Sultanabun goes to Paris.

If you follow my Instagram you know that Husband whisked me away to Paris for our wedding anniversary. I write that now, as if it was a normal, run of the mill occurrence but trust me, this was HUGE. I can’t remember when last I’ve felt such a surge of unadulterated excitement.

Not only did he bring me to Paris, he willingly carried all the heavy stuff and never questioned my lengthy list of things to do and places to see.

Number one, naturally, was Shakespeare and Company. This photo was taken less than 90 minutes after the plane touched down at Charles de Gaulle. You can probably tell, I’m almost crying with joy. That feeling lasted for pretty much the entire three days.IMG_2430 (2)

Around lunch time on Saturday, Husband quipped, ‘this is going to be a very long blog post.’

I started writing this morning and got to 1600 words and I haven’t even got as far as stepping inside the bookshop…IMG_2515

…I can’t imagine that any of you will ever want to read it but I have to write it because I need, really need to remember as much as I possibly can. I need to wrap up this weekend and carry it with me for the rest of my days. It was that good. It will sustain me, if only I can hold on to it.

So, forgive me if I’m not here too much for a small while. When I’ve got all the words out of my head I’ll try to decide what to do with them. All I know for now is that I have to write like the bejaysus before it’s all just a blur.

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These are the spoils: IMG_9370 (2)

À bientôt, mes amis,

Lynda.

The Story of My Shelves.

‘Where are we going on our holidays?’ asked the Small Girl, for the umpteenth time.
‘We are going to Sofa,’ replied Teenage Daughter with admirable resignation.

You see, following last year’s fiasco (matchbox chalet teetering over a cliff in driving rain), I determined that the family’s holiday budget would, instead, be spent on a blue velvet sofa. Yes, I do feel guilty. Not very, but a bit. In fairness, with some teasing, the holiday budget stretched to a sofa, a chair, two rugs and SEVENTY-SIX (!) shelves.

I put a post on Instagram back a bit. This picture:

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With these words:

When Husband first came to call on me in my college bedsit my fledgling book collection was lined up on a lovely marble mantelpiece. To his dismay, my microbiology/biochemistry tomes were liable to topple over the edge at inopportune moments. ‘I should build you a book shelf,’ he said. I replied, in my head or maybe even out loud, ‘you’re the one.’

The One and I have a history with book shelves.

That first set of shelves was handsome. He built a tall space for my folders of lecture notes, a middle shelf for science books and two shelves that snugly accommodated my rapidly expanding collection of fiction…there were signs of things to come there.

He carried that bookcase on the bus to deliver it to my bedsit and I was certain then that no-one on Earth had ever loved me more.

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It was, let me think, nine years later that we moved into our first house, together with Toddler Boy and Baby Girl. We had just spent 12 weeks in Florida while Husband went through training for his new job. We were forced to cancel a week’s holiday in New York because of visa difficulties but we were happy enough to come home and pick up our very own house keys from the Auctioneer and use Husband’s holiday (clearly, I have form on this one) to build some bookshelves. We hadn’t a stick of furniture, you know. The in-laws donated an old garden table and two deck chairs so that we wouldn’t have to eat off the floor and still, my priority was the bookshelves.

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Husband was younger then, weren’t we all, and he banged up those shelves in a couple of days. We gave them a coat of gloss and took a day off while the paint dried.

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There was an abandoned summer house in Glandore, owned by Husband’s Godfather but not used, where we knew that there were trees laden with forgotten apples. We made peanut butter sandwiches for Toddler Boy (it was a phase) and filled a flask of coffee and drove our rusty banger down the road to West Cork. We were so happy, bubbling with joy. We were totally besotted with each other and with the children and so excited about decorating the house and so convinced that we could never want for more.

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We picked bags of apples, cookers and eaters, and then lay back on the grass and soaked up the golden light. It was an exceptionally golden day.

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The garden ran all the way down to a private beach and we were much taken by surprise when a naked man emerged from a gap in the hedge. Mind you, he was caught even more off-guard. We sheepishly explained our tenuous entitlement to have trespassed while he covered his assets and admitted he was the gardener. We parted with a mutual confidentiality agreement.

