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August 21, 2017 / hbrowne4

Priceless Work Of Art by Bernadette O’Reilly

She walked into the gallery it had
Been awhile
Visiting paintings she looked upon
As old friends
This time there were no feelings of comfort.
Moving through each room in the
Early morning
Silence was her companion.
Entering the last room her eyes fell
Upon the painting half way down the room
Justine could not move
He had done what he threatened.

August 8, 2017 / hbrowne4

Zero-Sum by Stephen Brady

I had given a speech on the street, to a small and miserable crowd. We are all created equal, I said. We all must share this tiny and exhausted world. And we all must care for our neighbours.
They came for me that night. Broke down the door, dragged me from bed, and put a bag over my head. I was hustled into a vehicle of some kind. A lot of pulling and shoving, in the dark. When we reached our destination the bag was removed.
I was in an office, under a merciless light. Men in uniforms milled around. I was processed, photographed, shouted at.
They did not believe my name.
They said I was a saboteur.
My mother, they said, had already been liquidated.
They took me to a cell. There I met two large men, who seemed very glad to see me. I was left with them, and they beat me like an animal.
Some time later, an officer entered the room. He was carrying two chairs.
“That’s enough,” he said. “Wait outside.”
The heavies lit cigarettes as they departed.
The officer helped me into one chair, and sat in the other. For a minute he just looked at me. Then he started:
Who wrote the speech I delivered that day?
Was I aware my country was at war?
How did I contact my foreign paymasters?
Did I know the penalty for treason?
“Let me guess,” I mumbled through newly-swollen lips. “Liquidation.”
“No,” the officer replied. “You are now in the hands of the Special National Police. Your punishment is entirely at our discretion.”
“Get on with it then,” I muttered.
“Sentence will be decided in due course. In the meantime, you might want to consider being more co-operative.”
“Why?” I asked. “You’re going to shoot me anyway.”
“Perhaps. But you can still affect your fate. Who knows? If you demonstrate the proper remorse for your treachery, you might even be released.”
I didn’t reply.
The officer left the room. The heavies returned, and I was beaten again. One held me down, while the other dropped the chair repeatedly on my legs. I was verging on the unconscious, when they finally took me out.
I was taken down a long, bare corridor. At the end was a cell with an open door. They dragged me to it, and flung me inside.
Things went dark for a while. I must have passed out. Some time elapsed… a day, a night, who knows?
When I awoke, I was lying on the floor.
My body was a citadel of pain. I wished they had shot me already. Slowly and with great effort, I turned over.
In the corner was an old man with a shaved head.
“You’re up.”
“I don’t like to sleep the day away,” I said. “So much to do.”
“Of course.”
I sat against the wall and tried to appraise him. In the crumpled prison greys, he was little more than a skeleton. But the eyes were shrewd.
“What do they call you around here?” I asked.
“Seventy seven.”
“To hell with that. What’s your real name?”
“That is my real name.”
Despite it all, I almost laughed. “What was your name before you came to this place?”
“Oh, that. I don’t remember.”
“And what did you do to get put in here?”
“I don’t remember that, either.”
I glanced around the cell. Apart from my new friend, there was a mattress and a bucket. That was all.
“How long have you been here?” I asked him.
“I was a young man when they brought me here. Younger than you, I think.”
“Did you never think of trying to escape?”
He pointed at the door of the cell. It was wide open.
I was flabbergasted.
“The door…” I said stupidly.
“Yes.”
“Of the cell.”
“Yes.”
“It’s open.”
“It is.”
“Why… why didn’t they close it?”
“It is never closed.”
“Never closed?
“No.”
“What, never?”
“It has not been closed in all the time I’ve been here.”
With some effort, I craned my neck around the door.
The corridor outside was deserted.
“Why don’t you just walk out?” I asked.
A little twitch in the seamed skin around the mouth. He may have been trying to smile. “You mean, leave the cell?”
“Yes!”
“Why would I do that?”
I gestured violently. “The door is open!”
“We’ve established that.”
“So why don’t you leave?”
“There is a guard outside.”
“There is?”
“Yes. If you leave the cell, he will shoot you.”
“I don’t see a guard.”
“He is stationed in an alcove, out of sight.”
“Have you ever seen him?”
“No.”
“Then how do you know he’s there?”
“They told me.”
“They told you?”
“Yes. The day I was brought here.”
I pondered this for a moment.
“So you’ve been sitting in this cell, since you were younger than me, with the door open.”
“Yes.”
“And you just… sit here.”
He raised his voice slightly, as though speaking to a child.
“There is a guard outside. If I try to leave, he will shoot me.”
“But that’s just what they told you. It could be a lie.”
“If I take the risk, I might be shot.”
“If you don’t take the risk, you’ll sit here until you die.”
He shrugged. “I am a traitor to the National People’s Community. I deserve my fate.”
I looked out at the corridor again.
“I can’t believe you never even tried,” I said.
“At least if I remain here, I am alive.”
I looked back at him. “You sleep on the floor. Crap in a bucket. I imagine they feed you once a day. You’d rather that than… take the chance?”
“A man falls off a cliff.”
I blinked. It felt like I’d been slapped again.
“What?”
“A man falls off a cliff,” he repeated. “He is falling, falling. Rocks and ledges fly past him. The wind roars in his ears. And all the time he is falling he says to himself, ‘so far so good. So far so good. So far so good.'”
I stared at him, nonplussed.
“What I am saying is, if you’re so certain, you try it.”
“Yes, I will.”
I crawled to the door, and looked out.
The corridor was empty. At the far end was a door, with a little window near the top. And through that window, I thought I could see daylight.
“No-one gives freedom to you,” I said. “You have to take the risk.”
“Go ahead,” said Seventy Seven. “I will be interested to see what happens.”
I stayed by the door for a while.
Then I withdrew, and returned to my spot.
“I’ll do it,” I said. “In a day or two. When I’m stronger.”
The old man turned away. “My friend,” he said, “I think you are going to be here for a long time.”

