Tag Archives: Holidays

It’s A Wonderful…Life?

By 10:30 this morning I needed Christmas like I needed an enema. My mother rang me in a panic, as she did at the same time yesterday. Where was everyone? she cried. Why was she on her own on Christmas Day? And why, when she rang my number, was she getting through to her best friend and old neighbour?

My mother isn’t well. It seems that the moment she turned 70 (last October), her mind went walkabout. An MRI ruled out a tumour, which left us with the likelihood of dementia. Her mobile phone and TV remote are now sources of frustration for her. We have written lists of her important numbers and set both her mobile and landline with identical speed-dial settings. But she still calls the wrong people. Not always, just sometimes.Old age will happen (hopefully) to us all. Most of us will enjoy our twilight years with the full benefits of our mental capacities. Some of us (and hopefully not you) won’t. It may take a long time to creep up on us. Or, in the case of my mother, it may suddenly appear. Who knows what each day may bring?

It could also be her medication. My mother has emphysema too, and is on a shed-load of pills and inhalers to help with her condition. She takes sleeping tablets as well, and there is currently some debate about the severity and dosage of these pills. It may be that her medication is causing some sort of imbalance, but we won’t know for sure until we get a report from her doctor.

Most times, my mother is well and alert enough to hold a conversation, know what’s what and who’s who, and is able to go out for a drink with her sister once or twice a week. But with weather being the way it is, she finds herself housebound. As she lives on her own and can’t get out and about as much as she used to, there is the danger of her brain going idle. It can happen to anyone of us if we’re denied mental stimulation. But we’ll get through this Christmas without any incident, hopefully. We’ll be together as a family and look out for her and each other.

So, as you can imagine, I’ve not been in the festive spirit, particularly after the phone calls from the last two mornings. But a friend of mine had invited me to a screening of Frank Capra’s classic James Stewart movie It’s A Wonderful Life at the Irish Film Institute (IFI) on Eustace Street, off Dublin’s Temple Bar. I’ve never seen this movie before, although I know it well enough as a staple of Christmas TV schedule. I debated whether to see the movie or call down to my mother. My friend suggested that three hours wouldn’t make too much of a difference and I could always call down afterwards. So I agreed to go.

And I’m glad I did. I’m sure most of you reading this have seen the movie, so I won’t bother with an in-depth review. It is enough to say that I was taken away from what was going on in my life and brought instead to a Capraesque fantasy world that gave truth to the statement, “they don’t make them like this anymore.”

When the movie finished, I rang my mother and let her know I was on my way down. My brother was already there and she seemed to be fine. My friend and I left the IFI and were greeted by a snow shower. Walking through Temple Bar, all of a sudden I realised it was Christmas. People walked hand-in-hand; Christmas lights shone though the snow; music played from shop windows. It was starting to look a lot like Christmas. (The only disadvantage to this was the bus journey to my mother’s house – it took ages to get there.)

My mother was waiting for me, and she was a lot better than she was this morning. When I left, my sister was on her way down to see her. Like I said, we’ll get through this Christmas. What happens next year is anyone’s guess.

I’d like to take this moment to wish each of you a peaceful and blessed Christmas. Be safe, love and take care of each other, okay?

Until the next time.

Allie and The Witches of Salmon

Ray the chef was having trouble scooping out a pumpkin. Lunch had finished and he decided he had plenty of time to get ready for the pub’s Halloween party on Sunday night. The 4.40 at Haydock Park was two hours away. Loads of time to get a bet on.

“Ping!” Allie the Aardvark was playing with the microwave again when I brought in the last of the day’s dirty cups and saucers. He and it had a special understanding, it seemed. I couldn’t see the attraction myself. But then, my little blue friend found amusement in the strangest of places. Maybe there weren’t any microwave ovens where Allie came from. Which reminded me: as long as I’ve known the aardvark, he’s never really explained his origins. He was just…there. The winning prize of the pub’s weekly lottery and I somehow adopted him. Or he adopted me.

Whichever. I don’t really know.

Ray cursed loudly. “Whose bright idea was it to order a pumpkin?” he said.

“Mine,” Allie said. “Halloween is not Halloween until a pumpkin has been well and truly scooped.”

For those that don’t know, Allie is a one-of-a-kind; a talking aardvark that only I can hear. He loves playing up on this.

“What did he say?” Ray said.

“He said it was his idea,” I replied. “What’s the problem with it?”

“It’s as tough as my granny’s you-know-what,” he said.

“That bad, huh?” I didn’t want to ask what the ‘you-know-what’ was. Some things were best left alone.

“I need a chisel,” Ray said.

“You can’t take a chisel to a pumpkin, Ray. You’ll hack it to pieces.”

“It’s either that or it goes in the bin.”

