Gráinne Daly

Reflections of a Redhead

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.

The tree went up and I went down.

It was looking handsome, freshly decorated and 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 I’d caused.

bokeh shot of white and gold ceramic angel

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Or maybe it was just that the house was still ricochetting from the tremors I’d caused.

Well my dears, if you are a vegetarian, don’t go to Nobu Park Lane and expect to find oodles of options for your hungry mouth. I was offered the choice of a tofu dish, or a tofu dish. I went for the tofu. The portion size really helped my diet, I left the place starving. I actually had to stop at the tiny filling station (aptly named!) beside the really expensive car showroom by the Dorchester to grab a pack of Starbursts to stave the hunger.

I was on a date and didn’t want to look like a pig suggesting to go for food directly after being in a restaurant, but casually chewing on a few sweets did the trick. Dessert, I’d said, waving the pack his direction. Thankfully he declined, so I had the entire pack to gorge on for the rest of the night.

The menu in Nobu had been divine, and were it a case that I was still a fish eater, I would have been in my element. It had an incredibly exciting fish offering, although the portions are on the teeny side. I saw a couple put on their glasses when their mains arrived. No doubt they were looking to find where their teaspoon sized serving was on their plates. My chap enjoyed his rare fish thingamajig and it looked sensational. A sliver of white fish in a black ink jus with a broccoli head for garnish. The cocktail menu was just as interesting, and I guess it went some way to making up for ‘tofu or not tofu’.

I’m not a picky, freaky, attention seeking type vegetarian. I detest people who are deliberately awkward when it comes to food. My mantra is eat or don’t eat, but don’t annoy the rest of us about your dietary habits. But a choice of two dishes in a chic restaurant is a little restrictive, don’t you think?

In any case, the Starbursts did the trick and filled me up until the 4a.m room service call for ice-cream, which turned out to have been the best call of the night. The simple things in life are always the best.

food fruits eat dessert

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It’s 19:25 and you’re meeting at guy at 20:00 in a pub that’ll take no more than 15 mins to get to. Picture the scene – a bit of tan on the legs, the face is painted, hair is straightened (or curly, whatever floats your boat), outfit is picked and most likely on and you’re brushing your teeth for the final time. This will be followed by another check of the eyeliner, to make sure it’s as symmetrical as it can be (though it’s never 100%).

The clock strikes half past and you check your phone for the fifth time to make sure you’ve booked the cab for 19:45. You have. Deep sigh of relief. Are the shoes comfortable enough? Would the black wedges be better? A quick try of the black wedges and you are happy to revert to the original choice. You look in the mirror and try talk the nerves out of yourself. It’s all going to be fine, sure you know the guy and won’t it only be chats over a few drinks? Keep calm (although inside you are sick with nerves – as is always the case with dates). It’s 19:40, your phone beeps and you thank God for taxi drivers who appreciate punctuality.

Except it isn’t from your cab driver. It’s from your date. He’s running late. Very late. Wait for it… He’s playing a round of golf…. in Wicklow! You’re in Dublin knowing that his “I should be there in an hour” counts for nothing if he’s not even finished his round yet. You cancel your cab. Another text from ‘Tiger Woods’, he’s finishing up a round, could you make it for 21:30 instead? 21:45 to be on the safe side, quickly follows it.

At this point, there is a need to declare that if you are a sports fan who has played sports and been a fan all your life you will appreciate the next bit. Let’s say you’ve been lucky to have watched games and events in some of the most iconic grounds in the world, including the dearly beloved Croke Park. And let’s suppose you were only in Croke Park the weekend before, as it happens, to watch Dublin play a league game against Kerry. The game kicked off at 19:00 and was played under floodlights. The sky above the capital was black. At 19:00 in Ireland in February, it always is. Date night is no exception.

So date guy is playing golf in the dark at Druid’s Glen? What a super star! Not even Tiger could manage that. You turn off your phone and call him a prick several times. Pyjamas and a bottle of wine are a worthy substitute.

Until next time… A few months later, you’ve cooled down and decided to take him up on another offer of a date. A different bar is suggested at a different time. Sure what’s the worst that could happen? This time you don’t put as much effort in, and sure why would you? A dusting of make-up, jeans, nice shoes and a top will do. Cab is booked for 20:15. You text him at 20:00 to make sure he’s on track. He replies that he’s really sorry but he’s under a duvet with a cold, watching a match and won’t make it. He hopes you’ll understand.