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Cast out of Paradise, we took a stroll through the village of Glandore. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place, a sheltered bay dotted with picturesque islands, handsome Georgian houses standing guard around the coast and a neat row of pubs holding the centre. You couldn’t find any place prettier on a sunny September afternoon which is why we had our wedding reception there.

(This next photo, by the way, is probably the best representation of the paint colour, it looks a bit, more than a bit, lurid in most of them.)

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As we passed an open pub door we overheard an odd sound, a collective gasp followed by a low groan. The sort of sound you might associate with a narrowly missed opportunity to score at football only with a sense of greater anguish. A man strode purposefully out the door as if looking for someone to tell:

‘A plane crashed into a building in New York.’

You know the rest.

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We drove home with the kids asleep in the back and the radio on. We were on the Clonakilty by-pass when the second tower fell. Funny the things you remember.

When we got home we set up the telly on a box of books (the shelves still weren’t dry) and sat on our two deckchairs and thanked God for visa difficulties.

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We moved into this house exactly ten years later. Through all the two-year-nightmare of purchasing, planning, demolishing, building and near bankruptcy I maintained my sanity by living mostly in my imagination.

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Officially, our planning permission was for an ‘extension’ but, in reality, we knocked everything except the front facade and this room. When there was nothing else, genuinely nothing at all, I sat in here with a flask and a bag of scones and built shelves in my head.

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We managed to have the floor put down before the budget ran dry. It was a basketball court in a previous life and came complete with all the lines and markings in yellow paint. Small Girl was six weeks old. I used to carry her in a sling when I came in here and mopped the floor of this otherwise empty room and I spun around and the imagined picture of those shelves got a little sharper in my head.

That painting, by the way, was a wedding gift from the godfather whose apples we stole.

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It has taken six years of imagining, eight if you count the nightmare two, but it’s done.

Seventy-six shelves.

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Yep, he’s the one.

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English, Paper One.

A super-quickie post today as I am on official exam taxi service duty with a fairly frantic schedule and extremely stressed customers. IMG_7548

My Small Girl made my day by handing me, for the first time, a little note of her own composition. Many years ago, I framed a note that Teenage Son gave me. A couple of years later I stuck a note from his little sister into the same frame. The third note followed about six years ago and now, finally, I have the complete set. One of the many reasons I love these notes, in this frame, is that they all have a bonus on the reverse side.

From youngest up:

Small Girl: I love you Mum.
Reverse: Shoes.

The girl is succinct, accurate and cleverly references our shared appreciation of good shoes.

Middle Daughter: Mommy you are the best Mammy in the world.
Reverse: lovely illustration of Mammy and girl in a heart.

A complete sweetheart who knows how to fit a world of love into one perfect sentence.

Teenage Daughter: I love you (with garden scene and bird in the sky).
Reverse: To mama, I had a lovey day. ps there is a pachr (picture) on the back

My kind, appreciative girl who has been artistically inclined from the beginning.

Teenage Son: Opin (open, the note was folded)
Top Sucrt (secret).
Tod Toyday Todoay
I say taic (thank) yoyu for letine (letting) me sleep wit you.
Reverse:Form (from) Markk
I love you Mammy. (accompanied by his habitually armless people)

This boy just came home from English, Paper One. He is, honestly, one of the smartest people I know. I just have to hope his examiner can see what I see.

 

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Does that explain why my nerves are shredded?

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New Girl.

New Girl.

That Tracy Chevalier book, New Boy, did that thing that good books, the best books, sometimes do. It shook one of my boxes until the clasp opened and old aches leaked out.  I didn’t manage to write the review I wanted to write because I was avoiding it. Too busy stuffing it all back in the box and sitting on the lid. The way books work on my mind is still a complete mystery to me but here is a weird thing. I went straight from New Boy to The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. It’s a free falling, foul mouthed blast of brutal honesty. I’m hitting the final quarter of it and find it has turned a key somewhere. Unleashed me.

