fan of cold weather as there’s no limit to the amount of clothes you can put on [compare this to hot weather]. As for debt, if I don’t have the money for it, I don’t buy it. Time since Christmas is a given. I didn’t make any resolutions this year so there’s none to fail. My motivational levels are low – that I’ll admit. But then I’ve been carrying bronchitis for 10 days now without any sign of abatement. As for feeling a need to take action? I did leave the house today so that’s covered. All in all, I’ve had worse Mondays.

But perhaps somewhere, deep in my subconscious, I have been preparing for today, Blue Monday. The lovely MI gave me a gift voucher for a Swedish massage for Christmas. Unlike most vouchers, with their 12-month expiry date, this had to be used by January 31st, which made it a lot more likely that I’d use it. It’s a busy month travel-wise and my days in the city are limited so while I might like to think that I deliberately kept this treat to mitigate the moroseness of Blue Monday, truth be told, it’s the about the only day I’m in town in this month with time to spare.

I hiked over to Szövetség u. 2c, in the VIIth district this afternoon. It’s a street I’ve not been on before so there was a certain sense of adventure. As I usually walk up the right-hand side of Rakoczi rather than the left, it was a whole new experience (remember, I’m delighting in the ordinary these days). My appointment was with a Kilencz Sándor. His business card said he was a gyógy- és sportmasszőr (medical and sports masseur). None of this frilly, easy-does-it, gentle rubdown … at least I hoped not. He asked me if I’d had a Swedish massage before. I had to think. I wasn’t sure. I’m bad with labels. He looked a little concerned and told me if it hurt, I was to say. And I said – but only once!

Those of you who followed my Thai exploits will have read about about my Thai massage experiences and my eventual delight at getting through an hour without screaming. This was a different sort of pain, though. I couldn’t help wonder why the CIA and MI5 and those sorts of agencies who want to get people to talk didn’t simply employ a kneading of masseurs. The right pair of thumbs could be lethal. Swedish massages come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and I reckon the one I got fell into the deep tissue category. I think he used the full range of techniques from effleurage, petrissage, friction, and tapotement, to vibration/nerve strokes and Swedish gymnastics. And did it hurt? Hell yes. It’s been a while since my muscles have had such a workout. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

I’ve been missing the ministrations of physio RO’D, who moved back to Ireland a couple of years ago and in my world held the title of hardest hands. It’s hard to find a decent massage if you’re after deep-tissue work and need a pair of strong hands that know what they’re doing, Kilencz Sándor is your man.  Namaste is surprisingly bright for a cellar salon. Decked out in turquoise and white, it’s got a sub-oceanic feel to it. Prices are reasonable with a 90-minute massage setting you back 8000 ft (~€25). And you really need 90 minutes to do him justice. There’s various deals to be had with a bundle of 5 massages for 35 000 ft and a bundle of 10 for 58 000 ft. He’s definitely worth checking out.

I’ve just made my first resolution of 2019: To make it my business to see him at least once a month. And no, it’s not spoiling myself – it’s a healthy option. From all I’ve been reading, regular massage reduces tension and anxiety and can help relieve depression. And it improves blood circulation and stimulates the lymphatic system. I have a regular lass down the village, but she’s not quite there when it comes to deep tissue stuff. And that’s what I really need. Had I been feeling the effects of Blue Monday, this would have cured me. I’m already feeling better.

 

 

 

 

Walking in Circles

2019 Grateful 50

About a year ago, on a flight from Munich to Malta, I did the unthinkable. I tore out a couple of pages from the inflight magazine. I’d come across a poem I really liked and wanted to have a copy of it to reflect on later. Which I did. Fast forward to November and I received an email from the poet, Giulia Privitelli, who had come across my blog. The book of poetry I’d mentioned – Walking in Circles – had finally published and she kindly offered to send me a copy. I thought no more of it. Until it arrived. It was waiting for me when I got back to Budapest in late December.

Walking in Circles is an ‘illustrated poetic journey’ that started in 2017. Privitelli teamed up with illustrator Steve Bonello to work on the project. Both pilgrims, they ‘intertwine their life experiences and art forms as they reflect on art, nature, childhood, growth, death; on feelings and thoughts that we cherish, question, and fear in a landscape that looks the same but is forever changing’. It’s a beautiful collection of poetry that is my go-to read as I travel around the city, each poem a tonic of thought and reflection that grounds me while at the same time freeing me from the limits of my reality.