August 8, 2017 / hbrowne4

A Poetic Rendition of Thoughts and Notions

Brídín ní Airtneada is proud to announce the launch of her first volume of poetry in The Writers Centre on Parnell Square at 7 o’clock on Thursday 24th August.

All are welcome to an evening of poetry, chat and songPoster Renditions

July 28, 2017 / hbrowne4

Teresa’s West Clare, fifty years progressed By Teresa Fenton

In 1969, I had finished my life apprenticeship and graduated from the Kilrush nunnery. I hugged Co Clare farewell to clickety clack my way to University College Dublin to become a teacher. Because my dad was the wannabe teacher, not me, I opted for marriage and motherhood instead. This vocation caused the hands of the clock to fly around and the pages of the calendar to jump off the wall in a frenzied whirlwind of madness. During those special years, trips to Clare were few but I was in the fortunate position to take holidays at beautiful resorts across Europe, with maybe only a dozen trips to amazing places on our wonderful scenic little island. When the girls became women, and went to College I resolved to get to know my lovely county of origin, a lot better and to see it through new, clearer eyes, eyes not fogged up by the daily cares and demands of school, and chores at home and duties that come with life on a small farm.
I now had no agenda but to arrive in Clare a few times a year, alone, with the full freedom to prowl at will and delve into places, nooks and crannies that escaped my attention in those early years. I was hell bent on seeing my native county through the realistic and fresh vision of, maybe a tourist, maybe even the longing eyes of an immigrant returning from America. Starting in 2008 I looked with awe at the changes and enjoyed the success and the prosperity that I could see everywhere I
went. So much had changed, for the better, I felt so proud of us, a small island sitting quietly, in its understated way, in the Atlantic, between Great Britain and the bigger island of America. The trips were to be many but short as I was still seeing clients, in my private practice as a psychologist in Dublin. But now that I work part time, longer trips and treats were in store.
My first, and delightful eye opener was the sense of safety I felt on the roads. I felt, with a sigh of relief that a lot fewer lives will be lost because of dangerous bends and twists on the Ennis and Cooraclare roads being made straight and safe for Clare’s people. Thank you, Clare County Council, for that wisdom, foresight and hard work to achieve funding for, what is the most costly of enterprises- construction of any type. These great changes have not had any negative effect on the beauty of the landscape that they are part of.
Neither do the amazing new houses that have sprung up everywhere especially around the Kilrush Cooraclare area. I slow down to a snail’s pace (probably annoying other drivers) to admire the sheer elegance. Two storey mansions, that were, in olden times, only the properties of the ” well to do” of the area- the priest, doctor or teacher, are to be seen sitting proudly in their own expansive grounds. These, I am told, belong to locals but many were built by new blood, new ideas and new professions choosing to reside in county Clare. My Granny’s old house (the shop in bygone days) has been elevated to palatial status, with chic new decor, by Geraldine Joy Mac Mahon. A trip to Killimer, only a name to me as a child, is now a visit to busy hub where cars, vans and lorries queue up to board Clare’s wonderful Tarbert ferry the ” Shannon Breeze” Such progress. A trip that, in the olden days took a few hours to get to Kerry now takes twenty minutes, brings with it the gift of time saving, petrol fossil fuel economy and of course offering a spectacular trip on the beautiful Shannon river. Well done genius ferry company for your proactive attitude.
Proactive and progressive are definitely great words for Trump Towers of County Clare! When I heard of this new arrival I must admit that, on my next visit, I feared having to behold a horrible vista. With some dread, I drove past the big sign at the entrance and along the sandhill flanked boreen. I hoped that Shakespeare was right, that “present fears are less than horrible imaginings” He was! Instead of massive slices of glass, neon and steel, my delighted eyes beheld a most tasteful mix of local stone, wood and lush verdure. A general sense of softness was palpable, and American golfers, Clarefolk and sheep lived in harmony, even including Mexicans, without a wall or a solar panel in sight!
Posh, I was beginning to think, posh Tullabrack now has an equestrian centre! Such progress, I am immediately reminded of my own “equestrian” childhood, where the pony brought the turf from the bog and the kind O’Grady family gave me a lift to Mass in their horse and trap, saving me almost a three-mile trek. Posh Anita’ the lovely lady from South Africa is offering art classes and most beautiful works of art for sale – and all at what once was little ol’ Tullabrack school cross! Talking of the pony and the turf, another shock was in store for me, another positive one, Im glad to say. The bad old days of backbreaking, vertebra crunching work on the bog seem to be relegated to the yellowed pages of history. Mary Geraldine tells me, with great glee that nowadays a huge digger arrives, digs the precious stuff, puts it into a machine that cuts it and squeezes a lot of the water out. This leaves a product that needs only four or five weeks in the open windy bogscape for it to be bone dry and ready to supply many a long winters night with warmth, both physically and emotionally. What in the name of God, I ask, would our poor grannies and grandads think of this new-fangled miracle at all? Painless turf would simply be too much of a paradox for them to contemplate. “What? No more chapped hands, sunburned neck, cramping calves, aching back or painful sleepless nights?“ I hear them gasp in disbelief. Heaven, they would probably call it, and I agree wholeheartedly with them.
Lovely Cooraclare village, while retaining the fond memories I have of nights at the ” youth club” disco, Sunday Mass (another chance to spot the local gorgeous males) and the slow, dark river, has many new areas of progress too. Gone is the old hall behind Tom Macs shop but now on that site, it’s the turn of the children, who can play safely on swings and whirlies of all sorts. But for sure, our swing, a rope tied between two trees, or our fabulous see saw- a plank on a big fat log or mud cakes have their special place in my heart still too. The Considines of Gowerhass had a very elite version of these AND peas growing in their garden (that we were allowed eat from the stalks) and boasted a magic paddling stream which was all of one inch deep!
The old village hall idea has been replaced with a wonderful new community centre where you can enjoy everything from bingo to lavish parties. Best of all for me is the joy of sitting under the bridge beside ” the pigs elbow”(as our poet Frank O ‘Brien affectionately called it) of the river. I do not know who to thank for this little oasis of calm, the grassy space, the tree, the flowers and the seat where I can sit and have conversations with myself that I cannot have anywhere else. This little ritual has to be part of my county Clare retreat from now on as I wander down from Tubridy’s warm, welcoming and nurturing house of comfort, and just great grub.
As I sat over coffee with the lovely Mary Geraldine, gazing over the bashing, crashing waves of the Wild Atlantic and at the tasteful bronze of “Dickie” Harris playing racquetball, I notice that one aspect of “progress” that has not affected my beloved county, well not the West anyway! As I sit at the welcoming “Diamond Rocks” cafe in Kilkee I observe that “the screen disease“ has not hit this area, yet. Not one person, at any table, beside or behind us had their eyes fixed on a screen – I pad or I phone! Not even one! Hurray! They were having lunch in the way it WAS done fifty years ago, they were actually talking and laughing with each other. I am joining my hands and looking Heavenwards in gratitude for this lack of “progress” in the wild and gorgeous West. “The Wild Atlantic Way”
Of course, while chatting about my excitement at all of the wonderful developments I have spotted, with Mary Larner, Ann and Martin Tubridy, the Mac Mahons and many more, my list of positive changes began to grow and grow. Milk, that in bygone days was brought to the creamery by horse or tractor in small tanks is now collected direct from farmyards in tankers. Vanished have the grass cocks and trams of hay of my youth. Now machines drive into the meadows and when they have done their magic all that is left are many giant hay Swiss rolls!
Moneypoint power station opened in 1979 providing valuable employment, when later, Glynns flour mills closed with a loss of 200 jobs. Jobs, I hope are to be had in plenty now, with all of the new developments that I see all around me, including the new reclaiming and renovating of the wonderful Vandaleur walled gardens, just off Moore Street. Oh, the heady scent of success and progress!
But, dear reader, you could choose to ignore any or all of the above ramblings as the demented, nostalgic, rose tinted observations of a returned (Dublin) exile. Why? Because as I drove towards Ennis, on my return to Dublin, with the window open, a familiar rural scent jolted my olfactory neurons. The smell of sileage, – that pungent, earthy odour that, as children we all thought, utterly obnoxious, now seemed sweet, natural, familiar and lovely!
Maybe I only imagined all of the above long list of amazing progress? No, it is excitingly real, and thank goodness it looks set to continue.

