Monday, March 22, 2010


This is another extract from Sylvia's story. Sylvia is a character who haunts me and whose story may be on the way to being a novel!

“Blood Donors Required…… cats and dogs need transfusions too”. Sylvia squinted to make out the rest of the poster pinned to the notice board. The next line answered the question forming in her head. She looked down at Henry’s bulk spilling out of the cat carrier at her feet. He was sure not to miss a pint or two – maybe she should think of volunteering him. But then again, maybe not. Henry would not like that at all. He hated going in the car and he hated the vet. Like her, he lived an ordered and settled life. Unlike her, he seems to still like it. Henry was not troubled by the ripples of discontent that seemed to be heralding an oncoming earthquake in Sylvia’s life.

The door opened ushering in a whoosh of cool air, a scattering of autumn leaves and the scent of patchouli oil. The normally sullen faced receptionist beamed a wide smile.
“Hi Caroline. Oh, Pyewacket is in great form I hear.”
“Oh yes, I have been serenaded all the way in, in the car. She is as vocal as always.”

The sun broke through the grey clouds and the waiting room was filling with a soft buttery light. A large crystal hanging in the window was catching the sunlight and dropping tiny dancing rainbows on the tiled floor. The smile was still stretched across the receptionist’s face and the heady musky aroma of patchouli was making Sylvia feel dizzy and disorientated. The smell had hurtled her back to the hippy heaven of the Dandelion Market in the 70’s. Another life, another Sylvia.

“Sorry about this” announced the receptionist, “but there is going to be a bit of a delay. David is dealing with an emergency RTA. He should be done in about twenty minutes or so.”

“Oh, no problem. All is as it should be.” said Caroline “isn’t that right?” she added looking directly at Sylvia.
“Oh, mmmm yes, right. No problem.”
“Sorry about the racket though. Pyewacket sings like this when she’s nervous, or cross, or hungry, or bored…. In fact she sings most of the time.”

Sylvia smiled back and wondered how a trip to the vet had suddenly become so complicated. She is in uncharted territory here. What on earth was she meant to say to this woman and her singing cat, who was now sitting on the bench beside her, making her feel colourless and dull. Caroline was wearing a battered and torn pair of jeans, soft, tan leather boots with huge heels and a flowing, finely knitted, multicoloured top which seems to be shot through with golden threads. Sylvia is immediately reminded of her favourite poem, by Yeats. Yes, Caroline seemed to be ‘enwrought with golden and silver light’.

“She’s a Siamese, an awful indulgence I know. She’s fussy, only eats chicken which has to be cooked fresh every day. She is highly neurotic. Hates strangers coming to the house, which is not ideal in my line of work. But she has a beautiful spirit and her voice is so true that it clears the air of negative energies very effectively. We’re partners really I suppose, aren’t we Pyewacket?”

Oh God, thought Sylvia, is she talking to me or the bloody cat? How do I answer her when I have no idea what she is talking about? The cat’s spirit? Negative energies?

“She is very exotic.”
“What have you got in your cat carrier? All I can see is a rump of grey fur. Although I have to say whatever it is, it looks very relaxed.”
Sylvia looked down at her carrier, out of which poured her substantial feline.
“This is Henry. He is a moggie. And he is a bit overweight. He doesn’t sing, but he would prefer to be at home in the conservatory, taking the sun on his favourite chair.”

Caroline suddenly moved and placed her left hand over Henry’s carrier. She closed her eyes for a moment. Her nails are the longest Sylvia has ever seen.
“Oh, he’s a calm spirit alright. But he does seem to be a little upset. And not just because he is here. Henry is worried – could it be about you?”

Sylvia looked straight at Caroline trying to establish if this is some kind of joke. But Caroline returned her stare, her slate grey-blue eyes seeming to bore right through to her soul.

Sylvia felt her world spinning out of control. She was suddenly close to tears. Again. Only last week, just seeing that stupid ‘New Age’ book title, ‘Who Will Cry When You Die’ prompted a huge emotional reaction. She had come home and cried noisily and messily all over the conservatory, disturbing Henry form his deep slumbers and causing him to retreat to the calm of the garden.

