Fishin’ wars and being 50

I suffer from occasional bouts of homesickness – that longing for people, places, and things that are uniquely Irish. It doesn’t happen very often though as I tend to live in head space rather than in physical space. But wherever I’ve lived, it’s always looked like home: I hang up my pictures before I unpack my clothes.

That said, there are some things that no one can do as well as the Irish – the main one being fish and chips. The UK comes a close second but even its offering isn’t quite up to par.

Howth on a bank holiday Monday – sun shining, seagulls squawking, sea-air salting. The fishing village in North Dublin is buzzing. Car space is at a premium but the gods are on our side. A pint or two on the rooftop terrace of a pub looking out over the harbour. Then a walk along the pier. And then the decision – where to go for fish and chips?

H4 (800x600)Unbeknownst to me, two of Dublin’s oldest fish families are about to wage war – or so the Independent had it yesterday. For years, Beshoff’s has been the lead chipper in the village. They’ve had competition from the more traditional Caffe Caira (the queue was out the door but a local volunteered that if it was fish we were after, we should go to Beshoff’s) and the newer Crabby Joes, owned by the legendary fish family, Wrights. But life has been good for Beshoffs. They run a tight ship.

H2 (800x600)H1As you queue outside, someone marks your order on an order sheet that you then hand in, pay for, and collect your drinks. You get a number that shows on the screen as ‘Now Frying’. When it’s ready, the number turns green and you collect. All very civilised. I was impressed. The fish – Cod, Haddock, Hake – are all from sustainable catches and fried to within an inch of perfection. But the portions were huge. So much food goes to waste. I know I was hungry and yet I couldn’t finish my chips. And that rarely happens.

The undisputed chipper king in Howth now has competition from the Burdock family who have been in the business since 1913. Leo Burdock is famous for his chipper over near Christchurch. His guest list of old includes the likes of Tom Cruise and Bruce Springsteen, Sandra Bullock and Russell Crowe. Even Mick Jagger has partaken in the mushy peas.  And now he’s taken a pitch opposite the Dart station. John Beshoff reckons, though, that they still have the advantage – they cook in rapeseed oil so their food has 45% less saturated fat… mmmm… it did taste good. Why can’t we get a chip van into Budapest? It would make a killing.

H6 (800x600)H7 (800x600)I don’t think that I’ll ever tire of Howth. There’s something really lovely about the place, with its lighthouse, its yacht club, and its marina. The boat that goes between Howth and Dun Laoghaire wasn’t running that day because of high winds so that’s something I can still look forward to doing. That, and maybe trying my luck with the mackerel off the pier. Watching yer man fishing brought back all sorts of memories of my Alaska days, of friends who had visited and wanted to go fishing, and of friends long gone who had taken me fishing. Yep – there’s a lot to be said for head space, memories, and the places they can take you.

H5 (600x800)Ye olde birthday week is progressing nicely, thank you very much. My dad tells me that it hardly seems like 50 years since I screaming my way into the world with a massive big questions on my lungs: whhhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?  I tell him that it can’t seem like 50 years, because it hasn’t been 50 years. That’s next year. Honestly! Men and how they might age you.

2014 Grateful 21

‘Do you mind if I bring along a couple of musicians to your drinks thing this evening’, he asked? ‘They’re happy to play a few tunes.’ I think it was just about then that the night, the penultimate celebration in what has been a memorable birthday week, took on a life of its own.

Birthdays are great excuses to get people together. My life is quite sectioned and it’s good to occasionally get a mix of people in the same room and see how they hit it off. And I get to catch up with some I haven’t see in person in a while.  Thankfully, my lot are quite self-sufficient and don’t need minding so even those who’d arrived knowing no one were soon in the thick of things. Some couldn’t make it; others showed up unexpectedly; more still were absent because I forgot to tell them. My bad.

brdy2We’d taken over one corner of Grund’s inner courtyard and when said musicians arrived, we moved a couple of the pool tables and set them up. As Gary (on guitar) and Fionnuala (on flute) played to a mixed crowd of all ages from eight countries, I gave silent thanks for those who had taken the time to celebrate with me.

Surprises were the order of the evening though, as not only was I meeting my cousin (another Mary Murphy) for the first time (not surprising that… I have 70 first cousins still living), one of my oldest friends in BP, the inimitable SzE, walked in with Bródy János in tow.

I first met the man back in 2007 and was thoroughly smitten. To my mind, he’s Hungary’s answer to Christy Moore – an amazing performer and a lovely lad. I watched him woo a crowd aged 2 to 90, reaching everyone at their level, and was mesmerised. While I didn’t understand the lyrics, I was more than taken with the music and the sincerity with which he played. I’ve met him a couple of times over the years and listen to his CDs regularly. And seven years later, I’m still smitten. Back in the 1970s, when Hungary was under Communism, Bródy’s lyrics were open to interpretation and often could be read as being critical of the regime. Censorship was alive and well back in the day, and one album of songs that he wrote for singer back in 1973, discs of Koncz Zsuzsa’s album Jelbeszéd,   was withdrawn from sale and destroyed. Today, at as he moves well into his 60s, the rebel is still alive and well.

He said his voice wasn’t in good form so if he sang, he’d sing for me, not for the garden. Borrowing Gary’s guitar, I pulled up a chair, and sat, rapt, as he sang the first song I ever remember him singing – Egy hétig tart egy sezerelem (Love lasts a week). It charts the course of a relationship over a week and for some reason, even though I’ve never seen the lyrics translated, it resonates. I was well impressed that he showed up and even more impressed that he sang for me.

