Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Secret...

Strange things are happening. It started a while back when a Robin flew into the house. It came and sat on the kitchen table. I’d never seen a Robin in the garden before, let alone in my kitchen. Next thing, the phone went. It was Auntie Jean, telling me that Uncle Pete had just died. The Robin flew out again. “That little bird? It’s him. It’s a message from Uncle Pete,” his grieving widow said.

Auntie Jean is a great believer in angels. Dreams too. She says that she’s psychic. She told me that Uncle Pete is pulling strings from above and when my nephew got a job in Malta recently, it was all thanks to him.  But Pete was a poker player and so am I. If Pete really did happen to be pulling the strings, I’d be World Series Poker Champion by now.  These days I can’t even get a pair.

Then there’s my old friend Patsy. She believes in ‘The Secret’ or the law of attraction. Think positive and good things will happen. She is always putting requests out there, into ‘the universe’. She asked ‘the universe’ for a new job, she got a new job. She asked ‘the universe’ to get her husband a new job, he got a new job. So when she invited me to a Newbridge Musical Society pub quiz a year or two ago, being the cynic that I am, I decided to test it out.

At half time, the raffle tickets came out. I bought five strips and lay them on the table in front of me. So did the eighty or so other people there on the night. To liven up the draw, I told my friends that I would predict the next winning ticket using nothing but the power of my mind. With that I looked down at the table and theatrically held up a strip just before the man at the microphone called out a number. The ticket in my hand had won.

Fast forward to another quiz a few months ago. At a table with the girls at Castle Durrow I recounted that story. “Of course, the real miracle would be do it twice” one of them suggested. She was right. For the craic, just as before, I bought five raffle tickets and lay them in front of me. So did the hundred or so other guests. Just as the draw was about to begin, I held aloft a blue ticket. “This ticket will win,” I said dramatically. The host pulled a ticket from a bucket and held it up. It was mine. 

The ‘do’ in Castle Durrow was a quiet one to raise funds for Rape Crisis in Dublin. When the ten of us started screaming heads turned. “It’s a miracle,” said the woman to my left. “You could make a career with a gift like that!” The woman to my right added “Now do me a favour and give me the winning lottery tickets for Saturday”.

Later that evening I was in shock. So far I’d won a bottle of wine and a shampoo hamper. If this was a new psychic ‘gift’, think about the consequences. I could win millions, put an end to the national debt and fund a cure for Ebola. Had I really developed supernatural powers in my mid forties? What next, a psychic tour of regional theatres and a slot on Most Haunted?

Feeling wobbly about it, I went to see Patsy. She was cleaning the oven and greeted me in pink rubber gloves. “It doesn’t make sense”. “Yes it does,” she said, head in oven. “It’s the universe at play. I’ve believed in it for years. Don’t try and explain it. Accept it”. I was going to a KWWSPCA table quiz the following evening and told her that if I won the raffle again, I’d throw up.  “Well throw up, then give me the prize,” she added.

The next night at the pub quiz I sat down with three strangers. The raffle tickets came round and I bought five and lay them out on the table. I decided that rather than tell my team what I was about to do, running the risk of being labeled the crazy lady in the pub, I’d sit quietly, say nothing and discreetly put my finger on my chosen numbers instead.

“The first prize goes to…” It was blue, 150 – 155, my ticket. Again. About to vomit, I ran outside without claiming my prize, which was a hamper, made up of pasta sauces. I rang Patsy, totally and utterly freaked out. “See? I told you. It’s the universe”.  It was all too creepy. I went back into the quiz to hear the announcer call out second prize. I’d won again.

A week later, at an ICA gathering, I told friend about my ridiculous luck. “Which of my tickets will win then?” asked Sharon, “I never win anything in a raffle”. I touched one of her three tickets. It won. Then her other two tickets won as well drawing sighs of disbelief from the crowd.  My rational brain makes no sense of it. Just think about the odds, it must be a million to one.

