Chainies

Chainies

My mother grew up in Dublin city.  Along with the many street games they played as kids they used to collect chainies.  These were pretty pieces of broken ceramics and pottery.  They were collected and traded by the children like a form of currency.

Ceramics are an amazing paradox because they are at one time one of the most fragile and one of the most enduring elements of human civilization.  Ceramics are man made.  They are almost an integral part of human civilization, occuring all round the world from Ancient Japan in the East to Mesoamerica in the West.  The earliest pottery dates from 30,000 BC.

Pottery developed independently in different human civilizations.  In Asia, Europe, Africa and in the Americas.  I don’t want to write a history of ceramics, but I do want to say that ceramics are integral to archaeology because of the fragile/durable paradox.

Fired clay ceramics can create beautiful vessels.  These vessels are delicate and fragile.  If you drop a bowl, a cup or a vase it will shatter and the vessel is lost.  But the chainies, the smashed pieces of ceramic are not.  They are pretty much indestructable.  Because they are durable they hang around.  They do not rot or crumble.  They don’t wash away or burn up.  They don’t rust or oxidise.  Those little broken shards endure.

And because they don’t go away they are brilliant markers.  If you can read the code of the chainies you can rapidly understand much about a culture.  You can assess the age of the civilization that created the pottery.   You can tell much about that civilization.  Is the pottery made with utility in mind or is it artistic.  Is it plain or glazed?  Earthenware, stoneware, porcelain or bone china?  Is it coloured, decorated?  How?  Are the images scratched into the clay, painted into the glaze or painted and glazed with a slip?  The pottery tells you a tale of the people.

So what do the chainies tell you of the little girls in Dublin who collected them?  At once you have a highly sophisticated society which can produce stunningly beautiful ceramics, and at the same time you have kids who collect stashes of smashed cups and saucers.

Do rich kids collect chainies?

 

 

Maura’s Maybe Birthday

My mothers birthday is shrouded in mystery.  The selection of her birth date is a bit along the lines of what the Christians did when selecting year 1 AD.  It is the first year in which they could categorically say that Jesus was alive.

So 13th October is officially Maura’s birthday, but unlikely to have been her birth date.

It is poignant in being the day before Paddy’s anniversary.  Maura was born in 1927.  Paddy was also born in August of the same year, and passed away Oct 14th 2006.  Maura hung on in there until Christmas Eve 2016.

Below are a few random snaps from the files of Maura & Paddy

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Some Christmas Party with Angela & Paddy O’Flaherty

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Maura holding Jerry while Paddy contemplates how anyone ever chose that carpet

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Maura having a laugh with Esha

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Paddy at one of the kids birthday parties.

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Maura with Gavin decked out in the Christening Robes

 

Living with Dementia

100-Year-Old-Man-Who-Climbed-Out-A-Window-Robert-Gustaffson-skinheads

100 year old man who climbed out a window and disappeared

For anyone who has been through the rounds of dementia or alzheimer’s with a parent the poem by Louise Cole below will strike a chord.

The internet is full of warm cuddly fluff such as “Do Not Ask Me To Remember” by Owen Darnell.  That may help us feel all compassionate for five minutes, until you get a bang on your arm from your mammy’s crutch.

There are moments of comedy and pathos in those visits but they are few and far between.  For the most part you are faced with a parent who is a shadow of the person they used to be.  This is all the more cruel because parents are larger in our lives than other mere mortal adults.

You see them deteriorate both physically and mentally.  The first day you realise they don’t know who you are is a hard one.  My mother was a brilliant actress so she fooled many of the family for years that she knew who they were, but the signs are there if you really want to see them.  Imagine the confusion if you woke up and recognised nobody in your life?  However hard it is for you it is ten times harder on them.

If they remember your kids they remember how they were ten years ago as 7 year olds.  This hulking great 17 year old teenager is a total stranger, and very scary.

