September throes

Getting rid of things doesn’t come naturally. I hail from a line of well-intentioned hoarders and try as I may to toss the surpluses aside, I usually fail. Which is not funny in a family as large as ours.

The clothing bank for example. I sort the clothes into bags at home and feel the lightness of making some headway. It’s at the bank that I crumble. I pull things from the bags and wonder what the hell I was thinking at home – this cute little Gap denim shirt may not fit any of them any more, but would be gorgeous on one of their teddy bears.


One evening I stood there with my sister – who hasn’t inherited the hoarding trait – and she spoke gently, cajoling me into tossing the things I would’ve returned home with.
‘Throw it in’.
‘But what if we have another baby – I mean I know we’re not going to but what if. Then I’ll be thinking about the red cardigan here, and how the baby should be wearing it like all his brothers did and…’
‘Look, throw it in and in the unlikely event that you have another baby and it happens to be a boy, I’ll buy you another one’.
‘But it won’t be the same, theirs…’ I said placing it reluctantly in the dark ominous chute. Thinking I’ll just pop back with a coat hanger when she’s gone. Fish it out.
This went on, item by item of clothing. Each piece had acquired sudden merits and uses that I just couldn’t spot at home. Other people came and went, tossing merrily without a thought. Wondering what the hell we were up to I’m sure. But the weight was lifting in the dimming light and I was almost finished when she noticed.
‘The barrier in the car park is down. I think we’re locked in’.
Yep. So engrossed were we in fixing my hoarding gene that we didn’t notice all the other cars leaving and the car park closing. An outside car park that we could walk away from, thankfully, but the car was stuck. We were going away the following morning and the car was, well, a necessity. I phoned him, explaining tentatively that I was doing such a good job with the old de-cluttering thing when some arse-hole came along and locked the car in the car park.
‘I don’t know why I didn’t see or hear it closing. I was thinking about the boys when they were tiny, you know, smelling their clothes, clinging onto them, in another world’.


Thankfully he is a man with solutions and between the jigs and the reels he arrived at the car park and drove the car horizontally across a vertical grass bank and out between it and a bollard. Very Top Gear. Unfortunately arousing the suspicions of neighbours who came out for a gawk, fingers on dials ready to call the police for the joy-riding hooligans. All because of a bit of de-cluttering. Enough to put me off it for life.

There was an ironing board I cheerfully tried to get rid of while on holidays. The legs on it have snapped. Irreparable.
‘Put it out, it’s dangerous’, I said, delighted with myself, feeling a new muscle being exercised. Then the next morning I looked out the window as the holiday bin clearer arrived. He sorted through stuff, and then I saw it. The lovely bright ironing board. Sunflowers on a blue and white check pattern, winking at me from across the court-yard. It looked perfect. Lovely. Lonely. So I nipped out when he went off with some of the other stuff and I stole it back. Hoping that any CCTV cameras that might be lurking wouldn’t pick me up. What had I been thinking of, throwing it out? Sure it doesn’t need legs. We can just lie it flat on the floor and iron like that. For all of the two occasions that we might need to iron while on holidays. A surge of relief swept through me as I put it back in the cupboard. Saved from the dangerous world of getting rid of something. That we might really need. Someday.

But there’s that feeling that accompanies the drawing close of September. A rare organizational feeling. It comes but once a year. Not in spring-time when it occurs to most normal people. No, spring cleaning passes me by completely. Mine coincides with the kids going back to school. Some sort of latent guilt about sending them off to toil. If they are to suffer then so must I. The feeling only lasts for a few days. Until they are settled back in. Then I forget all about it. This is our only chance. I enlist the help of a kind, yet ruthless, East European lady – recommended by my sister – for an hour. She quizzes me, waving a piece of art one of the kids has done, and before I have a chance to say yay or nay she has binned it.
‘It is broken’ she says, referring to the snowman’s carrot nose which was peeling off.
‘Yes, yes, broken’ I say, thinking how I know I’ll rummage, after she’s gone, in the recycling bin and retrieve it.
‘I know’ she says ‘they want to keep everything, but it is no good’.
‘No good at all’ I say staring at her, wondering if I might ever be like her. A ruthlessly efficient detached thrower outer. Nah. But I can copy her. Act as if, for today.
She fills a black sac from the one room, even though I’ve tided laboriously for her coming. How does she do that?