But even more than the book, fascinating though it is, was the letter that accompanied it (reprinted, in part, with permission).

Dear Mary,

Once again, I thank you for sharing one of my poems on your blog. Even simply knowing that you took the time to read it on the plane gives me a certain sense of glee; to have ripped it out of the magazine, reflected upon it, and allowed it to reach into your own memory and experience…well, that is to have gone one step further. And that couldn’t have made me happier.

It might see like an (awe-fully) small thing to get so excited and giddy about, but it has always been the small things which get me all excited and giddy. The poems were written that way, too – one small observation, curiosity, episode – small things which trigger an unexpected avalanche of words, rolling into each other, forming something that resembles a poem. Just like your own blog, “there was no plan”. One brief moment becomes the memory of a day, that day becomes the memory of the week, the week becomes that of the month and the month becomes that of the year, and so on, year after year, for every moment we experience. Smallness has great potential, don’t you think? And it quickly becomes overwhelming. Small things may be shared because they are light; they allow space for an exchange to be made, for movement, for others; small things bounce off each other, shape each other; they cannot impose; they contain as they too are contained; small things, the smallest, may be part of anything, they can lead to anything. They are relatable. Small things may be so easily overlooked or discounted, but when discovered they can just as easily be fully absorbed, fully known and therefore fully appreciated; they build up towards a whole. And we, in our smallness, are part of it.

Jokingly (but also seriously)  what is the spectactular if not an imperceptible number of tiny, different specks coming together? This is how I would rather look at our world because, honestly, I cannot think of anything more exciting, more beautiful, more necessary to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture! My eyesight isn’t the sharpest, but I hope to spend a lifetime looking for and discovering small things, just like you have when you opened the inflight magazine. […]

Warm wishes,

Giulia

What a lovely, lovely message to end one year with and begin another. Perhaps the answer to the absurdity and chaos in which we live, perhaps the way to deal with the preposterousness of the players on the world’s stage, is to delight in the small things. To find that brief moment that becomes the memory of a day. Perhaps if we concentrate more on these small things, they will indeed lead to something – a calmer, saner, more hospitable, more considerate world.

I don’t recall ever asking you to share a blog post – but for this I make an exception. If this resonates in any way with you, please consider sharing. If we can all refocus on the small things, and delight in the ordinary, perhaps our collective tomorrow will be one to look forward to.

To buy the book, Walking in Circles

 

 

New Year, New Local

The lads have bought a bar. A neighbourhood joint in the IXth district. I was surprised. They’ve put in their time as punters in hostelries around the world, but I’d never figured them for publicans. One’s an architect. Another works in disaster response coordination. The third’s an academic, and the fourth, well, he makes things happen. A Canadian, a Geordie, a Brit, and an American, all have been in Hungary for the best part of 20 years. They speak the language, they love the food, and they get the people. But perhaps most importantly, they have an innate respect for tradition. Read more

Nine Tables

Nine Tables

Corvin Sétány is alive and well. New places are opening on a regular basis. The latest addition that I’ve noticed is Nine Tables, which has taken the spot previously occupied by Bombay Curry Bar, next to Costa. Presumably a Spanish sister to the self-billed American restaurant on Tompa, this piqued my curiosity so much I tried it blind. No sneak peek at the menu beforehand. No price check. No review check. Sadly, I may well have learned my lesson.

True to its name, it has just nine tables, three of which were occupied the night the four of us turfed up, with a reservation. Granted it was early in the week and not a great dining-out night but still, the area has more than its fair share of tourist traffic so I’d have expected more people.

The wine offer was decent enough with a nice array of reasonably priced Hungarian wines to choose from. Interestingly though, the standard glass was 1.6 dl. Not the usual 1 dl or 1.5 dl, but 1.6, I wondered if this was being different for the sake of being different or it if was simply a typo. It must be difficult to divide a 75 dl bottle into 1.6s. But I wasn’t there to do the math. At least I thought I wasn’t.