“The bossman wouldn’t like that,” Allie said. “He spent twenty euro on a pumpkin. For that kind of money, he’ll want it to serve drinks, too.” Martin was the owner of the pub. He was as tight with cash as Ray’s granny’s you-know-what was tough. Real tight. Real tough.

“What did he say?” Ray asked again.

“Don’t use a chisel,” I said.

“He’s no bloody use,” Ray said. “Ask him to take a took at the 4.40, will you? I need a winner badly.”

“After the last time,” I said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Especially when you’re thinking of chiseling a pumpkin.”

One of Allie’s many talents is the ability to predict certain events, events in which he has no direct involvement – like horse racing. He found a winner for Ray the day after he got here and was sorry that he did. Even though the aardvark tried to dissuade him, Ray still tried to get one more winning horse from Allie.

“Let’s go, Jimbo,” Allie said. “I want to see what Halloween is like in Dublin.”

“I hope you like bangers,” I said.


My new friend wore my Stetson all the time. I brought it home from my trip to the States last year, but it suited him better than it did me. He had a head for hats. I just looked ridiculous. We took a bus into the city centre and got off at Marlborough Street. We crossed O’Connell Street, avoiding chuggers along the way, and strolled up Henry Street. The shop windows tried in vain to entice people to come in and sample the very latest in fancy dress. Allie walked toward one of the displays. His snout perked up.

“See something you like?” I said.

“I’m not sure,” he replied. “It seems to me that the latest fashion designs would have the Witches of Salmon weeping into their cauldrons.”

“The witches of who?” I sensed an aardvarkian history lesson on its way.

“Salmon,” he replied. “I mean, look at these.” He pointed at the mannequins. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say this shop sold school uniforms for Lady Gaga fans. Who in their right minds goes around wearing stuff like this?”

I didn’t know what was more surprising: the fact that Allie had an opinion on fashion or that he knew who Lady Gaga was.

“This is what happens on Halloween, Allie,” I said. “The young ones dress up like tarts, get blitzed on alcopops, and spend the next day throwing up monkey nuts.”

“Charming,” the aardvark said. “Wouldn’t happen in my day. The witches wouldn’t allow it.”

We continued our walk up Henry Street. On the corner of Moore Street, some guys were selling fireworks and bangers, despite this activity being against the law. One of the hawkers approached us.

“D’ya want some fireworks, bud?” he said.

“A witch’s curse be upon you!” Allie replied. “May your spawn suffer the ignominy of perpetual boredom!”


“What did he say?” the hawker asked.

“He said no.” I grabbed Allie’s snout. “Let’s go, you.” We marched further on. “What’s with the cursing? It’s not nice.”

“If the Witches of Salmon were here, such vendors would be afflicted with boils and plagues of locusts.”


“Yes, Jimbo. On the Feast of Salmon, all witches’ covens got together for their Annual General Meeting and debated ways of making their day of celebration more even and meaningful, less shallow. Hence the term ‘shallow evening.’ Of course, over the centuries, almost everything was lost. Shallow became hallow, Salmon became samhain.”

I stopped in my tracks. “You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you?”

“What, you think all this is to do with druids and ghosts?”

“Well, that and a good horror movie.”

“It’s marketing, Jimbo. It’s St. Valentine’s Day with vampires. The Witches of Salmon would…”

“I know, weep into their cauldrons. Hubble, bubble, boil and trouble.”

Allie’s stomach rumbled. “I need some M&Ms, Jimbo. All this talk of food is giving me an appetite.”

We retraced our steps. “You know, Allie,” I said, “if all this distresses you, you could always Hum them away.” Allie’s only weapon, as far as I knew, was his psychic Hum; a sound that penetrated people’s minds and hearts and made them do his bidding.

“I thought of that,” he said. “But it would cause more trouble that its worth. If I make these vendors go away, others will take their place next year.” He looked at me with those dark expressionless eyes of his. “I might not be here this time next year.”

I hadn’t thought of that. I felt my face fall.

“Don’t fret too much, Jimbo,” he said. “We have much to accomplish before I go anywhere. But first, I need…”

“M&Ms,” I said.

“Yes,” the aardvark replied. “And I want to have another look at those school uniforms.”

Food for Thought: The Chilean Miners

Image CBS News

I know I run the risk of offending people by writing this. I have a lot of sympathy for the poor men who are stranded down a mine in Chile, with no hope of rescue until Christmas at the earliest. Seriously, I do.

But my mind boggled when I caught sight of this item of news on Sky TV earlier this evening.

Just think about this for a moment. We have the survivors of a plane crash, the events of which were made into a movie, Alive, offering support and words of comfort to the unfortunate miners. Forgive me for saying so, but should another group of people have been chosen?

Maybe it’s just me…I don’t know.