A Blast

There’s a gap in the storms, phase 2 of the multi-hazard weather event set to batter the country in the evening. We run off guiltily at dawn, ducking and diving. Escapees. Marque 1 takes a snap of us at check-in. It’s important to mark these things, he silently tells me. The first time marque 4 and marque 5 have been in an airport. The first time we’ve all been together in an airport. The start of the firsts on this journey. It’s too much for this mother to handle already and so I stand back and morph into one of them. A child. Unaccountable. He ushers us up to the Aer Lingus desk and deals masterfully with the paperwork, calling on each of us to produce what is required when it’s required. A calm, smooth operation. We’re given our boarding cards and told we’ll need to check in for the Emirates flight in London also. No bother to him.

A collective appetite kicks in now that the stress of getting here is over. We go straight to the food area and choose from a breakfast menu. They go ahead of me as I dither over the tricky choice between mushroom and egg – we’re doing a 3 item thing as it’s not cheap. When I get to the counter to pay, I’m greeted by a jolly young woman. She’s laughing.

‘I’m not going to charge you for everything’, she says. I’ve no idea what she’s on about.

‘They’re all so nice and friendly and polite, lovely lads, I’ll just put a few things through’.

Wow. Where did this bubbly angel come from?

‘Where are you off to?’ she asks as she knocks things off the bill.

‘Dubai’, I say and watch her eyes widen, her smile broaden as she repeats the word and seems more thrilled than anyone.

‘It’s the first time for some of them to fly, our first holiday abroad’, I say and watch as she tries to say something but seems a little misty-eyed, a little choked. My kind of girl.

‘My husband works out there – we’re off out to him’, I offer to steady her and it works. She beams at me, handing me the bill which she’s halved.

‘Ah god, you’ll have a brilliant time’, she says, her warmth radiating, and I can’t help but think that this has happened for a reason, that she’s been sent to see us on our way.

Marque 5 had previously declared that he would never be able to fly. That sitting in a tin can, far above the world, made no sense to him. I blamed his father for having David Bowie playing on repeat in the car all the way to Clifden when the boys were younger. Still, a little bit of me liked the fact that he didn’t seem to think he was missing out on anything. Unlike his older brothers who were full sure they were. I remember one Easter break when Marque 2 positioned himself on top of a rock at the far end of Dog’s bay in Connemara, stripped down to a t-shirt even though it was freezing and asked me to take a photo of him from a certain angle which would somehow conjure up a foreign land. Portugal or Italy, like the other lads in his school year were posting. He was sick of being the only one who had never left this island. I bit my tongue about the entitled, spoiled, boastful people he was referring to and failed in the task of taking the perfect sun soaked holiday snap.

I decide not to check in with marque 5 about how he’s feeling about flying now. Instead I tell him how much I love flying, how his great grandfather was a pilot so it’s in our blood, how I can’t wait to fly with him.

The brothers swap seats so that marque 4 and marque 5 have the windows. I’m pinching myself, here with all my sons about to take off. It’s dream like – everything aligning for us, the negative PCRs, the storms abating so we can dip on out, the dog safe with his mother having his own little holiday. This dream like state prevails, for take off, for the beautiful flight, for watching marque 4 video every bit of it – the descent into London on a clear day, picking all the bits that he’s heard about out.

Marque 1 snaps us in Heathrow for my mother – for her father, the Captain who flew mostly in and out of here. He was catapulted to fame when he performed an emergency landing here that no-one thought possible. It was April 1968 and an engine had burst into flames on the BOAC flight 712, en route to Australia. A massive disaster and loss of life was averted when he somehow managed to land perfectly. The flight was watched in horror by thousands, including Prince Phillip who could see it from Windsor Castle. Bits of wing and engine were falling off as he flew and the plane had flames trailing behind it. Dubbed ‘the miracle of Heathrow’ at the time, the Queen wanted my grandfather to be recognised for it, with a knighthood in the offing for his skill and saving of lives. He didn’t want this. He said he was just doing his job and there was a small loss of life – when four people couldn’t make it off the plane on the runway as the winds blew the fire under the fuselage. A crew member went back in for them. She lost her life. While it had looked as if there would be a total loss of life, and he had averted this, he would not accept recognition for it. I always hear him, with his gorgeous New Zealand accent and I feel him right beside me when I fly. I have no fear of it. We’re having fun. I check marque 5’s eyes above his mask from time to time. They twinkle. He’s perfectly happy too.

Fast forward through a delicious Emirates flight, double decker, excellent crew, gorgeous food, the lot, and a midnight landing in Dubai. I’m last in the line at arrivals and I watch as he greets his children and then me with a cheeky side grin, ‘hello Mrs Kelly’, a little greeting to irk and then he thrusts a rose at me to cancel it.

We have a blast. I delight in trailing, watching them. The strong sun stinging their legs as they walk along the marina in the summer clothes that we didn’t have to return, in the sunglasses that seemed like a silly purchase, making perfect sense now.

I swim with them in the Persian Gulf as if it was always going to be thus, that we would swim in waters other than the Atlantic and the Irish Sea together. I swim in a pool with them, surrounded by skyscrapers. I watch as they navigate different transport systems, trams and metros, taking them to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, to Expo 2020.

I watch them grow before me, confident samplers of what the world has to offer. I watch them trying different foods, the best Indian food ever. They watch me salivate over coffee – the strong stuff, a true signal to me that I’m abroad. I imagine them now, post-college, flinging themselves to different corners. Something about being in the Middle-East facilities this imagining, and it’s not fear but joy that pulses through me. It’s all out there. All to play for. We can take a step back.

We embrace the magic of 22022022. A birthday like no other. We have a camel ride in the desert, go quad- biking, dune bashing and sand-boarding. I immerse myself fully. This is it. The very top of our game. It’s all come together beautifully just at the right time and I couldn’t be happier.

Over the line

Standing in the swimwear section of TK Maxx, clicking through hangers with skimpy strings destined for other bodies, I feel like a fraud on a number of levels. I’ve never stood here before. It’s a freezing morning in early February. We’re not going to get there anyway. A woman cuts in beside me and clicks with an easy efficiency. I mimic her. Grab something and sling it into the basket. I’ll not do myself the disservice of trying it on. Winter flesh under a fluorescent light in front of an enormous mirror. What I don’t know won’t hurt me. I’ll be returning it soon anyway.

‘Can we get some bright colours Mum’, marque 5, a committed wearer of all black, asks, his hands on a pair of neon green swim shorts, then plucking a luminous yellow t-shirt from the rack.

‘Bright colours would feel like a real holiday’, he says and I run with it. I’ve brought them along to choose a few ‘summer’ bits and they take me at my word, Hawaiian style shirts are waved at me, cut price designer sunglasses are tried on. Who’s going to tell them that we’re not actually going to make it?

Six negative PCRs are called for to get us out of here and over to their Dad in Dubai. With mad Covid circulation and everything fully reopened, with the boys in school and college and daily accounts of friends and contacts coming a-cropper I wonder how fair any of this is. To dangle this carrot when the odds are firmly stacked against us.

They begin to reduce, to cancel, to pull out of things, and they squabble mightily when Marque 2 doesn’t think he can cancel a weekend away in Belfast, planned some weeks ago as a compensation when Covid made it clear they could no longer make it over to see their pal in Amsterdam. It would affect the others adversely if he were to pull out. But one of the group has been a close contact in recent days.

‘Putting the family at risk, the first ever holiday abroad in jeopardy’, is the line being touted as I hide quietly in the corner. Where do they get such thoughts from?

‘Mum hasn’t been abroad on a holiday in 22 years, are you seriously going to risk that for her, when it’s her birthday and everything?’ Now that does sound bad, even to me. What was I thinking? I do some calculations. 22.5 actually I try not to say out loud. When guilt tripping doesn’t seem to be working, they move on to bribery. They’ll refund his ticket and accommodation and pay him not to go. Hell, they’ll refund his pals too. It’s all getting a little out of hand. A parent needs to step in. But the parent is wiped out, standing on eggshells in no-man’s land, no clue which way to turn.

Three, two, one…

‘Stop. Nobody’s paying anybody anything. Let’s see if your pal continues to test negative on the antigens. If you decide to go, then you should all take tests beforehand and each day, yeah?’ A clear authoritative voice summoned out of the depths of the parenting tool-bag. Phew.