The menu was limited but enticing. Lamb. Salmon. Prawns. Steak. A little pricey I thought but hey, it’s not every day I see lamb on a menu in Budapest. When we ordered, our waitress cautioned us that the portions were small  – tapas-sized – so we might want to reconsider. Wow. Tapas-sized portions at full-main prices? mmmm…

I like my tapas. I like the idea of sharing different dishes. I like the idea of tasting a variety of stuff. We ordered the lamb, the salmon, the prawns, the chorizo, the croquettes, and some fries, warned as we were that food would come as it was cooked and not all together.

We were four. The first dish up, the croquettes, had three croquettes. We got three prawns, too. And the paper bag with the (cold) bread that came with the chorizo had five slices.

I despaired. Obviously, the whole concept of initiative was missing from the training. Four people sharing a dish designed for three? How difficult would it have been to say – This dish comes three to a plate. Or better yet, this dish comes in threes but we can add an extra one (and charge accordingly)? I felt as if I was back in short socks and mammy was dividing the last sausage between the cousins.

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered whether we’re evolutionizing out of our ability to think independently. Have we become victims to rote training, standard operating procedures, and a blind acceptance of This is simply the ways it’s done. Period. Are today’s service-industry workers allowed any leeway to apply common sense or is theirs simply the job of applying the rules, literalizing the menus, and sticking rigidly to the offer. The last time I remember calling this into question was also on Corvin Sétány in a sushi restaurant that refused to slice its rolls.  Perhaps it’s something in the air.

Nine Tables or no?

The much-anticipated lamb (two cutlets) was bland and overpriced. The whole experience was disappointing. When I wasn’t in conversation and looked around the room, I was drawn to the two skulls on the bar or the TV above it. I’m not quite sure what the game plan is with this restaurant, but it wouldn’t be getting my vote for somewhere to go unless I simply fancied a bowl of excellent fries (really nicely done) and a decent glass of local vino.

 

A flight from hell

Way back, many lifetimes ago, when I was young and inconsiderate, I took a flight from Scottsdale to LA or was it from Las Vegas to Seattle? I can’t quite remember. I know I was stateside and going home to wherever it was I called home at the time. It was back in the days when you could still smoke on a plane. And yes, I’m ageing myself there. I’d been separated from my mate as we hadn’t booked together and found myself in the back row of the plane sitting beside an Irish priest. We had a whale of a time. We talked, we laughed, we drank, we smoked. We sorted out the world and then some. No one would have thought it was 3 pm or whatever it was over whichever state we were flying. But for others it was a flight from hell.

Back then, I was living with a TV so I spoke more loudly than I do now. I have a theory. Those who live with TV speak louder than those who don’t. They have to, to be heard above the background noise. So ours wasn’t just a conversation à deux; all of the adjacent rows got to hear it, too. When the plane landed, a woman sitting a couple of rows ahead of me turned back to me and said:

Someday, you’ll experience the flight I’ve just had. Remember me then.

I hadn’t a clue what she was on about. Then. But the bones of 25 years later, she’s come back to haunt me.

Travelling from Dublin to Budapest last week, I was on the flight from hell. I had the misfortune to be on a less-than-full flight. You know the ones that offer plenty of scope for musical chairs? I sat in front of an Irish lad and a Hungarian girl. She had the window. He had the aisle. He had two mates. She was on her own. His mates soon moved to the adjacent aisle seat and the middle seat between the two. And for nearly three hours the four of them kept up a non-stop flow of conversation. And they were all TV people.

We had the usual what do you do, where do you work, how long have you been living in Dublin (from them). And what do you do, where do you work, and is this your first time in Budapest (from her). It wasn’t long before she discovered that her mate Rosie used to work with one of them in London. It’s a small field, apparently. I can’t tell you how amazingly, mind-blowingly, gobsmackingly awesome this was. Only about a 100 in London all told and they all know each other. Some sort of monopolies economists. As the cans of beer popped open, more than froth came to the fore. Old stories of Mr in the Middle (a film director) stealing knickers for his girlfriend from a shopping centre, stories he hotly denied. My boy on the aisle had been unemployed for ages (ex-Microsoft) but had finally gotten a job last May and was off probation. The economist on the adjacent aisle told us four times why the marketing book he was reading was such a good read. In between times, herself filled them in on all what was to be seen in Budapest. She works for Air BnB in Dublin. Been there years. Great English.  I had my doubts though when she was telling them that palinka is a type of vodka and I had to hold myself back when she started recommending places to go – all obvious tourist traps. Szimpla Kert and Szechenyi baths – really?