You see the weight fall off them until they look like skeletons covered in parchment.  They look small and frail and weak, and we want our parents to loom large and strong for us, to be the foundations for our lives, pillars of strength and wisdom.

The days when you arrive at a nursing home to find your mother sitting in her own shit, because the “cleaning crew” have not gotten around yet, those are hard days.  Because today you know you are here, but tomorrow you will be in work when she is sitting in her shit and piss.

Dress your parents well, in good clothes.  Buy new clothes.  Make sure their hair is styled, the men are shaved regularly, their fingernails are manicured.   This may seem a pointless extravagance if they spend all their day in a nursing home.  But know this; well dressed people are treated better than dirty, unkempt or untidy people.  People speak to them more politely, treat them with more respect, and are more likely to shake their hand, give them a hug or do them a small favour.  All those little moments add up.

People who care for the old are heroes.  Anyone can care for babies because they are so cute.  But changing the nappy on a crabby old man who is trying to bash you on the head, that takes the soul of an angel.  Go out of your way to honour the staff who care for your parents, they deserve every ounce of your respect.

As an aside:  the phrase “Fur Coat and No Knickers” is a common Irish phrase used to describe people who are all flash with no substance.  The kind of person who spends money on a fancy car in the driveway to impress the neighbours, instead of fixing the heating boiler and buying new shoes for the children.

 

Fur Coat and No Knickers; by Louise G. Cole

Drawing breath between tales of dead
little brothers and elderly neighbours
moved away, my mother looks inside
a lifetime that’s 92 and counting,
claims no-one’s visited for months,
thinks I’m her cousin Betty
with designs on her fur coat and hopes
of borrowing a fiver.

I try not to mind the care home smell
and wonder what else to talk about when
the devil himself taps my shoulder
suggests I unburden, reveal secrets
never before shared, so I offer a revelation:
I lost my virginity four times
before I was married. She’s never yet listened to me
so it is no surprise she doesn’t hear,
continues with a rattle about imagined walks
in the park yesterday, shopping
trips she’ll make next week.

A carer comes to tuck her in,
brings weak tea and egg sandwiches,
asks if I’d like some,
is relieved when I decline.
I get up to leave and the frail old cripple
who used to be my mother
spills her tea and demands
to know when cousin Betty intends returning
the fur coat, says quietly: ‘I always knew
what a little whore you were’.

 

 

Happy Birthday Paddy Clancy

Paddy

My dad passed away in October 2006.  That is significant because it predated the smartphone.  In those days cameras on phones were a new and expensive add on.  As a result most of the photos of Paddy are old style paper photographs, and there are not many digital ones.  I never got around to scanning all my old paper photos, but I managed to find this one in my archives.

Paddy and Maura were preparing for a trip.  It may have been the holiday they took in Dubrovnik.  I know this because my dad was doing up his cabin bag when I took the photo.  Paddy was the ultimate boy-scout, being prepared for every eventuality.  It was a product of his upbringing in a military household.  On camping holidays when anything broke Paddy had a spare in his “magic box”.  His in-flight bag was a treasure trove of travel “must-haves”.

My parents grew up during WW2, or “the emergency” as it was called in Ireland.  Born in 1927 they were 12 when the war began.  Ireland suffered a similar rationing regime to Great Britain, which meant frugality and food discipline was central to their lives from age 12 to around age 20 when rationing eventually tailed off.  They never lost their discipline in relation to waste.

Here is a story that illustrates their mindset.  When they were newly married my father bought a good coat for his wedding.  It was a fine heavy wool tweed coat.  Good Donegal tweed is tough stuff and lasts many years.

Over time the coat began to wear and my mother had to turn the cuffs and put in some repairs.  Eventually Paddy said it looked too shabby to wear.

Maura agreed, so she took the coat apart, panel by panel, and reversed the material and made up the coat again.  She put in new lining and the whole garment looked brand new.

When you turn the fabric it looks fine for a while, but it is worn thin and within a short few years the coat looked beat again.  Paddy said “Maura, this coat is finished, I need to buy a new one.”  Maura looked it over and sadly agreed.  “Yes” she said, “it’s finished, you can’t wear that any more…….I’ll cut it down to make clothes for the children”.

