Dear Children and young people,
I hope this finds you well and happy, despite the awful January weather that we are currently experiencing. I am longing to get back into the park for a long walk, but not really in any hurry to face all that mud again! These January days seem so short and dark and I am really longing for spring – I’m sure you are too!
It is always at this time of year that I reminisce about the past and about my childhood days in particular. I spoke about the Roman god, Janus, in my last memo and, like him, I feel at times that my heart is always looking to the past, but my head is pointing to the future. Childhood memories seem rosier now than they probably were in reality though. For example, whilst I can only remember the sunny days of childhood, being brought up in Ireland (a place renowned for its forty shades of green – I wonder why?), there can’t have been that many warm, sunny days – even in summer!
Ireland is renowned for its lush green meadows, but this is only really because it never seems to stop raining there! For example, a couple of years ago I took the decision to persuade dear Mr Moore to book us a holiday on the west coast of Ireland in an area called Inis Mor (which is Gaelic for ‘big island’). The travel brochure waxed lyrical (with pictures to prove it) about the long, golden and empty beaches of Connemara and the romantic little thatched cottages for rental. My mind was therefore full of the promise of long, lazy days swimming in the azure waters and hunting for shells in the golden sands. My mind was also filled with the romantic notion of sharing a cute little thatched cottage with dear Mr Moore – baking Irish soda bread and listening to Irish music. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. We landed on Inis Mor (not really an island as it was joined to the mainland by a bridge) at twilight and, as our little rental car inched its way along the ever decreasing dirt road towards our ‘dream cottage’, I became more and more apprehensive. The darker it got, the more apprehensive I became and Mr Moore -who is I assure you, well known for his calm acceptance and patience -was beginning to get quite agitated, particularly as the dirt road gradually turned into a dirt strip, inhabited by huge hairy and angry looking cows!
Anyway, to cut a very long story short, we experienced a variety of different types of rain during our week on the island – soft drizzly rain, misty spraying rain, torrential downpoury rain and massive Atlantic storms. Also, the cottage was nothing like the one in the brochure as it was damp, had mice in the kitchen and the chimney was blocked with birds’ nests – not the best of experiences. However, we should have checked the reviews before booking so we just got used to it and, in a funny way, we missed it when we left.
Imagined cottage (from romantic brochure)
Actual cottage after our long drive
However, the week wasn’t all bad as the food in Roundstone (the nearest village) is well-known for its seafood and, during the week, I grew ever more fond of the fish chowder which was served in vast, basin-sized bowls in every pub we visited! I also enjoyed horse riding (on one of the very rare rain-free days) on the beach near Roundstone and listening to the stories which the wonderful Eddie Lenihan told nightly around the fire in the pub to terrified Irish children (and terrified visitors from Sutton Coldfield). Eddie is known all over Ireland for his wonderful tales of the ‘little people’ (leprechauns) and his ability to hold his audiences transfixed with extracts from his fabulous book entitled ‘Strange Irish Tales’ (highly recommended btw). Even Mr Moore got quite jittery on the long journey back along the bumpy track to our ‘luxury’ cottage; his head full of tales of banshees and angry ‘little people’.
As well as being an avid story-teller and writer, Eddie is also well-known for his passion for keeping old traditions and myths alive and for protecting nature from the horrors of modern life. For example, Eddie fought the Irish Government’s plans to fell a ‘fairy tree’, which, according to legend, are the dwelling places of the fairy people of old. Rumour has it that if these trees are interfered with, crops will fail and drought will follow (fat chance of that happening though anywhere near Inis Mor). The tree still stands to this day, fenced off and protected from cars on the dual carriageway:
Anyway, dear children, despite the rain, the terrible accommodation and the terrifying Irish cows, I would highly recommend the west coast of Ireland to you as it is a place of beauty and mystery and Eddie’s stories alone are worth the journey.
Talking about fairies – I feel a poem coming on (sorry all, but I can’t help it – poetry is in my soul!). As a child, I was enthralled by fairy tales and one of my most precious possessions was a book I got for Christmas one year entitled ‘Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales’. It was a magical book and my dear old dad (not so old, however, in those distant days of childhood) used to read to me and my brother and sister from it every evening. My favourites were ‘The Little Match Girl’ and the ‘Constant Tin Soldier’ both of which were quite scary in their own way – although truly magical. My dad used to end each night by opening the book and shaking it so that powder would fall on our pillows which dad called ‘magic sleeping dust’ (I later discovered this was actually Johnson’s baby powder!) I never had problems sleeping as a child and I confess that I used the same trick on my own dear children when they were little. Anyway, I digress (‘as usual’ I hear you moan) as I actually wanted to share a fairy poem that I loved to recite as a little girl called ‘The Fairies’ by William Allingham:
It is a bit scary, but it reminds me now of Eddie and his fairy tree (and the consequences of messing with the little people!). In my mind’s eye, I can still see those ‘little men’ in their colourful jackets and caps trooping down the hill-side.
Another favourite Irish poem of mine is by WB Yeats entitled ‘When You Are Old’. I bought a framed handwritten copy of this poem on an earlier visit to County Clare on the west coast of Ireland and it resonates more and more with me as I get older and older. It’s about a man remembering the woman he loved in his youth and imagining her as an old woman. Yeats was in love with a woman called Maude Gonne but she married someone else (how sad).
Maude as a young girl
Anyway dear children and young people, it’s time for birthday wishes!
Happy ‘Sweet Sixteenth’ birthday wishes to Harleen Bal! And greetings to Lois Onoro – both of whom are celebrating their birthdays today, 20th January. Birthday greetings also go to young people with birthdays later in January:
Haydn Sargeant for 24th January
Suraj Sunsoa on 25th January and
Ashley Gwatidzo on 26th January
(more next time)
I hope you all have a fabulous day!
Hopefully, when spring arrives at last and the sun is higher in the sky, we can return to school proper in time to once again enjoy the beautiful Abbey gardens and those very neglected table tennis tables!
Finally, as always, remember to stay safe and well; keep your room tidy and help around the house. Remember also that you are special, you are loved and we are all very proud of you.
Love and best wishes,
Mrs M J