I’ve been feeling a different sort of gratitude these days. Not gratitude for stuff that has happened – although there’s plenty of that in me – more being grateful for things that haven’t happened, with two big ones this week. Last summer, in Ireland, in Lidl, I bought a kettle. Mad you say. Surely they sell kettles in Hungary. Even ones not made in China. And yes, they do.
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!
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.
Is the grass always greener on the other side or is it greener where you water it? I find myself occasionally coveting a way of life and perhaps a piece of furniture and maybe sometimes, in a restaurant, I have plate envy. Then I think of those who’ve said they envy my life, my faith, my situation. And while I’m in it, living it, it doesn’t seem all that remarkable. But when I take the time to stop and think and appreciate it all, and see that I only need one hand to count my regrets, then I realise I’m blessed. Bunny rabbits and chocolate eggs aside, whatever your faith, whomever you look to when things go pear-shaped … Kellemes Húsvéti Ünnepeket. Happy Easter.
Am grateful. Period.
I heard once that what you do on New Year’s Day determines what you do for the rest of the year. At 11.55 last night, I was standing on my balcony, sipping a glass of bubbly, looking into the dark. All was quiet. Even the geese. I was reminded of Pico Iyer’s piece on the Eloquent Sounds of Silence:
We have to earn silence, then, to work for it: to make it not an absence but a presence; not emptiness but repletion. Silence is something more than just a pause; it is that enchanted place where space is cleared and time is stayed and the horizon itself expands. In silence, we often say, we can hear ourselves think; but what is truer to say is that in silence we can hear ourselves not think, and so sink below our selves into a place far deeper than mere thought allows.
Then 2017 came flooding in and the silence was shattered. The geese kicked up quite the racket down by the water and the village dogs howled at the fireworks that were going off all around the lake. I had my own private viewing point. It was pretty spectacular. No people. No crowds. Just me and the geese and the bubbly and the cold. When the fireworks stopped, the stars looked all the brighter.
Cold but happy, I went downstairs and, in true Hungarian tradition, ate a spoonful of lentil soup that I’d made earlier. This, apparently, will ensure that I have enough of everything in 2017. [Enough is a concept that is underrated. If we had more appreciation for it, we might be a lot happier.]
I fell asleep with Cormoran Strike, the detective created by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) [an excellent series, btw] and woke this morning in time for 8 am mass. Someone else was in what I’ve come to regard as my seat in the church – visiting family no doubt – and we’re not due a priest till next Sunday so it wasn’t the full Monty- but it was a lovely way to start the day.
Since then I’ve been cleaning and cooking and making beds in preparation for The Visitors who are wending their way down the north shore of the Balaton as I write. At last contact they were in Tihanyi. The table is set. The beer and wine are chilling. The fish is prepped. And the lentil soup is just waiting for its ham.
All is good in my world. My closing Grateful piece of 2016 spoke of restoration and my hope that 2017 would be a restorative one. So far it’s off to a great start. Life is good.
But in Istanbul, hundreds of people trying to make sense of more senseless deaths. In Russia, families of those lost in the plane crash on Christmas Day are in mourning. In Syria and other war-torn parts of the world, people woke up to a different sort of day. I have a blessed life and with that blessing comes a duty, an obligation, to make the most of it. And remembering to say thanks is just the start.
I started this series of blogs back in 2012. Five years later, I can’t imagine not taking the time to appreciate just how good I have it. This is how it began:
Many years ago I worked with this very bubbly young American girl whom I avoided like the plague in the mornings. I just couldn’t handle her effervescence; I liked mine soluble, in tablet form. Working late one evening, we were chatting about whatever, when she told me that every night, before she went to sleep, she tried to think of ten things that had happened that day for which she could be thankful. And some nights she fell asleep before she reached No. 10.
She challenged me to try it. I was sure that I’d have no trouble finding ten things to be thankful for. And I’ve been doing it every night for the last eight years because it keeps me focused and it keeps me positive…well, sort of positive ?
It’s way too easy to let go and submerge myself in the daily horrors of 21st century living. It’s far too convenient to spend my days worrying about global problems that I cannot hope to fix or even effect and in doing so miss out on today. It’s really not all that difficult to lose sight of what’s important – and who’s important – as I spend my time moaning about what might have been.
My nightly lists will never be published in a miscellany. David Letterman is unlikely to ask to borrow them for his Top 10. But ranging as they do from the ridiculous (I am grateful that I noticed my skirt was tucked into my tights before I walked out on to the street) to the sublime (I am grateful to Árpád at Kadarka wine bar on Kiraly utca for introducing me to Fecsegő), chalking them up each night has become a ritual and as close to meditation as I can get.