Last night I had a dream so vivid and real that I woke up at 5am in a muck sweat. In it, pregnant friend Tamara was calling my name. She was asking for me for help. Her husband was in Oman and she had just given birth. She was crying for me, “Help me Annie!” I’ve never had an experience like it. Was I now getting telepathic dreams, just like Auntie Jean? I waited for sunrise and phoned Tamara. “This is weird, but….” I launched straight into it. Was her husband in Oman? He wasn’t. Had she given birth? She hadn’t. Was she calling for me at 5am? She wasn’t. Oh dear.  It was all bit embarrassing.

The spell has been broken, supernatural powers gone so don’t bother contacting me for the lottery numbers. Me a psychic? Not even Mystic Meg would have predicted that. 






Sunday, 4 January 2015

Easy Cranberry and Apple Relish



This no cook recipe is so easy that you could make it with your eyes shut. You risk injury but it is worth it. Make a batch, put it into jars and give this out to friends. They will thank you.

I've eaten it with cold meats but it is much more than just a relish. I've mixed it with sausage-meat and baked it to make a tasty stuffing. It livens up soups. It's great in a sandwich. Best of all, I've added it to lamb, added a little stock, and it made a delicious casserole. Make a large jar, keep it in the fridge and it is there to flavour the week.


Ingredients:

1 whole large orange cut into quarters (seeds removed)
1 lb cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1  1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large apple (pips and core removed)1 tablespoon lemon juice

Put the whole lot into a blender and whizz together until very finely chopped. Put into jars and eat within a week.





Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Morrissey in Dublin 2014


HE is great. HE is a genius. HE has been part of my life for thirty years. I’ve seen HIM just five times but each time HE has left an indelible imprint on my psyche. HE has made me the woman I am today. HE is with me wherever I go. In the car, in the kitchen, beside me, quietly guiding me through life with HIS wisdom. My children have been indoctrinated too; they have had no choice because HE is Morrissey.

Behind this pretty ordinary housewifey exterior lies an obsessed super fan. In the eighties, whilst my friends were dressing like Princess Diana and throwing themselves at Duran Duran, I was in my bedroom stroking a Smiths poster. Whilst my friends were listening to Girls on Film, I was listening to Girlfriend in a Coma. There is nothing like the humour and irony of a Smiths song, most of them were written by my idol Morrissey. So when HE comes to Dublin, up the N7 go I.

The only other Smiths fan I’ve discovered in Kildare happens to live down the road in Athgarvan. Out of the pair of us, Monica is the less hysterical one but neither she nor I are as fanatical, bordering on psychotically obsessed as her sister, Majella. She is the mega fan. “You know she kissed Morrissey in 1995?” Monica told me as we cruised up the motorway in the drizzle. “In Grafton Street HMV. At a signing”.  That’s not all.

“She’s got an eighth of a sweaty towel from a gig in the nineties too”. “An eighth?” “Yeah, eight fans caught it when Morrissey threw the towel from the stage at the end. They all started fighting over it so in the end they cut it up and split it eight ways”. I know a nun who carries a bit of St Brigid’s cloak around but a framed slice of a towel with Morrissey sweat on it? That takes relics to a new level.

Majella stood outside the 3Arena with her friend June. Morrissey fans all look kind of the same. None of us wear bright colours and most fabric is man made. Everyone wears sensible shoes and looks a bit pale. Morrissey is a passionate vegan and Meat Is Murder is one of his most famous songs. We stood beside the burger stall outside the 3Arena and decided not to buy one. He once refused to play a gig because the venue smelt of meat and stormed off the stage in Poland last month. The very last thing we wanted to do was cancel this much-anticipated gig upset thousands of Morrissey worshippers.

