Elderflower Profusion.

It’s a bank holiday here, it’s raining in a fairly gentle manner, the teenagers are (they say) swotting for their exams which begin on Wednesday, and the small girls are sitting behind me watching Horrible Histories on a loop (it’s very funny).

I have nicked somebody’s headphones, for the sake of insulation from Terry Deary’s distracting puns, and am listening to Coldplay. Did you watch the Manchester concert last night? I was fiercely impressed by the spirit of it. It was respectful and uplifting, I thought, and appropriate. Not to even mention that thing Chris Martin does to a piano stool…

Ireland peaks in June. There’s enough sun, enough rain and enough hope of a glorious summer still to come. It’s a feeling so good you (or at least, I) want to bottle it. Which perhaps explains the frantic rush to preserve the scent of elderflowers.

But first, sad news. We had a death in the family. Kombucha with pink elder flowers. Second fermentation.

Alas, poor Scoby died. Or turned mouldy anyway and I, with a massive sigh of relief, held up a DNR notice. So, this bottle which was only marginally enhanced by the addition of pink elderflowers, was officially the last bottle of Kombucha to be fermented in this house.

Ever.

Phew.

Now, on to the good stuff.

First, a quick note on Elderflowers (Sambuca nigra). I have a young plant in the garden of a pink variety called Black Lace which has a lovely cut leaf and pink flower. I have been advised, however, that another variety called Black Beauty has a darker pink flower and makes and even darker cordial so that’s one to look out for at the garden centre. I was willing to sacrifice only a half dozen or so heads from our little plant so most of these recipes were made with bog standard wild Elderflower foraged from the river bank where we walk the dog. The rule of thumb is to take only what you can reach from the ground and leave the remainder for the bees and birds. The scent of Elderflower is potent; you don’t need much. And, it’s nice to go back for elderberries to make Autumn Pudding.

Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking is the book of the moment. It is a goldmine of recipes for anything you might forage, find or foster in your garden. If you want to sample some of the recipes, many have been included in Darina’s column in The Examiner (known locally as de paper) over the years. I’ve linked to those posts where I could find the relevant recipes.

I was pleased to discover that Elderflower Fizz (or Elderflower Champagne, same thing) counts as a fermented drink. Wahoo!

Drink up, it’s positively good for you.

It’s also dead easy to make although I have been warned that it is notoriously prone to spontaneous nocturnal explosion.

Elderflower fizz, or champagne.

The recipe says to wait two weeks but I suspect we will be popping a bottle before then. Can you see the fizz already ?! The recipe is here.Elderflower fizz.

The Fizz needs fairly rapid consumption so, for longer keeping, we made Elderflower Cordial. This was made with wild elderflowers and just one pink head added for a hint of colour.

Elderflower cordial.

With an abundance of elderflowers to hand we also made some Elderflower Medicinal Vinegar according to the recipe in Rebecca Sullivan’s Natural Home Book (reviewed, here). It’s really just apple cider vinegar with flowers in it. I have no idea what this might be good for, other the just admiring the prettiness of it. On that account I insisted on adding a few rose petals.Elderflower medicinal vinegar.

It does make me feel better, just to look at it.

Aaah, just came to Fix You. I loved that last night. Great choice.

So. Gooseberries.

I wasn’t really keeping an eye on them, it’s been wet and I wasn’t in the garden for a few days and then, wham, all of a sudden, the bushes were hanging to the ground with the weight of the berries. A proper bumper crop. I donned a protective long-sleeved denim shirt (don’t approach a gooseberry bush without one, says the voice of experience), brought a chair over, and a cup of coffee and picked and topped and tailed for ages and ages.

Picking gooseberries.

Those bushes sure don’t part easily with their fruit. I was impaled by several award-worthy thorns for my efforts.IMG_7436

Worth it though. Someone asked me recently how I know when the gooseberries are ready. According to the oracle that is Darina Allen, they are ready to cook with when you see the elderflowers blooming. I think they are ready when you can see the seeds though the skin or, in this case, when the bush can’t hold them up any longer. Or, they are probably ready when they are big enough to block out the sun.