On a flight that lasted just shy of three hours, we had seven minutes of blissful silence. Seven minutes. Then they regrouped, rehashed, and repeated all that had gone before.

I couldn’t hear myself think. I tried proofreading some text and had to resort to reading aloud in an effort to keep focused on what I was doing. The Serbian chap beside me must have thought he’d died and gone to English-language hell. How much worse could it get. I tried reading but kept losing my place. I tried sleeping but that wasn’t happening. I watched the chap in front of me turn around numerous times and glare disapprovingly but to no avail. They were oblivious to everything and everyone.

I was them once. On a flight to LA or Seattle. With a priest. I was inconsiderate, loud, and full of self-interest. I didn’t care who I was disturbing because I simply didn’t realise I was disturbing anyone. My world was all about me. When the chap next to Mr Adjacent Aisle got up and moved, they engaged in an all-too-brief moment of self-reflection, wondering if it was something they’d said? Hello! I wanted to scream Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was everything you said so loudly. But I didn’t.

I was tempted to turn to them when we landed and pass on yer woman’s words:

Someday, you’ll experience the flight I’ve just had. Remember me then.

No. Better to cut that karmic thread off at the seam. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And while I finally see the value in headphones, I’m a little disturbed by my unwillingness to engage.

 

Balatongyörök

2019 Grateful 51

I caught some form of crud during the week, a nasty chest infection that seems to have moved in and taken over.  Not for love nor money could I face getting up this morning at 7.20 to make it to 8 o’clock Mass. I figured the good Lord would forgive me but as the day wore on and I finally did surface to see the light of day, himself figured it would be a shame to waste it. My time in the village is limited this month to two weekends – I needed to make the most of them.

We headed into Balatongyörök around 3.30 pm to catch the sunset over the lake while enjoying a cup of coffee and a pastry at the lovely Promenád Kavéház. Judging by the lone slice of banana cake, the couple of chocolate wedges, and the handful of macaroons, we weren’t the only ones to have had this idea. The offer was thin but the view was amazing. Looking out across the lake over to Fonyód was like looking across a massive pane of glass. Blue sky. Calm water. Crisp air. Lovely stuff. Back around 1900, Charlie thought so too. He’s quoted here as saying something along the lines of ‘I’ll never forget that moment when I saw this fairy country… I stopped as if my feet were roots.’

Balatongyörök

It was cold though. At least I was feeling the cold until I was beset by a hot flush. They’re the bane of my life these days. I never know what to wear and seem to spend my time taking off and putting on my clothes. It’s a pain in the proverbial. I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night or managed to stay in one room for any length of time without having pop outside for a breather. I’m wishing it would all be over. Menopause is proof in my mind that God isn’t a woman. Still though, in cold weather, said same flushes can be a blessing in disguise. And true to form, on the walk around the viewing point, I was nicely warmed.

We popped into Aldi to pick up a few things before getting 6 pm mass in Keszthely. Wandering the aisles with plenty of time to spare, I was all happy … until I flushed again.

Sweet mother of divine Jesus, I cried. Just give me two flush-free hours and I’ll be happy.  Just two. Surely that’s not too much to ask!

I was more than a little pissed off. Dehatting, descarfing, degloving and then unzipping and derobing is a major inconvenience, especially as it all has to be put back on minutes later.

We headed over to  Magyarok Nagyasszonya templom (Our Lady of Hungary church) for 6 o’clock Mass. Waiting for the priest to show up, it felt like the coldest church I’d ever been in. Not a radiator or electric heater in sight. It was so cold that I could see my breath.

I’d had a near missing coming into the place. The full complement of lights don’t go on till 5.45 but we’d mistimed it and got there five minutes earlier. I opened the main door and stepped in – and down. I ask you, what sort of idiot architect puts a step at a door threshold? I went sprawling but managed to right myself before I hit the floor and better yet, managed to contain the inevitable expletive to a whisper.  Just as well, because the acoustics were good.

At 5.55 pm, there was only ourselves and two old dears in the congregation. I was beginning to doubt there was Mass at 6. But then the crowd appeared, all of a sudden and all at once. We caused some consternation as of all the empty pews in the place, we’d sat in one that had regulars. I was too cold to move or care and as they squished in regardless, the element of body heat wasn’t lost on me.

