When to speak and when be silent…..

Well, i’m back from my retreat – turns out I am in fact a 46 year old Geography teacher from Belfast. However, it also seems that i’m actually ok with that. It was a wonderful experience and I game back genuinely enriched and relaxed.

Unfortunately, all that silence also left me a lot of time for observing my fellow retreatants. After a very sort time it became clear that even people of a journey to their essential selves are as competitive as the general population!

For example, when teachers get together the competition usually rages between who has the crapest timetable and the fewest resources. As we were allowed to speak at mealtimes the stage was set for some hardcore ‘Out Jesusing’

These actually are mine. Named Lady Antonia’s beads, because they were found outside the church in London where Mother and Pasty (my grandmother) once sat behind Lady Antonia Fraser at Mass

Once everyone’s bona fides had been established – who was at school with your cousin etc – the conversation slipped seamlessly into ‘what priests do you know?’ (not in the Fleabag, sexy priest sort of the way) and the game begins. It could be compared to a very delicate game of Top Trumps. For example:

  • ‘Spiritual not Religious’ – no points for the liturgical lightweights
  • ‘I heard at Mass on Sunday…..’ ohhhh good opening – regular attender
  • ‘I find morning Mass a great way to start the day’ – now this is really upping the ante
  • ‘ She sits beside me at the Rosary after morning Mass’ – points here for doing something extra
  • ‘ I love the Holy Hour’ – now this is hardcore holiness – for the Holy Hour you have to go back to church
  • ‘Holy Hour is lovely but I prefer the peace of Adoration’ (Adoration is spending time with the blessed Eucharist – it’s lovely)’I go every Thursday Morning’ – now this is big – a regular slot at a ceremony which is optional
  • ‘Oh, I love Adoration – I do the 2-3 am slot on a Saturday night’ – and we have a winner!

A subset of this competition runs around the theme of Pilgrimages. Like most good church stories – there’s a schism. Is it better to have visited more shrines e.g. Lourdes, Knock, Fatima….. or visit the same shrine many times? This is a picture I took on one of my nine visits to Lourdes so far, so my thoughts are pretty clear on the matter.

Later on in the evening – once the ‘silence’ was over for the day, the tone of the competition changes and a new theme is introduced.

Misery

This is a good one – the closer you can link your life to a character from ‘Riders to the Sea’ or ‘ Les Mis’ (though not your dame who married Eddie Redmayne with his rich Granda), the better. If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that the last year alone would get me straight to he semi-finals. Add to this the long dead Da and the sick child and I could have started engraving my name on the cup there and then. In a departure from form I avoided all of this and went to bed and read my book.

In fact I was so chilled and mellow after the retreat that I ‘lost’ my car for two hours on Monday afternoon despite having taken a photo of where I left it.

This diffidence was particularly out of character as we are a family of ‘speaker outers’ and we all learned from the Master – Patsy.

Patsy is my Maternal Grandmother she died a few years ago and this week would have been her 101st birthday. She styled herself on the late Queen Mother (this is her 90th Birthday photograph) and was an absolute legend with an opinion on EVERYTHING

Patsy was not a woman to allow anyone’s sensitivities or indeed Canon Law to get in the way of her thoughts.

She felt that I got married far too young (I was 23 – I told you she was a wise woman). On the morning I was leaving for my honeymoon, I called in home to say cheerio. As I was walking out the door she called me back – a hug? Nope. Some important marital advice.

‘The Pope (John Paul II, known for his conservatism and hard line on contraception) said in The Universe (ultra right wing Catholic Newspaper – big fans of the Pope – read by Patsy and definitely not me) that you can be on The Pill for two years after you get married (bollocks).

When, two years later (I know!!) my son was born naturally I called home to share the good news. I had taken care to register his birth before I phoned – this is because the name my parents chose for me was not in fact ‘Patricia’ it was something quite different. However on the arrival of Patsy to see me and in response to her wobbly voiced request (she was a master) about my name – suddenly I was Patricia.

So, having registered my precious bundle I made my was to the payphone (this was 20 years ago before we all had mobiles). In Craigavon Hospital the phones were along way from the single rooms (Patsy had organised a private birth and single room). After a C – Section there is a very special walk which prepares you for the multi tasking ahead. It’s a slow, painful shuffle – made more difficult by the fact you are trying to see over your enormous swollen boobs. One hand is occupied literally holding your guts in while the other is holding the wall because you are wazzed on painkillers. Add to this that there is oozing from every orifice and the smell of gently cooking cabbage, if you have chosen to cool your boobs with their leaves, overall its a good look.

Having completed this odyssey I put my coins into the phone and dialled home. Mother answered and after the initial – weight and wellness questions we got round to the BIG QUESTION. I had chosen a very Catholicly name for my son – not Emmanuel but to be honest not far off. It’s a beautiful name and it really suits him. However, Patsy was not initially a fan.

Once Mother shared the news I could hear Patsy screeching from the other side of the room (and it was not a small room).

‘ ********* (insert name) ********** (insert name again). The last *********** I heard of was getting let out of Long Kesh, he’ll never get a job!!!!!!!!’

Well, that was me told – but ahh ha – he was already registered so it was too late.

As soon as Patsy met the baby they both fell in love. They had a beautiful relationship and all the children miss her very much.

A few days before she died she spoke to EC (Don Corleone style [definitely not like Tony Soprano – Patsy would never go to a therapist]) to make him the ‘Head of the Family’ completely ignoring the fact that she had a daughter and granddaughter!!!!

Next week I shall tell you all about how my children have happily assumed the mantle of Patsy’s forthrightness.