July 28, 2017 / hbrowne4

The Wasteland by Niamh Ryan

A shallow sleeve pulled up his useless arm
As he dare not descend the stair and see the slim arm with the blonde downy hair
Must I anticipate? The wait? And hesitate… my gait
To leave, to depart?
Oh I’d steal a soul to find a heart
Gutted heart can I yield though I am beset with a thick shield
Thickened, bulbous pompous am I?
No I mustn’t dare
I’ll go back down the stair
And to my ego
I must give back
I repent
On the stair I stand and lack
Bones inside to really spend
Pleasure myself in poppies waving gently to me
Calling me I hear Mermaids on the sea
Yellow maidens fair court me
Under the black and white foam
Soak me
Down, lower, down, lower,
Me down under a blue velvet score,
Spores no more
Wet hands finish me off.
Spores no more

July 10, 2017 / hbrowne4

From a prompt by Brendan Palmer

The prompt was:

Whatever it is you were thinking when you looked at me like that, think it again

The Newbie stands just inside the door of the room surveying the assembled crowd. Its Friday night, the room, at the back of a busy city bar, was booked by the organiser of the fifties plus club to host a meetup for drinks and conversation.

He had decided to arrive forty minutes later than the designated start time, which would allow him to do exactly what he was doing, standing inside the door, surveying the room.

He took note of the first person who looked to see who had entered the room, knowing from experience that the first person to look up when someone new enters a room is likely to be the Queen Bee, the person in control, not always officially but the one who sets the tone of the group. Its not always a female Queen Bee but in this case it was.