‘Yes, and I’ll isolate in my room when I get back’.

There. Sorted. I want him to go and I don’t want him to go. They’ve missed out on so much, lived with such fear and anxiety these last couple of years, he deserves to have fun with his pals. If he cancels and lets them down, he’ll carry that guilt and disappointment. I know. I’ve been there. But if he comes a-cropper too, and thwarts the holiday he’ll never forgive himself.

‘And if anyone in the family gets it, it’s not their fault. We’ll cancel and go some other time’, I say, continuing in the authoritative vein, throwing in a bit of stoicism for good measure. Should’ve tried this years ago.

Buoyed up by my new powers over the next few days, I actively encourage them to skip school and college and I cancel a long planned dinner night out with a pal to demonstrate my absolute commitment too.

Marque 1 is project managing this event. He bulk books the PCRs for a pretty penny and tells us what we need to bring along – passports for example. There’s a little bit of fear dancing in the eyes of all as we queue, wondering in this lottery which one it will be, who the sword will fall on. But once we’ve been prodded, poked and swirled, we feel a weight has been lifted. There’s nothing more we can do. Our fate is sealed. We don’t know the answer yet, but we celebrate anyway, stopping off at the garage for some sugar treats on the way home. One last cancellation to break to someone though.

‘I’m sorry but you can’t go to the rugby match tomorrow’. This is a tough one. I won’t look at him. A dream for marque 5 to travel on a bus with his team to play against a school in Kilkenny. A first match away. The fun of the bus. The love of the sport. The camaraderie. We’re all in agreement though. A big Covid risk, an injury risk. When it’s over the line, almost.

Marque 1 sleeps not a jot. The results are coming to him. He checks through the night. Screenshots and circulates on the group chat when they arrive early morning.

‘Wait, we’re going? We’re actually going?’

We look at one another with fresh eyes, no longer suspicious, doubting. Heroes, we think now. We all did our bit.

The storms are coming. Ah, right. It’s not Covid but the weather that will stop us. Windows rattle in old frames throughout the night. Extreme weather warnings are issued. Storms with peculiarly menacing names. Blizzards. Hazards. We stick our fingers in our ears and continue on, acting as if we’ll actually make it now. We go en masse to Howth to leave the dog with the lady we got him from. She greets us warmly and calls two other gorgeous Papillons of hers to play with him. One of them happens to be his mother. She barks at him, not in an entirely loving way, putting him in his place, giving out to him for abandoning her. I get it. He’s five now. She’s getting on. She needs her sons around her. It’s the first real time we’re abandoning him too. There’s a collective low thrumming nausea. We decide to recover down at the harbour with a massive feed from Leo Burdock’s. A bitter wind whips at our faces, stinging our salt and vinegar lips. Seagulls screech above us.

Almost there.

This is the year

This is the year. The one we’ve been waiting for. The lovely rounded beautiful 2022. I have a thing about numbers, especially ones that match up and make sense. 2020 was all set to be brilliant. Until. 2021 was never going to amount to much. How could it? But 2022. I’m afraid to say it out loud. I’ve been using these numbers in various ways over all the years. Tossing them around and making things out of them.

‘You may want to think about changing the pin for your iPhone and laptop this year mum. If they get stolen anyone would be able to guess them’, marque 4 offers. Wrecking my high as the New Year chimes in. There’s no way I’m changing. These numbers have served me well. It’s my birthday after all. In a sort of mirror writing. Or perhaps it’s a prolonged cry for help. SOSS.

‘Imagine this year my birthday will be 22022022’, I offer as a deflection. No one can mess with that.

‘And it’s a Tuesday’, marque 2 offers. Good old marque 2. I can always rely on him to join my vibe.

‘So that‘s another 2, the 2nd weekday of the 2nd month on the 22nd day in the year 22’. That’s my boy.

So this is the year of new beginnings. Last year was a train wreck, from start to finish, peppered with occasional glimpses of joy, but overall one to run away from, quick smart. A lovely Christmas though, we were pinching ourselves with how relaxed it was, how we were pulling it all back, re-framing the year from hell. But then marque 2 ventured out to meet friends on St Stephen’s Day and we were reminded that we were still actually in the year from hell.

I dropped him off early evening, 5.30 ish. They’d arranged to meet outside to avoid the crowds and dodge Omicron. Sensible boys. Another friend was to join them – marque 2 had a gift for him as he’s due to head off to study abroad. However, he carried out an antigen test before meeting up and it was positive. Responsible boy. Marque 2 phoned to let me know about the test.

‘God, that was a close one’, I said, laughing at the narrow escape. We’d all be down for the rest of the holiday. There’s no such thing as self-isolation in a family with many more people than bedrooms.

‘What are you going to do now, come home? I can get you.’

‘I’ll stay out for a bit, may as well now that I’m here’.

‘Phone me for a lift back later’, I said, thinking there wouldn’t be much transport, and I didn’t want him walking home.

The phone call I get, not an hour later, is the stuff of nightmares. He’s keen to let me know from the outset that he’s okay.

He’s not okay.

Not in my book.

Assaulted and robbed. But alive, I think this is what he means when he’s telling me he’s okay. Picture this. The two friends can see the bandstand in the park all lit up for Christmas. They go to it to take some selfies. Moths to a flame. A gang of four approaches, demanding money. They punch marque 2’s head as they try to wrestle his bag from him. They punch his chest. They call out ‘chase and stab’. He lets his bag go, his jacket is pulled off his back along with it and the two friends run for their lives up through the park and out onto the main road. They keep running until they get to a house and knock on the door. A lovely elderly couple opens the door and lets them in. They ask the couple to wear masks for their own protection. Marque 2 worries about them, this lovely couple with strangers in their house so he starts talking, heart pounding, about his well-known grandfather to put them at ease – they’d know him from the area as well from the television. I can hear them laughing as he speaks, he keeps me on the phone. They tell the boys that they have grandchildren the same age. That they’re delighted to be able to help and to keep them safe. They’d hate to think of their grandchildren in this situation. They offer water. The guards are on their way. My husband is on his way.


The next morning I set the alarm for an early rise, not that much sleep has been had. I have it in my head that they’ll have taken what that want and dumped the rest. It will be restorative to retrieve something, anything, for him, but it’s his passport that I really want to find.

‘Wake up, we’re going to the park’, I say to a deliciously slumbering, lightly snoring husband.

‘Oh, lovely, which park?’

Which park.

Perhaps I should leave him to it. Let him doze on and wake gently at a reasonable hour thinking the day is full of promise.

But it’s still dark out there.

It would be dangerous to go alone.

‘The assault park’, I offer, and watch as it dawns on him, his eyes pinging open to the horror of the memory of last night.

We go. We scour. We’re lucky. Very lucky. His bag, empty. His jacket from the vintage shop, inside out from it being reefed off him. The Christmas stocking that he had the gift for his friend in. A card from my mum up near the bandstand, congratulating him on something. The See Change green ribbon (to reduce mental health stigma) he keeps pinned to the outside of his bag, up along the chase route. His leap card. We split off and circle all routes looking for the passport. I’m looking in the river when my husband rounds the corner waving it at me. It had been shoved into a bush, his little white vaccination card sticking out of it which is how my husband spotted it in the dark dense leaves. A needle in a haystack but there it was. I whoop with joy. Something about them not having his identity powers me. We go back to where the bag was found. Right there in a corner of mulsh seems to be a small phone. We pick it up.

‘A burner phone’, I say as my husband gives me a ‘who am I actually married to’ look. I wonder if I’ve missed my calling. Perhaps I’m meant to be an investigator. I’ll give the career change some thought in the new year.

We take all the stuff to the police station, half wondering why it’s us doing this and not them. They knew where the assault and robbery had taken place. It’s 15 hours later. They haven’t even been down.

‘And that’s a burner phone, we’re pretty sure’, I say, explaining to the fresh faced young guard, wordless and startled like a deer in headlights.

‘Someone was calling it after we picked it up, but we thought best not to answer it’, my husband offers.

‘And they went off down the lane in the direction of the dart station, we found another couple of bits from his bag along there’, I say thinking about the gift wrapping, the gift well gone.