The priest was late. It wasn’t until he made an appearance at 6.05 that the seat pads were switched on. I’ve only ever seen this in Hungary. The seat pads are heated – like electric blankets. The rest of me might have been frozen solid but my bum was nice and toasty.  It’s the weirdest thing.

I borrowed himself’s hat, thanking the protocol that frowns on men covering their heads in a church but encourages women to do so. I figured I’d have no more than 15 minutes before a hot flush kicked in and then I’d be nice and warm. Himself was thinking the same. I radiate heat when it happens. Some not in the know might take it for a miracle of sorts. But nothing. Not a damn thing. Then I remembered the prayer I’d uttered aloud in Aldi. It’d only been gone and answered! The luck of it all.

After a week that seemed like it would never end, I’m grateful to have been cautioned – I need to be more careful what I pray for.

If you’re in Keszthely, the church is worth a visit as it has some spectacular old frescoes. But watch the step.

 

 

 

car wash delight in the ordinary

2019 Grateful 52

The first month of the new year isn’t even in double digits yet and already I’m beset by a feeling of foreboding that just won’t go away. I can’t quite put my finger on it but 2019 has none of the hope or expectation that its predecessor had. It’s not like anything is wrong; it’s more a feeling that things could be heading for a downswing and the chances of avoiding or averting whatever’s in store seem small, if non-existent. I’m not depressed. I’m not paranoid. I’m not even fatalistic – I’d be more than happy if I’m wrong. It’s just a sense I have that it’s going to be a year to remember and not for any good reason.  Only time will tell. It’s been a while, years in fact, since I’ve felt this way and thankfully, I know from experience that I have a coping mechanism that works. I need to delight in the ordinary. I need to lose sight of the big picture and concentrate on the little things.

A few weeks back, I took the car for a spin through the local carwash. The last time I’d been there, the chap in charge all but pulled out what few hairs he had left in desperation at my stupidity. Am sure that his account of ‘that idiot woman’ kept the local pub entertained that evening. Okay. My bad. But no, I didn’t for a minute think that the car had to be out of gear and the handbrake had to be off for it to move – wasn’t that the whole point of automation? Of course, in retrospect, it’s completely sensible. The car has to be free to move through the wash; it doesn’t just get up on a track and trundle along unaided. But who would have thunk it, eh? My Hungarian wasn’t quite up to understanding the finer mechanics of the workings of a carwash but after a few shouts, yells, and wild gesticulations, I got the message. Finally.

And he remembered me. I left an impression. I could see the universal upwards eye-shift that screams – oh, no, not her again. But then he spotted himself beside me and relaxed. All was well. I had a man in the car who’d tell me what to do. How was he to know that I don’t need to be told twice? Bless him.

Anyway, as I sat looking out at what was going on, it struck me that way back whenever, some bright spark sat down one day and dreamed up this idea. It’s a spectacular piece of work really. The rollers, the runners, the hoses, the jets, the pipes, the pullies, the nozzles, the water, the suds, the foam, the drying columns, the fans … each piece playing its part in an operation that had my car looking like new in a matter of minutes. Harmony in motion. I wondered who was behind it.

It seems there are a number of contenders for the title.

Back in 1914, in Detroit, MI, Frank McCormick and J.W. Hinkle opened what they called an automatic laundry. But the only automation going was human. As the car went through a tunnel (being pushed by a few chaps, no doubt), one guy soaped, another rinsed, and a third dried. It wasn’t until 1940 in Hollywood, CA, that someone had the idea to pull the car through the tunnel using a winch. And it was later again, in 1946, that Thomas Simpson came up with the sprinkler idea, but still, some poor sod had to do the rubbing and the drying.

Here’s where Google divides. One site says that Paul Maranian, opened Paul’s Auto Wash in Detroit  – the world’s first automatic car wash – in 1948. But a second says it was the Anderson brothers of Seattle, WA, who finally went fully automated in 1951. Archie, Dean, and Eldon didn’t have the benefit of social media to spread the word and it would appear that in 1956, some parts of the USA still hadn’t gotten wind of their invention. Dan Hanna, from Portland, OR, which is really only down the road from Seattle, while on vacation in Mexico became fascinated with the workings of the local carwash. He went back home, got his mother to mortgage the house, and opened his own Rub-a-Dub in Milwaukie, OR. By 1959, according to the Hanna website, he had a working model of ‘the first mechanized car washing system’. Automated vs mechanized. mmmm….