The mix of the crowd was about fifty women to ten men, not unusual in these kinds of gatherings. With the second round of drinks being consumed the conversation noise level was getting close to industrial Health and Safety limits.

Divorced for two years, its five years since he had any kind of intimate conversation with a member of the opposite sex and twenty years since he last walked up to a woman he didnt know and said hello. He goes to the bar and orders a pint of Guinness.  His gaze is unfocused and distant as he muses about his next move while looking at but not seeing the two thirds full pint sitting on the bar in front of him, slowly settling as the CO2/ Nitrogen mix of gas bubbles rise to the top.

Looking up, he catches her eye, holding her gaze for six seconds, his confidence boosted when his smile and the widening of his eyes to show interest is reciprocated.

His train of thought is interrupted by the barman placing the now full pint of Guinness on the bar in front of him,Five fifty Sir. Putting the change from a twenty Euro note into his pockets, ten euro, neatly folded with the other notes into the left pocket and four euro fifty into the right pocket, he lifts the pint slowly to his lips and hoping he exudes coolness takes a long slow pull, in his mind a picture of Robert Mitchum playing one of his macho men roles.

Making his way through the crowd he approaches her group and they open the circle to let him in, his Queen Bee identification confirmed as he realises she had made this happen.  Seeing her up close his heart skips a beat and then races as he thinks, Jayzus shes lovely, I want her in my bed.

Never good at hiding his feelings, it must have been written all over his face because as he took her hand and said, Hi, Im Simon, she didnt tell him her name in return just said, whatever it is you were thinking when you looked at me like that, think it again.

The pacemaker hed had inserted the previous year earned its keep.

July 4, 2017 / hbrowne4

My Garden’s Secret Life by Jack Kelly Jnr.

I am on my knees. Hidden down here is another, unknown world. Crawling under these shrubs turns out to be an unexpected, wild life experience. Overhead, bees are buzzing, busily travelling from flower to flower, and collecting pollen. Occasionally one will come to visit, alighting upon my bare skin. After a quick tour, finding nothing of interest, he departs. For some extraordinary reason, as a result of that eventless visit, I feel braver all the same.

Underneath the pristine canopy, in the weedy wilderness chaos appears to reign. Marching through this mini jungle are beautiful ladybirds. I’m not quite sure what to do with such wildness. If I kill it will I also kill the ladybirds? Should I ignore what my mind suggests about pulling out those weeds? My heart wins. It is more fun to partake in this secret life, an audience of one in this non-choreographed, wondrous play.

The summer sunshine beats down upon my exposed, bare legs and ankles whilst my body and head burrow their way further beneath the green, flowering roof. I am eagerly on the scent, hunting, chasing unknown life. Whether to hunt them down and kill them, expel or welcome them is yet to be decided. But for now I am simply enjoying exploring this ordinary garden’s secret life.

You may imagine I am a young boy or even an indolent teenager but the truth is I am age sixty three. You might think me a lazy lay-about but it’s something else entirely. You see until now I had not realized that this simple, ornamental garden holds hidden delight and mystery.

I’m wearing shorts, knee pads, garden gloves and t-shirt; these are absolutely no match for the hard soil and spiky thorns. Scratches appear on my arms and I can feel hard little stones cut into my skin as I shimmy along the unyielding ground. My hair is like a collector’s broom, full of dead leaves, bits of twigs, dried tree bark and cobwebs. Unexpectedly, something else accompanies me – a sense of adventure and a child-like delight in simple things. Fleeting moments of unforeseen happiness and lightness of being invade my soul. I smile for no reason; no reason at all!

The garden is not very big. It measures 15 metres by 12 metres, mostly laid out in lawn. The grass carpet is back-dropped by mature shrubbery; along the front are flowerbeds. Suddenly, on impulse, a happy thought occurs to me.

‘Do the flower beds hold wildlife too? Are all the pristine shrubs and flowers harbingers of unknown life?’ I ask myself, continuing ‘Is this orderly, ordered garden a sanctuary for illegal, unapproved, uninvited aliens – beetles, worms, bees, weeds, butterflies, bugs of all kinds, birds, mice, etc., etc.?’

I need a break to digest this onslaught of new knowledge. Rest is required. Returning to the garden recliner I feel the latent heat held in that chair radiate through tired bones. Oh what joy!

Lazy eyelids begin to droop; half asleep, my mind fades into stillness. But a disturbance in paradise agitates me from my tranquillity. Suddenly I am wide awake. Somehow my half-closed eyes have detected flighty comings and goings over in the wedding-cake tree. What is going on? An investigation is required.

Armed with a trusty garden hoe I advance upon the said plant. Resplendent in its majesty, conjoining the shrubs and flower beds, concealing the far-off, boundary wall, the tree dwarfs me and everything else in the garden. It stands over three times my height whist being at least 3 metres wide at the base, with layers of branches and leaves right down to the ground. Very carefully, using the handle of the gardening tool I separate the branches; looking for I know not what. Parting of the way is carried out with gentle sensitivity because if any branches or branchlets get damaged I will have some explaining to do. My adorable wife adores this tree.

