2021 Grateful 49: My feathered friends

I have a Pavlovian thing going with my birds. Every time I go outside onto the terrace and down the steps, they watch me. Quietly. No chirping. No sound. And then, when I come back in and close the door, they wait. Read more

2019 Grateful 18: Talented friends

There was a time in my life when I mistakenly believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness, of not being able to cope, of not being in control. If it had to be done, I had to do it.  If there wasn’t enough time in the working day to do everything I had to do, I’d sacrifice my sleep. And if you know me at all, you’ll know how much I need my sleep. Those were bad years. Nightmare years. Stressful years. Read more

Washing windows

Life in the village has its own momentum. Nothing seems quite as urgent as it does in the city. My days are governed more by what I feel like doing than what I feel I have to do. Wednesday, for instance, I felt like washing windows (yep, I was surprised at that, too). I actually felt like it Tuesday, too, but by the time the water came back on, the humour had worn off. Wednesday, we had water. And vinegar. And a fresh sponge. So I got to work.

Read more

2016 Grateful 15

My first car was a Ford Fiesta. I had no say in the colour, the make, the size, the year, the price. I’d been talking about getting a car and was even taking driving lessons. I went home one weekend and the car was there. My dad had gone shopping for me. I got the car and the bill. It wouldn’t have been my pick and ungrateful wagon that I was back then (hey, I was young), I still remember feeling a tad peeved at not having had a say. But it was a car on a deferred payment scheme and it got me from A to B. I soon forgot any complaints I might have had.

My only car in California was a two-tone green monster of a Buick Regal. I mentioned wanting a car and someone knew someone selling this one so I bought it. No research. No shopping around. It was in my price range and he said it ran fine. The front seat was like a sofa. The first time I went to put gas in it, I had to leave the garage, embarrassed. I couldn’t find the tank. I circled and circled and circled the car but couldn’t find it. How was I to know that the tank was hidden behind the licence plate.

The next car I bought was a maroon Ford Mustang. A great little car. I drove it up the Alcan highway from Washington and took it on the ferry when I moved from Anchorage to Valdez. But it wasn’t built for snow. I was constantly getting stuck on snow berms in winter and would have to call the pub to see if someone could come tow me out of trouble.

Back in Ireland, I drove my mam’s old Starlet. And then my brother’s Santa Fe. It’s been years since I’ve had my own car and I’d forgotten what it was like.

When the search began, I had a budget. And for that money I wanted the newest car with the lowest mileage in the best condition. Not a tall order, I thought. A pretty reasonable ask. Clueless, I asked a mate, TZ, who knows cars for advice.

'Tell us again why we need three hundred horsepower to get groceries.'

‘Tell us again why we need three hundred horsepower to get groceries.’

He asked some questions: projected mileage (I way overestimated); preferred capacity (a boot that would fit two large suitcases and a back seat that would take three people comfortable); trips envisaged – frequency, length, etc. (I definitely exaggerated); parking; total budget; degree of urgency. He then sent a list of cars (models/makes) to avoid as it’d be parked on the street and these were prone to theft. This isn’t something I’d have thought about, ever. He then discounted various other makes/models for a number of reasons. Third generation of this car had a design flaw in backseat placement. Second generation of that car had an engine fault and so on. His knowledge of cars is encyclopedic.

We went shopping on Saturday. Three cars to see. The first, a Ford Focus, I’d have taken in a heartbeat. Low mileage, good nick (or so I thought), and well within budget. An import, from Germany. And so the education began.

Mileage was suspiciously low. It had been crashed at least once (the bonnet didn’t align quite exactly !*&S! – like I’d have noticed that). The tyres were old (check the four digit number). And the upholstery screamed valet job rather than regular upkeep. (So there was a hole … wouldn’t have bothered me.)