Were he still with us Paddy would be 90 today.  My dad shares his birthday with William Ernest Henley (b. 1849), the Victorian poet made famous all over again by Nelson Mandela.  Mandela would read “Invictus” to his cellmates in their darkest days.  He gave the poem to the South African Rugby Union team in 1995 to spur them on to win the Rugby World Cup for the new South African Nation.  Clint Eastwood directed Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the Springboks captain, and Morgan Freeman as Mandela in the 2009 movie centred on that poem.  Here is another from Henley more along the theme of “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”.

Oh gather me the rose; by William Ernest Henley

O gather me the rose, the rose,
while yet in flower we find it,
for summer smiles, but summer goes,
and winter waits behind it.

For with the dream foregone, foregone,
the deed foreborn forever,
the worm Regret will canker on,
and time will turn him never.

So were it well to love, my love,
and cheat of any laughter
the fate beneath us, and above,
the dark before and after.

The myrtle and the rose, the rose,
the sunshine and the swallow,
the dream that comes, the wish that goes
the memories that follow!

De Ma

Skerries

A short few lines about de Ma, because yesterday was the first Mother’s day in my life without a mother.  The photograph above says it all really.  She was always hovering in the background of my life even when she was not in a leading role.  A constant presence. Mothers are a bit like the Fates.  They weave the threads of your destiny, for good or ill, and they are as subtle about it as an anvil in a sight gag from an old slapstick comedy.

In the modern business world you will hear a lot of guff spoken about “Corporate Values” which reflect the “DNA of the Company”.  Values are things that people have.  Not corporations.  If there are values in a corporation they are the values of the senior managers in that corporation.  If those managers recruit staff with similar values this can make it seem like the company has a set of coherent values.

The truth is values are fed to you by your mother with every bite of bread, every spoonful of oatmeal and every sip of juice.  She spreads values on you with sunscreen and antiseptic.  She dabs them on with drops of iodine on scratched knees.  She interviews you about your friends, then she interviews your friends, and their parents too.  She ingrains you with attitudes to the most basic things in life, such as hard work, sick leave, ownership, permission, self-respect, equality, charity, religion, education, racism, xenophobia, curiosity, danger etc etc.

If you are in a company and they decide to “introduce a set of corporate values” ask them how long they plan to take over this exercise.  1 Year?  5 Years?  How many of your personal values were nailed down by the age of 5?  And that was with 100% devotion from your mother.  How can a company even hope to put a scratch on the values embedded in staff by their mothers for over 20 years?  Or 30 years?  Or 40 years?  Because let me tell you, Mother does not stop just because you got married and bought your own house.

De Ma can be a right interfering oul’ witch, sticking her nose into everything, still trying to run your life long after she has any right to do so.  Until she passes away and leaves a great big gaping hole where all that interference used to be, and you realize how much you miss it.

 

In Memory of My Mother; by Patrick Kavanagh

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday –
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life –
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us – eternally.

Two Memories of my Mother

It was around 1980 or 1981 that my mother changed her life.  Having raised seven children she was seeing light at the end of the tunnel from the constant routines of motherhood.  I was studying for my leaving certificate and the youngest in our family, Cormac, was studying for his inter cert.

Maura had worked all her life.  Up to this point mostly teaching dressmaking in evening classes.  From time to time pitching for sewing contracts.  I recall one memorable commission to repair state flags.  For weeks we had these enormous official banners occupying every inch of floor space in the house as my mother and a coterie of recruits gave them a makeover.

The 1980’s saw her embark on an entirely new career.  She always had an  interest in drama from her teen years and at one time entertained ambitions to tread the boards herself, unrealized due to marriage and the wonders of Catholic family planning.  She studied for her ALCM and LLCM, earning herself a diploma in Speech and Drama.  She went on to become a teacher of both children and adults.

