Black as sin

Back in the days of confession boxes and the ritual of relaying misdemeanours to a man in a dark box wearing a white collar, I must confess that I dumbed down the sins. I made minor adjustments so that the Reverend Father wouldn’t think I was a daughter of Satan.

If I stole my brother’s chocolate, as was the case almost always, I’d lay it on as ‘I was a bit mean to my brother Father’. If I was hopelessly envious of a classmate’s fancy pencils, I’d pass it off as ‘I was not as nice to a girl in my class as I should have been Father.’ If I cursed blind for whatever reason, I’d just keep shtum about it.

By the time I got into the business of real sins, I’d decided there was something creepy about confessionals and had stopped going for a face-to-face with a man of God who’d give me a few prayers to recite by way of penance. Confessions are generally held at off-peak hours, when churches are not in full flow, alive with the beat of prayers, sermons and ageing parishioners all trying to outdo the next in loud hymns. This only adds to the sobriety of the affair. Entering a quiet church, to then enter a dark and very quiet box has eerily funeral qualities to it. The few seconds during which you enter the confessional and sit waiting for the priest to open his side of the shutter can feel interminable. You never know what you’re going to get.

Fr. ‘Ah you’re grand, say two Hail Marys and be kind to your brother’, Fr. ‘You have sinned child and you know it, say twenty Our Fathers, ten Glory Bes, learn the Rosary in Latin and transcribe the Book of Deuteronomy before half ten mass next Sunday’. Maybe he’ll be an ancient priest who looks like he might have hung around with the apostles. This one will be hard of hearing and when you tell him you were mean to a friend, he’ll tell you that murder is a bad sin and not to do it again. When you tell him you were not kind to your Mother, he will advise that embezzlement is a sin in the eyes of God and you should reflect on that before turning yourself in to authorities. Then there are the sound priests, the ‘Howaya getting on there, were you at the match on Sunday? Good wasn’t it? Great for the club. What can I do for you? Sure you’re not a sinner. Go on home with ya and don’t let me see you in here again.They are in the minority, as are all priests these days, but they do exist.

Yet, even the sound ones don’t enamour me to the process of spilling your sins to a man behind a chickenwire screen in what resembles a dark wooden portaloo. I have, by now, accumulated a wealth of sins, many of which I wouldn’t share with most friends, nor family. I certainly wouldn’t sully the mind of a man of the cloth with such extremities. Sure, God might forgive me for the best part of them, but it’s the best parts of them that I don’t want forgiveness for. It’s the best parts that I most enjoyed and regret in equal measure. It took great effort to sin, and to sin consistently and to sin consistently well. Gloating in my sinfulness, is further evidence of the blackness of my soul. But black is never out of vogue, and sin is oldest pastime we have. Some people call Joe Duffy to confess, some write to Dear Linda, others splash salaries on shrinks. I’m sure some people still believe that the priest in the black box can purge the residue of a life well lived. That he’s somehow purer. Less tainted.

We are all equal. We all err. Fr. What’shisname and Joe and Linda, yourself and myself have done right and wrong and everything in between. And we will continue to do so for the rest of humanity. We float on an ocean of sin, we drink it, we eat it, we are it. Darkness doesn’t show us the way, light does. And that is within us.

Flash Landing

The tree went up and I went down.

It was looking handsome, freshly decorated and plump with the weight of tinsel. Fibre optic Santa was winking at me from his abode by the fireplace. The room was almost done, all left to do was to wash the floor and then Christmas could officially commence. I busied back into the room with the mop when up into the air I lifted, flip flops taking flight with the encouragement of the Flash I’d forgotten I had poured. Four foot into the air were my legs before all umpteen stones of me landed in a mess on the floor to the tune of Christmas FM. Bing Crosby to be exact.