Suddenly, from the nearby dwarf, flowering, crab tree comes plaintive, angry chattering. A tiny little bird is putting up a most awful commotion. I wonder ‘What is annoying her?’ Then it dawns on me. She is upset because I am invading her place – ‘her place,’ I ask myself with irony, ‘I thought I owned this place?’ – and she is determinedly trying to drive me away. I decide to ignore her and advance further into the foliage, all the time dividing the way with the hoe. Soon I am protected by branches and leaves. Whilst indignant chirping follows me the bird herself does not. Glad of that fact I relax now, having feared that she may attack, even if she is a tiny, little thing.

Inside, my eyesight adjusts to the new environment. At first I do not distinguish just what caused all of those flights to and from this tree. Then I see it – a bird’s nest. Ah! So that’s what she didn’t want me to discover. No wonder! Mammy didn’t want her little home disturbed. Here is one more secret my garden is giving up.

Temporarily pondering the fact that all of my spraying, pruning, cutting, weeding, killing has been in vain I laugh at myself. There is a mystery here bigger than me. Deciding to forget about such matters for now, once more I return delighted attention to this find.

That nest is made of dried mud and shaped somewhat like a beehive. The outside is trimmed with faded, green-brown, weather-beaten moss. Cunningly camouflaged, it rests securely within the crook of an upside-down triangle, naturally formed by the branches. There is no door of course, just an opening about centre ways between top and bottom. I peep inside. There is a tiny, saucer-shaped bed lined with soft feathers. From it I see four, yellow, little beaks rising up, fighting to be first to the opening, to food. I gaze delightedly. ‘So this is what’s happening in my garden.’ I muse in astonishment, ‘Inside our expensive wedding-cake tree is a bird’s nest where she is now raising her four little chicks. Wow!’

Returning once again to the warm garden seat I sit and ponder at the delights and mystery discovered this morning. Nothing has changed and yet everything has. A garden designed for aesthetic beauty now holds mystery and delights never before seen. The irony is that this pleasure has always awaited me had I but looked through freshly opened eyes. This then gives me another idea.

First though I check if my adorable partner is still out. I want to act in secret – afraid that if she sees me doing what I am about to do next she will think I’m off my rocker.

‘Ah; no sign of the car back yet,’ I comment to myself, ‘she’s still shopping so.’

Walking to the flower bed, ever so carefully I lift up a piece of statuary, an ornamental plant stand. Bingo! Underneath are little creepy crawly things, all racing hither and thither from the sudden onslaught of light. There are black beetles as well as earwigs; earthworms and little fat slugs; all lying in the damp earth. ‘Oh how wondrous is this?’ I ask myself.

When I think of all the years spent trimming around the base of this garden ornament I am astonished that never once have I allowed myself the fun of looking beneath. I sit back on my haunches and watch the zoo of aliens depart, searching for darkness and safety; leaving slow, slow moving slug stuck there, exposed to the heat. But what’s that I spy clinging on to the underside of the plinth of said ornament? ‘This requires detailed inspection.’ I think to myself, fishing reading glasses from my pocket. Down now on my knees for a closer look I see that they are tiny snail houses. Fetching a twig I poke at them gently. Some roll away with a brittle fine china sound – suggesting they are empty. But one or two continue to cling to the cement. ‘More guests,’ I assume, ‘and they are home.’

Normally I would be off for the poison to kill them but now my heart isn’t in it any more. I smile as I replace, ever so carefully, that ornament exactly as I found it – Mr. Slug will be pleased. Happiness envelopes me.

Looking at the smartphone I realize it is nearly one o’clock – time for lunch! Going back indoors and away from the outdoor brightness it takes my eyesight a little time to adjust. Once my snack is prepared I happily take it and myself to the conservatory, intent upon gaining the window seat overlooking our garden. But boy, am I in for a surprise? Sitting in that window seat, a wonderful smile upon her face, is my wife.

Startled at first, and then feeling a little guilty about my morning’s mini-safari, I defensively ask ‘I didn’t hear you come in?’, sitting hurriedly in the nearest chair.

‘The car had to go to the mechanic today, remember? I’m home a good while now. I walked back!’ she explains matter-of-factly, continuing with mischief in her eyes, ‘you seem to be busy today – what with pulling and tearing the garden apart and everything?’

‘Checking for wood lice’ I answer, giving her the first wild thought that comes into my mind, ‘didn’t find any though.’

Silence descends. That’s not surprising after nearly forty years of marriage. But what happens next is. I hear low chuckles escaping and then full bodied laughter. My wife is laughing – uncontrollably, unrestrainedly.

‘She’s laughing at me; she thinks I’m a fool.’ I assume as I snarl-bite into my sandwich, crossing one leg over the other and turning my body away from her, all at the same time.

‘You know how we’ve been married for nearly forty years?’ she states, then pauses for what seems an age as she catches her breath from all of the laughing, before continuing, ‘Sitting here for the last hour watching you it occurs to me that I haven’t seen such delight and happiness on your face in a long time. Whatever it is that you found I would love for you to share it with me?’

My adorable wife – she too is a mystery!

 

 

I am on my knees. Hidden down here is another, unknown world. Crawling under these shrubs turns out to be an unexpected, wild life experience. Overhead, bees are buzzing, busily travelling from flower to flower, and collecting pollen. Occasionally one will come to visit, alighting upon my bare skin. After a quick tour, finding nothing of interest, he departs. For some extraordinary reason, as a result of that eventless visit, I feel braver all the same.