Gooseberry big enough to block out the sun.

I only picked from the first to crop of our three bushes but had something in the region of 8 lbs of fruit and more to come. Eeek.

Darina Allen. Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

My first 4lb of gooseberries went to make Elderflower Gooseberry Compote. I love faffing about with a bit of muslin. Makes me feel like I’ve wandered into the kitchen at Longbourn. The recipe is here.

Gooseberry compote.

A word of caution here: I doubled the recipe but later realised that I need not have doubled the quantity of water. The result was a compote that was definitely too watery. I strained off some of the excess syrup and put it to good use. Here’s my very complex recipe:

Just add gin.

Elderflower and gooseberry gin cocktail.

SO good.

Onwards and jamwards. The recipe for Elderflower and Gooseberry Jam is here. I think it is my favourite jam ever but I tend to have exactly that thought every time I make jam. I actually don’t eat much jam. When I treat myself to toast, I like to savour the salty butter, but this jam is incredible in place of raspberry jam in this coconut pudding.

Elderflower and gooseberry jam.

With a boost of confidence (doubtless from the cocktail), I embarked on Elderflower Fritters. Something that Darina Allen does consistently in her books is tell you that you CAN do things and make things and, since the woman simply brooks no argument, you do.

These look wildly impressive. Well, I think they do. Elderflower Fritters.

Other than having to heat a pan of oil which always makes me nervous (I don’t have, or want, a deep fat fryer), they are easy peasy to make.

The recipe is here.

One flower head per person would be an appropriate serving.

Elderflower Fritters with Gooseberry Compote and whipped cream.

I’m not going to tell you how many I ate.

We’re not far from London or Manchester. As it happens, my in-laws flew into London on Friday night. What happens there could happen here. Geographical and cultural proximity makes it all the more horrifying. The layers of immunity are, one by one, being stripped away. It gets scarier. And then you think, to be scared is to let them win. To be honest, I’m trying not to think about it.

Whatever happens, life goes on. Gooseberries ripen. Elderflowers wilt. All we can do, I think, is keep our chins up and keep living.

If you want your spine tingled, try this:

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I’m delighted to join in the celebration of all things glorious in the garden Old House in the Shires.

Oldhouseintheshires

Cooking the Books: Fish For Friday by Frank O’Connor.

Cooking the Books: this month it’s Revolutionary Cod with Cork man Frank O’Connor.

Frank O’Connor, born Michael O’Donovan in Cork in 1903, is a writer who resides close to the hearts of Irish people simply because, for very many of us, his short story ‘First Confession’ was our first brush with great literature.

A boy of seven, searching for his bearings in the pitch dark of a confessional, locates the shelf where penitent adults might rest their elbows. He imagines the shelf is for kneeling on and clambers up, telling us he was always a competent climber, from which height he must hang upside down in order to address the bemused priest behind the grille.

As a child of ten or so, I pitched off my school chair in hysterical relief that I wasn’t alone in my fear of mortal sin, or mortal embarrassment, within the shady confines of the confession box. Click to read on, please.

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Frank O’Connor. Fish For Friday and A Revolutionary Cod.

 

Adventures in Fermenting.

Fermented Food has a bad name. Literally, I mean it’s just not the most appetising of concepts. Sun dried food, for instance, sounds fabulous. Caramelized, similarly, has a good ring to it. Deep fried is fine, salted should be okay, confit is superb and even pickle is good but fermented, nope, it’s just not that appealing.

I studied microbiology in a University at the forefront of research into probiotics but, to my shame, most of what I learned went into a box in the attic and it is only recently that I have become seriously interested in fermented foods.

We are only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of realising the health benefits of consuming good quality fermented foods. It’s not just our gut flora that stands to benefit but even our mental health. I’ve just started researching this so you can expect to find me waffling at length. I’m putting a shout out here to anybody with fermenting experience or wisdom to share. Help me; I want to learn!