‘There’s a good CCTV camera pointing down, they’ll have been picked up on that’. I feel as if I should be offered a white-board to draw it all out, like in one of those crime shows, until a more senior jovial officer joins in and asks if they can keep the stuff for DNA, fingerprints and the like. Could even get some blood off the badge pin he tells us. That gives me a little thrill. The thugs being caught, pricked by the pin on the See Change badge.

Absolutely you can, keep it all we say. Finally doing something. We’re a great team, us and the guards. Turns out we actually are. Marque 2 gets a phone call.

‘We have them on the dart CCTV and with all the evidence we, I mean you, brought in to us we know who they are. Arrests are imminent’.

So we’re taking this as our cue for solving things in the glorious 2022. We’re starting with the house. We’ve been challenged so far but we’re up to it. The cold water tap in the kitchen has decided to run and run. We can’t turn it off. Marque 3 gets out a gadget with a fix all look to it. I find a wrench. We use both to no avail. Marque 4, engineer in the making, comes down with a 5kg dumbbell and plonks it on top of the tap. Bingo. The pressure stems the flow. It falls over and nearly kills the goldfish so we angle and wedge it behind the tap and stand back to admire our work. We move the fish to the sitting room. I call a plumber. He can’t get out until the next day. I tell him about our temporary solution, how we won’t, actually, drown overnight.

‘Good girl’, he says. He’s a lovely older man. I am a child, being taken care of.

‘That was a genius idea’, he says.

I feel myself grow in the glow of this unexpected compliment, this nod to some well out of reach DIY competence, while telling him it was actually one of the sons.

‘Genius anyway, see you tomorrow’, he says.

This is the year.

Solutions. Fixed taps. Travel.

A book on the shelves.


Sure how could it not be?

In the flesh

‘Four months, imagine, since’.

It’s all I keep saying to myself, to him, to anyone who will listen, still not quite believing it. Four months, imagine, since we’ll have seen him, in the flesh. It’s not necessarily helpful to have that as the background chant, but it does make me feel something. A mixture of things. We’ve been put to the test. We’ve risen. We are rising. Reaching that plateau. Hoping for a rapid wonderful descent. One that gives you that ticklish feeling in the pit of your stomach as a child when you go over a good bump on the road. One of those, please. We’ve been teetering on the brink for too long now. Wheeee…

A twelfth, a fifteenth, a sixteenth, an eighteenth even imagine, a twentieth at the start of it, with him propped in the fruit-bowl on someone’s device for the present giving and the blowing out of candles. I go on a maniacal over-compensatory buzz in the lead up to them. To make them the best birthdays ever. I don’t know how or when to stop. Even when marque 3 fixes me with one of my own father’s rational but kind quizzical looks.

‘Enough Mum. You can stop now. We have everything’.

Because while I know their father in the fruit bowl certainly beats no father in the fruit bowl, I still can’t quite get my head around it. Why he’s not here with us. How I ever agreed to this.

I poke at whoever is nearest to me for the reminders. They are very good at them. Something about mortgages and school fees and college fees and potential savings and the chance of double-glazed windows down the line and maybe even a holiday off this actual island at some stage and… Blah blah. What about companionship and hand holding and laughing at the little incidentals and having the banter and the flat whites and the dinners together and the mile-stones and the red wine and the chats about writing and the little annoyances?

The eighteenth is followed by the leaving cert, during the height of which I’m put on a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours due to some random peculiar headaches I’ve been experiencing lately. I greet him after the biology exam and know that as he describes it, the high of the good long questions, the short ones even, and the low of the experiments because even though he had worked really hard and had covered himself really well he was caught out there, just a little, in this, his favourite subject, and had to scratch back to some muscle memory, I know that even as I try to let it wash over me the reading today at 5.30 will be a rocket one.

I return the monitor, thankfully, in advance of marque 5’s primary school leave-taking. Sixteen years. Imagine. This new chant takes over for the day. Sixteen years of dropping off and picking up from this school. I arm myself with marque 1 and my sister for the occasion. I forget to bring tissues, but I’m buoyed up somehow. Even seeing the little Senior Infants lined up in their bright yellow gym tops waiting to play their role in the great departure of their 6th class buddies, and the banner across the school saying ‘Congratulations on your Graduation’ seems to produce mirth, rather than nostalgia. The sun breaks strongly through and as his class comes out to the guard of honour in the car park, to the whoops and claps and cheers of teachers, parents and children, and I see his lovely happy sunny smile, his little wave, it doesn’t even strike me to weep. I wept at all the others. I’m clearly done now. Marque 1 whips him off into town for lunch, taking the place of a parent perhaps, and I return to the house to feed and ease marque 2 out the door to his afternoon exam.

The countdown begins. We have a date. July 2nd. He will be doubly vaccinated. Marque 4’s fifteenth birthday will be mere days behind us, the over the top helium balloons still inflated. Marque 2 will be just back from his post leaving cert Magaluf holiday in Galway. All the pressures will have eased. A beautiful bottle of Bollinger (thanks to a wonderful sister-in-law) will be uncorked. After 5 days of home quarantine he will do a PCR. Armed with the negative result and both of us vaccinated, we will have a one night stay in a Junior Suite hotel room with panoramic views across Dublin bay. Then we will head with family to Connemara.

The way we’re discussing it, assuredly, driven by me, starts to niggle. The way he has packed up and is ready to go, two weeks in advance, and how desperate he is to see us all starts to niggle. The way we discuss all the things we will do as soon as he’s in the door starts to niggle. The ticklish little cough that he springs ten days in advance starts to niggle. But that’s me. Waiting to be niggled. Trust. It will all be fine.

His second shot of Pfizer seems to escalate the cough. His voice is a little hoarse, even though he hasn’t been to his singing lessons lately. I begin to quiz and wait for him to reassure. He ate koftas, and he’s had an allergic reaction. It’s too hot and it’s affecting his breathing. The air-conditioning is affecting his breathing. Someone on Facebook had exactly the same reaction to the second Pfizer. I swallow them whole. Trust. I send him a photo of Seapoint from the evening before with a caption ‘Dublin beckons. Time for that PCR’, smiley face emoji. He says ‘Already there, getting it in 20’. Smiley face with the colon and the bracket. So much more mature.

I fall asleep on a picnic rug in the late afternoon sun. My phone pings with a message. I open it. It’s a screen shot of his result. It actually takes a full minute to process it. Positive. That’s good isn’t it? Wait a second. Is that good? He doesn’t send any caption with it. He’s gone offline immediately. Leaving me to work it out in my own inadequate sun-stroked way.

He has Covid.

‘Shit’ is all I can think to send as a reply.

The mind goes into 1200 rpms. He’s not allowed to get Covid. He’s highly vulnerable. How did he get it when he’s doubly vaccinated? Will he be okay? Why is he so far away? He’s NOT supposed to get Covid. Then I dig as deep as I can. He’s going to be floored with this news. He needs support. I call him. We spend the rest of the evening talking it out while he sends messages to work colleagues. Highly concerned colleagues. Concerned about him not now getting home. Concerned about us, the kids and me. Not a bit concerned about themselves. Throwing in a touch of humour which certainly helps. We process it over the evening. All the implications. We’re quick to conclude that while it’s a bummer, we’re actually lucky. Lucky that the vaccines have done their job, in some way at least. While the virus managed to slip on through the fire-wall, and he has it, he’s not unwell with it. He will not be hospitalised. He will not become a statistic. Although when he says ‘I’m so sorry’, sounding very unlike himself, vulnerable and cowed, a niggle kicks in again.

‘If you feel you’re dipping at all, get yourself in, won’t you?’

The boys go into survivor mode and we order spice bags all round. High fat and MSG seems to be the answer for now. I ring marque 2, on the last evening of his post leaving cert holiday. I wasn’t going to but marque 3 assured me, in the way that only he can, that he’d want to know. To keep this from him would be unfair. I leave it a while. Until the best of the evening is over and most of the fun surely had. He’s out with the pals having his first ever real pint. Guinness. His Dad’s favourite. And they’ve just ordered spice bags. Sweet. I wonder if I can, now, just chicken out. Leave him to it. Then a flash of marque 3’s eyes is somehow before me and I begin. ‘Everything’s fine. There’s nothing at all to worry about. It’s just that…’

The night before the arrival day we opt for a Prosecco fuelled recovery date on Zoom. Late on in I tell him that I can’t actually stay on too much longer. My husband’s due back in the morning and I have some last minute preparations to take care of. He doesn’t even smile. The virus has stripped him, temporarily, of his sense of humour. But not his gratitude. Nor ours. We know the end of this story without the vaccines. We know it at very close quarters, sadly, only too well.