As one manic week draws to a close and another equally manic one beckons, I’m grateful for old friends and new; for those who live nearby and those spread around the world. I’m grateful for the birthday wishes, the birthday cards, and the birthday presents, too. To pass through people’s minds and linger long enough for them to wish me well is a lovely feeling. To have fate conspire to introduce new people to a life already full of good fortune is one of the best presents I could get. And to be sung to by the man himself …. priceless.



2014 Grateful 22

I have a birthday coming up. It’s not a significant one. It doesn’t involve any zeros. But as the big 50 looms in the not too distant future, I am increasingly fascinated by how relative youth is.

Yes my 25-year-old friends can trip the light fantastic until the small hours of the morning – but that’s no great achievement in itself as I could name a number of friends in their seventh decade who can do (and do do) the same. If I have a couple of late nights in a row, I feel the pain. It takes me longer and longer to recover, but thankfully, I’m not yet at the stage where I’m ready to hang up my years and stay home.

I am fascinated by the diversity of age between those I count amongst my friends. It runs the gamut from 22 to 97 – a span of 75 years. And while the cultural references differ (I had no clue who Blur was,  but I don’t think that’s an age thing – it’s just a me thing) and occasionally divert conversations as they have to be explained, it’s marvellous to think that age no longer defines people.

I can remember when 50 meant twinsets and pearls, or at the very least, sensible heels and a perm.  I have a vivid recollection from primary school of one of my friend’s mother – a woman who had short spiky hair and wore long skirts and dangley earrings and high heels and looked so unlike any other mother in the village that I used to wonder if she really was one. I can remember times when ‘the young ones’ continued on through the night while the ‘ould ones’ went home. I can remember a youthful deference to anyone old enough to be my parent that went hand in hand with a reluctance to engage with them as an equal.

Thirty–the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Fifty is no longer old – it’s the new 3o; 70 the new 50. Style is no longer the purview of the young (I’m mad about these NY women). And far from defining us, age is something we seem to have mastered. I think all of us have a mental age in our head – I know I’m stuck at 32. That was a year when life stopped still long enough for me to catch up with it. It was the best of times and the worst of times. It was marked by a very reluctant acceptance on my part that I was growing up and growing older, an acceptance I thought (and still think) could be mitigated by refusing to grow any older in my head.

When I see an old person now, it’s not their age I recognise, it’s their attitude to life. Some people are old at 30; others are still young at 80. And I intend to be one of those.

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve beenMadeleine L’Engle

This week, I’m grateful to those who have years on me for reminding me that life is there to be lived; and to live it I need to be in the thick of it, not watching from the sidelines.


Grateful 21

I had a birthday last week. Another one. They seem to come around with increasing regularity. But as I’m firmly stuck on 36, they’ve long since lost their hold on me. Gone are the days when I’d spend the weeks leading up to my birthday contemplating all I didn’t do that year, berating myself for not being more… well…  something, and bemoaning the fact that I was one year closer to maturity without the associated trappings: house, car, husband, kids.

These days, it’s more about chalking one up to success. A retrospective of this last year gets an 8/10 from my inner jury. On the plus side, I’ve travelled, been involved in interesting work projects, met some fascinating people, read some great books, discovered new corners of Budapest. I’ve entertained and been entertained. I’ve laughed more than I’ve cried. And I’ve finally put handles on my doors. On the minus side, I’ve put on a few pounds, been scammed, not been too healthy, and lost a very dear friend.

This year, I was in Palm Springs on my birthday with the lovely DL-W and VB. We’re three Chinese horses – not quite three generations but close enough. On the actual day, I gave a talk at D’s church. Another retrospective – this time of travel and tolerance. The community was open, friendly, and very welcoming. The discussion afterwards was insightful and thought-provoking. It gave me hope. Hope that we might actually learn to live with one another, without judging.

This week, I’m grateful for shared experiences, for having the chance to travel, and for having opportunities to meet new people. I’m grateful for simply being alive.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Put a stamp on it

I had a birthday this past weekend. I’ve had so many now that it should be old hat. Just another day. An excuse to get some friends together and roast the year that’s gone and toast the year to come. Somewhere between thinking ‘where has the time gone’ and ‘I’m really too young to feel so old’ I managed a few sane, and reflective moments that might actually be constructive enough to share.

Mid-way through last year, I unchecked the ‘show birthday’ box on Skype and Facebook. Not because I am the shy, retiring type, but because I think that for all the good it does, Social Media is robbing us of so much. We no longer have to make an effort to remember and so when we do ‘remember’ it doesn’t quite mean what it used to. It was one of the best things I’ve done in a while. Yes, I automatically pulled the plug on, say, 50 viral birthday greetings, but every day last week, when I stopped off to pick up my post, I had a card or a letter from someone, somewhere in the world, who had remembered. Not only that – they had taken the trouble to buy (or even make!) a card, sign it, address it, and post their rememberance to me.

Because so much of my communication these days is electronic, I’d quite forgotten the simple pleasure that comes with real post – not just bills or subscriptions or junk mail, but real, down home, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned snail mail.

When I came back from the States in 2001, I started sending postcards to friends abroad who had never been to the places I was now getting the opportunity to see.  Yes, I blog about my travels, and yes I post the photos, but there’s something more personal about getting a postcard that says ‘while I was here, something I saw reminded me of you and I just want to share it’. My teenage self had a wall covered in postcards I’d received from friends travelling abroad – but this was back in  20 BTI (before the Internet).

This isn’t an ad for Hallmark, or a broadcast on behalf of post offices the world over. It’s not an attempt to stimulate a dying economy by getting out there and buying a card and a stamp. It’s just a reminder that all too often, in this needlessly complicated world of ours, it’s the simple things that give the most pleasure.