Today is my last day at work of 2012 and it’s been a very interesting year for me. The Pogues and Kirsty are on the radio belting out their iconic song, the shopping is done, the kids are on their way back from London and as always at this time of year, the house is in complete sparkly disarray.
The song always makes me feel me melancholy, lyrics about poverty, missing home, love and hopes for the future could hardly produce any other emotion. But for me it reminds me of a time when life was so hideously agonising and let’s just say it was very ‘different’ to today. A time when my older brother was so ill he was almost permanently in hospital. My parents prayed he would get home for Christmas day, and he did. We sat at our then trendy pine table and benches, ate turkey, pulled crackers, avoided the sprouts and tried desperately for those few hours to pretend everything was going to be ok. He wore a red jumper I’d picked out for him and I wore a green dress. My parents tried to like the unfamiliar ‘new drink’ wine and we might even have watched the Queens speech. But sadly he passed away just four days later. From that moment on, Christmas was cancelled and that time was set aside for drinking, running away and doing anything and everything that wasn’t family or tinsel related. It was 1977.
Gerry, Gerry Maguire. He was just fourteen, small, introvert, intense, a great pool player, the smart one in the family, arty, sensitive and had that haunting look of a boy who knew far too much for his age. And of course he did. He’d worked out that he was dying and had stopped taking the large amounts of drugs that were helping him. I was nine and I still miss him, despite him never allowing me to play with his stuff.
But this blog isn’t really about Gerry, it’s in tribute to my husband Ian, Ian Lamb who is my very own Clarence Odbody and for the last twelve years has had the patients, kindness and tenacity to show me just what Christmas can really be. When we met I was thirty and had never put up a tree or decorations in my own home, I had never cooked Christmas dinner, bought a cracker or watched disney films whilst consuming an entire tin of Roses. But more importantly I’d never sat around a table and ate dinner with family and enjoyed each others company, laughing and crying.
Today Christmas is filled with my family (my parents and my step children) cooking mountains of food, mountains of Rennie to deal with the after affect of mountains of food, long sleeps on the sofa, toasting the ones you love and feeling the warmth of knowing you are loved unconditionally. What a contrast from that first Christmas day in 1978.
So thank you Ian for giving me back Christmas and for not only helping me embrace the melancholy demons but showing me they don’t have to define Christmas anymore.
I love you more than cheese.
Your wife, Diz.
Growing old is hard. You hear it all the time.
Your little body starts to wear out, you feel more tired than ever, you stop earning the sort of money that gives you choices and the world seems to be slightly embarrassed by your greying hair, inability to adopt the newest technology and lack of youthful exuberance. And forgetting totally your years of knowledge, experience and contribution.
But that’s just life, right?
For those really fortunate they find themselves surrounded by a loving bustling family, noisy grandchildren, sleeping great grandchildren, long family Sunday lunches, trips to the beach and laughter, giving life that warm peachy glow.
But not everyone is so fortunate. It’s breaking my heart to see how disgracefully a couple living opposite my parents, who are both in their late 80’s, have been abandoned by their family. I don’t know them well, I call in occasionally, pick up the odd paper or bottle of milk, a few trips to the hospital and in better times we’ve sat on their front wall talking gardening tips and the good old days.
In all the nine years I’ve known them, I’ve seen their son visit twice but never their daughter (something to do with a falling out when she was 16 and wanted to get married. That was 44 years ago). Apparently they’re both ‘living the dream’ abroad and other than an ‘elderly’ sister living in Yorkshire they have no one but their neighbours.
Oh yes, every year on Christmas day an inappropriately sized flower displays arrives all the way from South Africa, which only serves to demonstrate how out of touch they’ve become. A couple struggling to maintain their property, who are restricted to shuffling slowly round, distressed at how they will care for such an expensive and exotic bunch of flowers. Where are the warm slippers, the hand-made gifts from the grandchildren, poster paint drawings to stick to the fridge or the indulgent chocolates they would never buy for themselves?? I even heard one year that they were asked not to call their daughter until the evening of Christmas Day as she was having lots of friends over for the day and wouldn’t have time to talk to her them.
I would forsake all meals, all friends, all gifts to spend just an hour with my parents, loving every second I still have with them and knowing the real pleasure it gives them to see me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t come from that happy 2.2 family, roaring fire, Mum making dinner while Dad does the crossword. Dysfunctional barely scratches the surface. But I’ve learned over the years to forgive and to embrace who they are and that they too are just human and make mistakes.