I’ll wait patiently and gratefully with the Bollinger to see him again in the flesh.


‘Can we go to the fun pier today instead?’ Marque 5 enquires. We’re off on our usual walk with the dog. A great walk to my mind. Trees and blossoms giving way to sand and sea. Nothing to complain about here.

‘It’s where I went yesterday and I loved it’, he says.

Ah yes. Yesterday. When marque 3 took him to the town to fix up his phone and they adventured on. Parentless bliss.

‘The East Pier? But that’s ages away’, I say.’

‘We’d have gone a different way to get there. We’re close enough to the West pier if you want to give that a try?’

Silence. His normally sunny face seems to say that he very much does not want to give that a try. I’m on thin ice here as it is. All his brothers can go walking when they like. He’s stuck with me, which since his adventuring yesterday has lost a good deal of its appeal.

‘I really loved the East pier’, he says resignedly. Mummy tends to get the final say in all matters of walking. But I know what he means. The craic is on the East pier. The buzz. The food. The animated walkers. The kids on scooters and skateboards. The lifeboat. The West pier is, well, bumpy, tricky to navigate and full of earnest walkers. A tad depressing by comparison. Truth be told I’ve been avoiding the East pier. It was a cherished place for our old pal, his favourite walk with my sister over all the years. I’ve been a bit of a chicken about going there since he’s been gone. Perhaps it’s time.

‘Right, let’s do it, let’s go to the fun pier’, I say and he beams.

He leads the way, speaking as he goes.

‘What I really loved about being with marque 3 was we didn’t have to walk all the time. We could just sit and relax when we wanted to’.

‘Is that so?’

‘Yeah, you know the way when we walk we have to keep walking and walking and walking?’

‘We do?’

‘Yeah and with marque 3 we stopped off whenever we liked. Look, that’s where we sat and ate our chips’.

‘You got chips?’

‘Yeah – from that van there. And this is where I was when the bird came down and ate out of my hand’. He’s laughing at the memory.

‘Oh yeah? What kind of bird?’

‘Look, just like that one there. I think that’s him’. He whips out his phone and takes a snap of a beautiful yellow-beaked black and white dappled bird.

I’m beginning to feel very dull compared with good old marque 3. Marque 5 begins to scale a wall. A wall with a fair drop.

‘Get down’, I say, a tad brusquely.

‘But this is where we parkoured yesterday’.

Is it now.

‘Let’s go walk the pier’, I say, feeling sorry for him now being stuck with me.

We’re approaching the bandstand when we hear it. The most gorgeous of gorgeous voices belting out of somewhere.

‘That sounds just like Allie Sherlock’, I say to him. We’ve heard her busking on Grafton Street many a time. Back in the good old days. We peep around the bandstand and there she is, blasting away, almost instantly tear inducing, the beauty of that voice. No-one else seems to realise the magic that she is. They walk on by, oblivious. All the better for us I think as we park ourselves on the steps opposite her and get treated to a ‘private concert’ as marque 5 puts it. He’s thrilled, snap chatting his friends about it. I’m beginning to feel a little less dull now. I phone marque 2. He loves her voice. He’s up to his neck preparing for his Leaving Cert French oral exam in the morning. He answers. I hold the phone out and let him hear it. It’s his favourite song of hers as it happens.

I fumble in my pocket for loose change to give to Allie. Of course there’s none. There hasn’t been any since the beginning of this thing. But I do have a tenner shoved in the case of my phone. It’s actually marque 5’s. I’m minding it for him.

‘I only have your tenner’, I say to him.

‘Give it to her’, he says.

‘It’s been so much fun and she deserves it’.

‘You give it to her’, I say, nudging him.

‘No you’, he says.

He feels too young and self-conscious. I feel too old and self-conscious. Oh well.

I go over with the dog and place the tenner in her guitar case while telling her how much we enjoyed it. I could tell her that she has, actually, saved the day. Cheering my stressed out leaving cert son right up. Bringing me back into the realm of cool again with my youngest son. But I do not burden her further than a thanks, you’re super, really enjoyed it.

As I make my way back over to marque 5, I think I hear someone calling my name. Something like that seems to be blowing at me on the wind. But it can’t be. I don’t know anyone anymore. Not for the last twelve months. I must be imagining it. Or else someone is calling out to the singer. Our names are similar. It’s getting louder. Coming from above. I look up. The loveliest friend from work looks down, smiling. It takes a moment for it to register. I feel like I think my father must feel at times. Getting it, but not really getting it. Wondering what to do next. Are we allowed to chat? Do I whip out a face mask? No clue. Why don’t I have a clue? Is this what it’s like for other people? Have all our natural skills been stripped from us through all these lockdowns, through all this fear? I’m one for the banter. There’s many a tea break silence that I can fill without a thought. But that was then. This is now. I’m rusty as hell.

I go up the steps to her level. The wind whips at my face and I feel a nasal drip descend to the tip, hanging in translucent glory, refusing to drop. I have no skills to sort this. No tissues, needless to say, just a pocket full of face masks, dog poop bags (empty thankfully) and hand sanitizer. I can’t get my head around which thing would best address the nasal drip. The back of my hand or my sleeve are both in the running now too as I try to navigate this. I seem to be bantering. Plucking random unrelated topics leading to inevitable dead ends. Wittering is probably a better description. Wittering on. Losing all the cool I had gained with marque 5 now for sure. We work out that it has actually been a year since we’ve met in person. Which does seem astonishing when it’s said out loud. A whole year. The Zoom meetings don’t seem to count for a thing now that we’re face to face. I drag marque 5 into the conversation and then speak for him. I realise that I’m wearing my distance glasses, covered with a pair of cheap sun glasses (a lockdown who cares thing) a little late into the wittering process. I whip both pairs off with a sudden urgency. I always think it’s rude to talk to someone with sunglasses on, especially if they aren’t wearing them. Seeing as it’s cloudy, windy and about to rain, no-one else is wearing them. I look mistily across at my lovely work mate and wonder if it’s retrievable. Will she call out the next time, or duck and dive as she should? As we say our goodbyes she alerts me kindly to my left foot. To the clodhopper runner with its undone lace, waiting to trip me up. Oh well.

On the walk home I feel light, invigorated, a little excited even. This real life interaction thrums in me. Yes I was rusty. Stumbling out of the blocks. Blinking into the half-light. But this is a taste of the future. And I had no idea how much I missed it.


Since the moment of the earth shattering news a soft mist descended. It seemed impossible to grasp hold of anything. To gain purchase on anything. Even a thought. This was compounded by the departure to a foreign land of the significant other. Footsteps became uncertain slippery things. Remembering the steps to plough on through the day eluded me. I’d hover in the kitchen in the mist with many tasks to be completed and no skills left in the well. Waves of children descended with unmet needs and questioning eyes. The shock was to the core. The sadness I felt for those closest to him, robbed of him, enveloped me. The unfairness of it was unshakeable. The sight of the mass-vaccination of GPs mere days after his funeral, a tough pill to swallow. So close.

Silent observers were taking note. There was a fast approaching birthday to be celebrated in this mother of all Januarys and the observers seemed to suggest that I ought to access a quiet determination to ace it. I stood idly by, swaying in the mist, wondering if it was possible at all. Something I taught myself years ago during a tough time seemed to dangle in front of me, just out of reach. Act as if everything is fine and it will be. Eventually. Perhaps. It didn’t fast forward the process then. The process catches you in the most unexpected moments. For the most unexpected length of time. A life-time, the truth be told. There’s no stepping over it. No side-stepping it. But it did give me flashes of the future, this acting. I summoned it again. Come a little closer. Let me catch hold of you.