She moves onto the laundry area. We are the lucky recipients of many a bag of great second hand clothes for the boys from various kind sources. We are overflowing, swimming in these seas of kindness. The drawers are stuffed. We’ve nowhere to put it all. If only I was more successful at the clothing bank chute… She points and she quizzes me and I shrug and eventually she bags everything out of sight. Which is a relief, although I’m not sure what the next step is supposed to be.
‘I will come again in two weeks. All the clothes will be gone. Then if it is ok I will do the cupboards. Throw out everything expired’.
‘Yes, yes, fine’ I say, wondering if I am correct in my understanding that she has left me homework to do. All the clothes will be gone. How, to where? I daren’t say out loud.
‘I really want to help you’ she says which is simultaneously relieving and irritating. Surely she could keep such saviour thoughts to herself.
‘I have only one child. I do not know what it must be like with five’.
Chaos, clearly, my dear new friend. Chaos in a good way. I swear.

Diminishing Returns


Six weeks of Connemara bliss is not enough it seems. There are pleas to stay on for just a few more days. Heels being dragged while packing should be going on. Last minute bargaining and bids. They furnish us with some excellent points.

1. Real friendships have been made with lovely kids that you just don’t find in the city.

2. Everyone in town is welcoming and makes you feel like you belong.

3. Everything is simpler.

4. One friend asked for and received a pet pig for his birthday. This wouldn’t happen in the city. He’d be asking for a Nintendo instead.

The last point is part of a bid for us to move there altogether. They know we love the wholesomeness of the life of some of their friends. And that we hate Nintendos.

5. The ladies in the old fashioned sweet shop. They made up little gift bags for each child. Tied and decorated them with hand made individual name tags. Because they say they will miss us. One had tears in her eyes. Would this happen In Dublin? Nah…


6. The party.

Ah yes, the party. We are invited to a party. It is for a young teenage child. I arrive with my lot for the 3.30 start. I’ve calculated that we’ll be home in time to nab a DVD from the store that closes at 7. The dinner will be a simple oven bake affair. The naïveté of me. I’ve misunderstood, completely. Time doesn’t enter into it. It does not have an end. This is a relaxed fun party which is as much for adults as it is for kids. There’s an obstacle course bouncy castle with a back drop of the Twelve Pins.

The adults – holiday makers, neighbours, relatives, friends – turn a wise blind eye to the bouncing shenanigans. Food, wine, merry banter and a feeling of celebrated inclusion for all. I don’t know anyone except the hosts but it makes no odds. A common thread is a love for the place where the party is being held.

The arrival of high tide is announced and the kids decide that jumping from the rocks is in order. They’ve scarpered before any dissenting adult can be heard. The tide is the highest we’ve ever seen it. Something to do with the super moon perhaps. Friendships are consolidated as they take leaps together.


Float and chat in their deep ocean bliss. Then trot back across the headland for fairy liquid soapy speedy bouncy castle sliding. Marque 5, the youngest by far, shoots past me like a bullet, flies through the air and lands on his back. So I ban him from that muttering about how I’m not taking anyone to Galway hospital. Not tonight. He finds a safer flat area to slide through tunnels and the others join him and I retreat to the merry banter inside. At nine-ish the music begins. Kids playing button accordions, concertinas, piano, the fiddle. Together. Alone. There’s a wealth of talent. A boy breaks into song. Relaxed, sitting, tapping his foot along to his astounding resonance and lilt. Mine look on smiling, admiring. They’ve never seen the like. They seem almost shy in it. They don’t want to leave. Not at all. But there’s a tricky drive down the room-for-one-car-only long windy road, in the pitch black. Before hitting the 15km road back to the town. At 11.00 we are the first to bid farewell. It is, mine say, the best party they’ve ever been to. I know what they mean. Then they are tasked with shouting ‘dip’ at me when they spot an oncoming car’s headlights. All the way home. To that oven bake dinner at midnight, over which they recount their favourite moments still smiling.