My kitchen now has more microbial experimentation going on than my laboratory desk ever had.

The sourdough adventure began after last year’s trip to Litfest when I came home with a starter from Riot Rye. Approximately fifty loaves of bread later, I am getting close to something truly good. I’m still not getting the really big air pockets that I’m after but the crust is fantastic. IMG_7138

The banneton proofing basket I bought in Ballymaloe gives those glorious concentric circles. I get a real kick out of using traditional tools that make a good job of something. I have a pair of wooden paddles for rolling butter into balls that make me grin from ear to ear. Simple pleasures.

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Also in the above picture is a fresh starter from Arbutus breads which seemed to give my culture a boost.

I made my first sauerkraut when I was reviewing Rebecca Sullivan’s book (The Art of The Natural Home, review here). Can you see all the bubbles rising? It was very exciting to hear the pop when I opened the jar every morning to ‘burp’ it. I did NOT expect to like sauerkraut. I’d never eaten it before but this didn’t taste sour or cabbage-watery as I feared it might. It was more of a nice, crunchy salad with a bit of tang. Also, I thought this huge jar would last for months but no, we ate it all in a couple of days.IMG_6795Rebecca Sullivan. The Art of the Natural Home.

Rebecca’s book also had a recipe for making Kombucha so I had my eye out for a starter at Litfest and, yes, I found one. Here it is in the company of some fine cocktails.IMG_7103 (2)

Now, I have hit what may be an insurmountable problem. I don’t like it. I don’t like the taste of tea and I don’t like the taste of beer and this stuff, to me, smells like  the cart of empty beer bottles that I used to have to sort into crates on Saturday mornings. Eeugh. Any advice? I’m willing to knock it back medicinally but I’d rather find a way to make a pleasant version.IMG_7174

I’m in the process of reviewing a brand new book from Kristin and Christopher Shockey.IMG_7347

Unlike most cookbooks I review, nothing in this one is familiar. It’s all a journey into the unknown which I LOVE! I love learning, I really do.

The first thing I made was a basic chilli mash. This stuff is fantastic; I can’t get enough of it. We’ve probably added it to every second dinner for the past fortnight and I’m on the hunt for chillis on special offer. Again, can you see the bubbles? I’m not sure why I find that SO exciting.IMG_6865

Fermented ginger, fermented carrots and, wait for this, rhubarb kimchi. The kimchi has been a huge hit. Husband made up a second batch yesterday as we have run out. IMG_6861 (2)

Figuring out exactly how to eat these foods has been another learning curve. This dinner of pork meatballs with kimchi, fermented carrots and fermented ginger was incredibly tasty and satisfying.IMG_7170

I’ve been having the carrots with my lunch most days. This picture also shows the fermented mustard from Fiery Ferments. It’s made with lots of white peppercorns for extra heat and is, honestly, the most delicious mustard I can remember tasting. The book is good too (review coming soon).IMG_7134

I’ve had a slow growing theory of happiness growing in my head for the last few years which is based on the word satisfaction. I think that our lives, in many large and small ways, have changed beyond how we have biologically evolved to live. Our evolution, in other words, has been outstripped by the developments of modern life.

For this reason, I think, we are never satisfied. We spend hours trawling shoe shops that we once would have spent foraging (that’s my theory anyway). We buy ready-washed, ready-chopped vegetables in plastic bags where once we would have had the satisfaction of watching them grow and ripen. We accept the convenience of high sugar, high fat processed foods but they don’t quell our cravings; they don’t satisfy us. So we eat more.

We’ve done ourselves out of the labour, the learning, the patient waiting, the process of making food, all of which are ingredients in the satisfaction of it. We’ve made it almost impossible to reach that point where we feel yes, I have had sufficient, my appetite has been sated.