Underneath the pristine canopy, in the weedy wilderness chaos appears to reign. Marching through this mini jungle are beautiful ladybirds. I’m not quite sure what to do with such wildness. If I kill it will I also kill the ladybirds? Should I ignore what my mind suggests about pulling out those weeds? My heart wins. It is more fun to partake in this secret life, an audience of one in this non-choreographed, wondrous play.

The summer sunshine beats down upon my exposed, bare legs and ankles whilst my body and head burrow their way further beneath the green, flowering roof. I am eagerly on the scent, hunting, chasing unknown life. Whether to hunt them down and kill them, expel or welcome them is yet to be decided. But for now I am simply enjoying exploring this ordinary garden’s secret life.

You may imagine I am a young boy or even an indolent teenager but the truth is I am age sixty three. You might think me a lazy lay-about but it’s something else entirely. You see until now I had not realized that this simple, ornamental garden holds hidden delight and mystery.

I’m wearing shorts, knee pads, garden gloves and t-shirt; these are absolutely no match for the hard soil and spiky thorns. Scratches appear on my arms and I can feel hard little stones cut into my skin as I shimmy along the unyielding ground. My hair is like a collector’s broom, full of dead leaves, bits of twigs, dried tree bark and cobwebs. Unexpectedly, something else accompanies me – a sense of adventure and a child-like delight in simple things. Fleeting moments of unforeseen happiness and lightness of being invade my soul. I smile for no reason; no reason at all!

The garden is not very big. It measures 15 metres by 12 metres, mostly laid out in lawn. The grass carpet is back-dropped by mature shrubbery; along the front are flowerbeds. Suddenly, on impulse, a happy thought occurs to me.

‘Do the flower beds hold wildlife too? Are all the pristine shrubs and flowers harbingers of unknown life?’ I ask myself, continuing ‘Is this orderly, ordered garden a sanctuary for illegal, unapproved, uninvited aliens – beetles, worms, bees, weeds, butterflies, bugs of all kinds, birds, mice, etc., etc.?’

I need a break to digest this onslaught of new knowledge. Rest is required. Returning to the garden recliner I feel the latent heat held in that chair radiate through tired bones. Oh what joy!

Lazy eyelids begin to droop; half asleep, my mind fades into stillness. But a disturbance in paradise agitates me from my tranquillity. Suddenly I am wide awake. Somehow my half-closed eyes have detected flighty comings and goings over in the wedding-cake tree. What is going on? An investigation is required.

Armed with a trusty garden hoe I advance upon the said plant. Resplendent in its majesty, conjoining the shrubs and flower beds, concealing the far-off, boundary wall, the tree dwarfs me and everything else in the garden. It stands over three times my height whist being at least 3 metres wide at the base, with layers of branches and leaves right down to the ground. Very carefully, using the handle of the gardening tool I separate the branches; looking for I know not what. Parting of the way is carried out with gentle sensitivity because if any branches or branchlets get damaged I will have some explaining to do. My adorable wife adores this tree.

Suddenly, from the nearby dwarf, flowering, crab tree comes plaintive, angry chattering. A tiny little bird is putting up a most awful commotion. I wonder ‘What is annoying her?’ Then it dawns on me. She is upset because I am invading her place – ‘her place,’ I ask myself with irony, ‘I thought I owned this place?’ – and she is determinedly trying to drive me away. I decide to ignore her and advance further into the foliage, all the time dividing the way with the hoe. Soon I am protected by branches and leaves. Whilst indignant chirping follows me the bird herself does not. Glad of that fact I relax now, having feared that she may attack, even if she is a tiny, little thing.

Inside, my eyesight adjusts to the new environment. At first I do not distinguish just what caused all of those flights to and from this tree. Then I see it – a bird’s nest. Ah! So that’s what she didn’t want me to discover. No wonder! Mammy didn’t want her little home disturbed. Here is one more secret my garden is giving up.

Temporarily pondering the fact that all of my spraying, pruning, cutting, weeding, killing has been in vain I laugh at myself. There is a mystery here bigger than me. Deciding to forget about such matters for now, once more I return delighted attention to this find.

That nest is made of dried mud and shaped somewhat like a beehive. The outside is trimmed with faded, green-brown, weather-beaten moss. Cunningly camouflaged, it rests securely within the crook of an upside-down triangle, naturally formed by the branches. There is no door of course, just an opening about centre ways between top and bottom. I peep inside. There is a tiny, saucer-shaped bed lined with soft feathers. From it I see four, yellow, little beaks rising up, fighting to be first to the opening, to food. I gaze delightedly. ‘So this is what’s happening in my garden.’ I muse in astonishment, ‘Inside our expensive wedding-cake tree is a bird’s nest where she is now raising her four little chicks. Wow!’

Returning once again to the warm garden seat I sit and ponder at the delights and mystery discovered this morning. Nothing has changed and yet everything has. A garden designed for aesthetic beauty now holds mystery and delights never before seen. The irony is that this pleasure has always awaited me had I but looked through freshly opened eyes. This then gives me another idea.

First though I check if my adorable partner is still out. I want to act in secret – afraid that if she sees me doing what I am about to do next she will think I’m off my rocker.

‘Ah; no sign of the car back yet,’ I comment to myself, ‘she’s still shopping so.’

Walking to the flower bed, ever so carefully I lift up a piece of statuary, an ornamental plant stand. Bingo! Underneath are little creepy crawly things, all racing hither and thither from the sudden onslaught of light. There are black beetles as well as earwigs; earthworms and little fat slugs; all lying in the damp earth. ‘Oh how wondrous is this?’ I ask myself.