7. Everything feels less rushed, more free.

8. The views and the beaches. Always something beautiful to look at. Some place beautiful to be. To collect the shell of the day.

Ah yes, the shell of the day. A competitive tradition we set in motion many moons ago. Any time we are on our favourite beach he says ‘who’s going to find me the shell of the day?’ and they take off, fanning out, scouring. Sometimes we join them, looking for it ourselves. Sometimes we slink back in our chairs and relax. We know when it is procured. Gasps. Screeches. And then the run back to show us.


9. The animals, especially the wild ponies and donkeys.

10. Finally a damning point from marque 4. ‘Don’t blog about it. Everyone will want to go there.’

It’s hard to counter argue with them. We have, after all, set ourselves up for this. Handed them the stick to beat us with. Imbued them with the notions of simplicity, beauty and connectivity that they are spitting back at us. Maximised the time spent away from the metropolis so that they feel unable to return. As do we, in fairness. Weak lines are trotted out in our defence, falling on suitably deaf ears. I’m on the verge of calling on the television as a point to advance our cause. There’s no tele on holidays. Just a screen for the odd DVD or Netflix to be played. Surely they’ve missed the grating tones of their favourite American tv shows. I stop short. I know when I’ve been had.

‘Look at the traffic’ marque 1 pipes up as we approach home. ‘It’s got much worse since we were away.’

Indeed it has.

Time and Tides



The most delicious part if the day is waking to the chimes of the town church spire clock. I refuse to check the time on my switched off phone. I listen and I count and I guess. One chime per hour of the day. This morning I listen and it stops on the ninth chime. I smile to myself. I could’ve sworn it was later. There’s a whole other hour of slumber ahead. The kids don’t begin to stir until at least ten. Delicious.

These late mornings are courtesy of the late nights. The good weather dictating the pace. Back from the beach at 9.30. Supper. Net flix. All the children knocking around as I read in a corner. Not checking the time. A delicious sleep on in the morning to look forward to. The church clock chimes twelve times. Then they are hooshed off to bed.

They do not know the day nor the hour. We are only aware of the time when we are on the tidal Omey island. To be unaware of the time and the tides is pure folly. We drive across the beach between Claddaghduff and Omey island at lowi-ish tide. Sometimes we give the boys a turn steering the car on the beach which is a great hit.

Then we drive to the furthest point on the island to swim, barbecue and explore. There’s nowhere else like it. The wildness of it. America. You can just taste it. Peculiar islands dot the horizon. Crow island – with tall craggy columns on it’s right hand extremity looking like some pre-historic creature.

Ancient bits of cars from a time when people dumped them as far out of sight as possible. Beautiful marbled stone with flecks of burnt orange and black. A surreal moon-scape feel to the place when frolicking about on the rocks.


We nearly miss the the incoming tide. We get back to the beach at Claddaghduff as the tide chases itself in. We’d no idea it comes in so fast. Two of the kids jump out to get caught up in it, screaming with laughter as it wraps around them. It races in from two sides across the vast strand – meeting in the middle and rendering Omey a true island again, inaccessible except by boat. There’s an eeriness to this scene. Both sides clawing jaggedly across the flatness until reunited in a monstrous act of subsumption. Swallowing up and stilling all the life and the sounds. One minute children, parents and grandparents dot the strand and cars with learner drivers and fun seekers zoom freely turning circles. The next all is quiet, stilled, disappeared. A clean slate is cast. A fresh start for those in need of one.