The next place had two cars on offer. Both Toyota Avensis – one a 5-door liftback, the other an estate. Both looked great, if a little big. Both were in budget. The five-door was gold though… I wasn’t mad about driving around in a bling car but I wasn’t going to be a girl about it. If it worked, it worked. I checked the bonnet – it seemed to align. I checked the tyres for the week/year and they seemed okay. But I missed that the wear on the steering wheel and gear knob were too much for the mileage done, even though the rest of the car was in great shape. The oil around the oil pan was went rather than dry flaky dirt-like stuff (another new one). All an education. The other was too big for me – I’d never parallel park it.

Sunday we saw Ime. A silver Toyota Avensis. She’s had one careful owner who has babied her for years. Lots of years. She’s in great condition and looks way younger than she is. She’s immaculately kept. Records of each and every service in its own plastic sleeve. Serviced religiously every 10 000 km. In budget, silver, good to go.

She’s my first grown-up car. The type of car my dad might have had. It took me a while to come around to the fact that I am grown up, too. When I mentioned to TZ that I thought she might be too big, car1too grown-up for me, he said, in all seriousness, referring back to my original list of wants: Mary, you can’t have sex and still remain a virgin.

I took her home today. And tomorrow the bureaucratic nightmare begins with the help of another of Hungary’s wonders, CM. The chassis test (to verify that she is just one car and not a mutation of many parts and that all parts are her own). Then it’s to the Halls of Hell to transfer registration and pay my ‘wealth acquisition tax’ (oops – capital transfer tax – a tax on transforming cash to steel) and get my car papers sorted. And then to another office to get my parking permit for district. The NCT/MOT is due in November when she gets a new clutch and a complete fluid transfusion. You see, when it comes to looking after her, I’m going to be more Hungarian than Irish. I’m going to do it by the book. I need her to live a long, healthy life. I need her to keep going.

This week in 2007, I came to Budapest. Nine years later to the day life seems to be motoring along in a direction I’d not have planned (were I a planner). But hey, the scenery is great; the route’s full of twists and turns, never boring; and there’s plenty of miles left on the clock. This week, I’m so glad I met the embodiment of the used-car classified ad classic: one careful owner. And for mates like TZ and CM, who willingly donate their days to help, I’m truly grateful.



2014 Grateful 8

When your world is actually a series of interconnected smaller worlds, sometimes mixing them up doesn’t go so well. I have lots of worlds of varying sizes, populated by different people. And I usually keep them quite separate. I don’t think it’s a conscious choice. It’s not that I find it stressful, it’s just that I don’t ever think of blurring boundaries. Lately, though, I’ve been doing a lot of mixing and it’s taught me stuff about myself that I didn’t know, or didn’t admit to knowing.

IMG_8756 (588x800)Last night was a case in point. I was the only one at the table who knew everyone else there. Sitting with me were friends I’ve known for 25 years and more and others I’ve known for 12 months and fewer. Some I see quite regularly; others maybe once or twice a year. The age span between the youngest and the oldest was about 20 years. We came from three different countries and all work at very different things. And I hadn’t given any of this much thought when I was issuing invitations.

Usually, when I’m in these sorts of situations, I tend to orchestrate, to conduct the conversation, to make sure that everyone is involved and engaged. A little like a workshop. But perhaps because I’ve had more practice than usual at it lately, or maybe because I didn’t have the energy, or perhaps because I’m finally growing up a little, I gave up. Yes, I did it for a little while, but then I stopped. I figured that everyone there was adult enough to find their own way, their common denominator, and they didn’t need me to guide them.

What was interesting though, was a comment made by a more recent friend about needing ‘Mary Murphy on steroids’  for something or other. This was greeted by those who have known me for much longer by pure, unadulterated, shock. The thoughts of me on steroids was simply too much.

As I sat back and watched the conversation unfold, it dawned on me that while many people know different facets of me (and because of what I do, I know a lot of people), few have a clear picture of the whole shebang. Including me.

Just when I think I have a handle on why I do what I’m doing, I do something that makes me question what I’ve done. It’s like I’m constantly changing and the person people meet now bears little if any resemblance to the me that they might have met 25 years ago. But something at the core remains unchanged.

