Tag Archives: dublin

Mum & Mozart – a short story

National Concert Hall (NCH)

National Concert Hall (NCH)

The line ‘If music be the food of love play on,’ always brings a smile, especially when I think about my mother. She was a music fan, a lover indeed, and the words from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night were something that she truly, deeply believed in.

Our house was never quiet when mum was around, as the sounds of opera singers and orchestras drifted merrily from big 331/3 rpm records that were treated like family heirlooms. They were her pride and joy, and she loved nothing more than tearing the cellophane from a new disc and placing it gently on the turntable. I remember the look of anticipation on her face as the needle dropped, scratched and hissed momentarily, before the strains of violin, piano, quartet or singer made her smile the broadest of smiles. It was transfixing, and one of my earliest, and happiest, memories.

Growing up with such a lover of music I was encouraged to get involved, and for many years I took piano lessons. Although I practised hard and often felt my mum’s hand gently squeeze my shoulder as she whispered ‘That’s nice, really nice,’ I knew that I was never going to be the next Mozart. It didn’t matter to her as long as I tried, but I grew to love the Austrian maestro and his wonderful works. Of all the great composers she introduced me to on my musical journey Mozart’s warm, inspiring and exuberant music is something that has stayed with me, and for that I will always be happily in her debt.

Mum’s parents were not themselves musically inclined, but she told me that they were always enthusiastic for her. They brought her to singing lessons, and concerts when they came to town. She remembered getting a record player that had to be started with a winding arm, and a box of new needles. The records were heavy, black vinyl plates that all too often became scratched and cracked. And so she spent hours in record shops and got to know the best places to go, and sometimes the owners gave her records for free because they knew she loved the music. She collected music by all the great composers and she was as knowledgeable of classical music as anybody I ever knew. I found a few of her old records recently in the attic, the sleeves dusty and torn, and I wondered how many times did she slide them out and put them on her record player. Countless, no doubt, I thought, and gently brushed them clean before putting them beside my CD collection. They may have looked awkward but their content was no different and just as enlightening.

As I grew up pop and rock music became a bigger part of my life. I listened to the radio and discovered The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder and countless other bands that I now cannot remember. The music made an impression, be it good or bad, and it was discussed endlessly with friends late into the night – our musical rite of passage. Some of us were fans of one band or another and we took great delight in defending our own personal favourites. We were committed to the music and I came to understand why my mother had such a love of this mystical medium. It was something that I could not touch, taste or smell but I could most certainly feel it. It could inspire and lift the soul and express a sadness that words could never hope to do. The magic of music is wonderful and it always had the power to surprise and make me feel better.

Years later I often took my mother to concerts in the National Concert Hall (NCH) nights out that I remember fondly. One particular one stands out, and the more I think about it the more I understand her love of music. It was a Mozart Night and the foyer was abuzz with excitement long before the start. We sat and had a drink, and my mother was bubbling excitedly looking at the happy faces and listening to the friendly conversations around her. ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ she said, and I grinned a reply.

I led her to our seats and she immediately leaned forward and looked over the balcony at the milling crowd below and the stage beyond. Then she sat back, clasped her hands tightly and nodded her head slowly in response to some inner rhythm. When the seats were filled the lights were dimmed and the performers took the stage. A silence descended and you could almost hear the audience breath as one before the music began. It opened with a rousing version of the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro that was loudly applauded. Then we had some beautifully played piano concertos and the delicious Clarinet Concerto which is my own personal favourite.

Every so often I would glance at my mother and see the concentration and happiness on her face. But it was not until the singers took the stage that I saw what I can only describe as a transformation. My mother was an old woman, in her eighties then, but the singing seemed to unlock something within her and I was privileged to see it. During the Sull’aria, from the Marriage of Figaro, I heard my mother singing very quietly, like the whisper over my shoulder a lifetime ago. I had never heard her sing like this before and I was immensely proud. And when I glanced at her again I didn’t see an old woman sitting beside me but a young girl lost in music, bright-eyed with her life to live. When it finished she smiled at me and it took all the strength I had not to cry. It was a magical moment, and I’m sure even Mozart would agree that he had struck the right chord and that music is indeed the food of love.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

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On Your Bike – a short story

As traffic gets heavier with each passing day more and more people of all ages have taken to riding a bicycle. ‘On your bike’ is no longer a phrase of dismissal but says that the cyclist is keen on improving his health and happy to be away from the stress of another traffic jam. Cycling offers a sense of freedom and fun that are associated with younger years, and for that alone I am thankful.

I had not owned a bicycle since I was a teenager and buying one many years later was like taking a step back in time. Getting the right one took a while as the shop owner wanted to know what I wanted it for – casual cycling or something sportier. I tested a few and finally chose my steel horse and happily, if somewhat awkwardly, took it home. After a few days in the saddle, and more sore muscles that I care to mention, I headed off into town. It was the first time that I had done that journey since my schooldays and it was fun, and brought back memories that had lain dormant for years.