Once a year this strand plays host to ‘the other Galway races’ drawing crowds of thousands. We went along one year – a magical experience – the proximity of the horses to the spectators was exhilarating, the thud of the racing hooves on the strand splashing through remnants of water, a reminder of the temporariness of this spectacle. This year we witness the making of the race tracks the day before the races. Hundreds of fat wooden spiked poles are laid out and then hammered into the strand in sweeping circles. The tide will come in and subsume the race track over night. An image I can’t get out of my head. I find myself foolishly fretting about the poles and whether they can withstand the force of the full tide. I wish I could be there as it recedes to reveal the track. A surreal magical sight I’m sure.

As we make good our escape from the strand that day, the sea keeps pace with the car. It comes at us from the sides and behind. The kids are on look-out, high with the excitement of it as we ham up the notion that we will be caught. The best game of tag they’ve played.

For us the tragedy of the 21 Chinese cockle pickers caught by the incoming tide in Morecambe Bay, England, ten years ago springs to mind. The leader of the group had made a mistake about the time of the tides. Witnessing the speed of the tide at play here it is easy to understand how people get caught out and cut off. We leave the island with a greater respect for this fundamental natural force.

For the holiday time that remains to us we’ll continue to be guided by the chimes of the church spire clock. Come the rude schedules of September we’ll reminisce with disbelief that it can be that simple.

Will I stay or will I go

To go solo with the five in the West or to hot-tail it back to Dublin. This is the question. I’m a maximiser. I don’t want their holiday to end. If I can do it, then I should, I reason.
‘Don’t push until something breaks’ he warns. ‘By trying too hard you can do yourself and them a disservice’ or some such wise counsel to which I pay no heed. Until I’m standing at the front door secretly hoping his car won’t start and he’ll have to stay on with us. And then I see his taillights disappearing in the mist around the bend and I’m calling in my head for him hang on a second, I’ll just nab my bag and come too. The old telepathy doesn’t seem to work so well any more.

Safety is the main niggle. Keeping five safe on holidays without back-up. Keeping them safe at home is challenging enough. But there are people around for the unfortunate incidents. Relatives to muck in for the trips to A&E. I watch marque five playing football with a little friend from India here. The friend runs for the ball and slips landing on his arm. His dad goes to him as I rummage in my bag for a plaster. The dad smiles at me and says ‘I think it is broken’. I laugh. Good one. Pretend it’s worse than it is. Reverse psychology. ‘I really do think it is broken’ he says, still with the smile. Calm. He’s being calm, not playing humorous psychological tricks. And the child is calm too. Not a tear in sight. I wish I could be like that. Calm in the face of their injuries. Perhaps there’s a course in it. Which I’d fail. I take the deep breaths and tell them they are fine and smile reassuringly but they don’t buy it. A few weeks ago I was taking them out to the park. They begged to bring scooters/bikes. Marque 5 had his new little birthday bike which up until now had only been peddled around the back garden. I made him change before we left – from shorts and t-shirt to long sleeves and jeans. Stave of the minor grazes. We parked, removed the scooters/bikes and I instructed them to walk down the hill while I locked the car. Before I had the chance to turn the key I watched, as if in slow motion, marque 5 catapult over the handle bars and land on his head. I ran down to him, seeing his face was badly grazed, and he was crying and I was telling him he was fine. Until marque 2 said ‘what about his head, under his hair there, look’ and I picked up his fringe to an enormous pulsating bleeding bruised egg lump. And that was it. Pseudo calm out the window. The terror of damage to the lovely head. I grabbed him, hugged him, ran with him back to the car. Perhaps I hollered at the others to hurry and gather the vehicles. Perhaps a few tears escaped.
‘Are you cross with me?’ the little dote piped up from his seat, as he knew he hadn’t done as I’d instructed.
‘I just wanted to catch up with the others’ he explained.
‘No, I’m cross with myself’ I told him.
‘I should’ve made you wait until I had locked the car. I should’ve had a helmet on you. Your POOR little HEAD’. Perhaps a little sob escaped.
‘Mum, I think you’re making him nervous’ the ever calm in an emergency marque 2 piped up. I used to be like him. Before all the kids and the terror of something going badly wrong.
‘It’s alright, you’ve just got a bump and we’ll take you to the hospital to get it fixed, isn’t that right mum?’
Yes, yes, if you say so marque 2, that’s exactly what we shall do. And the phone calls began and the back up was there and all was well in the end.