‘What will we get him for his main gift?’ Marque 2 enquired two days before it. Dead worried about marque 3’s birthday which looked all set to be a wash out. January birthdays can be tricky enough. But in the height of the third wave of the pandemic with soaring numbers and scary variants, with no visitors allowed and the father back working abroad, with the limited shopping and the mother a mere shadow figure – he was right to be worried.

‘Oh that. Yes. I got that. Didn’t I tell you?’

‘No you didn’t Mum’. I squint my eyes at him trying to remember how I forgot to tell him. He’s been sweating away about this silently, trying not to bother me.

‘Sorry. I thought I had. I was sure I had. I think I must’ve had a nervous breakdown on one of the days there’, I say laughing. He laughs too.

‘Yes, it was yesterday’, he offers assuredly.

‘It was?’

‘Yes. I’ve never seen you looking so pale in my whole life. And so silent’. Uh oh. Time to do a better acting job.

The acting skills disappear wholesale during the home-schooling hours. A sort of Tourette’s kicks in instead. Thoughts flash across my addled brain and grunt out all by themselves. One must not be spoken out loud. And certainly not to the youngest who sits at the table with me. With a mountain of subjects to plough through and a hill of instructions with no teacher in the room. With him flicking at the baubles on the Christmas tree beside him that should be long gone. I jump up from my chair for the umpteenth time to prod, instruct and cajole. Out it comes anyway.

‘I’m going to be fired’.

The words sizzle in the cold air like spitting embers. I try to grasp them. To pull them back. But they’ve landed on the top of his head, singeing him.

‘Well not fired exactly and not your fault of course. It’s just that I really need to get this document off in the next 5 minutes and it’s very difficult trying to concentrate on it while home-schooling too.’

A moment of parenting glory. I should write a book with my top positive motivational tips. As guilt riven compensation I select him to accompany me on the trip to get the final bits for the birthday. He has excellent ideas and great taste. We excel.

Marque 3 has his 16th birthday on the 16th. Sweet. The sun shines strongly in the morning as it did on the day he was born. The father drops in on the Alexa on the mantle-piece for the present giving ritual and later for the cake and the toast. It’s as if he’s here. Almost. We video call my sister for the takeaway. Marque 1 sends a takeaway to her house also. The birthday exceeds all marque 3’s expectations. He declares himself to be ‘chuffed’. We’ve aced it. A light frisson of joy pulses through me.

Back in the post-birthday mist we chug on with another week of work, college and home-schooling. The Tourette’s has been brought under control. Instead I hear myself declaring, a little too loudly, that I’m really enjoying the opportunity of working so closely with marque 5. A super rare time to be savoured I tell everyone down the phone, strictly for his ears.

‘We’re having fun’, I boom.

‘Are you sure about that?’ he asks and he laughs.

There’s pranking and merry banter in the house and I immerse myself in it. Plonk myself right in the middle of it and imbibe. A spectator looking for signs of a way back in.

I write today in the light of a massive shift. Perhaps it was the snow yesterday that did it. To begin with it was the same. We sat in front of the fire with our coats and hats on and watched a ridiculous amount of re-runs of Friends. I was chief watcher. Rocking with zombiefied laughter. Then we had a movie night – lest any brain cells be given a chance to kick back in. The shift came in the early hours of this morning. I was awake at six, brimming with energy out of nowhere. I could’ve stayed in bed for another two hours but I ran with it. Got up, showered, cleared up, breakfasted, and opened my laptop. I went not to work files but to writing. I had an idea for another book over Christmas and had begun the outline process. I clicked on the last document I had worked on and up it sprang. All that I didn’t remember doing. Clean, clear, crisp ideas from what seems like a lifetime ago. The opening scene even. It was last saved on the afternoon of the day of the bad news. Three weeks ago. It didn’t cross my mind once in the interim. There was no appetite for anything much, least of all creativity and making up worlds for pleasure. But today, for no known good reason, the mist has burnt away entirely, magically. It’s as if someone has a hand in it.

Life sparkles as loss is carried high. In hearts and minds forever.

Old Pal

In the build up I wondered if it was possible at all. The whole Christmas thing. How do people string this together in the middle of a pandemic? I hovered, masked up, in early morning aisles watching stretched and stressed people grabbing things. Little out of body moments, worried for those around me. Complete strangers. How do you do this? I was struck by the red raw hands of a woman in Penny’s. On bended knees. Grabbing at something as if her life depended on it. Ah god I thought. This is nuts. Dangerous and nuts. Someone give her a pass. Someone give us all a pass.

It was not without a dollop of guilt then that I discovered we had the best Christmas ever. Simplified. Pared back. No socialising. No expectations. The significant other person had sailed home to join us. Anything after that was a bonus. Excellent news, as it happens, accompanied him in the door. I was taking a phone call that could prove to be a life changer. A long term project is finished and set to fly. There was a dream like quality to his return. Even if a wave from the corner of the sitting room wasn’t quite what we had envisaged as the moment of his homecoming greeting.

Champagne. Long cold walks holding warm hands.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely fulfilled on Christmas day’, marque 3 told me.

‘All of my wishes came true’, marque 4 chimed in. So it wasn’t just me imagining it. Simple wishes. Less is more. There was a touch of magic to it all. When it came to New Year’s Day it didn’t even strike me to make a resolution. This is it. The appreciating of the here and now. The not looking ahead at all. It’s a gift of the pandemic. One day at a time. With the people you love held close and tight. If you’re lucky.


The numbers soar. The daily guesses we make could be out by thousands. The dread seeps in as the danger all around us grows. We come to a rational decision. Leave the emotions aside. He should head back a week early. Get the hell out of here. Get the vaccine. He can get it almost immediately where he works. It’s a no-brainer. When you park the emotions.


We arrive back after an evening walk a couple of days before he’s due to go. There’s a phone call from my sister. We are catapulted into another realm.

Her best friend, long term loyal companion, soul mate and our dear brother-like family friend has died suddenly. It’s gut wrenchingly shocking. He’s a GP. He’s always looking after everyone else. He’s worried sick about the pandemic. What he’s seeing. What he’s hearing on the phone. What he’s referring. It’s a lot worse than we think. He’s very critical of the Government’s moves. He was saying all along that there should not be an opening up for Christmas. That nothing along those lines should even be looked at until February. They had a two hour chat on the Saturday night. A great chat, full of laughter and love. Her birthday was in a few days. He counselled her to do nothing. To just relax. To stay indoors and see no one at all. This thing is rampaging out there. If you stay in for the next couple of weeks, let no-one into your home, go to no-one’s home, you’ll be fine. He was desperate to keep everyone safe. On the Sunday night he wasn’t feeling well. He phoned his receptionist to say he wouldn’t be in the next day. He was coughing. He said he thought he might have Covid. He died a few hours later. At home, alone. A swab test confirmed he had Covid. He was a-symptomatic until a few hours before his death. He was not in an at risk category. He was healthy. He was a front line worker. He is a casualty of this war. Systemic errors cannot be discounted in his shocking and untimely loss.

A few things about him, our brotherly old pal. He was fiercely loyal, kind, generous and caring – to his family, many friends, classmates, patients, our family and beyond. He was quick witted with an easy ready smile, a great laugh, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He always wanted to hear the latest. He was always highly amused by whatever the latest was. He was great fun. He wanted the best for the people he cared about and delighted in their small wins. He had pet names for everyone. He swept the streets of London with my sister when they were medical students. He saved her life when she had bacterial meningitis. In the 90s we travelled with a group to Cuba. Out on a rooftop in Havana we shot the breeze about what life had in store for us. He guessed for me. I guessed for him. We were bang on, give or take. He had a great Christmas Day. He kept saying how lucky he felt he was. He was warm, funny, solid, determined, dependable, resolute and yet vulnerable in a way too. He brought out a protective streak in the people who cared about him as he was too kind for his own good at times. There was a selflessness to him. His needs were simple, straightforward, sidelined. It was the needs of others that interested him. He was noble.

If he could see us now, all so deeply upset at his passing he would tilt his head to the side in the way that he does, and nod and smile, eyes twinkling, amused. There’s one hell of a conversation to be had about the latest.

Rest in Peace

Chicken pie

It’s an hour after the Late Late Toy Show. A highlight in our calendar. I’m in bed, conked. There’s a knock on my door.