There is lots of science now behind the benefits of fermented foods but I think there’s more to it than even that. Taking two days to make a loaf of bread, or two weeks to make a filling for the sandwich, is hardly what could be considered practical. But, it’s flipping satisfying. And there’s a taste, I can’t pin it down but I’m certain of it, there’s a taste that hits a spot in my brain and the only word I can find for it is satisfaction.

I did warn you about impending waffling, didn’t I? Tell me what you think.

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Talking About Food.

I think I said too much.

There was a long, very long, time in my life when I said basically nothing. I held it all inside. I was the very epitome of ‘bottled up’. And then I started writing and it was like all sorts of fizzy stuff rose to the top and spluttered out from under the cap. Mainly here.

It feels good, a release valve and all that, but this weekend I found myself in a writing workshop and that bottle got properly shaken up and I may have made a complete fool of myself.

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The event was labelled as a FOOD writing workshop and I, in my innocence, thought we might be asked to brainstorm effective adjectives to describe cheesecake, or instructed on international standards of measurement. Remember, I studied SCIENCE! Our lab write-ups were not expected to stir the emotions. We weren’t required to read them aloud to an expectant circle of fellow scientists who might comment on our choice of the word incubate over cook, dispense over pour or centrifuge over stir vigorously. 

Nope. No lists at all of handy adjectives, nor tables nor graphs, nor even rules about Oxford commas, and the minute I saw those chairs arranged in a CIRCLE I knew I was in Trouble.

Our first task was to write a poem.

Dear God, I thought, are they serious? We had five minutes to choose from some vaguely culinary objects placed on a table, and then another ten minutes, or so, to compose a poem.

This was immediately followed by the sheer terror of realisation that I would have to read it aloud.

People are lovely. The kindness of strangers is such a reassuring thing. There were eleven of us: 5 Irish, 1 English, 3 American and, bizarrely, 2 unrelated Mexicans. What was striking, I suppose, was that despite disparate backgrounds and various motivations, everyone immersed themselves in the experience and went with it. There was no place to hide. Everyone, every single person, was kind and generous.  The teachers/ facilitators/ counselors, Regina Sexton and Jools Gilson, were patient and insightful and, thankfully, funny. It felt more like therapy than school. Seriously, not like science, not even a little bit. I can’t even tell whether or not I learned anything.

The reward for reading a poem aloud came in the form of a break, with tall pots of coffee and buttery shortbread hearts served by ladies in navy uniforms and white broderie anglaise trimmed aprons. Nice.

But, the respite was short-lived and the second task did the shaking. We were asked to write a recipe, but not really a recipe, more a memoir piece with food, or a recipe, at its core. You see the danger here, don’t you?

I was already brimming with endorphins and charged with caffeine. I sat facing the wall in the same corner where I had written the poem and I was crying before I reached the first full stop.

Spill, spill, spill. A memory on a page. Tears and snot all over the place.

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In my defence, I wasn’t the only one. It’s fascinating to me how much emotion is bound up in our memories of food. Or, on the other hand, how much food we even remember.

Dorcas Barry gave a talk on Saturday about the idea of emotional nourishment. Apparently, when we experience a happy, joyful, meal with family or friends, we experience a rush of oxytocin which not only aids digestion but has incredible health benefits. Oxytocin drastically reduces our risk of heart disease, even in the face of a toxic diet. There’s even science to prove it.

Now, here’s the thing, when we REMEMBER that lovely, happy meal with loved ones, we get exactly the same PHYSICAL rush of oxytocin and the same protective effect, even at a distance of years or decades from the actual plate of food. So, when the kids share a good laugh over passing all their sprouts to my plate, or a potato that bears a passing resemblance to Donald Trump, they are creating memories that will, literally, protect their hearts, over and over again, for the rest of their lives. And when we sit down on Christmas Eve and remember all the other Christmases, we are laying down a barrier against all the goose fat we are about to consume. Isn’t that amazing?

It seems to me, and I would love to know if anyone out there knows more about this, that we have evolved so that people who reminisce, recall, read, talk and write (even terrible poetry) about food actually have a better chance of survival. Hah! I feel I have found the ultimate justification for all my waffling.