His little friend’s arm was indeed broken – in two places. Trying to kick a ball one second and off to Galway City University hospital – over an hour away – the next. We’ve done that trip ourselves a few times – one parent with sick/injured and one with the others. If the need arises while going solo, it’d be all the kids and me in A&E. A scary thought.

They settle into the week with just me fine. The constant rain for the first two days means that we don’t have to push ourselves at all. We can but slob about and meander around town. Their expectations dwindle without the hope of escape to the beach. They all seem perfectly relaxed. The fact that it is a glorious heat wave in Dublin perturbs them not a jot. Me – certainly. Pictures of sun baked home as we shelter from the rain irks me but I don’t let on. We all wait patiently for it to do the courteous thing and arrive here too. Which three days in it’s refusing to do. Oh well. Tomorrow then. Fingers crossed. So far, so good. A bit of adult company wouldn’t go amiss – but hey. They are safe and happy and that’s enough for me. Kind of…

Day four the heat wave visits and at evening high-tide kids and adult holidaymakers appear from all angles – tele tubby style – across the beautiful headland to the best jumping-diving point. There’s infectious banter and camaraderie. Teenagers teaching kids how to dive. Kids leaping and belly flopping, laughing and screaming. Mothers taking deep and then deeper breaths. Crossing fingers. Throwing little prayers to the wind about the safety of necks and backs and keeping the seals and the jellyfish at bay, in that order. Swearing blind to remember their own togs and catapult in tomorrow if the weather holds to share in this turquoise clear Irish Atlantic madness.

It’s a little dizzying keeping track of them all on the rocks and in the sea. I’m constantly counting. They are easy to spot – the only ones not in wet suits. We’ve decided against the whole wet suit thing, reasoning that we never had them and managed just fine. Also, once introduced to the we think they’d never, ever swim without them. As it stands they have great fun in their togs and shivering in towels and changing back into their clothes, before doing it all over again. It seems natural.

‘Where’s marque 3’ I ask marque 2 who always knows where everyone is. Marque 3 is out of sight. We swing around, scanning, and then see him clambering towards us.

‘I slipped off the rocks and hurt my back’ he says and I’m staring at his leg as he turns around to show me his back. The back is grazed but looks ok. When he turns around towards me again it’s obvious that his leg is not. He hasn’t noticed the cascading blood and I have a chance to gather myself before pointing it out.
‘Your leg could do with a bit of attention though’ I say, thinking Galway hospital attention, as he looks down and gets a shock. Luckily I am in the presence of a lovely calm woman – another mother we’ve got to know over the years – and she casts a comforting glance at it and I know from her that it’s not as bad as it looks. I syphon off some of her calmness for myself. She offers to mind marque 5 while I run across the headland to the car. I have a freshly stocked first aid kit, which is most unlike me, in the glove compartment. A cast off from the camping trip. Marque 4 overtakes me running and asks me to throw him the keys. He seizes the kit, locks the car and then runs back past me over the hill waving the kit above his head. When I reach the rocks, marque 2 & 3 are huddled together and marque 1 – with a St John’s ambulance course under his belt – has the first aid up and running. Six disinfectant wipes later I can see that while there are three deep puncture wounds, with a little disconcerting white tissue exposed, we will not be heading off to Galway. Phew. Dogs circle around us and try to make off with the bloodied wipes and marque 3 is laughing again.

There’s a little niggle in my head that won’t go away though. If he’d been wearing a wet suit, this would not have happened. In the name of safety it’s time, perhaps, to revisit that discussion.

All told, it’s good to have stayed and I do it all again the next week for the hell of it. We’re in the groove now, relaxed days knocking around town and evening-time dips. He rejoins us for the bank holiday weekend, upping the scope of the activities and fun, and by Monday evening the question will arise again – should we stay or should we go now.