‘Mum, can I come in to talk to you?’

Since he’s been gone, nine weeks but who’s counting, there have been many changes. One is the embracing of the talks. The bedroom door is unlocked. There’s no real need for privacy any more, now is there? In they come one after the other to chat and see the dog who’s stuck to me. But they don’t wake me for a talk. They’re taking care of me. Not pushing beyond the reasonable.

‘Yeah so Mum, I have this stabbing pain, down here on the right’, marque 3 announces.

He’s accompanied by his older brothers. They have him diagnosed and on the way to a solution.

‘Right where the appendix is Mum’, marque 2 adds.

‘Will I call an ambulance?’ Marque 1 asks. The room begins to come into focus. I squint at marque 1.

‘A what now?’

‘An ambulance mum, it can be serious, you know, if it ruptures’.

They’re all staring down at me, trying to elicit a response. I cast my mind back to the evening. To the pizza, the Prosecco, the hot chocolate, the mince pies. To how they said they missed their father watching the show. Missed how they could have a great laugh with him when the kids are super precocious or too sad to handle. Missed how they could have jokes that would be otherwise frowned upon. How they hadn’t necessarily enjoyed being told to be quiet as they tried to get the jokes rolling, looking across at their mother with tears spilling into her Prosecco as she melted watching the gorgeous little boy with the brittle bones, the beautiful girl with her lost leg, the family of great readers who whooped for joy at the idea of a gift of endless books for a year.

How did we go from that to this? A little dramatic, don’t you think, I say to myself as the pillow lays bare beside me.

‘Take some painkillers and we’ll see how you get on’, is all I can come up with.

‘Wake me in the night if you need me’, I hear someone else say. Thank god for someone else. Marque 1.

The guilt kicks in a little. I’m up checking on him every so often. The pain which was at 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, reduces to a reassuring 6. Roll on the weekend.

But there’s no appetite. There’s a hell of a lot of dozing off. There are unsubtle hints from marque 2. He selects song mode for his voice to temper me.

‘You really need to do this, get him seen, something has to come out’.

A phone call to a nurse. A trip to nearest A&E. He’s quizzed and prodded. Bloods are drawn. Conclusions are thin on the ground. It might be the appendix. But then again, it might not. Hang on a second, is this a hospital we’re in? That’s like listening to myself in an echo chamber. I stare at him, this young doctor who smiles broadly – like one of those men on a bottle of hair dye, dazzling white teeth and twinkling eyes – and I don’t probe. What the hell do you mean it might be I want to say, but do not.

‘I’m not convinced’, he says.

You’re not what now? I look at my pale boy clutching his side, clearly in pain. Is it his job to convince you?

‘If it’s the appendix it will announce itself. If it does, you know if the symptoms get worse, go to the children’s hospital. They can give you an ultrasound to determine’.

Wait, what? Aren’t we in a hospital? Can’t you do that?

‘We don’t have an ultrasound scanner here – and he’s younger than what I usually deal with. So, yeah, the children’s hospital if it gets worse’.

I try not to think of the €100 I paid to get this excellent advice. Still, I tell myself, he’s a doctor. We’ve been thoroughly checked. Home. Saturday night. An episode of The Queen’s Gambit. Diet Coke. Yay.

Sunday evening. It’s getting worse. My sister, also a doctor – and in our social bubble – calls by to check him. I’m upstairs in the bedroom chatting to someone an eight hour plane ride away. The door is locked. We’re planning his great return. There’s knocking. The knocking doesn’t stop. Three of them come in and lay it bare for me. We juggle with the logistics. If we go in tonight, who will get marque 5 to school and to to his dental appointment in the morning? Still, if we go in tonight we could be home in a few hours with the appendix ruled out by ultrasound. Let’s do it.

We catapult ourselves back ten, twelve years. Sitting in the familiar waiting room from when they were smallies. It hasn’t changed. What has changed is that he’s six feet tall and looks somewhat out of place amongst the crying babies and toddlers. The cold night air whips in the open windows. A Covid ventilation system.

People stare at us, blank bored stares. I’m reading. He’s dozing. In between we chat. We are not a good fit for this place the stares seem to say. Oh well.

A surgical doctor assesses at eight o’clock the next morning. She is a no-nonsense shoot from the hip type with a northern accent and marque 3 is enamoured. She makes a clinical diagnosis. She tells us that an ultrasound or even CT scan are not helpful in diagnosing this.

‘It’s very unlikely to be anything else, where the pain is, especially in a boy, and how he’s presenting. The surgical Professor will examine and will, most likely, operate today. Any questions?’

‘No’, marque 3 says. ‘That’s very concise. Thank you’.

My turn.

‘Is that a general anaesthetic?’


The surgical Professor whips in with a team of students. He presses. Prods. Palpates.

‘We’ll operate today in a couple of hours. 90 percent of the time in a case like this it’s the appendix.’ Wow. Just like that.

‘Any questions?’

Maybe a hundred but I’m stunned and don’t ask. Another surgical doctor comes in afterwards and explains the entire thing to us. Then I’m asked to sign my name. To consent. I feel a little nauseous with a stabbing pain myself now. Consenting with the other person so far away. Marque 3 has to sign it too. Another little stab seeing him do that.

Marque 3 maintains his sunny optimism and I do my best to mimic him.

‘I’m not worried at all. They’re excellent. I’m in safe hands’. Yes, darling.

Before we have a chance to get out of the emergency department and on to a ward he’s gowned up and taken off. Wheeled to theatre with me beside him. Out of somewhere I conjure up a lovely calm reassuring self. Especially when I see it. That little bit of fear dancing in his eyes as we wait at the theatre check in spot and it becomes very real.

‘I’m feeling a little nervous now actually’, he says.

I think it must be him from thousands of miles away, here with me now, keeping that smile going, the tears at bay, whispering reassurances. Because I’m not one for this. He is. When marque 3 needed an op at 18 months, he was selected as the person to carry him to theatre. To watch him go under. Long blond curls bounced and his little face beamed as he waved a yellow gowned blue elephant arm at me on his way. I dove onto his bed and bawled. Now, I kiss the top of his lovely head through my Covid mask and tell him it will all be fine. That’s it’s a standard procedure, that they do this all the time, that I’ll see him in an hour. I watch him go. Then I turn my back on him and wait for the real me to return.

Back in the trenches marque 1 has taken over as parent. He gets marque 5 to his dental appointment and treats him to his first ever real coffee. He organises the food for all. I’ve nothing to worry about except the real thing. Which is out of my hands now. I do the only thing I can. I send a message to the most significant others. The message says ‘Now’. Now get those prayers or thoughts or lights or whatever works going. He’s gone in.

I’m shown to his room on the ward to wait. I’m close to passing out. The adrenaline has been pumping away good-o but but it seems to hit me now all at once. No sleep. No food. Worry. Exhaustion. But then a mirage of a ward nurse manager hovers in the doorway, shimmering at me, saying she’ll see if there’s any lunch left. Would I like a little lunch if there is any? There might be a bit of chicken pie. And a cup of tea. These two quite ordinary things sound and seem utterly exquisite. Within seconds steaming creamy chicken and mushroom pie, flecked with black pepper in a golden puff pastry is delivered before me. An oasis. It is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had. As I hoover away and marvel at how taste buds are surprising things I wonder. How can I eat when my baby is upstairs, under, being cut and cauterised, poked and singed. What have I turned into? Nope. Not a morsel of guilt. The phone calls begin. I natter. Ninety to the dozen. I try not to read the faces of serious doctors walking past. If they’re looking for me, they’ll have to try harder. I’m no longer present.


A ghost child is wheeled back. Paler than pale. Lips the colour of his face. It went well, I’m told. A congested appendix. Histology will tell how infected it was. A good call. Still. Just look at him. What have you done to him?

He dozes. He cannot speak. They ask if I’d like some dinner. Plonk a plate of carbonara pasta with chips. I laugh to myself. The idea of eating pasta and chips together. And me on that low carb health kick these last few months. It’s hilarious. I’m full on rocking with laughter, stuffed with chicken pie, as I tell myself that I’ll just taste a piece of pasta and push it away. As the saltiness and the msg kick in they sing to me to try some more. To go on ahead and dip the deep fried chips right on into the carbonara sauce as it begins to compete with the chicken pie and I think that’s it. I stare at my sleeping post op baby and hoover away until every last trace is gone. I could almost lick the plate. That’s it. I must’ve gone completely off my rocker. Finally.