I’d like to mention two fellow (and FAR superior) bloggers from the workshop.

Kathy writes Gluts and Gluttony, a beautifully written blog about growing and cooking food in the Cotswolds.

Lily writes A Mexican Cook, in her friendly, cheerful, authentic voice, about Mexican food and how to cook it in Ireland.

Litfest17 was a blast. I was still spilling words all days Saturday, asking stupid questions of bemused celebrity chefs and gushing idiotically in my excitement at meeting some of my heroes.

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Brian McGinn, producer of Chef’s Table, talks about how to tell food stories. ‘Once you’ve had a scone in Ballymaloe House in the morning,  with the jam and the butter and everything, you’re like, shit, when can I have more scones and, hey, what other scones are out there?’
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Rebecca Sullivan who, in real life, is just as warm and passionate as her book made me believe. She hardly mentioned The Art of the Natural Home and spoke, instead, about the preservation of native Australian foods. A beautiful person.
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RTE’s John Bowman hosts a foodie special of Questions and Answers, with Rory O’Connell, Michael Kelly and Joanne Blytheman.

 

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A very proud Granny watches Willow Xena singing on stage.

And the food, oh God, we could be here for hours but my oxytocin levels might reach dangerous heights.

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Fingal Ferguson, charcutier and knife-maker, struggles to balance cooking with the demands of celebrity.
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#flaggy shore oysters
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Gaelic Escargots anyone? I’m afraid I was NOT brave enough. Maybe next year.
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Source of a mouth-watering Lamington square for ‘second breakfast’.

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‘Roll up, roll up, cme get your oxytocin here!’
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The maker of the best Cacciocavallo Toastie in the land (first lunch). Be still my heart.
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Happy as clams (second lunch).
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The spoils. A Kombucha starter, a sourdough starter from Arbutus, an unbelievable syrup for gin cocktails and a thingymabob for holding dough.

Yes, yes, I know, I can’t NOT put it in. It’s nothing much. You’ll wonder now, what all the fuss was about.

How To Cook Eggs.

It was the way she made eggs for me, in the morning or maybe for lunch.

Always the same ancient saucepan, the enamel worn off it and a handle that would brand you if you didn’t know how to position it just right on the orange-glowing electric coil.

She would count in the eggs, two for me and two for her, and pour water from the tap, just enough to cover them, and cook them then, at a gently knocking simmer, until they were exactly right.

No timers or gadgets, just somehow knowing when they were done, with the white white, not snotty, and the yolk still having a bit of run to it.

What I remember best are the sounds. The crack of the spoon against the eggshell, the scooping out of the egg into a cup, then a quick clinking stir with a knob of butter and a pinch of salt until it was amalgamated together into golden, endlessly comforting, googy eggs.IMG_7034

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Two Books Worth Their Salt.

Feeding a Family. Sarah Waldman.

Book shopping has always, for as long as I can remember, been the only type of shopping I truly enjoy. I’m very picky when choosing books and have become ever more so. I get quite annoyed with myself when I am suckered by publicity into buying a mediocre book.

When I’m reviewing books, I try to write what it is I like about a book. But, there are some books, the books that rise above the average, that I want to hold up above my head and wave towards you saying, LOOK, this is a book worth your time and money.

A mixed perk/pressure of my book reviewing work is that I can sometimes choose books from a publisher’s advance catalogue but, to do that, I must rely on gut instinct as there are rarely any reliable reviews to help. I am obliged to, lierally, judge a book by its cover. I’m on tenterhooks then, when book post arrives, for fear I will be let down.

In the last month, I have been unexpectedly delighted by two books. Both are far more practical and useful than I could have hoped. More surprisingly, both have made me think deeply about how I am raising this little family of mine.