He came onto the stage and the crowd went wild. Men in their fifties threw themselves against the safety barrier. It is a fact that for some reason, his fan base is largely male. The men outnumber female fans ten to one. Majella was instantly concerned when she saw him. “He looks tired”. The news of Morrissey’s cancer came like a bolt from the blue this year. Details have been scarce. “If I die, I die. So what?” was his reaction.

‘The Queen in Dead’ set the crowd alight before he launched into a string of songs from the new album. He had just a few words for the fans between songs, “Ireland, I am grateful and that is that” and “Has anyone stopped you in the street and asked you if you are crazy? Look at ME”.  Two thirds in, Majella and June went to the bar. They went at the right time.

“It’s a cruel, nasty and vicious world. If you think otherwise, think again” he said before walking off stage to change his sweaty shirt. He left us with a short film. A ten-minute movie that brought silence to the packed 3Arena, images that would sicken anyone with a pulse came onto the big screen. Lambs and calves being slaughtered, tiny yellow chicks in a machine, having their beaks shaved off. Half dead pigs being kicked and beaten.  Already pale fans went a shade paler.

Monica looked at me for help. I shrugged my shoulders. What could I do? A teenage girl in front of us began crying uncontrollably, consoled by her parents either side of her. This was hard-core animal rights campaigning. After twenty-five years of worship, we’re all used to it. It’s what he does. We all sat in silence willing him to hurry up and get a clean shirt on, which he finally did.


Songs that HE didn’t sing included “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, “Unhappy Birthday”, “Last Night I dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” and “First Of The Gang To Die”, although he did delight every Smiths fan in Ireland when he closed the show with “Every Day Is Like Sunday”. Majella came back from the bar singing along like a lunatic, fist pumping and cheering whilst Monica whistled loudly beside me. The teenager in front was still sobbing, happy or sad tears I’m still not sure, as the pasty men all around us looked on emotionlessly. It’s an unusual adoration.

Before he left the stage after two hours Morrissey asked us all to graffiti the city with ‘MEAT IS MURDER’ stencils that were for sale at the merchandise stall outside. I didn’t see anyone buy one or spray the walls on the way out and despite the passionate pro-vegetarian movie; the food stalls outside the 3Arena had completely sold out of beefburgers.

Morrissey you are a legend and get well soon but I love a bit of bacon and that is that.













Monday, 8 December 2014

My roof box and a bridge too far




Sixteen years ago I wrote a book “Help! I’ve Got A Baby’. Fast-forward seventeen years and I should be writing ‘Help! I’ve Got A Teenager’.  In it I would list the top one hundred things that make life with teenagers less stressful. Once your children become teenagers, everything you do is embarrassing. It’s the knowing what not to do that it the real sanity saver.

The top one hundred things to avoid includes speaking loudly or drawing attention to yourself outside the house, dressing like Dolly Parton and hugging or showing any signs of physical affection in public. The number one thing to avoid, as I have just discovered, is never to drive around your local town with a roof-box on top of the car.

The roof-box is there because we drove across the Irish Sea a few weeks ago to see the grandparents. They are all sick and these visits are becoming more frequent. Hence, we shall be heading back across the pond again in a few weeks time. The roof-box, bought ten years ago to make travel with four children much less squashed, is a practical, large grey plastic box shaped like a squashed torpedo.

“Don’t come NEAR my school with that THING on the roof” Diva Teen said last month. She is disgusted by it and now meets me half way home from school, on a small side road with no lights. That is not all. She crawls into the back seat and lays flat with her school bag on her head. Then we begin the long moan home.

“This is the most embarrassing car in Kildare”, then “Nobody else in the world drives around with an ugly roof-box”, then a muffled “You need to get privacy windows like the Kardashians. At least no-one could see me”. The muffled complaints come thick and fast from the back seat. “It’s like driving around with a boat on the roof”.

To save her from being seen, I have suggested that she gets in the roof-box for the school run. I even offered to put a pillow, sleeping bag, DVD player and mini fridge inside. I could probably get Wi-Fi up there and with a little help from a YouTube tutorial I might put in a little window too.