He begins to come around. The full blast of what he’s been through evident in every little movement. In his soft voice and bloodshot eyes. He starts to vomit. This is not going to be straight forward. He’s checked every 15 minutes. His blood pressure and heart rates are worryingly low. He’s in a lot of pain. I consented to this. The guilt begins to creep back in. Good. I’m coming back. I’ll kip here beside him. Keep a good watchful eye. Attend to his every need. They hand me a pillow and some blankets. I pull out the chair. Make it into a bed. Check in with them all at home. Talk about them making their school lunches. Organising their uniform bits. Setting alarms. I’m not coming home. Marque 5 texts.

‘I’m enjoying fending for myself. It feels really nice’. A silver lining moment.

My head hits the pillow and I remember little else. Vague moments of sporadically asking him if he’s okay but otherwise I’m comatose. I must be drugged. I can’t wake up properly. If he says he’s not okay, then what do I do? I can’t move a muscle. He was given morphine which he says had no effect whatsoever on the pain so now I wonder if I was drugged by osmosis. Did the morphine go into me instead? Or have I ingested some of his general anaesthetic?

I wake to the sound of a young child screaming next door. He doesn’t want a cannula put in. He’s very sure about it. It’s five o’clock in the morning. Marque 3 is smiling.

‘Oh, you’re awake now. You were really deeply asleep Mum. Nurses coming in all night giving me stuff, and you were there sleeping right through it. Snoring’.

‘Jesus, snoring? I wasn’t was I?’

‘Yep. All night and I was really surprised because you never snore’.

That’s what chicken pie, creamy pasta and chips can do to a person. Throw them into a coma. Strip them of all their worldly concerns. Take note. It’s better than morphine.

‘God, I wasn’t much use to you so’.

‘No. You kept me awake actually’.

Brilliant. Well done you. We laugh about it.

He rings. He of the thousands of miles. Tentatively. He’s been imagining me propped on the corner of our child’s hospital bed, bolt upright, fighting sleep with hyper vigilance as he fans off the heat of a foreign land. An image I’d quite like him to keep until marque 3 spills the beans and he breathes easily and they joke and they laugh and the relief fills the room.

The end is in sight after all.


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It’s the end of an almost perfect holiday. The expectations had been set on medium to low: get out of the metropolis and breathe, which is something, all things considered. But then we found ourselves in our holiday town, under a blue sky, welcomed by all, bristling amongst Irish tourists bedecked in shorts, t-shirts and face masks, patting perspiring brows and glowing in the treat of this blast of summer. Who’d of thought it? We knew better than to jinx it by announcing it. That didn’t go too well the last time, as we pinched ourselves with delight, basking and chanting our good luck until three days in a significant person took a tumble. This time we just rolled with it. We accepted it as we trotted through the town with the dog, to the oohs and aaws and outstretched hands of outdoor seated coffee sipping holiday makers. We’re all in this together and this is damn good we tried not to say out loud.

Turquoise ocean swims were a daily feature. The discovery of the peppering of the water with large jellyfish of an uncomfortable stinging variety failed to deter, most of the time. We dodged and dove, splashed and sprawled – spread eagled star fish floating, staring up at the sun. We held onto every precious second of it, knowing as we do that it’s a rare thing, the lot of us in this element together, teenagers and parents as one, exhilarated. We held onto it knowing things are about to change. The current economic situation has forced our hand. One of us will be living and working an eight hour flight away all too soon. We pushed it down and did not speak of it, this impending rupture. We wallowed instead in these precious moments, capturing them fully to draw on in mid-winter. We wallowed in the contagion of the good holiday mood all around us, in the welcome and the cheer and the suppressed thoughts about the pandemic.

We were, however, brought down from our holiday cloud temporarily one sunny day. A little blip which we’ll write out of our collective memory very soon. We had arrived at our usual spot and were setting up, removing the picnic rug and chairs from the boot, about to savour all the beauty, when a semi-clad white haired and sparsely bearded man appeared on the brow of the hill. He ran towards us.

‘Hello’, I said, cheerily, reefing the picnic bag out.

‘Can I have a quiet word with one of you?’he said, panting. A quiet word. That sounds quite lovely.

‘Yes’, I said, offering the opportunity to the other one of us. He’s prepared, you see. We’ve been coming here for well over a decade now, across the commonage, down to the beach. This time it’s been a little different though, due to a newly erected sign which precludes camper vans, quad bikes and recreational vehicles to protect the flora and fauna. When we saw the sign, we phoned our friend who lives here, to check it out further. She gave us the back story. Quad bikers had been arriving in increasing numbers. There was an accident. A helicopter had to rescue a very injured party. Enough was enough. The neighbours got together and put up their own little sign first of all, followed by the official sign about the campers and quad bikers. It didn’t apply to us she said. Go ahead and enjoy your days. If anyone asks, you have permission. Simple as.

He went around the side of the car for the quiet word while I slid down on the picnic rug with the kids, trying to hear and trying not to hear. All I could make out was the word welcome, which didn’t sound very welcoming. It was brief enough, this exchange.

‘As far as I’m concerned, you’re not welcome’, he said.

‘Thank you’, the other one of us said.

‘You’re welcome’, the man said, grazing past us like a bull. The Bull McCabe.

We looked around the beautiful landscape, devoid of people, except for McCabe now swimming solo in the expansive bay and we wondered. About how a person could have the gall to tell a family they’re not welcome. About how a person could want this all to himself. It stood in stark contrast to everything else we were experiencing and everything else we knew. The welcoming, the well wishes, the communal feeling that we should all enjoy this as much as we can. It’s been a tough year for everyone, after all. We knew he was wrong and we knew we could prove it. But still, for that day it niggled, our confidence shaken. We packed up, went elsewhere, to a beach populated with lovely friendly holiday makers and we swam with them, dodging the sting of the jellyfish which seemed less menacing now in this new light.

We shook it off. A couple of days later we returned to the beautiful beach for the other one’s birthday. It’s his dream to be there on his birthday and this one was better than most as he swam with his sons and with me, basking in it. With no sign of the bull. That evening we ate out as a family – for the first time since my own birthday back in February – devouring and savouring it all together, at ease, pushing the future weeks down, down, all the way down into oblivion. A round of complimentary birthday drinks from the owner helped considerably with this.


I had a three tiered pandemic survival strategy at the start of this. Well I had many a three tiered pandemic survival strategy. But one of them was to exercise, eat healthily and become a fervent lotto player. I’ve stuck to them all. Marque 3 set me up on the phone to play lotto, which was a little dangerous, all these things I could enter at the touch of a button, so I swapped back for the real deal. A physical ticket for physical money. It’s become a little worse lately, this desire to win. It would keep the other one of us here with his family instead of that eight hour plane ride away for months on end. I’ve upped my dedication to playing. Hell bent on saving the family. And I almost did.

On the Saturday, a day after his birthday, I bought a Quick Pick in the Gala store in Clifden for that night’s draw of €7.3 million. On the Monday the news that the winning ticket was bought in Clifden flashed on my phone in a message from my mother. I was back in Dublin, the ticket safely binned in Clifden. I tortured myself. What if the scanning app on my phone that I checked the ticket with was wrong? Can you actually trust an app at a time like this? Did I misread it? Did it say Congratulations instead of Sorry? Was I too tired from packing up to notice the difference? Should I start to make my way back to Clifden to chase down the bin that’s been carted away at this stage? Do I wait to hear that it was a different shop that sold it, and then breathe again?

When the unwelcome news came that it was indeed the same shop and it was indeed a Quick Pick winning ticket the nausea set in. I’d thrown the winning ticket away. Then someone else stepped forward, claiming it. Having got word and rifled through the bins. Obviously.

I came pretty close it seems. Not close enough to keep him here and Storm Ellen was a testament to how I feel about that. But close enough to realise how lucky we are, in the greater scheme of things, to have been together for a wonderful holiday week, bolstered for the future now whatever that brings.


He’s leaving on a jet plane today.