So you’ll accept that there was no subsequent date set.

Until, a year and a half later, when he suggests meeting up. You’re down the country  on a writer’s retreat and his home place is near where you’re staying. A time and a place is arranged. You joke over texts about the previous failures to meet up. You are cool as a breeze but looking forward to it. You don’t put any effort at all in, what you have on will do. Nice shoes are thrown on, but that’s about as far as the ‘renovations’ go.

He texts you to see if you’re still ok with the time. Yes, you reply. He texts you to say he’s looking forward to catching up. You are too, you say. It’s an hour before meeting time, and your phone beeps. My club is playing a hurling match and if I go I’ll get my game, can we push the time to 22:30 (from 19:00)? What a bloody joker!.

There have been no further stand ups.

man person red white

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I can’t wait to hear absolutely no wedding bells in the New Year. I am at the age where most friends and family have made their hikes up the aisle. I’ve endured the endless wedding preambles, the inordinate expense of charades from Hens to End, the awkwardness of being a single pringle at too many days out and the general pain in the arse that are weddings. With the exception of a small few, they are homogenous and vanilla.

There have only been three, in my entire life, that I have thoroughly enjoyed. One of those was part due to the fact that it was held under a blazing Italian sun surrounded by a mixed crowed of Irish and Italian guests. The setting and crowd were a brilliant mix. They couple flew a group of Irish dancers over for the after dinner entertainment which really got the crowd going. From start to finish including the serenada party a few nights beforehand, and a next-day get together, it was a really good event. It had a very Irish feel in a very Italian setting with great food, drink and style high in the Abruzzi. It would take an epic wedding to contend with it for my #1 wedding of all time. And sure how about the fact that the Italian groom’s name was actually Paddy? I kid you not.

The close second was one held in an old lodge (not an orange one) in the centre of an estate just outside Belfast. Again, there were céilí sets, a pig on a spit, lots of good mixing and mingling outdoors with the verdant backdrop of the estate giving a most unique feel to the day. There was no usual hotel claustrophobia nor the awkwardness that goes with being placed at a ‘single-table’ of outcasts that the bride and groom feel you belong to.  A pal’s wedding in Kilkenny set the tone for relaxed fun and very enjoyable day all down to the approach of the bride and groom who just wanted themselves and  their guests to have ‘the craic’ for the day. That we did. It was a fine day out in Langton’s. Really top wedding.

These were all events where the couples in question made a concerted effort to let people mix and enjoy themselves. They weren’t designed as showpieces but yet they were stand-out brilliant in what they achieved. Don’t get me wrong, all the others have had high-points, from beautiful beaming brides to succulent ‘Beef or Salmon’. There have been elegant looking invitations and swish hotels. Mothers of brides have scrubbed up well and complimentary bubbly on arrival has gone down well. Happy couples have looked happy and it was an honour, in a way, to play a part in what was the greatest pantomime of their lives. From dancing to the Saw Doctors overlooking Clew Bay at a wedding in Mulranny to having the finest wedding meals Ireland has to offer at Cabra Castle in Kingscourt, there has been some element of enjoyability to them. The format is all a bit samey though, don’t you think?

And they were before this new era in which couples think it’s ok to invite just one person to the event. It’s the most common of courtesy to give people an invite ‘with guest’ rather than try scrimp on a place at the wedding by giving singles, separated and widows an ‘admits one’ ticket. In fact, it makes my blood boil. It shouldn’t be done for any party, so why decide to make weddings even more awkward for people by insisting they come alone? Let them choose whether to bring a friend or not, or don’t bother inflicting your Big Day on them. The courtesy of choice is all that should be given. Although I have not taken up on the ‘with guest’ option on a number of occasions, the invites that were to me only, are unforgettable for the wrong reasons.

So with 2019 looming, I have decided in advance that there will be no more wedding pain endured. There are two people whose weddings I would happily be part of, but neither are about to get married, never mind engaged any time soon. They’re far too happy in their respective love lives for that sort of carry on, and hear hear to that I say.  It’s their sort of uncomplicated, no need for conventionality of aisle-walking type of love that I celebrate and admire.