I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if more people took the time to give thanks – to themselves and to others. Thanks for the little things that make life worth living. Thanks for the people in our lives who keep us sane. And thanks for karma – who, will, at the end of the day, make sure that all wrongs are righted.
Inspired by the inimitable Biddy McD in Australia who has kept the world amused by her photo album Grateful 365 and posted a pic a day of something she and her two sons are grateful for, I’ve decided to be less adventurous but equally committed and focus each week on something I’m grateful for. Introducing Grateful 52.
Today, as 2017 gets underway, I’m grateful for gratitude and the comfort it brings.
Boldog új évet – Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh – Happy New Year
Sometimes, we stay in relationships for the good of others and to the detriment of ourselves We put up with situations for a quiet life, not caring about the damage we are doing to our souls. We sacrifice, we struggle, we stay, thinking we are doing the right thing. And slowly, we die. Alone in our misery. Unhappy.
Selflessness can be over-rated. People can give so much of themselves that they have nothing left to give to themselves. We can accomplish so much more if we are strong, sorted, sensible. And yet all too often we fail to prioritise our own health and wellbeing. We put others before ourselves. Understandable, yes. Especially for those with children and dependants. But what happens to our dependants when we break down, when we have neither the physical nor the emotional energy to care? What then?
Last week, I was grateful that I had shared an inaccurate post that led to the discovery of a wonderful poem, one that has stayed with me all week. This week, I’m grateful that a comment on that post led to the discovery of yet another one I think worth sharing.
The Journey, by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – –
determined to save the only life you could save.
Today, on Facebook, I did as I do on occasion – I shared someone’s post. A poem attributed to Pablo Neruda that resonated with me, a poem about how we are dying slowly. In my original post, there was a misplaced apostrophe that bugged me. But not enough not to repost. I parked the anal me because I wanted to others to read it. And learn from it. And take note. So I hit the share button.
Within minutes, I had a message from a mate telling me that it was incorrectly attributed. Along with the original. Maybe the Pablo Neruda version is a rework of the original by Martha Medeiros? I don’t know. But I do know that I’ve read it and read it and read it again and I like it more with each reading. I like it enough to share.
by Martha Medeiros
He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones i’s rather than a bundle of emotions,
the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
He who does not travel,
who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck,
about the rain that never stops,
He or she who abandons a project before starting it,
who fails to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know,
he or she who doesn’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.
Only a burning patience will lead to the attainment of a splendid happiness.
Today, I’m grateful that I pushed the button. Had I not, I might never have known Martha Medeiros. I’m grateful for the reminder that life is for living. And I’m so grateful that the Martha’s original didn’t have a stray apostrophe.
Hard to believe that another year is drawing to a close. So much has happened. So much has changed. And it all went so quickly. Perhaps it’s a symptom of getting older. Of aging. Time flies. It seems like yesterday that I started this year’s Grateful 52 and now the countdown has ended.
Many of my friends had significant birthdays this year; many more see the half-century next year, myself included. And yet in my head I’m still 32 and will always be. I was asked over drinks this Christmas if I had a choice, which one would I pick:
a) €4 million
b) To go back to being 20 knowing what I know now
Apparently it’s a polarising question with most women opting for the dosh and the men opting for a do-over. I can’t speak to that. But I’d have taken the €4 million without hesitation. There’s no way I’d want to go back and do over.
I’m grateful that I have few regrets and those I have are negligible in the grand scheme of things. I’m grateful, too, that people read this blog and comment and interact and let me know that I’m not just writing for my own amusement (although I think I still would even if no one read anything I wrote – it’s therapeutic). Thank you, though, for engaging.
And a present for you – in case you haven’t heard it already:
Christmas carols are my favourite part of the season – I like the oldies, the classics – and I like, the new ones, too. This one – The Flight – was commissioned by King’s College, Cambridge as part of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It was sung for the first time this Christmas and is written by Hungarian-born George Szirtes.
The child on the dirtpath
finds the highway blocked
The dogs at the entrance
snarl that doors are locked
The great god of kindness
has his kindness mocked
May those who travel light
Find shelter on the flight
Give rest to them.
