Listening to Boards of Canada has been a revelation for me over the last couple of months and I seem to get lost in their back catalog of music. It’s not to everyones taste but for me it’s like the cream on the cake, the sugar in the tea, the next person to be called!!!

The List

I tend to make lists for all sorts of things in my everyday life. From shopping to bands I like to the things that need to be done around the house. You know the boring run of the mill ones that you find stuffed into your coat pockets weeks later. You scratch your head and wonder what or where did that come from. The list will always be dictated by budget or realistic goals that are automatically set in your head. Some lists will never see the light of day but others will be gradually ticked off in an often random manner….”Climb Mount Everest”….”I’ll skip that on e till next week”!!!!

My kids have there lists well and truly made out for Christmas for Santa Claus. They know exactly what they want and are not afraid to add to it whenever a better option pops up. No problem. Santa always delivers!! I wish I could be so forthcoming with my list….sitting down in front of the fire thinking about what is needed just for you…no outside influences. By Hell or high water you could say…this is the year I’m going to go all out…hell for leather…this is the year of me…I’m worth it!!!

I know I’ve already done a request for these types of lists in previous blogs….but were they realistic or feasible and when you stood back to have a peruse over your 500 page list, did you realise that it was all about you and nothing for the rest of the slobs in your life. Or what about the ones who have nothing at all….

I was never really one for giving to charity unless I knew exactly where the money was going to. Some charities you just know the money will help in some way but others are corrupt to the core and evidence has proven that to be the case only recently in Ireland with the CRC charity being syphoned by top executives….sorry state of affairs!!!

I seem to be taken away from my flow of writing every now and again as I’m writing this page and the original thought that I had has gone completely out of my head. A few more days to Christmas…I do hope all goes well for everyone…no arguments or overcooked turkeys or too much snow or not enough good movies or hangovers!!! All I ever want for Christmas is for it to pass me by in a blink. To be able to relax for a few hours without any interruptions is all I need to fill my list….complete relaxation…AAAhhhh!!!

100 Greatest Moments in History

There will always be a tug of war between my girls and I when it comes to our weekly(sometimes every 2nd week) excursion to the local library. There is a local sweet shop near the library which gives them the spur to make this agonizing journey to a place that represents all that is pointless and wrong with the world. “I hate reading”, “What’s the point of a book, I’ll never read it!”, “Can we go to the sweet shop now?” are the comments I receive during our time there. If I can ignite a flicker of interest in the written word I can sit back in my rocking chair of life and with a smirk of smugness on my face watch there eyes jump across the page. A simple request! I’m not asking them to stick needles in their eyes, I don’t want to pull off a fingernail, for the love of God…..they always get some kind of reward if only it’s in sweets.
When I was younger….about there age now….every Saturday was a regular visit to our local library in Ballyphehane. My cousin Fergal and I would accompany each other to get lost in the TinTin books or Hardy Boys Adventures. It gave me a sense of escape from the norm. Libraries are traditionally sombre, quiet places that command a respect from the members that visit now and again. As a child we found it just as difficult as most to obey the etiquette of these hallowed walls. We picked up our few books…colored with the well worn crayons and checked our books out as we left with the stamp of the return date on the inside sleeve. Simple pleasures in life that I feel my kids need to recognize. I don’t care if they even read the books they pick….even if they read 2 pages… that would be a small step…gradually building to a grudging respect for the written word. It’s a cumulative process that should help them in some way. Maybe it’s selfish on my behalf but I always loved the concept of the library system….I sometimes pick up a classic novel in the children’s section and flick through it at home. I just love the ability for someone to walk off the street and pick up a novel or a bit of history…some bit of literature that may change their perspective on life. Unlike the internet…the library is a 3D experience. The information is all around you and the search can be a lot more random than an online experience….the smell of the pages…the touch of the pages…these visual sensations all build to give you a much higher experience than any online experience.
Don’t get me wrong…I love surfing and searching online but I’d hate for it all to be lost to a virtual experience…the simple act of feeling the weight of the book in your hand…the decision to take it home…walking to the librarian station….a quick chat maybe about what a good choice of book…..the journey home and anticipation of reading the first few pages!!!

The experience for my girls at the moment is quite different…a bit of cajoling and bribing to pick out at least 2 books each….yesterday it was up to me to pick something for them so I picked up 2 Irish History Books “100 Greatest Moments in Irish History” and “The Irish Famine(The Birth of Irish America)”. Both have fantastic illustrations and snippets of Irish History that even I didn’t know about. I introduced Clodagh to the Famine book with a retort of “We learnt that in School”. This stopped me in my tracks because there was no way in they would cover such topics in that much detail. Then I advised her that there will always be information on a topic that will be outside of the school curriculum and it will be up to her to get the full story and we all know how History can be controlled to the detriment of its people. Then I went upstairs for a split second and as I returned I saw her quickly flicking through the book. Small triumph for Daddy. 101 greatest moment you could say.

The area we live in is full of this history…As I said to the girls…these were our people who suffered and died….I got a comment of “We didn’t know them!”…infuriation followed from my part but I think I got someway through to them.

The road from Newtwopothouse (where the girls school is) to Doneraile is one I travel every day on our journey to and from school…an area full of history…..from my house to the school there are stone walls built by the landlords of yesteryear that have with time fallen to ruin. Over the last year the local farmer who owns the land has had a man repairing the walls to their former beauty. A slow painstaking task that involves cold wet mornings and lots of patience. Every time I pass them I give a silent nod of respect to this master mason for his outstanding work. The area has been restored to its past glory. This is an area surrounded by Ash, Beech, Oak, Hazelwood….. and these have the contrast of the stone walls that seem to frame them against the countryside. That daily excursion is unlike any I had as a child…..a causeway of road hugging trees guides us each day to our destination….giant trees planted 100’s of years ago….that is why we should remember the past with a grudging respect.