This week has been mad – a series of late nights and early mornings has taken its toll. But at the end of it, I’ve learned from friends, old and new, that life is about trust – trusting yourself to make the right decisions given what information you have to hand, trusting others to accept you for who you are even if they don’t fully understand, and trusting the universe to bring you all together. For this lesson, I’m truly grateful.



Simply charmed

There was a time in my life when I shopped needlessly and endlessly. I bought stuff I couldn’t afford, stuff I’d never wear, stuff that would  eventually end up in the charity shop. I hadn’t yet learned to distinguish between want and need, particularly when travelling. I battled with a compulsion to visit local craft shops and choose something to take home as a souvenir. Whatever flat I lived in was full of an eclectic mix of tat devoid of any sense of taste or style.Trolls battled for shelf-space with porcelain figurines. Walls sagged under the weight of framed prints and photos that mirrored my indecisiveness. I once returned home from somewhere with a set of flying witches that I planned to suspend from the ceiling; it was then that I knew I had a problem.

IMG_7536For my next birthday, I asked de wimmen to get me a silver charm bracelet. I figured I’d found a way to satisfy this need to shop and at the same time put a stop to the tat offensive. I promised myself that next time I went somewhere, I wouldn’t buy anything until I’d bought a silver charm. Inspired. Gold charms are easy to find – silver charms less so. And not just any charm would do; it had to speak to me and if none are talking, I get to go back.

Since 2002, I’ve been collecting silver charms. Initially, I had to limit myself to countries I’ve been to rather than cities, as there are only so many charms a bracelet can take. But over the years I’ve snuck in one that reminds me of an old friend who lives abroad and I’ve accepted three as gifts. But they were exceptions. Essentially it’s what I’ve come to think of as my travel bracelet.

Polishing it has become a meditative ritual, one that takes me back in time and place and reminds me yet again what I charmed life I lead. I’ve saved myself a fortune in excess baggage charges and kept the jeweler in the village amused, trying to guess where I’ve been since last he saw me. And if ever I need reminding that it’s the simple things in life that make me happy, it does that, too.

Grateful 51

Earlier this week, I sent out an e-mail to my North American friends, those living within the USA and those living without. I included a link to American author Jake Lamar’s video on why he’s not disappointed with President Obama. I was quite taken with it as a piece of rhetoric, even if his eye contact leaves a lot to be desired. It’s also just a tad on the lengthy side. Semantically, it was pleasing, convincing, and passionate. But I wanted to know about the content. And, as I’m not in a position to judge, not living in the States myself, and being a trifle more concerned about what’s been going on here of late, I asked my friends, each of whom I trust and whose opinion I value, to comment.

Predictably, some really liked it, thought it made sense. They voted for Obama and will vote for him again. Others had mixed feelings – Lamar got some issues right, and others wrong – they’d voted for Obama and would consider voting for him again but their vote isn’t in the bag. And then there were those who didn’t vote for him and won’t vote for him and think he’s the worst thing ever to happen to America.

The whys and the wherefores are neither here not there. I don’t intend this to be a discussion on whether Obama is the man or not. What I’m grateful for is that I have a diversity of friends who are educated, passionate, and up to date with what’s going on in their world. They shared their opinions and experiences with me, pointed me in new directions (e.g. what’s happening with SB1070 in Arizona;  and is it really 1963 in America again), and gave valid arguments for their reasoning.

The net result is that I now know more than I did on Monday and am a lot clearer about what I’d do were I in the USA and voting. Consensus is not important. I don’t have to agree with my friends for them to be my friends. In being able to challenge their opinions and likewise to have to stand beside my own, is a very valuable exercise. Diversity is key… diversity of opinion, of taste, of reasoning. Surrounding ourselves by like-minded people while wallowing in the same type of information will simply serve to narrow our perspectives and make us more insular.

So, at the end of this, the second week of 2012, I am truly grateful for my friends and their continuous edification; for opening new doors and beckoning me through.