I was raging nobody had been there to see it, because it was probably the best fall of my life. The time I fell up the stairs in school and earned myself fifteen stitches was a good one and the time I fell on the road outside Trinity and bounced across to the Dame St footpath was equally unique. My fall at the Cliffs of Moher, thankfully not fatal, earned me a prize on a school tour for  ‘best fall of the tour’. (Yes, there really was a prize, but having to walk around Ennis that day, covered head to toe in muck was deserving of some recognition, I think). However, this recent manoeuvre has been my most acrobatic to date. Easily the most creative too – I didn’t control any part of the movement, sure I hadn’t realised I had slipped until I was soaring up towards the velour angel at the top of the tree. And with the agility of Rob Kearney but the weight of Tadgh Furlong, I smashed to the tiles laughing all the way (HO HO HO). What else could I do but lie in the pool of lavender scented Flash and laugh till my sides hurt, in addition to the new pain in my wrist and lower back, left ankle and right shoulder! Tis the season.

Bing sang out and made way for Mariah Carey who provided the backing tune to my rise from the doldrums. I creaked and groaned, slipped some more in the Flash that my jeans hadn’t managed to soak up, and pulled myself up with the aid of an armchair. I could have sworn the Angel on the tree was chuckling to herself.

Or maybe it was just that the house was still ricochetting from the tremors.

bokeh shot of white and gold ceramic angel
Photo by Pixabay on


Sicilian Heaven

Land in Palermo expecting to arrive somewhere divine on a scale of its Italian cousins  Roma or Venezia and you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s grim in places and definitely filled with the hum of shady folk having shady conversations in shaded places. The steps of the Opera House, made iconic from that bloody scene in The Godfather 3, might remind you that seriously well-organised organised criminals are born and bred around these parts. They did me. I didn’t stop for selfies, just shuffled on minding my bag every few steps and trying not to make contact with black eyed waiters calling for me to dine in their restaurants, unsmiling as they did so. Cursing me when my feet declined and led me on down Via Vittorio Emanuele past their small establishments with the obligatory arrangement of cheap plastic chairs outside. They don’t flirt, and are very unlike their Roman compatriots in their attempts. There’s no wild gesticulation while they pore over you with Signora this, Signora that and ma quanto si bella! It’s just a case of severe eyeballing, an abrupt hand gesture to summon my ass on a plastic chair and the subsequent scorn when I decline the (easy to decline) offer. Bienvenuti a Palermo! 

If you’re a depressive sort altogether, you’ll do as I did, and book a wonderful baroque villa that is unfortunately situated on the very outskirts of the city, pretty much beyond the realms of  human contact. It’s located in an area that offers nothing at all for tourists. There’s a mechanic across the road and a butcher, who surprisingly served the chap I was with, the “greatest Italian dish” he’d every eaten. It was a cooked meat mix, full of gelatinous pork bits, that turned me off as soon as I saw it, but still has the guy talking about it to this very day. (And yes, he bought a cooked food dish in a butchers!) As villas go, it was beautiful, although the gardens were very unkempt, but Villa Bonocore Malleto served great wine and as I’m Irish, that made up for weeds and went some way towards making up for the long taxi distance from the city centre. It’s a quiet spot, with 15 rooms and a lovely private pool, but as I mentioned, it is miles away from civility.

So, Palermo didn’t have a wow factor and my lovely abode was in the wrong place – could there have been a redeeming factor? Well apart from my hiring a cute little FIAT Panda to take all 6 ft 8 of my companion across the island to visit Corleone, which was a fun journey in itself – Sicilian road signs on the rural backroads being vague and infrequent, to say the least. The meal on our last evening was like a lottery win. We happened upon a stunning restaurant near the heart of Palermo on the return from Corleone. Within minutes of our arrival the place had packed to capacity. It literally filled up all at once. Turns out it’s a favourite of students and staff at the local university. The crowd were young with the odd middle-aged ‘oldie’ among them. The banter rose into the Palermo night as we all ate the most delicious plates of fish and veal and every type of pasta. It was truly wonderful. 

And then the pièce de résistance…The next day, on our way to the airport before  returning the car, we took a trip to the seaside town of Mondello. I loved it! It’s everything you’d expect from a seaside resort but has something special about it. The water is a myriad of blues, the beach is very pretty, the horseshoe bay is idyllic. It’s unsurprising that Goethe wrote so fondly about the place. Again, another amazing fish meal was had, by way of our last (supper) lunch, and I regretted not having stayed there for the trip. It’s a place I will return to, to laze on her white sands and dip in her azure sea. There’s a lot to be said for saving the best till last. mondellofish grainnedaly.comvillabonocoremaletto