When I think of all the years spent trimming around the base of this garden ornament I am astonished that never once have I allowed myself the fun of looking beneath. I sit back on my haunches and watch the zoo of aliens depart, searching for darkness and safety; leaving slow, slow moving slug stuck there, exposed to the heat. But what’s that I spy clinging on to the underside of the plinth of said ornament? ‘This requires detailed inspection.’ I think to myself, fishing reading glasses from my pocket. Down now on my knees for a closer look I see that they are tiny snail houses. Fetching a twig I poke at them gently. Some roll away with a brittle fine china sound – suggesting they are empty. But one or two continue to cling to the cement. ‘More guests,’ I assume, ‘and they are home.’

Normally I would be off for the poison to kill them but now my heart isn’t in it any more. I smile as I replace, ever so carefully, that ornament exactly as I found it – Mr. Slug will be pleased. Happiness envelopes me.

Looking at the smartphone I realize it is nearly one o’clock – time for lunch! Going back indoors and away from the outdoor brightness it takes my eyesight a little time to adjust. Once my snack is prepared I happily take it and myself to the conservatory, intent upon gaining the window seat overlooking our garden. But boy, am I in for a surprise? Sitting in that window seat, a wonderful smile upon her face, is my wife.

Startled at first, and then feeling a little guilty about my morning’s mini-safari, I defensively ask ‘I didn’t hear you come in?’, sitting hurriedly in the nearest chair.

‘The car had to go to the mechanic today, remember? I’m home a good while now. I walked back!’ she explains matter-of-factly, continuing with mischief in her eyes, ‘you seem to be busy today – what with pulling and tearing the garden apart and everything?’

‘Checking for wood lice’ I answer, giving her the first wild thought that comes into my mind, ‘didn’t find any though.’

Silence descends. That’s not surprising after nearly forty years of marriage. But what happens next is. I hear low chuckles escaping and then full bodied laughter. My wife is laughing – uncontrollably, unrestrainedly.

‘She’s laughing at me; she thinks I’m a fool.’ I assume as I snarl-bite into my sandwich, crossing one leg over the other and turning my body away from her, all at the same time.

‘You know how we’ve been married for nearly forty years?’ she states, then pauses for what seems an age as she catches her breath from all of the laughing, before continuing, ‘Sitting here for the last hour watching you it occurs to me that I haven’t seen such delight and happiness on your face in a long time. Whatever it is that you found I would love for you to share it with me?’

My adorable wife – she too is a mystery!

 

 

visit, I feel braver all the same.

Underneath the pristine canopy, in the weedy wilderness chaos appears to reign. Marching through this mini jungle are beautiful ladybirds. I’m not quite sure what to do with such wildness. If I kill it will I also kill the ladybirds? Should I ignore what my mind suggests about pulling out those weeds? My heart wins. It is more fun to partake in this secret life, an audience of one in this non-choreographed, wondrous play.

The summer sunshine beats down upon my exposed, bare legs and ankles whilst my body and head burrow their way further beneath the green, flowering roof. I am eagerly on the scent, hunting, chasing unknown life. Whether to hunt them down and kill them, expel or welcome them is yet to be decided. But for now I am simply enjoying exploring this ordinary garden’s secret life.

You may imagine I am a young boy or even an indolent teenager but the truth is I am age sixty three. You might think me a lazy lay-about but it’s something else entirely. You see until now I had not realized that this simple, ornamental garden holds hidden delight and mystery.

I’m wearing shorts, knee pads, garden gloves and t-shirt; these are absolutely no match for the hard soil and spiky thorns. Scratches appear on my arms and I can feel hard little stones cut into my skin as I shimmy along the unyielding ground. My hair is like a collector’s broom, full of dead leaves, bits of twigs, dried tree bark and cobwebs. Unexpectedly, something else accompanies me – a sense of adventure and a child-like delight in simple things. Fleeting moments of unforeseen happiness and lightness of being invade my soul. I smile for no reason; no reason at all!

The garden is not very big. It measures 15 metres by 12 metres, mostly laid out in lawn. The grass carpet is back-dropped by mature shrubbery; along the front are flowerbeds. Suddenly, on impulse, a happy thought occurs to me.

‘Do the flower beds hold wildlife too? Are all the pristine shrubs and flowers harbingers of unknown life?’ I ask myself, continuing ‘Is this orderly, ordered garden a sanctuary for illegal, unapproved, uninvited aliens – beetles, worms, bees, weeds, butterflies, bugs of all kinds, birds, mice, etc., etc.?’

I need a break to digest this onslaught of new knowledge. Rest is required. Returning to the garden recliner I feel the latent heat held in that chair radiate through tired bones. Oh what joy!

Lazy eyelids begin to droop; half asleep, my mind fades into stillness. But a disturbance in paradise agitates me from my tranquillity. Suddenly I am wide awake. Somehow my half-closed eyes have detected flighty comings and goings over in the wedding-cake tree. What is going on? An investigation is required.

Armed with a trusty garden hoe I advance upon the said plant. Resplendent in its majesty, conjoining the shrubs and flower beds, concealing the far-off, boundary wall, the tree dwarfs me and everything else in the garden. It stands over three times my height whist being at least 3 metres wide at the base, with layers of branches and leaves right down to the ground. Very carefully, using the handle of the gardening tool I separate the branches; looking for I know not what. Parting of the way is carried out with gentle sensitivity because if any branches or branchlets get damaged I will have some explaining to do. My adorable wife adores this tree.