Trying desperately to regain her composure, she smiled weakly at Caroline and said quietly “Oh I don’t think so. Henry was hit by a car a month ago and so maybe that is what is bothering him?”

“Ah – didn’t you know that cats are here to protect the feminine. Taking that hit was his way of trying to protect you from something. He is also signalling that there is something in your life that you need to attend to. Otherwise there will be more accidents. He is minding you – but you need to learn to mind yourself.”

As lone tear slipped from Sylvia’s eye and began its slide down her cheek, David poked his head through from the surgery, “sorry for the delay ladies. Henry’s next.”

Muttering thanks at Caroline and covered in confusion and swirling emotions, Sylvia stood up and bent down to pick up Henry. It is at that moment that her back went. She gasped in pain, dropping the carrier back to the floor.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dad and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

This is the radio essay which was broadcast on Sunday Miscellany (RTE Radio 1) on Sunday 7th March last.

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away from my present life, when I was much younger, I helped my mother run a small computer training business from our family home. My main role was to provide a typing service; C.V’s and thesis’ mainly but I would undertake any typing for a modest fee.

One day the phone rang and a vaguely familiar voice enquired very formally if we were willing to type an article, which was needed in a hurry. “Sure” said I, “no problem”. My new client was a reasonably well known journalist who lived locally.

Celebrity journalist became an occasional customer and was a joy to work for, once I got over the fact that he liked to dictate the words to me in person. He always arrived by bike, (long before it was fashionable) which he lovingly lent against the garden wall, hidden from the road by a lilac bush. One particular evening he had an engagement in town and asked if we would mind keeping his bike overnight. He would return to collect it the following day. I was honoured to be entrusted with his precious wheels, which resembled something between an antique and a work of art. However I was not sure that it should be left in the front garden. So very carefully I pushed the celebrity bike around to the back garden and lent it against the kitchen wall where I felt sure it would be well out of harms way.

The next day was Saturday and being young and carefree I spent most of the morning in bed. I surfaced at about noon and as I settled down to my coffee and toast in the kitchen I became aware of a lot of hammering and banging coming from outside. Irritated by the interruption, I went to investigate the cause of the commotion. The blood froze in my veins. There, strewn all over the patio were bits of the celebrity bike. My father was clutching a screwdriver and was clearly having a great time. “Dad” I roared, “what the hell are you doing?”. He looked up at me and announced that the celebrity bike was full of rattles and squeaks and he was just fixing it! “But it’s not broken” I cried, “Maybe he likes the rattles.”

Now my father was a retired civil servant and a very able one at that. But his competence in the bicycle maintenance department was largely unproven and with DIY tasks in general he came from the brute force and ignorance school of learning.

The rest of that Saturday I spent in misery. Dad had managed to put the bike back together again. But I felt sure that it would probably fall apart once the adjusted wheels had spun a couple of revolutions.

Celebrity journalist arrived late in the afternoon and lavished thanks on me for minding his bike. I was mortified. I decided to say nothing about its illegal overhaul and kept conversation to a minimum. As I waved him goodbye from the front door, he was mounting his trusty steed. I shut the door firmly before I could witness his crashing to the ground when the bike fell apart.

Half an hour later the phone rang. My life flashed before me. I vowed that I would kill my father for his meddling.
“Hello,” I said nervously.
“Barbara” he exclaimed – “my bike..,…”
“Oh God, I am so sorry,” I interrupted.
“Sorry for what?”
“For your bike – I am really sorry”
“But my bike is great. That’s why I am ringing. It’s going like a rocket. Fantastic. Thanks so much.”
“No problem,” I said sheepishly – “all part of the service”

“Well” asked my father.
“He’s delighted” I said.
“Told you so”

However he learned his lesson shortly after this episode when another client, who was a Reverend Mother arrived for a lesson, driving the filthiest car imaginable. Midway though the class, I caught sight of dear old Dad working up a good lather as he scrubbed the Micra back to all its glory. He duly presented himself at the front door for the nun’s departure, no doubt full sure of her blessing and grateful thanks.

Bye bye was all she said, as she swept past him like the caped crusader in her black glory!

He was disgusted. He gave up the transport maintenance after that!