Thoughts of summer days cycling with friends to swim in Blackrock Baths were bright and vivid. As were our races when we made believe that we were competing in the Tour de France or pushing for an Olympic gold medal. Bikes were our pride and joy, and a vehicle for adventure and freedom that remains.

Moving along at a steady pace I was surprised to find myself taking in places that, up until then, I would usually drive past. Shops, lanes and houses with plaques commemorating a famous writer or politician, were now places of interest that I stopped and visited.

Ernest Shackleton's home

Ernest Shackleton’s home

I discovered that the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who almost became the first man to reach the South Pole, had lived for a time in a house in Ranelagh. Did he cycle these roads with a growing sense of freedom, I wondered, and hoped he had? And that the Donnybrook Fare, a festival that gives its name to riotous and unbridled behaviour, dated back to the reign of King John, in the twelfth century.

Being able to stop and park easily means that I am now able to pop into the second-hand bookshops that I had not previously visited. This has been a real treat and getting to know the staff adds to the whole experience. As such, I have been lucky enough to find good books that I would otherwise never have known existed. Cycling is not only good for the body but the mind, too and that can’t be bad.

I have found that cyclists often recognise one another with a nod of the head or a friendly grin, and they are quick to share news of a road closure or a handy shortcut.  And on a very windy autumn day, with dead leaves fluttering about, a fellow cyclist stopped and gave me a hand when I was fixing a puncture. It was a kind and much appreciated gesture that I have since done for other cyclists. ‘Hey, it happens to everyone sometime,’ he said as I shook his hand. ‘No problem,’ he added, before setting off without any fuss, like heroic rescuers are meant to.

In recent years with the introduction of cycle lanes, a more environmentally aware mind-set and people’s desire to improve their health, cycling is enjoying a golden period. Doctors recommend it and the concept of ‘Pedal Power’ has more to do with taking control of your body than just getting somewhere quickly. Up-down-up-down-up-down is now a mantra that many are familiar with and happy to keep saying.

And as a friend said to me a while ago cycling is now one of the few places that are digitally-free. With keeping an eye on surrounding traffic, pedestrians, road and weather conditions it is impossible, and downright dangerous, to pay attention to anything else. Hence, cycling has become, as my friend said, a GDF.

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘It’s a Gadget Free Zone.’

We laughed at that before he threw his leg over the crossbar and put the pedal down. ‘Right, I’m off,’ he added, cycling away.

‘Yeah, on your bike,’ I said, fixing my helmet and grinning at his witty and perceptive observation.

On your bike!

On your bike!

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Top of Dublin

I just found this video and thought it had to be shared. It’s taken by a guy who climbs, in daylight, to the top of one of the twin towers at the Poolbeg Power Station, Ringsend. Thankfully for him it was a good day to climb, and it’s the first time that I’ve seen such footage. Scary stuff, but magnificent panorama of the city! (Not for the faint-hearted.)

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Let’s Dance – A short story

Let's Dance

Let’s Dance

Five months and it still hurt, but not quite as much.

Jenny stepped from the shower and grabbed a towel. Last night was the first time that he hadn’t intruded on her dreams in weeks, but here he was again. Go away, she cried, and pulled the towel harder. He used to pop into her mind without warning, his presence a painful reminder of too many tears. She had to change her life, let go of the past, move on, and after a long conversation with Anna, an old school friend, she had packed a bag and driven to Baltimore.

The small west Cork town was quiet, a million miles away from the hurly-burly of life in Dublin, and working in Anna’s coffee shop was different, and it suited both women. Anna didn’t mention the break-up and Jenny didn’t want to talk about it. It was what Jenny needed, and soon one day became another, with the late spring sunshine promising better times to come.

*

Anna had a pot of tea on the table and slices of toast on a big plate. ‘Breakfast’s ready,’ she said out loud.

Jenny came down the stairs and, walking into the kitchen, took a deep breath. ‘Oh, that smells, lovely.’

Anna buttered her toast and reached for the marmalade. ‘Sleep well?’

Jenny stretched her arms high and yawned. ‘Hmmm, it was wonderful.’

Anna nodded, sipped her tea and turned the radio down. More bad news about the economy was not going to intrude. ‘I can see that.’

Jenny was looking over the edge of her cup. ‘Oh yeah.’

Anna put her cup down. ‘Definitely. To me you look like someone who has had a great weight lifted off their shoulders. Released, but I’m not sure if that is the right word. I’ll think of it later.’

The sharp trill of a trawler’s fog horn in the small harbour, about two hundred yards away, got their attention, momentarily.

Jenny smiled and held Anna’s gaze. ‘Thanks, that’s very kind of you.’

Anna held her hands up. ‘By the way, I’m not trying to pry, but you seem so much lighter today.’ She paused, picking up her cup and swirling it easily. ‘I felt I had to say it…that’s all.’ She took another sip.

In the six weeks since she arrived in Baltimore Jenny had said nothing about the break-up. She didn’t know what to expect when she arrived, but the change had certainly been good for her. Getting away from familiar, but painful, surroundings was what she needed, and the new, daily routine occupied her mind. She had made more cakes and apple tarts since she arrived than she could ever remember. They were popular, sold well, and Anna was delighted.