Dice on a ballIt’s a stormy Friday night and I’m upstairs with marque 5 trying to remember how to do long division. The school hours have slipped on by, what with work and visiting my father and the weekly shop and another thing that has been hammering away at me since yesterday. It’s catch up time.

‘Bring the nine down’, I say to bemused twinkling hazel eyes. He knows not what I speak of and nor do I. I’m simultaneously googling away, but not for long division tips. It’s a rescue I’m after. Seeing as the vet said that it wouldn’t survive on its own. The rescue place I need to try now is coming up as temporarily closed due to Covid. I couldn’t get through to the others either. There’s a number strictly for emergencies for this one. Is this an emergency? Maybe his mother will come back for him. Maybe she just needs a little more time to work it out. Like we all do.

There’s a knock on the door. Marque 4 comes in.

‘Mum, can I have a word with you?’ Gosh. How very formal. Something bad must’ve happened. His eyes look wider than usual. Tinged with alarm.

‘So, Mum, we brought the the kitten in to the house’, he whispers, tempering me.

‘What? No. Jesus. We can’t do that. We can’t bring it in. Dad’s highly allergic and it’s feral, god knows what it has, parasites, we’ll have to take it back out. I’m trying to get a rescue place and…’

Dice in the Garden

‘Dad brought it in Mum’.

Well now. The thudding begins. Me descending the stairs a little more heavily than necessary, keeping beat with the thuds in my neck. Not two hours ago he was saying there’s no way we could bring it in. It would land him straight back in the hospital. Which is why I’ve been ringing the vet, the NSPCA, Cat Rescue and next up the emergency number for the DSPCA. Then without a jot of consultation when I’m safely ensconced in battling out long division, he whips the thing in anyway. I burst through the breakfast room door to the sight of a slightly sheepish smiling husband stroking the little thing’s head. It’s in a red and beige Vans shoebox on the table. I try very hard not to look at it. It will be dangerous to look.

‘Jesus, what are you doing? We can’t just bring a feral kitten into the house. It could have any range of parasites, fleas, god knows and we have a dog, remember, and there’s your health which we’ve just got back…’ I’m aware that there are many pairs of eyes on me as I rave on with the impossibility of it all. Wide silent eyes, laced with a little bit of amused terror. Perhaps this is it, I’m thinking. Perhaps I’ve finally cracked and the poor kids have to witness it full on.

‘Well there’s no way we could leave it out in the storm, is there?’ asks the highly allergic parent in a highly annoying rational voice.

‘It’s getting dark and the rain has kicked in’, the rational voice continues. ‘It’s cold, hailstone cold, and a big storm is forecast for overnight. He wouldn’t survive it’.


‘How did you catch him up? Was he scared?’

‘I got him Mum, he kept running away from Dad’, marque 2 chimes in.

The father nods.

‘Not a chance of me catching him’.

‘He was hiding under a load of stuff and pretty scared at first’, marque 2 continues. ‘It was hard to get near him. I put a sock over my hand and arm in case he’d bite or scratch, and when I got close enough I picked him up by the scruff of the neck like the mother does’.

Of course he did. Marque 2 always knows what to do, and does it in a calm assured way. It would be impossible for anything to be scared of marque 2.

I glance at the little thing, shuffling around in the box, the black sports sock in beside him for comfort. He looks up at me. Sad blue eyes. White fur in the main with spots of black. Delicious. But I already know this. I have lots of photos on my phone from the last couple of days. Him with a sibling one day, creeping through our No Mow May (June) garden. Then ones of him all alone. Standing on an old football. The mother moved the sibling on and left him. Abandoned.

‘Let’s have a look then’, I say, sitting down at the box. Something akin to the let down breast feeding reflex kicks in. Just as they all knew it would.

‘He’s so tame for a wild kitten’, I say, smitten.

‘Yes and he was starving. We gave him some tuna, he hoovered it up’, one of them says. I can see they’ve put a shell in the box too, filled with water. Ever resourceful in their mother’s absence.

‘Let’s ring Nanny’, marque 3 says.

‘She’ll know what to do next’. As I sit there falling in love they ring my mother who has rescued many a kitten. She rescues and keeps them. There was a time when she had six. She is the calm voice of reason. We’re doing it all right. Just wash the hands properly and work the rest out tomorrow. We know we can’t keep it. But maybe we can save it.

The boys get busy setting up a home for him in the porch. We need to contain him and keep him separate from the dog. They make a kitty litter of sorts, sand on a birthday party paper plate. I laugh to myself at the idea of it. A feral kitten using a litter tray. They put down water. Line the Vans box with a towel. Plug a draft in the front door. Then they sit and watch him through the glass. Oohs and awws resound. I try to block them out. I need to get to the solution. What we’re going to do with him tomorrow .

I wake with a thud. It’s 6.30 on Saturday morning. An awful thought. What if the little thing didn’t survive the night. I run downstairs and peep into the porch. No sign. Empty bed. God. Then I hear it. The most gorgeous little mewl. Very close by. I look down. He’s right beneath the glass door behind the little electric heater that marque 2 set up for him. Just asking to be invited further in. The dote. I step into the porch and stand there. He rubs his little head off my ankle. Then he steps on my feet – front paws on one foot, back paws on the other – mewling, as the lactation kicks in once again.

The kids all rise early too, dying to see him. A couple of them are looking for anti-histamines. Something has set their eyes and noses to open tap mode. I daren’t look at their father. The dog has come around to the arrangement. They’re talking to one another, the kitten and him, through the glass door. Swapping their stories. I dose my addled brain with lots of coffee. Someone around here is going to have to take action. I phone our vets again and explain that I want to get him checked over and look for advice about what we can do. I’m told we can bring him up and they’ll check him for ring worm amongst other things. They’re also going to phone a couple of people who said they were looking to adopt a kitten.

He’s asleep on an old black kid’s runner, ah god. I line the Vans box with a cosy brush cotton pillow case. Just before I pluck him up he meanders over to the the kitty litter. Bang in the middle of the sand on the happy birthday plate he does his business. What? How the hell does he know to do that? Our very clever little boy. He’s so easy to handle too. Doesn’t flinch when I pick him up and put him in the box. I close the newly perforated lid and bring him out to the car. He sits on my knee and we drive off with him and I wonder whether I can actually do this. Can I hand him over for a possible adoption when it’s pretty clear he’s ours? On cue, the driver starts to sneeze. His eyes begin to stream. There’s the faint hint of a wheeze. Let’s do this.

The vet nurse emerges from the door and I hand the precious box over. She smiles reassuringly, much like a midwife would, and says she’ll phone me in a few minutes. It’s an anxious wait. I feel I should be a nail biter or a smoker or something devastatingly useful.

The phone blasts and I press to answer with my Covid gloves. I put it on speaker. She announces that it’s a boy, yay, of course it is, and that he doesn’t appear to have ringworm but he does have flea dirt so she’s treating him for that. The people who were looking to adopt a kitten have since got ones. So her mother will take him for the weekend, if that’s okay with us, and she’ll put the feelers out for a home next week.

‘There’ll be no problem getting him a home, he’s lovely. Sad eyes. So cute. He even purred when I was checking his tummy’. That’s my boy.

Back at the house and it seems horribly empty. No more delightful little mewls. No more lactating tugs. I remove his bits from the porch and bin the kitty litter, smiling at his brightness still. Dreading the moment when I have to tell the others he’s gone. I stare at the photos of him for the rest of the weekend, and in my own way pray for him to get a good home.

It’s Monday morning and the phone rings merrily beside me. It’s the vet nurse.

‘Good news’, she says.

‘We brought him to my brother’s. They have a cat who had kittens a little while ago, but they all died’.

‘Oh dear’.

‘We wanted to see how she would react to your kitten. And she’s taken to him. She’s cleaning him and taking care of him as if he’s hers’.

A violent stinging in my eyes. A tremble to my voice.

‘That’s wonderful’.

‘Yes, it’s so cute, the two of them together. He’s very playful. I’ll send you a few videos and pictures if you like’.

‘Absolutely. The kids will be thrilled to see them too’.

‘Oh and his name is Dice’.



A grieving mother cat adopts a kitten abandoned by its own mother. All in a roll of the dice.

Dice and Mother in Kitchen

Dice and Mother Cat