“It would be like your very own small tour bus. Just like Rhianna’s” I tried. She refused to crack a smile, not even a tiny one. “NOT funny”. “What about if I put in a flask of hot chocolate and an electric blanket?” Silence. That would be another piece of advice in my sanity saving manual; don’t try and be funny. 

I am usually the one who has to put the heavy, awkward roof box on and take it off each time we go away. Our son is ten and has just been trained up to help. He is the perfect assistant, the ideal size to actually sit inside it and do up the screws with his little fingers. We both hate doing it and after the last trip, when I went out with him to take it off, he suggested we leave it on. I thought it was a good idea.

“I will never drive with you in daylight again” Diva Teen announced over breakfast last weekend. This roof-box rage has been going on for two weeks, much to the amusement of the rest of the family. I switched off to her protests because having a roof-box does have one big advantage. I can spot the car in less than two seconds in an open-air car park. If only I had stuck to open air car parks. Unfortunately, that day I didn’t.

We headed into Newbridge around 4pm when it was almost dark. As usual, I drove humming along to the radio and talking to myself. The passenger seat was empty. In the rear view mirror I could see Diva Teen lying across the back seats, with a blanket covering her whole body.

At the pedestrian crossing, people looked in with prying eyes. I find it a miracle that I was not reported for human trafficking, kidnapping or on suspicion of murder. “Are you alright there?” I asked her. “DRIVE” she replied. One word answers are the norm.  If you have toddlers or small children, hold them tight and cherish them. All this, and more, is heading your way.

In Newbridge I drove optimistically towards the Courtyard multi story car park, planning to drive up the ramp and whirl up to the top floor for a parking spot. But as I got onto the ramp, a crashing, deafening thunder-like noise stopped me right in my tracks. I screamed. Diva Teen remained silent in the back.

I leapt out of the car to discover that I had smashed into the multi story car park ceiling, completely ignoring the ‘Maximum height 1.95m’ sign on the way in.  I’d forgotton all about the extra height I was carrying on top of the car. Oops. Wedged, like a doorstop, in the car park. “WHAT have you done now?” Diva Teen poked her nose out from her hiding place.

I wanted to join her under the blanket but being the only grown up in a sticky situation, I carefully reversed out instead. A crowd of onlookers watched, accompanied by loud scraping noises from the roof-box and we slowly drove off. “This is the most embarrassing day of my life” Diva whispered. I think it might have been mine too. Until today.

Driving through Kildare, I came across a massive army truck at a standstill. It was wedged solidly under the low railway bridge, a mile out of town on the Rathangan road. A few red-faced soldiers stood around it scratching their heads.

Just as I was about to take a ‘selfie’ with them to prove everyone that I am not the only person who ignores warning signs I stopped myself.  A selfie with a bunch of soldiers? Diva Teen would lock me in the roof-box forever.  




















Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Beady Eye Bargains - the discount Queen of Kildare



I like to shop locally but there are some things that cannot be bought in Athgarvan.  A glittery toilet seat is one of them.  It was time to update the bathroom so I went online and with one small click of the mouse, purchased my big camp toilet seat. It sparkles like a disco ball and makes every trip to the smallest room in the house feel a little bit special.

Walking to school the next day I happened to bump into a fellow mum on the run, Melissa. Unable to contain my excitement, I showed her a picture of my latest purchase. Her eyes lit up, she used to sing in a band and loves a bit of glamour. “You should have spoken to me, I’d have got you fifty percent off that,” she said with a wink.

Two years ago Melissa lost her job as a cost analyst for a large American company. Now that the family was relying on one income, the mortgage, gas, electricity and insurance bills began to stack up. She had to make drastic changes and examined the household budget for the first time, with an accountant’s eye.