Suddenly, from the nearby dwarf, flowering, crab tree comes plaintive, angry chattering. A tiny little bird is putting up a most awful commotion. I wonder ‘What is annoying her?’ Then it dawns on me. She is upset because I am invading her place – ‘her place,’ I ask myself with irony, ‘I thought I owned this place?’ – and she is determinedly trying to drive me away. I decide to ignore her and advance further into the foliage, all the time dividing the way with the hoe. Soon I am protected by branches and leaves. Whilst indignant chirping follows me the bird herself does not. Glad of that fact I relax now, having feared that she may attack, even if she is a tiny, little thing.

Inside, my eyesight adjusts to the new environment. At first I do not distinguish just what caused all of those flights to and from this tree. Then I see it – a bird’s nest. Ah! So that’s what she didn’t want me to discover. No wonder! Mammy didn’t want her little home disturbed. Here is one more secret my garden is giving up.

Temporarily pondering the fact that all of my spraying, pruning, cutting, weeding, killing has been in vain I laugh at myself. There is a mystery here bigger than me. Deciding to forget about such matters for now, once more I return delighted attention to this find.

That nest is made of dried mud and shaped somewhat like a beehive. The outside is trimmed with faded, green-brown, weather-beaten moss. Cunningly camouflaged, it rests securely within the crook of an upside-down triangle, naturally formed by the branches. There is no door of course, just an opening about centre ways between top and bottom. I peep inside. There is a tiny, saucer-shaped bed lined with soft feathers. From it I see four, yellow, little beaks rising up, fighting to be first to the opening, to food. I gaze delightedly. ‘So this is what’s happening in my garden.’ I muse in astonishment, ‘Inside our expensive wedding-cake tree is a bird’s nest where she is now raising her four little chicks. Wow!’

Returning once again to the warm garden seat I sit and ponder at the delights and mystery discovered this morning. Nothing has changed and yet everything has. A garden designed for aesthetic beauty now holds mystery and delights never before seen. The irony is that this pleasure has always awaited me had I but looked through freshly opened eyes. This then gives me another idea.

First though I check if my adorable partner is still out. I want to act in secret – afraid that if she sees me doing what I am about to do next she will think I’m off my rocker.

‘Ah; no sign of the car back yet,’ I comment to myself, ‘she’s still shopping so.’

Walking to the flower bed, ever so carefully I lift up a piece of statuary, an ornamental plant stand. Bingo! Underneath are little creepy crawly things, all racing hither and thither from the sudden onslaught of light. There are black beetles as well as earwigs; earthworms and little fat slugs; all lying in the damp earth. ‘Oh how wondrous is this?’ I ask myself.

When I think of all the years spent trimming around the base of this garden ornament I am astonished that never once have I allowed myself the fun of looking beneath. I sit back on my haunches and watch the zoo of aliens depart, searching for darkness and safety; leaving slow, slow moving slug stuck there, exposed to the heat. But what’s that I spy clinging on to the underside of the plinth of said ornament? ‘This requires detailed inspection.’ I think to myself, fishing reading glasses from my pocket. Down now on my knees for a closer look I see that they are tiny snail houses. Fetching a twig I poke at them gently. Some roll away with a brittle fine china sound – suggesting they are empty. But one or two continue to cling to the cement. ‘More guests,’ I assume, ‘and they are home.’

Normally I would be off for the poison to kill them but now my heart isn’t in it any more. I smile as I replace, ever so carefully, that ornament exactly as I found it – Mr. Slug will be pleased. Happiness envelopes me.

Looking at the smartphone I realize it is nearly one o’clock – time for lunch! Going back indoors and away from the outdoor brightness it takes my eyesight a little time to adjust. Once my snack is prepared I happily take it and myself to the conservatory, intent upon gaining the window seat overlooking our garden. But boy, am I in for a surprise? Sitting in that window seat, a wonderful smile upon her face, is my wife.

Startled at first, and then feeling a little guilty about my morning’s mini-safari, I defensively ask ‘I didn’t hear you come in?’, sitting hurriedly in the nearest chair.

‘The car had to go to the mechanic today, remember? I’m home a good while now. I walked back!’ she explains matter-of-factly, continuing with mischief in her eyes, ‘you seem to be busy today – what with pulling and tearing the garden apart and everything?’

‘Checking for wood lice’ I answer, giving her the first wild thought that comes into my mind, ‘didn’t find any though.’

Silence descends. That’s not surprising after nearly forty years of marriage. But what happens next is. I hear low chuckles escaping and then full bodied laughter. My wife is laughing – uncontrollably, unrestrainedly.

‘She’s laughing at me; she thinks I’m a fool.’ I assume as I snarl-bite into my sandwich, crossing one leg over the other and turning my body away from her, all at the same time.

‘You know how we’ve been married for nearly forty years?’ she states, then pauses for what seems an age as she catches her breath from all of the laughing, before continuing, ‘Sitting here for the last hour watching you it occurs to me that I haven’t seen such delight and happiness on your face in a long time. Whatever it is that you found I would love for you to share it with me?’

My adorable wife – she too is a mystery!