Dum de de dum dum, dum dum dum dum duuuuummmmm

Happy Easter everyone – I hope you are all having a lovely day – we are. In the best regulated families you will be sitting down following a beautiful meal and a bracing walk – a parlour game might even be in play. Or you may be like the rest of us, the children are full of chocolate and climbing the walls, Uncle Dick is drunk in the corner and Auntie Dora has just said something political……

It seems like the perfect time to share a little more of my childhood story. We left off with my desire for Mother to be a bit more ‘like the other Mummies’ – thankfully she didn’t oblige and I actually feel rather guilty now about asking her to conform.

She once came to my recorder recital (recorder recital!! – I was also in the Chess Club – is it a wonder I’m single?), wearing a full length scarlet wool cape, a Cossack hat and a sealskin muff. This was Larne in he 1980’s – people looked – it was scundering.

My Mother is a gifted shopper – I mean really gifted. There is no task too small or no purchase too obscure. Even before the internet she could find anything – anywhere. When I NEEDED (according to Mother) gold sugared almonds for my wedding favours – gold almonds were found (flown in from Harrods – they were minging).

She does however have one peccadillo – she is VERY particular about how her shopping is packed. Not in a ‘giving the charity bagpacker £2 and then do it yourself’ sort of a way. Oh no, I mean scrutinising the placement and ‘companion’ bagging of every single item.

Once, once, over 35 years ago one hapless assistant in M & S put a pair of shoes in with a silk scarf and it got plucked. Bear in mind, that at this time shop workers in Belfast wore a Pac a Mac clipped to their belts because they spent so much time standing in front of the city hall during bomb scares. The poor girl was probably too worried about getting blasted to kingdom come to consider the structural integrity of a bloody silk scarf. Ever since that fateful day Mother has been the scourge of retail assistants everywhere. Before a bagging transgression has even taken place her shoulders tense and there is an intake of breath. Sometimes, if an acceptable packing configuration follows a drama can be avoided. If an opportunity for substandard ‘bagging’ occurs, there is a little cough, this is followed by (in a faint, wobbly and high pitched voice), ‘ emmmmm, would it be ok if I had another bag ……..it’s just once I had a silk scarf plucked by a pair of shoes’. I think they must have pictures of Mother in all retail staff rooms with,’ For the love of God, give her two bags.’ printed below it in large letters.

TVA ‘silk scarf’ for reference – naturally the original silk scarf is much too plucked to be seen in public

Having said all that she’s great craic with a wicked sense of humour. We often go to social events together, and I get to some great outings as ‘Anne Guest’. One particular night comes to mind. mother was filming a TV series, and it was about half way through with all the prerecords completed (making a facial injury something of an issue). We arrived home very late to my house, possibly having spent slightly too long worshipping at the shrine of Bacchus. I went into the kitchen to pour a glass of water (Mother always needs a glass of water going to bed {for her pills}). All of a sudden there was a yelp, followed by staggering footsteps – this was accompanied by cries of ‘ NOT THE FACE, NOT THE FACE’. Then there was a thud, and silence. I sprinted into the hall to find her face planted at the top of the stairs.

In answer to my concerned enquiries about her wellbeing – she turned to me, grinned and observed, ‘ Don’t worry – my tits saved me!’

Naturally, many years later I asked my talented friend JL to create an embroidery to celebrate the event. Not sure how Mother felt about that.

In addition to their love, the greatest gift my parents gave me was the ability to find wit and humour of even the darkest of days. My Confirmation was a prime example of this.

In Catholic Primary Schools, Confirmation is the highlight of your final year. My time at primary school was neither happy or productive. Despite the heroic efforts of all my teachers who were gifted educators and compassionate women, my card had been marked by the Head Nun. I was the product of a ‘Mixed Marriage’ (my father was Presbyterian and my mother wore capes – I was bound to be trouble.) This unpleasantness (she actually threw the school choices form at my mother because a ‘non Catholic’ school had be picked for my post primary education), was combined with the fact that neither by beloved Father or Grandfather would be in attendance meant no-one was really looking forward to it.

Every girl in the class wanted a job for the big event – after all THE BISHOP would be in attendance. The big parts (the readings) were given to girls who had not passed the 11+ (did they actually think we wouldn’t notice??). I had no hope of a singing part – I can’t sing so that was fair enough. All that was left was the Offertory Procession. The announcement was being made, I held my breath, I was in!! I much have caused Sr. Marcella CP some sleepless nights – could you really leave out the ‘recently orphaned child’ on the other hand……? ‘ Pragmatism won (people would have talked) – I got the water the Priest washes his hands with – not the good stuff like the Bread and Wine – but at least I had a part.

On the morning of the service I got on my ‘outfit’ – petrol blue wool suit (think Margaret Thatcher miners strike chic), a ‘Lady Diana blouse, white tights and the most uncomfortable grey leather shoes in the world. The uncomfortable shoes (with a heel to give me a bit of height) contributed some stigmata style red stains to my tights – fabulous.

While we were waiting for the Bishop, every woman in the church was discussing the latest episode of The Thorn Birds. Everyone had read it and were now entranced by the mini series – what would happen on Matlock Island??????

As he made his entrance and our innocent voices lifted in song. ‘May is the month of Mary’ was joined my the low but insistent thrum of my Aunt Melwira chanting the theme song to the Thorn Birds (you know the one, Dum, de de dum dum dum dum dum dum duuuuuummmmmm).

It was a dark day – but we were smiling.

Next week you can hear about the walking course I thought was a good idea,