He turns ninety this week. 90. Ninety! Meaning he was born in 1922. He saw the poverty of the twenties and fought heroically in the second world war. And guess who will be there to light the candles on his specially designed garden themed birthday cake and sing ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’? His children, grandchildren, great grandchildren (because he does have all of those and more)? No. my parents, me, my husband and a collection of other local neighbours all taking time out and their place to honour a wonderful man. His children aren’t able to make it. I simply don’t understand why not.
They’re old yes, but witty, alive with stories, they still argue, he’s still handsome and she worries he’s too much of a flirt and might go off with someone else. They love wine and food and love to talk about the things they’ve eaten, and cooked over the years. They love going abroad on holiday. She worries she missed her dentist appointment last week (they both still have all their own teeth!) and that the car needs cleaning. She loves cheesecake and a glass of red wine after dinner and he loves to wander round M & S indulging himself in ready-made meals, because he can. They set the table every evening with linen napkins and wine glasses and have one of those 70’s plate warmer cabinets. It’s utterly adorable. They are utterly adorable and I know on Thursday I’m going to try and make myself be son, daughter, grandchild, niece and cousin for them.
So, if you haven’t seen your family for a while, there is still time to reach out and be in their life. You can call in, phone, send a card, text…………….
“Without any sort of resolution, but for once they hadn’t argued or fallen out either, they finished their meal and took a walk around the square, slowly looking at all her favourite shops. She loved the square and at night it was magical. She went from shop to shop looking in the windows with all their goods displayed for tourists.
He’d lived here most of his life but rarely wandered around the town now and was surprised how much he was enjoying it.
She stopped and pointed out her favourite jewellery shop.
“Yes I know” he replied.
“You love silver, turquoise and agate jewellery.” Smirking at her surprised look.
She looked up at him then.
“How do you know that?”
“I know everything about you Amelia.” He said sincerely, looking at her intensely.
She loved it when he used her first name, would she ever get tired of him saying it that way?
“You think so, eh?” She was replied, teasing him.
“I see you almost every day, Talia talks non stop about you, actually so does Mariska, what you like, where you’ve been that day, if you’re sad, happy, it’s impossible for me to not know what you like.”
He carried on when he saw her give a little shy smile.
“You come here once a week and drink wine at the taverna, you read the English papers, which your Father sends despite you telling him you can read all of the news online. You love the Beatles, Amy Winehouse and jazz, but not the new sort, the old Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington kind. You have a sister called Alice, who you miss very much and write to regularly and send her a little something each time. You take time out every week to volunteer at the after school club and have been asked if you would consider working there full time. Family is everything to you, more so than money, possessions or status, as is having the love of someone who respects you for you.”
He paused again.
“How am I doing?”
She was amazed by what he had just said. Could she have been wrong about him? Was there really a heart in there after all? Her heart skipped a beat suddenly full of hope.
“Not bad Mr Kellias. Not bad for someone whose head is usually stuck in the computer or in the financial times.”
He slipped his hand into hers and slowly drew it up to his mouth and kissed it, keeping his eyes on her the whole time.
“There is something about you Amelia, you make me……I want to…….. well, you make me feel like I could be a better person again, the person I once was.”
She looked down at their hands interwoven together. She didn’t resist, she didn’t want to. Her tiny white hand mixed his broad brown fingers.”
It’s all I have so far, but working on the rest………
On a hill in the townland of Aghyaran, in a remote graveyard, a tiny wooden coffin is lowered into a small hole dug the night before by grave digger Jimmy Duggan. And just like any other funeral the prayers were read by the priest, joined by a few mourners gathered at the graveside to pay their respects to Patrick McHugh. A fine man, farmer, philosopher, traveller, hard worker, fair and honest man, lover of animals, Father to Rose, Paddy, Willy and Mary, Grandfather to fourteen and wife to Lizzie, all long gone now, and away living in England.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be they name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
If any of the mourners found it odd or amusing to watch a wee box being lowered into the consecrated ground at St Patricks, they did not show it. No one smirked, there was no nudging of elbows, no pointing or laughing. But then again, eye contact was avoided at all costs and for now the man was given the respect of his friends, family and villagers, so high was the regard with which he was held. Well actually his right leg was given the respect of his family, friends and villagers, as Patrick McHugh was still alive and well and lying in Omagh hospital recovering from the amputation, enjoying some home comforts he’d long since forgotten.
“Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
Like many others I’m sure, I’ve found my mind drifting today to think about all those who died in the twin towers eleven years ago. I watched something last night about a guy who somehow survived the tower falling, hunched up on the stairwell of floor 22, I’ve looked at footage on You Tube of the planes hitting, police rushing to the scene, heroic handsome fire fighters heading into the first tower not yet knowing that it was so dangerously unsafe. I’m a bit ashamed to say I even watched some of the footage of some ‘fallers’ – those who found it so unbearable that they chose to jump. I noticed a number of times some jumped at the same time, almost together and wondered did that give them any comfort at all? I think I read that 3000 died that day, with a whole long list of statistics as to how many were found, how many were identified visually, how many by finger prints, dental and some just by a very small fragment used for DNA identifiication. My mind can hardly take it in. 3000?