That took me off on a whole other tangent.

According to those in the know, mechanization saves the use of human muscles whereas automation saves the use of human judgement. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’ve failed repeatedly and spectacularly when taking aptitude tests where cog A turns in one direction, cog B turns in another, and I’m supposed to figure out which way cog C goes. I’m damn near useless with any sort of instructional diagram. I need it in word format. My brain simply doesn’t interpret diagrams, but even with this limitation, surely mechanization would come before automation?

It doesn’t matter a whit to me, really, which came first or who gets the credit for what. I’m grateful that my coping mechanism still works and that I can still be distracted if I find delight in the ordinary. Who knows what I’ll learn this year!

2018 Grateful 1

2018 is drawing to a close. 2019 is almost upon us. Himself and the two headed over to the healing forest in Slovenia earlier this morning. I’ve stayed behind to catch up on work and meet some deadlines. Tonight we’ll sit around a table with friends and eat lamb, cooked Moroccan style. Fish and poultry will swim or fly away with our luck, so we’ll avoid those. We’ll have lentils just after midnight to make sure we’ll have luck and prosperity for the next 12 months. We might even bury a coin or two in the garden this evening and dig them up on the morrow. We already have a stalk of blessed straw from the village crib in our wallets. Superstition, I hear you say. And you’re right. But in these turbulent times, I’ll do what I can to mitigate the insanity. 2018 has shown me just how irrational the world has become, how self-centred its people are, how much we have lost sight of the bigger picture in an effort to preserve our own sliver of society. I’d like to think that 2019 will be a year of a collective awakening to what’s really important in life but I have my doubts. Something tells me that we haven’t seen the half of what’s to come.

2019 will be a tumultuous one for me. January and February are already as full as the myriad flights I’ll be on. It’s shaping up to be a year of reunions and farewells. With ageing parents and elderly friends, I’m even more conscious of the need to refocus on what’s important and not waste my time. It was a thing that age defined our departure from this world but it seems as if the resounding Irish funeral echo of ‘they were a good age’ is being replaced by ‘they were too young to go’. None of us can tell what’ll happen tomorrow. Today is all we have.

That said, I’m grateful to be in the village, my safe place where the world rights itself, surrounded by good friends. I’m grateful to have the wherewithal to dress the table and see 2018 out in style. And as we stand on the upstairs balcony at midnight, watching the fireworks go off in the villages around the Kis-Balaton, the words of John O’Donoghue’s blessing will  echo in my mind.

 

Beannacht (“Blessing”)

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Happy New Year. Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh. Boldog új évet.

 

Tom Thumb's Alphabet

2018 Grateful 2

I wasn’t a half hour in the door from the airport when my 92-year-old father turned to me and said :

Something came into my mind today and I wanted to ask you about it.

Oh oh. God only knew where this one was going. I had a quick think and couldn’t come up with anything I’d said or done recently that would give rise to boss questioning me.

And then he started:

A was an archer who shot at a frog
B was a butcher who killed a wild hog
C was a captain, all covered in lace
D was a drunkard who had a red face
E was an esquire with pride on his brow
F was a farmer who followed the plough
G was a gamester who had but ill luck
H was a hunter how followed a buck
I was a innkeeper who loved much the booze
J was a joiner who built up a house
K was King William who once governed this land
L was a lady who had a white hand
M was a miser who hoarded up gold
N was a nobleman gallant and bold
O was an oyster wench who went about town
P was a parson who wore a black gown
Q was a queen who was fond of good flip
R was a robber who wanted a whip
S was a sailor who spent all he got
T was a tinker who mended a pot
U was a userer, a miserable elf
V was  vitner who drank all himself
W was a watchman who guarded the door
X was expensive and so became poor
Y was a youth who didn’t like school
Z was a zany, a poor harmless fool

Did you know that? he asked.

I’d never heard it before. It was something he had learned more than 80 years ago as a child. And it had just popped into his head. I Googled it and found a few versions that vary in the telling. In one, I was an Italian, O an organboy, P a policeman, and Q a quaker.

It’s Tom Thumb’s Alphabet. The earliest printed record of it is 1712. As it grew in popularity, some lines were considered to have a harmful effect on children. Y was a youth, that did not love school was one example. So the alphabet was replaced by that by Benjamin Harris, published in the New England Primer.

