2014 Grateful 5

I’m a sucker for romance. Always have been. I had thought that I might grow out of it as maturity set in and idealism gradually morphed into cynicism. But no. I wrote earlier this week about Aron who, in the movie For some inexplicable reason, tracked down a ticket controller to invite her out for a cream cake. And while I didn’t get any such invitation, what happened was just as good.

I’ve been promising myself for two weeks that I wouldn’t get out of bed yesterday. I was going to stay offline completely – no laptop – and just have a day to do nothing. But even though I didn’t set my alarm, I woke up, as usual, at 7.30 am. Not impressed I got up, wandered around, and then went back to bed. At 9 am I woke once again to the sound of the doorbell.

I was tempted to ignore it but I knew that if I did, I’d spend the day wondering who had been there. So I got up, sans glasses, and answered it. A young girl – a stranger – stood outside. Mary Murphy? she asked. Igen (yes), I replied. Ezeket neked (these are for you), she said, handing me a bunch of flowers. And with a final Szép napot (have a nice day), she turned and left.

I called out a belated thank you, and took my flowers inside. Still half-asleep and sans glasses, I put them in water and went back to bed. I lasted until 2pm before giving up the ghost and getting up – properly this time.

flower1I went in to check my flowers to see where they’d come from. The usual plastic sprong with the little envelope and card was missing. Now, I’ve just finished the eighth of twelve books in the Inspector Morse series (I’ve been reading them back to back) so my detective skills are at an all time high. I made a coffee and sat down to figure it all out.

The flowers hadn’t come naked, as they usually do if delivered from a florist. They’d been wrapped in paper as they are when you buy directly. The girl didn’t ask me to sign anything either, so it wasn’t a florist who delivered them.  mmmmm….

I looked again for a note – and this time found it amidst the stems. Typed. One line. I meant that you should discover me so, by my faint indirections. I recognised that … a line from my favourite Walt Whitman poem Among the multitudeIntriguing.

But unless it’s someone who knows me (as the poem might suggest – or was that coincidence?), how did they know where I live? My address isn’t on my business card, deliberately. But then I Googled me and found that with a registered company name anyone can get the address. So that opened the pool a little as I’ve been handing out more cards than usual lately. The plot thickened. I wracked my brain for a while but couldn’t come up with any possibles. Romance has been a little thin on the ground in my world. Until now 🙂

There’s a lot to be said for it. Romance, that is. I read a post on FB this morning that served as a sharp reminder that sometimes it can be left too late. Too often, while we might start out with grand romantic gestures, these fade over time as the more mundane reality sets in. Equally, we might confuse the ‘grand’ with expensive, expansive, and excessive, when in most cases the simpler the better.

I’ve a lot to be grateful for this week – including Thanksgiving and turkey leftovers – but I’m especially grateful for the thought behind the flowers. If you’re reading this, thank you. You made my day. And you never know:- you might inspire others to revisit the romance in their lives, too.




The secret weapon of stalkers

Staggering. Who ever would have believed it. I’ve just read that women – yes, women – purchase 85% of all Valentine cards. Back in the day when I was thrown out of class for trying to read a Valentine’s card under my desk, it was the boys who bought the cards…for the most part. And, back in the day, the cards were unsigned. So what’s happened between now and then?

Let’s go back to the 1840s, when the mother of Valentines, Esther Howland, began to mass produce cards made from scrap in America. Think kindergarten – card, glue, ribbon, lace, coloured pictures – and you get the idea. A sweet idea for a time when sweetness was in vogue and women and ribbons and lace all went together in one nice pretty sentence. Old Esther did well for herself and probably never in her wildest dreams imagined that not two centuries later, 1 billion cards would be sent each year in the States on and around the 14th of February.

anonymous valentineDo people in this part of the world even send anonymous Valentines any more, I wonder, as I sit and think about who amongst my male acquaintances even has my mailing address and knows what the inside of a post office looks like. Is splashing out hard-earned dollars, forint, euro or pounds on a bouquet of flowers and having it delivered without a name considered a poor return on investment? The thought of some other unsuspecting bloke getting the credit must be galling and a huge turn-off when it comes to weighing up the price of anonymity. Or would sending something unsigned now amount to stalking? But back in the day, that was half the fun – figuring out who the card or the flowers might be from.

The most imaginative Valentine’s gift I ever received was a real buffalo heart … still warm but not quite beating. The most considerate was when I worked between two offices – one in the morning, the other in the afternoon – and received flowers at both of them…from the same chap. The cynic in me now gags at the amount of money wasted on this one day, while the romantic in me says that every day in love is a day for thoughtful gestures. The child in me though, is secretly hoping that when I open my mailbox this morning, I’ll see an envelope and when I open the envelope, there’ll be a card… unsigned. Imagine, my very own twenty-first-century stalker!




Grateful 24

I checked my mailbox the other day and found a padded envelope, postmarked in the Netherlands. It was open and empty except for a cheese slice. I didn’t recognise the handwriting but had an aha moment when I recalled admiring MN’s slice last time I was in Dublin as it was so much stronger than the one in my kitchen drawer. So I emailed her and thanked her, assuming that she had been thoughtful enough to get me one the last time she was in Holland. She said she hadn’t sent it and suggested that perhaps LN had, as she had just been there. So I emailed LN to thank her for her kindness and she said she hadn’t sent it either, but that she had asked BN to send it to me from Haarlem. In any event, it arrived safely.