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 grainnedaly.com

 

Dear UK,

Why are you forsaking us? To turn your back once in a lifetime is hard, but twice?

It almost brings a tear to my eye when I think of your latest door slam in the face of your friendly neighbours. But I guess you know best. You always do. Superpowers that you are. Team GB and the Imperial intelligentsia, unafraid of what the others think. Great Farage and Rees-Mogg and Johnson who will go down in the annals for standing up for what you believe is right. Alt Right. Protect the Union chaps, protect the Crown! Save English jobs! Out with immigrants, especially those from lands you occupied. Pakistan, a country you manufactured, get the Pakistanis out! Then India. Oh but wait, they’re non-EU, but nonetheless Dear Lords, get them out anyway. Then the Poles. They are taking up your minimum wage jobs that ordinary decent Britons don’t want. Out damned Poles!

Your suggestion of a Hard Border is hard to take, bordering on the incredible. Do you want your men to man ugly stations across the length of the six counties once more? Do you want your men to taunt our men and push your weapons in our faces? Have you ever had an assault rifle shoved in the widow of a car at you at a Fermanagh border checkpoint while being a three year old girl? I suppose not. I can tell you it’s not as nice eating the Milky Bar I was having just minutes before we arrived at the crossing. Still though, I imagine that with your mindset, three year old girls pose a massive threat to the state of your Union. In fact, should you not just do away with all three year old girls? With all girls perhaps? More Great British ethnic cleansing for everyone in the audience. Jolly good chaps. Bravo.

Dear UK, you have lost the plot. How about just calling it Britain? You are etching away the ‘Great’.

Signed,

Milky Bar Girl

Tuesday was my annual big night out. Clocks struck six and writers, editors, publishers, bloggers, readers and what have you came out from behind their desks, left the red pens behind and donned some glamorous attire to ascend on the Irish writing industry awards event of the year. As ever, everyone was dolled up to the nines and looked fantastic. From the verges of the red carpet, to the welcome of trays of bubbly by the bar, the place was buzzing from early on. It was Hollywood in Dublin 4.

My friend and long time supporter of the Book Awards, Patricia Gibney was nominated in the Ryan Tubridy Listener’s Choice Category, so it added to the overall hype of the night for my group of pals. Patricia’s Lottie Parker crime series has entertained so many readers since its launch two years ago. She’s a prolific writer who completes a number of novels PER YEAR, and also happens to be a genuinely wonderful person so seeing her take her rightful place among the nominees was fantastic. To me, as with so many of her readers, she is a winner every day.

Another book I was thrilled to see among the shortlisted nominees in the Sports Category was The Hurlers by Paul Rouse. As sports books go, this is exceptional. It’s a vibrant mix of Irish social and cultural history, in addition to its sporting theme. The choice of language, the rich anecdotes shared throughout and the sheer volume of information presented by the author gives us much more than just the history of the first All Ireland Hurling Final. It is a reenactment of sorts. I finished it and thought I had been in Birr at the game, or at the very least, had watched Up for the Match in advance of it. Again, as with Patricia, the author is a hugely likeable person, and one who apparently never stops working.

Except for Tuesday of course, they both set their pens aside, and like the rest of us, buzzed and mingled among the happy crowd that filled the banquet hall on the evening. Wine and conversation flowed. Dozens of turkeys and hams were devoured. It is always the perfect prelude to Christmas, and Tuesday was no exception. With Christmas trees by the bar, our seasonal menu and everyone looking très swanky, we were the epitome of festive. When the awards drew to a close, we gravitated towards the bar and chatted to everyone and anyone who was near to us. Wine became gin became Guinness. Spirits went higher. Revellers mingled over cigarette smoke outside the door. Fans selfied their way through many pixels with their favourite authors. The Happy Pear smiled and smiled. Do the Happy Pear ever stop smiling? Did anyone on the night?

By 4a.m, some of us were perhaps somewhat less giggly, but I seem to have misplaced my memory at some point after midnight, so all I have to go on are photos on a pal’s phone of the pair of us doing baby Guinness way into the small hours. God bless photographic memories like those – the filler in of blanks! I was still smiling, and still am today. I can’t wait for next years instalment.