Where to start, where to start…

I was a new girl, over and over, a perpetual new girl, a repeat offender. The first time, I was nine. But there is something important here. It’s not being the new girl that’s the thing, it’s being different, and that started before we moved. Do you remember the ocean at the end of my bed? That changed everything, just as much as if it had actually changed the colour of my skin. My mother mourned her lost baby and raged against the wreck of her marriage. Glass after glass crashed against the kitchen wall. My father took the train to Galway to comfort his bereaved mistress. We met him one weekend in Athlone, the halfway mark, and he gave me The Hobbit. That’s all I kept outside the box. But we all were marked. We may as well have been burnt black.

It was as if the kids in the school yard could smell smoke on my clothes. There was something not right about me. Something dangerous. And then my parents embarked on a new beginning.

We left Kildare on the very day Diana married Charles. I stood in front of the portable telly in the kitchen watching a fairytale unfold while men carried the table away, the chair from under me.

And then I was the New Girl. Gentle, kindly Sr. Frances taking me under the wing of her habit, reading a book about Benji the dog while I cried into my folded arms.

It wasn’t awful. I wasn’t bullied. I just moved round the edges like an extra piece of a jigsaw. Cork people speak a different language, by the way, it was Christmas before I understood a whole sentence or could distinguish ‘nyah’ (no) from ‘yah’ (yes). Actually, I still run into trouble with that one.

See, I’m feeling better already.

I liked the order of the place. I liked wearing a uniform, navy pinafore and pink jumper that my mother had made on her knitting machine before we left Kildare. I don’t remember the knitting machine turning up in Cork, now that I think about it. I liked changing into indoor slippers and being the best at Geography. To be fair, the girls were nice. I just couldn’t find a place to fit.

Then, a year later, my mother decided that she wouldn’t sleep with a knife under her pillow any longer and we would leave him. I don’t know why she had a knife under her pillow but they could easily have killed each other then. They were out of their minds, both of them. Shakespeare would have got some good material out of them.

Dublin, then, to share the home of one of her girlfriends and a Dublin city school with BOYS, eighteen boys in the class and only nine girls, including the new girl. Christ, that was a long way from the polished convent floors. They were wild. I sat, mostly, in stunned silence while boys used those cylindrical rubbers that came in plastic tubes to demonstrate the mechanics of intercourse.

The girls, being city girls, had been to stage school and spent yard time perfecting their dance routine to Phil Collins’ You Can’t Hurry Love.  I can only dance when I’m drunk and, at eleven, I was a ways off that yet so I read books. I can’t remember what I read but I can see, in my head, the view over the top of my book and them dancing beyond. There was one manipulative little bitch whose father was in advertising. Anyone remember the ad for Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Creams with all the kids on a roller coaster? Yeah, she was in the roller coaster. Of course she was. Oh Damned Iago.

After that, my mother determined to reclaim her home in Cork and kicked my father out. Or he left. Who knows? I think he took my younger sister with him.

Old Girl New Girl turns out to be even harder. Then there’s a very fuzzy bit and then my aunt taking me to Dublin late at night and installing me in her local school. I only remember my aunt grilling me on lines of poetry homework. Nobody had checked my homework in years. I don’t think I spoke in that classroom or schoolyard. I didn’t want to go home and then I did.

Back in Cork, they were still nice girls, they really were. There was a really good teacher and at the risk of being repetitive, can I say, on the very off chance that someone reading this can send my love and gratitude to Mrs Leahy, who minded me and taught me how to make a tiered ra-ra skirt, please do.

I made a friend. Someone kind enough to brush the smuts off my clothes and have a laugh. And that’s really all it takes, isn’t it? One person who stays quiet long enough to let you be yourself. Someone who doesn’t set about rattling your boxes but sets their box on top of yours to keep it company. She was great. We had sleepovers and midnight feasts. We watched Remington Steele and played, PLAYED, at being private detectives. We listened to an awful, awful lot of Chris de Burgh. Look, nobody’s perfect. From then on, I was OK. I was able to turn my back on the shit and look outwards. I had two whole years before I moved school again.