It brought to mind the recent hoo-ha about Fairy Tale of New York and  It’s Cold Outside. Even in the 1700s words and phrases were outliving their usefulness. But that said, perhaps the idle fool being whipped at school would be lost in the telling today, too.

This week, as Christmas in Ireland is in full swing, I’m grateful for the flights of fancy on which my dad’s memories take me.

 

Bah, Kipling!

I had my day all planned out. Dentist 9 am. Physio 9.45. Coffee with B at 11.30. Lunch with C at 1 pm. Home to pick up ~40 kg of groceries to deliver to Zs for her charity drive at 3.30 pm. Back home by 4.30 to pack for a trip, picking up some brown paper to wrap the last of the presents on the way. Drinks with I at 7 pm and then bed by 10. Everything timed. Everything set.

I got to the dentist 20 minutes before my appointment. I had my book. It was warm. I was grand waiting. But then she ran over. At 9.35 she said she could see me but I had a physio appointment in ten minutes. She asked if I could come afterwards, at 11.30. B had cancelled the coffee so I was free. But I couldn’t eat for two hours after a cleaning, and lunch wasn’t cancellable. So no dentist.

After physio I went home, planning to pick up an Advent wreath for J and some brown paper. They were out of paper. I got the wreath. And I lost a glove. When I left for my lunch date, I retraced my steps, used my muddled Hungarian to mime the glove loss with a singularly unhelpful shop assistant and got lucky.

Back home to pick up the food, I double-checked that Zs was home. She wasn’t. She was in Ikea. The meet was postponed two hours but I couldn’t wrap as I had no paper, so I ironed. Then, at 5, I left with two loaded wheelie bags that refused to come to heel. Like incalcitrant puppies, they had a will of their own. I checked that I had everything. Keys, phone, wallet, metro pass. No metro pass. I’d lost it at some stage after taking the metro that morning. It had 10 days left and 8 loose tickets. I wasn’t happy. I walked in circles around my kitchen invoking all sorts of hell and damnation. Had anyone been looking in the window, they’d have thought me mad.

At the tram stop, the ticket machine kept asking for exact change. I fed in more coins than I needed as I didn’t have the exact change. I wasn’t winning the battle. Three trams came and went. And the fight went on. I asked a fellow traveller for a 10 ft coin. She gave it to me with a smile, the first of the day and it was after 5 pm. But the ticket machine wasn’t having any of it. I took a photo of the screen to show that I’d paid in my money and then the next one showing it out of order. I planned on showing this to the controller if questioned. I was spoiling for a fight with someone who could talk back.

Getting off the stop, one of my wheelie bags upended. The crowd boarding the tram was unforgiving. My inner fishwife came out. I was beside myself. I recognised the day for what it was: a hormonal mess. As each little piece fell apart, a little piece of me went with it. Menopause is a bitch.

I don’t want to take hormones. When it gets so bad that I lose my sense of reason, I buy a packet of cigarettes. Trying to get up the steps and through the narrow door of the Nemzeti Donhánybolt with my  40 kg of groceries wobbling on leashes behind me was a spectacle. I came crashing through the door to the soundtrack of muffled curses in two languages.

I delivered the food, boxed it, and left for home. I’d have 20 minutes before I had to leave for my 7 pm drinks date. Time for a cigarette and a coffee. Time to magic up some calm and reason to douse those hormones.

I thought of the opposition MPs fighting for the right to be broadcast on Hungarian national media, and the thousands of protestors on the streets objecting to the new labour law. I thought of the Muslims in China who are being force-fed pork and alcohol in an effort to reprogram them and the way this piece of news hasn’t yet received international traction. I thought of my friend G whose brand new product Dragekiss has been counterfeited by unscrupulous Asian outfits and the long road she has ahead of her in her fight for justice. I thought of friends and acquaintances battling with their particular ailments and illnesses, of varying severity and hope. I thought of Saturn losing its rings. Of José Mourinho losing his job. Of the world losing the great Laverne. And I told myself that my day wouldn’t even register on the national or international crap scale. I heard that line from Kipling repeat itself again and again.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…

And I thought f*&! it. My circus. My monkey. My hormones. I’d get over it. It’s days like these that wine is made for.