The sea is a graveyard
the beach is dry bones
the child at the station
is pelted with stones
the cop stands impassive
the ambulance drones
We sleep then awaken
we rest on the way
our sleep might be troubled
but hope is our day
we move on for ever
like children astray
We move on for ever
our feet leave no mark
you won’t hear our voices
once we’re in the dark
but here is our fire
this child is our spark
Words: George Szirtes
Music: Richard Causton
Tradition is a wonderful thing. It lends a certainty to uncertain times, anchors us in times of change, and wraps us in the comfort of familiarity. Every year, the party at Craigford brings together a bunch of usual suspects, some of whom I won’t have seen all year. But even if a year has passed, it seems more like weeks than months since we were all together last.
Every year, those of us who are free, show up in the afternoon to transform the house from December to Christmas. One of my jobs is to hang the Christmas cards. Another is to iron. A third is to help out in the kitchen. This year we were ahead of schedule, and ready a full five minutes before the first guests arrived. It’s nothing if not hectic.
The inimitable DD has a tradition of his own that he brings along. Each year, we get one of his hand turned wooden Christmas ornaments, collectibles that everyone looks forward to. A souvenir of the year that has passed, something to help us remember the year that was.
GF’s mince pies and sausage rolls and LN’s beetroot roulade are staples around which the table is set. An open fire is a must as PM needs somewhere to heat the wine. This year, a new tradition was inaugurated: the Christmas G&T garnished with halved cranberries and springs of rosemary served in a large wine glass. And an old tradition let go: the annual Kris kindle.
For years now, the Craigford party has been my Christmas marker, the night that starts the Holiday festivities. A real Christmas tonic that brings to mind that classic poem by Edgar Guest:
A man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season’s here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime.
When it’s Christmas man is bigger and is better in his part;
He is keener for the service that is prompted by the heart.
All the petty thoughts and narrow seem to vanish for awhile
And the true reward he’s seeking is the glory of a smile.
Then for others he is toiling and somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas he is almost what God wanted him to be.
If I had to paint a picture of a man I think I’d wait
Till he’d fought his selfish battles and had put aside his hate.
I’d not catch him at his labors when his thoughts are all of pelf,
On the long days and the dreary when he’s striving for himself.
I’d not take him when he’s sneering, when he’s scornful or depressed,
But I’d look for him at Christmas when he’s shining at his best.
Man is ever in a struggle and he’s oft misunderstood;
There are days the worst that’s in him is the master of the good,
But at Christmas kindness rules him and he puts himself aside
And his petty hates are vanquished and his heart is opened wide.
Oh, I don’t know how to say it, but somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas man is almost what God sent him here to be.
Now that Christmas has officially started, I’m grateful for the wonderful bedfellows – friendship and tradition. And I’m thankful, too, to be able to add to my gin repertoire. Here’s to you all…
There I was, on Friday night, sitting on stage at the New Orleans Music Club in Budapest. As you do. It was the Final of the Finalists, the 31st and final round in the English-language speech slam that I’ve been presiding over since 2009. Five finalists had come together to see which one of them would take home the honours.
For those not familiar with the event, five competitors each give five-minute prepared speeches on a topic of their choice and then a three-minute impromptu on a topic chosen by the audience. For his impromptu, Rupert Slade drew me – yep – a slip of paper asking him to talk about me – Mary Murphy.
Now, I’m sure that had I not been in the room, he would have had little trouble meeting that goal. It’s easy enough to talk about anyone if they’re not there to contradict or take offense. But I was there and I wasn’t about to go anywhere.
As the audience waited for him to give up the dirt, I sat on stage wondering where he was going to go with it. Rupert knows me well enough to have some stories to tell and has a way about him that would make that telling very entertaining. And as he is not exactly backward about coming forward, I readied myself for public exposition – but it never came.
He talked about my losing weight – the equivalent of a piece of checked luggage on RyanAir. He talked about my blog and my thing about being grateful[so I just couldn’t pass up this opportunity]. He talked about my run-in with sheepdogs on my way to mass in Transylvania. And he talked of how I’d told him to invite his now wife out for a coffee after the GOTG final in 2012. [Apparently, I tell... ]. And he said nice stuff, too, about GOTG and the difference it has made to the orphanage. And he did all this in the most horrendous stage-Irish accent that was so bad it was funny.
And the audience was left wondering.
He didn’t slag me. He didn’t divulge the undivulgible. He left that to me.
When you’re doing anything even remotely humourous on stage, the best person to rag is yourself – you’re the only one who might take offence and you know your limits. I tell stories. About me. About my experiences. And occasionally about my mother. Most have enough truth in them to be credible. But the choice of what to divulge is mine.
Rupert could have gone with the easy option – but he didn’t. And for that, I’m truly grateful. Perhaps I’d be better than most at taking a public roasting but I’m glad that I wasn’t put to the test.