“I found that there were big price differences online,” she told me. She made reductions on her energy providers first, then got a better deal on her mortgage and insurance.  After further examination, she discovered that the biggest saving of all was to be made on grocery shopping,

Melissa says that anyone can cut hundreds a year from their weekly shop. When she was employed, she used to spend €800 a month on food; that has been reduced by more than half. “Now I sit down, go online, run though all the supermarkets and see what’s on offer”. Her favourite comparison website is reeprewards.ie.

With Newbridge just down the road she does Tesco and Dunnes in one day. She does Aldi and Lidl in Kildare town on another. The savings she makes each week are incredible. “Everything that I buy is half price or less”. The best ever shop was when she spent just €40 for a weeks grocery shopping using Tescos online. “The trick is to plan out a week of meals and make a detailed list” she advised me, “The rewards are there for the taking”.

“Aldi is best for regular weekly savings and Thursday vegetable offers. Dunnes and Tescos put up good deals on vegetables too”. She’s also become a bit of an expert on the psychology of shopping. “Cheaper goods are always on the lower shelves and never shop when you are hungry”. 

The discount queen spends two hours in the morning and the same in the evening online finding the deals. “I’m not working, I have the time to sit down and investigate what’s out there. I am making it my job to save our family money”. It was through her extensive research she discovered ‘Beady Eye Bargains and Special Offers’ on Facebook. Sarah McHale, the founder of ‘Beady Eye’ spends twelve hours a day searching for deals and sharing them online.

Thirty thousand people are on the Beady Eye page and there’s a reason. It’s the place for them to share the knowledge.  Every special offer, ‘Buy One Get One Free’ deal, money saving hint and tip in Ireland is listed there. Special discount codes for online shopping are listed and added to daily. “The bargains that are out there are unbelievable,” Melissa told me. Why am I always the last to know about these things?

A few hours later I found myself standing in Melissa’s kitchen with a mug of tea. On the kitchen table, she had laid on a huge display of everything that she had bought online for her two children for Christmas including dolls, watches, painting sets, beads, headphones and a cuddly toy. Late Late Toy Show eat your heart out.

“I bought this off EBay for 1 cent INCLUDING shipping!” she beamed, holding up a beautiful silver ‘Frozen’ necklace with a secret watch inside.  “These twelve Barbie dresses were €1.29 for the whole set” she carried on, rooting through the pile. “These Minecraft toys are €9.99 each in the shops. I could never afford them. I bought nine online for €12”. That’s a saving of a whopping €78.

Christmas is a sneeze away and this year Melissa began shopping early. “Stores will have sales or discounts in September to increase their sales for the last quarter for the year. It is the best time to shop for bargains”. Retailers such as Argos sell toys at 75% off.  She began buying from EBay in September too. “You have to allow 45 days for things to arrive”. She has most of her Christmas shopping done while I’m still in Halloween mode.  

Savvy Melissa had a few tips for this sloppy shopper. “Register online with the companies that you want to purchase from”. All the big players from Debenhams to Littlewoods, Smyths to Argos send out offers directly to you on a weekly basis. “There might just be something that you are looking for”.  

“Sign up to Groupon, Living Social, Deal Rush, Grab One, PigsBack and get daily emails. Make a list, only buy what you need”. As I got up to leave, she showed me deals that are currently available online. Lily O’Briens are offering 20% off, Lifestyle Sports 10%, New Look 20% and MacCabes pharmacy the same.  

“It’s like a treasure hunt!  It’s so satisfying when you find something that you’ve been searching for at a discounted price.” Her research has paid off. Melissa has cut hundreds from bills, her groceries and saved a fortune on her children’s Christmas presents. There is only one thing left to find that will make her Christmas complete, a trip to Santa.

Santa’s probably the only thing that you can’t buy on a discount site so she’s off to Donadea Forest Park to visit him in the grotto instead.  The Discount Diva had better watch out. If Santa discovers how good she is at buying toys, he’ll want her as head elf.