My particular memory is of my mother practicing her recited poetry pieces.  Cormac and I would come home from school at lunchtime, expecting dinner on the table, to find Maura immersed in recitation.  Panic would ensue and her specialty was the ability to create a hot meal out of thin air in an instant.  We never starved for food, and certainly not for culture.  These two poems in particular are engrained on my soul.

-o0o-

Sonnet XVIII ; by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

-o0o-

Stony grey soil:  by Patrick Kavanagh

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick tongued mumble.

You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life conquering plough!
The mandril stained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.

You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of cowards’ brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food

You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!

Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I stilll stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisoned pen.

His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.

Mullahinsa, Drummeril, Black Shanco-
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me.

 

Maura Clancy R.I.P.

maurame

My mother passed away quietly today attended by four of her seven children.  She joins her husband Paddy who passed away ten years ago, much to her annoyance.  She felt that she should have gone first.

She was 89 years old in October and lived what can only be called a full life.  She leaves behind on the planet seven children, 20 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren so far.

A lot will be said about Maura by others in the days and weeks to come.  I want to take this opportunity to share some words from Maura directly.  Back in 1998 when I was researching my masters degree I was developing an interview system and used members of my family for practice until I had it road tested for full roll out.  Sometimes the stream of speech may seem a little random and disjointed, but these are real words as spoken.  People often do not speak in a linear manner so there are some strange seeming jumps from topic to topic.

I asked Maura a question about how she behaves in an environmental manner and she replied as follows:

What do I do?   Well, I suppose my big thing is I don’t waste…..since I learned about compost I….you know I don’t waste vegetables.  I try to return to the earth what it, em, what belongs to it.  I have a guilt complex about plastic bags.  I don’t know what to do about it, they’re just dished out everywhere.  I really think if we were all made to pay for the plastic bags, or if we were made to bring our own baskets it would save an awful lot of pollution.  We have this thing [green box recycling pickup] where they come once a week and there’s things that go into it.  But if there are any old  clothes there is a woman up the road now that will take anything; old bags, old clothes, and they are ground down into making mats for somebody out in the missions in Africa.  So that’s another thing I’m hoping to do.  But I suppose, the environment, I em, I hope I haven’t done anything consciously to destroy it.  But then of course maybe I have.  Maybe we should all be looking at washing powders going into the water…..

Maura got her wish on the Plastic Bag issue when the Irish Government introduced a levy on plastic bags in 2002.  Now we all bring our shopping bags or baskets to the shops as she wanted.

Later I asked a question about the things that define people and this is Maura’s answer:

Cycling I suppose.  I started off thinking I’d love to act because I was interested in drama but I know from my years of experience now that I would have made a damn good teacher.  But people didn’t go back to work [in Ireland women had to give up their jobs when they married].  But I think through my interest in drama and through my ability to teach, I think I can be proud of the family I brought up.  I think they would be my….identity.  But as against that there is me.  I mean, I don’t want to be a slave thing.  I always wanted to do things, get around.  I wouldn’t have had so much opportunity I suppose, I loved going off to Kilkee and I loved the oul’ holiday because it was a break in routine.  I did enjoy all the sewing, it was creative.  I suppose I’m….I like the creativity.

I think I like, I like somebody to say they’d like to come for a meal [One of her sons] there last week said can I come for a meal and I was just going to do the ordinary, a run of the mill dinner, throw on the chops.  Ah, it’s nice to do something a little different, which is creativity.  I suppose in that way, and that’s why I’m not doing as much painting [Art] as I should.  I suppose I should get more and more absorbed in the painting.  I spend a lot of time reading and thinking I’ll do it, and I will, because I am learning all the time.  But I see me as getting a buzz standing in a spot that I’ve walked or cycled to, and looking at a lovely scene.  I know that music is beautiful and I know that drama… and I don’t think anything can match a God given scene, a landscape with the glisten on the water maybe, or the colours on a mountain and especially if you’ve had to achive something to get there.

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