This happens to me quite regularly and has been happening on a regular basis for years. I comment on something or say I like something or ask someone where they got such and such and days, or weeks, or even months later, I end up with one too. This type of consideration, the paying attention to small details, the taking notice of wishes expressed and things said in passing is one of life’s greatest treasures.

Whether it’s making sure there’s milk and food in my fridge when I get back from a trip or sending flowers just because, or remembering that I’ve been looking for a good cheese slice, these random acts of kindness go a long way towards making me a better person. Because they are done unto me, I then try to do likewise for others. A virtuous circle.

This week was a difficult one and the appearance of that cheese slice made all the difference. I’m reminded of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote:  You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. And I’m grateful for the reminder that I shouldn’t think twice about acts of kindness or consideration. I should just do it.

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

Live ducklings and rosary beads

I’m a great fan of markets. I love sorting through other people’s junk in search of a piece of history or something that I can convince myself I simply cannot live without. I like to see other people’s creativity and inventiveness. And I’m fascinated by fresh fruit and veg. (On reflection, perhaps I need to get a life…my own life!) Down in Ráckeve this weekend, the town was buzzing around the riverside market that happens twice a week – Wednesday and Saturdays. Most markets this side of the world have a certain sameness – fruit, veg, preserves, Chinese or Turkish tat, second-hand clothes from the UK and the occasional original painting or handicraft. I’d never come across baby ducks or live chicks before.

Ráckeve ducklings

Ráckeve marketPerhaps though, being on the banks of the Danube makes this market seem a little less tat-like and a little more real. It’s a working market. I was the only tourist in sight – if I don’t count the five German lads who had come to look at the watermill. The regulars had their baskets out and were doing their bi-weekly shop. Everyone seemed to know everyone (not surprising perhaps in a town of 9000 people). The feel of the place was unlike the busier markets I’ve been to in Budapest (probably the one that comes closest is the one in Hyunadi tér).

Ráckeve market

Within the shadow of the Calvinist church, and nestled between a cheese stall and one selling ham hocks, was this one selling rosary beads. Not the old-fashioned beads that the old man in Ecseri sells – the ones that come with a story, a price, and a hook that had once clipped on to the belt of a brown-robed monk. These were new. New plastic for new Catholics? I’ve seen similar in pilgrimage sites – and that’s expected. Somehow, though, the sight of them here, in Ráckeve’s Saturday market, was a little surreal.

Ráckeve StorkRáckeve riversideRáckeve waterside


RáckeveRáckeve - butcher's house

But then, much about the town has that other-worldly quality. The sheer abundance of kerbside flowers makes it different and gives it a parochial feel. The detail in the town is interesting. The flower bed that on closer inspection shows a map of pre-Trianon Hungary. The red-and-white striped flag that is not that flown by Jobbik but just happens to be the colours of the town.The house that used to belong to the village butcher, the one with a pig’s head above each window. The statue of the dancing Huszar and his lady. The stork guarding its chicks, reigning over the town in princely fashion. The myriad community notice boards shaped like the prow of a boat. It’s a fisherman’s paradise. A word of warning though – their interpretation of pizza is a little unusual. Best opt for the fish soup unless you’re feeling particularly adventurous.

Grateful 39

Some years ago, I was considering moving to Haarlem in the Netherlands. High up on the list of reasons why I should was the abundance and year-round availability of inexpensive cut flowers.  I had visions of an airy house, with a garden, lots of windows, shallow-stepped stairs, and every room sporting its own vase of fresh flowers. Instead I moved to Budapest where fresh flowers cost a small fortune. My favourites, white gladiolas, can cost as much as €4 per stem and by the time they get to Budapest, they’re well open and I’m lucky if they last three days.

Mam got these flowers for Easter – 30 yellow tulips. And they’ve opened beautifully. If I could paint, I’d have the easel up and the watercolours out. But I can’t, so I had to make do with a photo. They’ve given me pause for thought though.

Many years ago, I dated an Australian whose weekly grocery list included a bunch of flowers. When I first discovered this curiosity, I was rather surpised as my boyo was a bit of a man’s man doing manly work. But I had no trouble getting used to it. A good mate of mine in Scotland sends me flowers on occasion – much to the amusement of my neighbours, who are at their wits end to discover where these flowers come from and who the mysterious P is (I’m sure they’re human enough to have peeked into the little message envelope).

In today’s world everything seems to be disposable. It is getting harder and harder to find that perfect gift for people who seem to have everything they need and are clueless as to what they want. Flowers are the answer. Is there anything more cheerful than a dash of colour in a vase, be they a simple bunch of wild flowers or a designer bunch of carefully chosen stems put together by a trained hand?

This week, although my head is all over the place and I’m questioning the very essence of life, it was this bunch of flowers that reminded me that life can be over analysed. While everything happens for a reason, sometimes it’s not necessary that we know why. Sometimes, simplicity is everything. While we might need to make decisions that will change the very nature of how we live, we don’t have to do it this very minute. Today, I took time to smell the tulips and give thanks for everyone in my life who has, a some stage, shared some flowers with me.