Some things in life are so beautiful you never want them to end. Slow sex with the man of your dreams, sharing happy Christmas mornings with your family, a delicious meal under the Italian sun. The Italian dining experience is one that needs no further writing. The world does not need one more sentence documenting the merits of a succulent veal escalope washed down with caraffes of local wine in a tiny restaurant in Positano or Padua. It doesn’t need one more word about how the fat tomatoes taste like sunshine and make for the most honest arrabiata sauce ever tasted, or how the local wine in Lecce tasted of honey and heaven when you tried it with antipasti di mare in a coastal ristorante.

But what I am going to inkify are the details of a visit to an ice cream parlour in the Vale di Comino, Frosinone. I promise not to rave on about the gelato. In fact, I’ll just mention it once, I had a cherry ice cream. There, it’s out of the way, so I can tell you about the evening in Gelateria Persichini.

It was after seven on a hot July evening when we arrived. The huge car park outside was packed and the crickets had commenced their evening chorus. The lights of the villages high up in the mountains twinkled in the evening heat. Fireworks sparked off from the direction of Brocostella or whichever village was holding its festa. My friend spoke to one of the waiters, who looked around at all the full tables, muttering ‘aspetta’. Then, as if by miracle, three people arose from a table on the front terrace and went inside to settle their bill. The waiter led the three of us in the direction of the vacated table.

He left us with some enormous laminated menus and busied off to a nearby group. The customers reminded him that they had been waiting over an hour for their order. He apologized and again uttered ‘aspetta’ as he disappeared inside. Dario already knew what he wanted, he never deviated from his Copa Fragola when he comes back to visit Italy. Lara decided on a pistachio affair that sounded ambitious, even by Italian standards. I already mentioned what I ordered, and do apologise for mentioning ice cream a further twice, but when in Rome a gelateria…

Twenty minutes passed, and we had discussed our sunburn, the day by the pool in San Donato and how early we’d need to get up in the morning to miss traffic on our way to the beach at Sperlonga. The family at the next nearby table were still ice creamless. We hadn’t yet ordered. A look around at the other tables showed that only a few had been served their dishes. Most tables were empty. Most eyes were on the door, desperate for the return of the waiter, or anyone in gelateria officialdom who could preside over the delivery of their preferred dish.

Dario took a call from pals up in Casalattico. Would he be up soon? They were at the bar, the Macaris and Apriles had arrived back from Dublin today and they were all out. By the sounds of the call, the bar was where all the fun was at. We’ll be up soon was the gist of Dario’s response. And so another twenty minutes passed. ‘Aspetta’ came to take our order. We talked on about the beach, about going to Rome on Saturday, about taking a trip to Ischia next week. The nearby family finally got their order. And another table too, near the plants by the front.

Lara had been to Ischia before on a school trip. She recommended we stay in an agriturismo because hotel rates would be insane this time of year. Unless the three of us wanted to share a room, she suggested, to which Dario had a minor fit.

-Noi tre! Insieme? Va *******! It’s not happening. What if I meet a woman? Where do I bring her, back to my room with the two of you? No, no, no.

-Da, you reckon you’re going to meet a woman there? When was the last time you met a woman you liked in Italy? Lara said.

-I want to keep my options open, he replied.

-Va bene, she said. But you know the answer!

-Si. A long time, per o, I am feeling lucky this summer, he said, and swiped across his phone screen again to check the time. Madonna, they are slow tonight.

We googled an agriturismo on Ischia and found one with two nights availability next week so booked it. An hour had passed. We hadn’t smelled an ice cream.

A man at a table next to us finished his box of cigarettes and cursed that he had no more with him. I got a text from Ireland that took three texts to answer. A further fifteen minutes were spent. I no longer wanted ice cream, I craved wine. Or vodka. Or anything with a respectable alcohol content. But still we persevered.

One hour and fifty nine minutes after we sat down, the waiter arrived at our table with our order.  Two sundae glasses were laid in front of Dario and me, and Lara was given a dish that resembled a miniature canoe. Alas, I will keep my promise of not overbearing on the gelato. Suffice to say, we devoured the contents in ecstatic silence. Some things in life are worth the wait.