I’m posting this now. No pictures or frills. Before the box slams shut.

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Made it to 18.

Sultanabun and son, 1999.

I am the mother of a grown-up child. I am relieved to have made it this far, apprehensive about letting go, nostalgic for the saturated joy of his babyhood and, above all else, bowled over with pride. My son, in my totally biased opinion, is smart, opinionated,witty, kind, interested and interesting. In short, leaving aside a most irritating habit of taking off his shirts without first opening the buttons, a fine young man.

His future belongs to him, his for the taking and his for the making.

But this memory, of a shuttered bedroom on a snowy morning in Padova, is mine.

Sultanabun and son, 1999.
SultanaBun and Son, 1999.

Happy Birthday, Grown-Up Son.

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Heart and Sole.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Long, long ago, back in the mists of the last millenium, the restaurant at the Crawford Gallery used to stay open late for dinner and that is where he brought me to celebrate our first St. Valentine’s Day together.

It was a very special place; Myrtle Allen and her daughter Fern were running it at that time. They had the Ballymaloe trick (they invented it, of course) of combining faded grandeur with homeliness so that you felt you belonged. Can you imagine? Two starving, grubby students, scrubbed up and loved up, playing grown-ups and acting posh. I have no idea to this day how he paid the bill. He may have left a portion of his liver behind.

It was magical, everything about that night, from beginning to end. There were masses of candles on the windowsills, reflecting in those long windows, and a harpist strumming away in the corner. As seduction scenes go, he was on to a winner.

We ate Dover Sole, stuffed with salmon and served with champagne sauce. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the very best dish I had ever eaten and indeed, I can’t think of a thing that has surpassed it. Honest to God, I was in ecstasy.

For dessert we had Coeurs à la Crème, something I have never seen on a menu before or since. They had me at à la Crème. It was sublime.

I was lost.

We had, by that date, broken up more than once. In fact, I believe I had sent him packing no fewer than six, SIX, times! But, he won in the end. Well played, mon amour!

There was no going back from the Coeurs à la Crème.

I was his.

A couple of months later, for my birthday, we went to see the the RSC production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at Cork Opera House. Oh, it was wonderful. I adored it. The two nights remain associated in my brain, a tangle of memories from a time of golden, libidinous, joyful adventure.

When I sat down to choose a book for my February edition of Cooking the Books on Bookwitty, there was only one possibility. It was beyond my control.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

I scoured the internet and found the moulds for Coeurs à la Crème here. I referred to my trusted Ballymaloe Cookery Course for Myrtle’s recipe but it was for four servings which seems remarkably silly. I cut it down to two and tweaked it a little, reducing the amount of cream and adding vanilla. I’ve lost count of how many Coeurs à la Crème I’ve eaten in the last month but it has been fun, like playing grown-up and acting posh all over again.

Click here to read my review of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and my slightly risqué recipe for Coeurs à la Crème.

For anyone else who believes that Rickman owns the role of Valmont, here is a precious snippet of the master on stage:

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It’s a bit early to be thinking about Valentines but…

‘I loves him ‘cos he brings me chips.’

That was my line, borrowed from some forgotten joke, when he used to turn up on my doorstep on Thursday evenings after rugby training, hot and hungry, with a steaming parcel of chips in curry sauce.

Quarter of a century later, I love him because he builds me shelves.
And, because he knows exactly the spot to rub on the Voltarol.
Because he brings me coffee every morning without turning on the light.
Because he doesn’t mind digging in the rain so long as we do it together.
Because he knows my tell
and hasn’t told.
Because he believes that I am good.
and tells me that I can.
Because his hands…

I’m saying this now because, if I wait for an occasion, my hormones will have fluctuated and my mood will have nose-dived and I will have forgotten why, WHY?, I love him, though never that I do.

This grey and windy Wednesday morning, when for one precious, terrifying, moment, everyone is OK, we are all happy and healthy and muddling along just grand, planning, plotting and looking forward, I am over-whelmed with reasons why.img_3666

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