She had both hands wrapped around her cup, the heat making her fingertips tingle. ‘I appreciate what you’ve done for me, Anna, I really do. And yes, I do feel better today. I don’t know exactly what to put it down to, but being here has been very important. I won’t forget it.’

Anna nodded. ‘You’re welcome. I’m just happy to see you smile. It does so much for you.’

Jenny pursed her lips. ‘I know, Anna, I feel it too. For the first time in months I actually feel as though I have stepped through a doorway into a better place. A brighter place.’ She looked through the long window, out to the harbour that lay beneath a blue sky. She loved it and let the image itself burn itself into her mind. ‘Maybe we’ll talk tonight…over a bottle of wine.’

Anna smiled. ‘Good, and I’ll make dinner.’

‘Deal,’ Jenny said and they both laughed.

*

The day was fine; the sun bright and casting long shadows.

In the café a steady flow of customers kept the women busy. ‘I told you that those apple tarts were great, Jenny. I think that you should patent your recipe. You could make a fortune.’

‘There are three more in the freezer, if you need reinforcements.’ Jenny finished making another sandwich and passed it across to the customer. A cup of tea followed, and again the cash register popped open.

It was mid-afternoon when Anna leaned close to Jenny. ‘You may not have noticed but you’re getting some attention.’

Jenny turned, arms folded. ‘What are you talking about?’

Anna moved her head slightly, her eyes quickly taking in the man sitting at the window table. ‘That’s his second coffee. And he hasn’t taken his eyes off you since he sat down.’

Jenny felt her face flush, but she took a peek. He was reading a newspaper and his skin suggested Latin blood. His dark hair contrasted with a white shirt, and when he reached for a pen in his shirt pocket he looked up. Their eyes met, and he smiled.

Jenny felt her heart flutter. She was excited, but brought down to earth immediately when the doorbell rang and another customer walked to the counter. ‘A coffee and a slice of apple tart, please,’ she said reaching for her purse.

*

‘How long did you guys live together?’ Anna asked, pouring wine.

‘Two years six months….and three days. And I didn’t know that he was cheating until the very end. He said that he was working late, trying to climb the corporate ladder, and I believed him.’ Jenny shook her head at a memory and sipped her wine.

‘But..’

‘But he was climbing into his secretary’s bed. The bastard. He always came home, no matter how late, so as to keep me off guard. He was good, really bloody good. I didn’t see it coming Anna; it was such a surprise.’

Anna rested her elbows on the table. ‘I’m sorry for the poor bastard.’

‘What?’ Jenny snapped, a look of total surprise on her face.

Anna held up a hand. ‘I mean, any man who let you go is a poor bastard, because he doesn’t know what he’s missing. He’s a fool, that’s why.’

Jenny put her glass down and started to cry. Anna sat beside her and put an arm around her shoulder. ‘It’s his loss, darling. In the time you’ve been here I’ve seen you come from the darkness into the light. You’re like a beautiful butterfly.’

Jenny sobbed.

‘You deserve better, Jenny, much better. You have so much to give, so find someone who will appreciate you.’ She rubbed Jenny’s shoulder. ‘My mum used to say ‘Let go of what you can’t change, and be kind to yourself’. She knew what she was talking about.’

Moments later they sat arm in arm as Jenny dried her eyes. ‘Thanks, Anna, I needed that. You’re very good.’

‘I know, and that’s why I’m going to open another bottle.’

*

Two days later Anna and Jenny shut the café and walked down the quay to a Salsa Dancing class in the local school. It was the opening night and Anna was happy that Jenny had agreed to come. Since their late night talk Jenny felt much better, her mood reflecting the improving weather.

They joined the small queue, paid at the door and took in the chatter and growing buzz of excitement. There were about thirty people inside when the teacher turned off the music and introduced himself. He was Pablo, the man who had been in the café, and again he looked at Jenny, and smiled.

Anna playfully nudged her. ‘Best foot forward.’

Jenny didn’t take her eyes off Pablo. ‘I think it’s time to dance.’

‘Go girl,’ Anna said, taking a step back as the teacher purposefully made his way across the floor.

Dancing

 

 

 

 

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Cool Crime!

Cool piece in Crime Fiction Ireland about Marked Off – thank you very much!!

THE book

THE book

 

 

 

 

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Marked Off – Irish Examiner & Dublin Gazette Reviews

Two very good reviews of Marked Off – thank you very much! (Click image to enlarge)

 

Irish Examiner - 21 March 2015

Irish Examiner – 21 March 2015

 

Book Review in Dublin Gazette

Book Review in Dublin Gazette

 

 

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Marked Off – Book Reviews

Well it’s been a few weeks since the book launch (Hanna’s Bookshop) and it is really nice to have some good reviews. The first is from No More Workhorse, an online website dealing with the arts: Music, Theatre, Film and Books, and the second is from College Tribune (UCD College News).

Don

Book of the Month - I love it!

Book of the Month – I love it!

 

 

 

 

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