But then you read a little further into what happened next. Thousands of police and fire fighters and ordinary men and women who helped dig, looked for survivors, cleared rubble and swept up, now all dying from all manner of terrible cancers, caused by the dust. Then of course the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was in New York after 9/11, on the night that Bush announced they were going in. I was with a whole bunch of American firefighters for St Patricks day. We were drunk, talking about Ireland, drinking, sex and 9/11. But we were talking different languages though as they struggled to grasp my desire for peace, my belief there was a need for caution and for passivism.
I got to thinking about how many more have people died as a result of that bleak day eleven years ago. I did some searching, read a few websites, wikipedia, news reports and in the end I’ve had to stop as it’s made me feel so so sad, sick even. Some sites say over a million people. Some list them out 200 here, 10,000 there and some are more conservative at just over 100,000.
I don’t mean to disrespect or take anything away the courageous acts of our service men and women, they do the things I can’t and are more brave and strong than I can ever imagine being. I’m proud of them. Especially Conrad Lewis, RIP 353.
But did it have to be this way? Was and is there another way? I have no idea, I just wish there was.
Thinking of everyone who perished that day and everyone since and hope our guys come home soon.
A little something from book 2. Work in progress of course, but it’s a start.
At the counter, she asked for Chief Kadic. She could you tell the guy thought she was some sort of crazy by the state she was in. No doubt he thought she was there to cause trouble. Well, she was, in a way.
“Look, it’s really important, I was here earlier today, with the Chief, we had a meeting. Trust me, he’s going to want to see me. Just tell him it’s Orla Duffy, the photographer. Do it, just call him and tell him I’m here and if he doesn’t want to see me, then I’ll just go away, no harm done. Alright?”
She felt shaky on her feet and moved over to the seating area and slumped down.
He made the call and other than her name she didn’t understand any of the rapid fire Croatian he whispered down the phone. Within a minute a door in the hallway flew open and an angry looking Chief Kadic stormed over to her. He looked different to the last time she’d seen him. The formal suit was gone and he was decked out in the same protective gear she’d seen the other officers wearing earlier in the day. He was much bigger close up and more handsome now that his hair was messy.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
He grabbed her arm, hauling her up and shouted to the man on the front desk to get a jug of ice water, that much she understood, and took her back through the door he’d come through and into a small office on the other side.
“Hey, just a minute, what are you doing?” She complained, as he much pushed her down on a small sofa.
“I said what are you doing here? Why aren’t you in hospital?”
“Nice to see you too…..I….”
“You think this is funny, that I am joking? Look at you. You are seriously injured and yet you leave the hospital, unattended and come across town. Are you crazy?”
As she looked at him again she noticed he was wearing protective body armour with a tool belt around his waist with gun, handcuffs and a rather menacing looking baton. Uniforms didn’t usually do anything for her but it made him look tough and a bit dirty. She couldn’t help looking at his muscular arms beneath his short sleeve shirt and imagined him pushing her up against……….
“Miss Duffy, did you hear me? Orla? You’re clearly not well enough to be out of hospital yet. What are you doing here?”
He’d been standing with his hands on his hips directly in front of her, but joined her on the sofa. He was far too close for comfort and she could see the perspiration on his face, his very handsome looking face.
“Well I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised Chief by your concern for my health. When we met earlier today you……..well, let’s just say you weren’t exactly friendly. But I’m fine, or at least I will be soon when I get back to my hotel room, have a bath and sleep for a week. But first, I need to talk to you about what happened today.”
She looked dreadful, black eyes, dry blood in her hair with a line of stitches across her temple and grazes to her arms and cheeks. There was a sheen of perspiration on her pale grey skin. Goddam it he thought, why had she been standing there in the first place? She’d picked exactly the worst spot to position herself and once the fighting started she didn’t stand a chance. And what the hell had brought her back here to see him?
“Miss Duffy I’ve given all the interviews I’m prepared to give for one day. Your boyfriend will have to write his story without my input. Now, let’s get you back to hospital.”
He stood and held out his hand to help her up.
“So are you denying it was one of your officers who started the fighting or is it that you don’t know what goes on with your own force?”
She knew it was antagonistic, likely to cause him to throw her out. So before he could reply and say something he’d regret she let him have it.