The first is Feeding a Family by Sarah Waldman. I came across this by happenstance as it had the same publisher (Roost) as Eat This Poem. Obviously, as feeding a family is my primary concern, I was attracted by the title. In just a few short weeks, this book has become the mainstay of our dinner time. It is the best blend of healthy/tasty/practical that I’ve come across in this style of book. Perhaps the best endorsement is that my kids won’t let me give it away. Only one caveat: measurements are mostly in American cups and spoons and sticks of butter, all that malarkey. I have an imperial measure that has both English and American cup markings on it which is dead handy.

Cookbooks are always expensive but, if you are trying to feed a family, particularly a young family, this is a good investment. Read my full review here.

Feeding a Family. Sarah Waldman.

The second is The Art of the Natural Home by Rebecca Sullivan.Rebecca Sullivan. The Art of the Natural Home.

This is a book of recipes to make natural (meaning safe, environmentally harmless and, for the most part, even edible) products that most people would never even consider trying to make. Oven cleaner, kitchen spray, food colouring, moisturiser, shampoo, even mascara!

My girls and I got a real kick out of the cosmetics section and I was thrilled by their reaction to it.

Best of all, the products work. This book, genuinely, has the power to change how you think about buying stuff.

Don’t believe me? Oh ye of little faith…read my full review here.

I’m off now to dolly myself up (cocoa blusher and all) for Teenage Son’s End Of Year school mass. My boy has finished school. Weird.

I’ve enrolled in a food writing workshop at Litfest17 in Ballymaloe tomorrow. I’m very worried that ‘workshop’ implies actual work. They won’t make me stand up and read something, will they? Waaah!

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Truth is Beauty.

A few weeks ago, my attention was drawn (thanks, Sam) to this post on the really lovely Countryside Tales blog. It’s a very practical post, with reams of useful information for those who would like to share their garden with bees and butterflies.

However, it was these lines that lodged in my head:

‘A lot of attention has rightly been given in recent years to encouraging people to provide nectar sources in their gardens but we also need to provide food plants and to be prepared for these food plants to be eaten and to look nibbled. This may go against the grain for many gardeners, but if we want to support the continued survival of our wildlife (and through them our own), we need to look after them properly and shift our aesthetics a little bit as a result.’ (CT from Countryside Tales)

My mother and grandmother, both wonderful gardeners, set great store by traditional and natural methods BUT they also resorted to the failsafe of chemical pesticides and herbicides when necessary because their ultimate goal was a good display of perfect flowers. That’s the mindset I began with but recently it has shifted.

My Anenome coronaria had massive chunks taken from the petals this year. It was as if someone had taken a scissors and trimmed the petals right off. Touring the garden with me, my Mum (box, closed) suggested a garlic spray. That seemed like a good plan but then, I had to wonder why. Hardly anyone sees the garden but me and I get as much pleasure from the bugs as I do from the flowers so, even from a purely selfish standpoint, it wasn’t worth the effort of mashing garlic (the bugs in my garden benefit greatly from my sheer laziness).

Strangely, that was something of a turning point. CT’s post came soon after and somehow validated my new viewpoint. This might not sound like a big thing and I’m not managing to express it very well. Wiser women than me have written about why gardening is good for body and soul but one reason is surely that it brings us in touch with nature and another is that it envelopes us in beauty.

The thing is, what exactly does beautiful mean? In lots of ways, it means something different to me now than when I was younger. All sorts of imperfections, freckles, laughter lines, scars, scuffed floors and ear-marked pages, move me to that indrawn breath that spells beauty.

My constant is this; let it be real. That line from Keats was one of the few lines of school poetry I took to heart:

 ‘”Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

 

Are the perfectly circular holes in my rose petals beautiful?IMG_6617

I think they are. Letting go of perfection, or taking a different view of perfection, has come as a huge relief.

Whatever bug felt the desire to dine on roses, or maybe line their bed with fragrant pink petals (lucky bug), they have moved on. This week’s challenge is simply rain.

I’ve whined long and hard about rain in these pages but, not today. I’ve found breathtaking beauty in raindrops.

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You will still, however, find me guilty of killing slugs. Anyone yet discover the beauty in slugs?

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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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