Monthly Archives: December 2018

A dry Christmas in Ireland

“It’d be a great country if you could put a roof over it.”

This i the standard comment most Irish make about their home country, a place prone to a steady succession of “soft days” – ones filled with on-off drizzle, damp air and mostly-gray skies (and that’s just summer).

Which is why it’s somewhat unbelievable that we’ve spent the past 10 days here with barely a drop of rain. In December, too.

The result is that our visit, and Ireland itself, seems totally different. No more running across a park for cover from lashing rain showers, or catching cold because you didn’t get to that cover quickly enough. No damp children and irate adults, as they try to bring the small ones out and about in weather just slightly less predictable than a Bering Sea storm.

Instead we’ve been able to stroll – dry – through the Christmas shoppers in Wexford, or under the Christmas lights on Grafton Street. When staying close to Castletown House in Celbridge, I’ve managed to run around the grounds early each morning, not wet, not freezing.

Even the conversation’s changed. Anyone who has spent time in Ireland knows how much the locals obsessively talk about the weather – what we’ve had, what we’re having, what we’re going to have tomorrow (“showers” is a safe bet for all three).

With decent weather, what would we talk about, I wondered. Well, Brexit filled that gap.

And, of course, we caught up with friends and family, ate and drank in the spirit of the season, and unwound. A dry Christmas in Ireland was good for the soul, relaxing and sustaining.

We leave tomorrow, and I see that showers are forecast in the morning. Normal service is set to be resumed.

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Looking towards the Saltees

Salt-washed and swept
By huge winter westerlies,
The two islands sit
On the southern horizon.

They were a limit of the world
When I was a child.
Out of reach, almost out of sight,
To a boy standing on a December pier.

Open, uninhabited, they were all potential,
All light and movement.
Until another thought surfaces,
In the deepening afternoon light.

I wonder did they – unreachable – cross the mind of my great-grandfather,
As he drowned six miles west of here, in a blind fog, a century ago?
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After “Aubade”

I wish that when I wake, at 4 a.m., it is to soundless dark, like Philip Larkin did.
But instead it’s snippets of songs, or random thoughts, that flit around my head.

Silence is never an issue, like this noise can be.
Leaving me to envy those who slumber peacefully.

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The positives of sleeplessness

I envy our dog many things but – first and foremost – is her ability to sleep. Hadley, a miniature dachshund, can pitch down just about anywhere and nod off, at any time. 

For me, it’s the exact opposite. For years I’ve dealt, to a greater or lesser, degree, with insomnia. It’s far from chronic (I average about 5.5 hours a night, I’ve established – those of us with sleeping problems often record such details obsessively), but it’s ever-present.

Workdays, weekends, vacations – the schedule rarely wavers. A good night is sleep by midnight or 1 a.m. and waking between 5 and 6 a.m. A bad night is a lot less.

After 15 or so years of this – I’ve no idea what triggered it, back in my mid- 20s – I’ve grown accustomed to a regular shell-like feeling when dawn comes around, and the dread of staring down the day ahead, knowing that I’ll feel jetlagged (in a transatlantic way) throughout.

I was therefore interested to read recently the opinion of the late fiction writer Brian Aldiss, who believed that spending hours of the night and early morning awake could loosen creative juices. While I’ve certainly spent the early hours writing or editing, I can’t say I felt any more inspired – more like grateful for not wasting time trashing futilely around the bed.

But Aldiss’ belief prompted me to think of the positives of fractured sleep, and I came up with this list (which I’m tempted to print and pin above my bedside locker):

  • Peace and quiet. Little is stirring at 5 a.m. The world is asleep. This stillness is best enjoyed standing on the back deck with very early cup of coffee.
  • More hours in the day. Gordon Gekko-like, I can therefore get more done (of course, this doesn’t always pan out – sometimes I spend too long on the back deck, for a start).
  • A feeling of solidarity with my heroes. William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, Franz Kafka, Philip Larkin, and others were all 4 a.m. floor pacers. Alas my scribbling is not quite at the same level. One can dream (if one could sleep.)
  • Imperviousness to jetlag. I’d like to say this is true all the time but alas it’s not. However, if schedules align, poor sleep in Oregon can dovetail to a perfect waking hour when we visit Ireland.
  • Cuddle time with a half-awake dog. If I’m awake, Hadley is often half-awake, and she’s usually in the mood for a snuggle at any hour. (Yes, she sleeps in our bed.) To be honest, this is insomnia’s true silver lining.

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