“Well I have photographs that show it was one of your officers who threw the rocks at the parade, injuring that guy. How is he by the way, ok?”
He was stunned for a few seconds but shot up. But she continued.
“Oh I admit wiping me out and stealing my camera was a good attempt to cover up what really happened. You thought you’d destroyed them didn’t you? You thought you’d be able to sweep this under the carpet and blame the extreme factions of the gay community for the violence. But I’d already backed them up and they’re safely back in Dublin with my boss.”
A small white lie.
“What? You think it was me or one of my men who hurt you, deliberately? That we stole your camera? That is an outrageous slur and a highly inaccurate accusation.”
She stood now, on wobbly legs, needing to feel equal to his domineering stance.
“Ok, but you’re not denying that it was one of your men who started the violence then?”
It was a pivotal moment. Would he admit it or lie? He had no way of knowing if she actually did have the pictures. Christ, she wasn’t sure if she had them either and wouldn’t know until she got to her laptop and took a look.
“I have no idea at this stage who started the violence and until there is an investigation I couldn’t possibly speculate, nor can you expect me to. However if you do have photographs that could support that investigation then I can’t stress enough the importance of handing them over to me immediately. I could always insist, legally I mean.”
He stood with his hand outstretched, expecting her to give him something. Clearly she didn’t have the pictures with her, she didn’t even have her bag.
“What? So you can destroy them too? Not a chance Chief. You might be the most powerful man in Croatia but you can’t hide the truth forever. I want you to admit you know it was one of your own men who started it, deliberately disrupting the parade so they couldn’t get their message across. So much for you creating a safe and democratic environment.”
She was on a role now, angry and the full impact of what happened to her that afternoon starting to sink in, she could have died.
“And another thing, was it the same guy who threw that rock at me too? You know I could have died. Go on, deny it. You can’t because you know as well as I do who it was. That’s why you were so weird this morning and why you had half the Croatian police force decked out ready for a riot. You knew this was going to happen didn’t you?”
Furious with her wild accusations and insults he took a step forward to ……..to what? Stop her? No, that wasn’t his style at all. He didn’t hit women, in fact he didn’t hit men. Well not often.
“I think you’ve said just about enough Miss Duffy and I’d advise you to keep your slanderous slurs to yourself. I shouldn’t have to remind you that you that as a visitor in our country and as such are expected to show some respect. I have every intention of finding out who started the fighting today, including who threw that rock at you.”
Holding up his hand in protest to stop her saying anything.
“Now, before either of us do or say anything we’ll regret I think you need to go back to the hospital, you look like shit.”
He made a call and put the phone down.
“I’ve arranged for a car to take you there now, before I have another death on my hands.” Just then a uniformed officer knocked and came in, her driver no doubt.
“This isn’t over Chief, you can’t shut me up that easily. Trust me, I’m from Dublin, I don’t intimidate that easily or that quickly. You picked on the wrong girl.”
As she went to take a step towards the door she felt a wave of dizziness wash over her and she shot her hand out to the desk to steady herself but knew it was too late, she was going to faint. Goddam it she thought not now, as her legs gave way.
He caught her before she fell and scooped her up like she weighed less than a feather cushion. Coming round she tried to wriggle free from his arms and get down.
“Stop, leave me, I’m fine, you don’t need to rescue me, don’t feel you have to be a hero for me. I can walk perfectly ok by myself.”
Ignoring her, he carried her out the door and into the waiting car outside, placing her gently on the back seat. She let her head flop back against the headrest and took some deep breaths. She had to admit she did feel like crap. Her head was pounding, she hadn’t eaten all day since breakfast and there didn’t seem to bit one bit of her that didn’t ache. The only time she’d felt like this was when her and Brigid had gone to step aerobics and thought they were going to die the next day.
“Look, I’m not going back to the hospital, no way. The place is bloody awful, full of sick people. I just need a handful of painkillers, a large Jameson, a bath and then sleep. So, please just take me to the Imperial and I’ll be out your hair.”
He was sat in the driving seat and turned round to look at her. That look again. Her designated driver relegated to the steps of the office, looking at them both quizzically.
“Look I’m fine, great, grand in fact. Look.”
She said shaking her hands and head although she had no idea what that proved.
“If I feel sick, or faint again, I’ll go back in the morning ok doc?”
He had to admit it he couldn’t argue with her, as he would do exactly the same thing. The injuries weren’t life threatening, however bad they might look. He’d asked the nurse to keep him informed of her progress. So he swung the car out onto the busy street and in a few minutes they pulled up outside her hotel. She was already pretty much out of it when they got there, exhaustion finally taking over.
She had balls, coming to see him like that, especially in the state she was in. But it was bloody foolish, she had no idea how much danger she was in. But at least he knew about the pictures now and had bought himself some time to think about what he was going to do. About the pictures, and her.
She was half asleep, reality fading in and out. She tried so hard to fight it but the dark corners closed slowly in and her body gave into the much needed unconsciousness. She was only half aware of being carried, the motion bumping her slightly against his chest, until she heard him whisper into her ear, felt his breath on her cheek, asking if she had her room key.
Opening the door, he took her in and placed her gently on the bed, hoping not to wake her. She didn’t stir. He’d planned to just leave, but hesitated. She can’t sleep in those boots and trousers, he thought. He had sisters and female house mates at university, he knew the drill. Slowly he removed her trousers, socks and shoes, filthy blood stained shoes which he’d seen so many times over the years but rarely on someone as beautiful as Orla.
He tried not to look. Ok, he didn’t try very hard. He was shocked by the bruises to her legs, grazes to both her knees, hideous black and purple marks, even a foot print on her thigh. Animals, he swore under his breath. But all that couldn’t detract from her smooth, firm and long long legs. She was wearing black lace pants. What he wouldn’t give to have her conscious right now and work on removing them too. It took all his strength to stop looking and pull up the sheet. Before he left, he didn’t know why, but he bent down and kissed her head. It was an affectionate, caring kiss and felt like the right thing to do somehow considering she was here all alone.
As he closed the door he looked down at the memory card in his hand and wondered what the hell it might contain. He wouldn’t risk going back to the station to look at them there. No, he couldn’t risk anyone seeing them or knowing that he had them, it was dangerous even for him, let alone a foreign female photographer. Instead he headed straight for his apartment.
He lived in the old town, off St Marks Square in his family’s three hundred year old villa. His parents were long dead, killed with 40,000 others, during the war when he was a student in London. They were out of the city, staying with their own parents in the country when it happened. He’d begged them to stay in the capital, knowing it would be safer there. As it happened the forces never broke through to the city and Zagreb saw little fighting. He’d tried desperately to get home after he got a call to say they’d all perished, murdered when…………..he couldn’t think the words. It took weeks to reach them, by which time there was little to bury and little to do. Broken, bitter and changed, he went back to London. He went crazy, tore up the place for a year but eventually finished his degree already knowing he was going back to Croatia to do a post grad in politics and law. Enraged by what he’d seen in his own country, revolting atrocities carried out by what he’d believe to be his own people, he allowed himself some time to wallow in the bitterness, confusion and outrage but knew what he had to do. He was going back to Croatia to join the police to take charge and seek revenge from the murderers who’d nearly destroyed his life. It became an obsession. He trained, he ran, he weight lifted and studied harder than anyone else in his class. It became the driving force behind his quest and gave him the strength, no the aggression, to not only qualify but join the police as a senior officer.
He shared the villa with his older sister, Luciana, and her family. It was actually large enough for three or four families but when he came home they’d divided it up so they could both have their own privacy. Not that it would have mattered, he was hardly there, choosing to sleep in the small bedroom at the station most nights. He worked late into the night most nights, pushing his mind and body to it’s limits, driven half mad by finding who had killed his family.
He couldn’t believe his luck when he’d reached into her pocket for the door key and saw the memory card. So, she wasn’t bluffing after all. He found himself smiling and thinking he liked that about her, she’s got something, apart from model looks and a body to die for. She’d be seriously pissed when she woke up tomorrow and found it was gone. That wasn’t going to be fun but it was necessary. There was no way he could let any images of what happened reach the authorities, let alone the public. But he was convinced she would be too ill to pull another dashing across town stunt, but just in case he’d made a call to a private nurse to sit with her and administer enough pain relief to keep her out of the way for at least a day. He knew from experience that she was going to need pain relief and hydration the second she woke up. He’d also had an officer placed outside her room to make sure she didn’t leave and no one got it.
He pushed the card into his laptop and waited the few seconds for it to load. He tapped nervously waiting, hoping they didn’t contain pictures of any of his men. There were over five hundred shots on the card and as they started to appear he saw images of the journalist who’d interviewed him earlier that day, Jason, Jason Morgan-Harris. He was smiling directly into the camera, an intimate smile for the photographer. So they were lovers he thought. He’d suspected it earlier in the day when he’d seen them together. Smouldering looks of desire had flashed back and forward between them. He couldn’t help the wave of jealousy that suddenly hit him. He hated the thought of him being with her, touching her and feeling her warm soft skin. He wanted her, he had since the second he’d seen her in his office. She didn’t know he could see her of course, neither of them did. He watched her as she moved around the room………………