I must admit I also like the few clove rocks and bulls eyes that the girls share with me after the library. Simple pleasures…

Corridors

The smell of the freshly painted walls outside the class room weaseled its way up into my nostrils and tickled a distant blackboard screeching memory of other corridors in Christian brothers schools now calling me from the distant past. This was a new corridor, one of those hexagonal extremities that prevents students from seeing their disgruntled principal approaching from a distance. These halls were built as part of a long fought fundraising drive that saw many students come and go before tasting the fruits of their labour…the cake sales and Christmas fairs with mulled wine and sandwiches. Every effort made to sell tickets for unwanted prizes and guessing games to calculate how many M & M’s are really in the jar. If wall Street took a leaf from “The Principals Guide to Raising Money for Destitute Schools”, then the world would be a more stable place. These schools were leftovers from the regime of the Christian brothers whose campaign to educate the masses and build stately schools to accommodate us pupils was successful in its initial mission. These marble halled schools  with herring bone wooden floors in the class room were built to last and each one that they built were monuments to the 1960’s dream but the structures that they built were mundane, impersonal places that reminded you of state prisons with only one goal…..to process each student as well as they could!!!

Sitting outside my child’s classroom waiting to be called for the yearly PT meeting, that school smell in my mind, I wondered were my experiences completely different to my children’s. I entered Greenmount School in 1981 and was thrown amongst the scariest bunch of vagabonds you could imagine. Many of them later ended up in prison or at the end of a rope….some I still see selling drugs on street corners and others are just lost in the echelons of school classmates that will never be seen again…maybe in a supermarket aisle or in a queue of some sort our eyes may meet but all that would be given is a quick nod and a wink . I always knew that our paths would never cross again somehow. I was lucky that I never really socialized with my fellow pupils outside of school. This self imposed apartheid probably saved me from a listless life of drugs, alcohol and probably a stretch in prison. That’s how life for the pupils in this school was pre-programmed. There were some who escaped to better climes but they were the exception to the rule.

Maybe the pupils were a product of the times….a time when there was no employment and little prospects. As a young boy I was one of the privileged few whose father had a good solid job that kept us in a reasonable standard of living. |Some of the boys in my class had nothing….Greenmount was one of the few schools that gave out buns and cocoa to the students during the morning break. At the time I thought this a treat but now looking back it must have been breakfast for some of the poor souls walking through those gates. A freshly iced bun and a hot cup of cocoa for all. I still remember the smell that wafted from the small cocoa house each morning. The presentation brothers knew all too well that hunger was an all too common factor for many children going to school back then.

Now my moment had come to face the modern day teachers who were to mould my young children. Gone are the flowing robes of the brothers and the cracked canes with which they stored away in order to lash the fresh hands of young children. Now there is a different kind of teacher in the world or is there? I am always weary of the complacency of parents when it comes to the teaching of our children. They may be only in their primary years at school but these are the formative years that shape their minds. It certainly was the case for me and surely it must be for them also…..they are like little sponges that need to be retrieved from the depths of the oceans and carefully lifted to the surface. These thoughts run through my head as I wait to be called. This is my first real meeting with any of their teachers for any real length of time. It’s like one of those speed dating events except you are discussing your children’s progress in school instead of you!! I’m nervous….in a kind of helpless “What will I say to the teacher?” kind of way!!

I have a chance to admire the seasonal pictures of Halloween pumpkins on the walls…one for every pupil in the class…all laid out for all the parents to see…the same picture coloured in with the same colours of black and orange….all of them mimicking each other. Not one of the pumpkins was painted a different colour or variation of the same!! So much for encouraging the individual in the class…..but who is going to shirk the norm in the class…..there was always one in the early 80’s…no shortage of unique characters!!! The new school buildings remind me of the fear I had as a child…of teachers…of bullies…of missed homework…of being late for class…the trite fears of a child but very real at the time. These fears will always remain the same for any child and will never change no matter what decade you are in. Now I have that similar fear as I sit on the cushioned seat outside the classroom. I listen to the mumbled chatter of the other parent ahead of me and the echos of footsteps and conversation rebound around the corridors of the school. I try to think of some intelligent questions to ask the teacher but none come to mind as I stare at a picture of some parrots with a multitude of colours and a sign to indicate which teacher and which classroom to go to next if you have more than one child in the school. Even now they are controlling your next move…all the preparation for PT Day is on the walls and the clean floors with freshly painted walls is designed to give you a sense of a fresh school that is in its infancy. Then I realize that the teachers have total control over my children….I know that I have an input but they are the official teacher and from now until the end of their school days their fate is in their hands. I have only a minor input into how it goes from here……this thought chills me and makes me uneasy. While I fidget  in my chair, the door opens and the previous parent walks out and I am warmly welcomed into the classroom!

Sunlight in my Eyes

The magical, almost angelic light fall at this time of year gets me all tingly and broody. Sneaking up on you in your weakest moments, it can awaken a renewed interest in life that seemed to be fading with the darker mornings and evenings. It can happen when you sit in your favourite chair or when you glance out the window before you head out the door. An array of new colours grab you by the scruff of the neck to help you appreciate the changing season.
These are ongoing changes that are omnipresent in our lives and sometimes they can mirror sudden changes that you may be experiencing. Letting you in on a secret “Nothing stays the same”….
As I help my girls with their homework I remember my school-days fondly or fearfully….depending on which tyrant was at the helm. One part of the curriculum that I always remember is the teaching of the changing seasons…the nature table….the books with chimneys billowing smoke at different angles to indicate the strength of winds throughout the year. The Autumn for us always meant the climbing of gates and high walls to climb into the Presentation Brothers in Greenmount. They had the more mature chestnut trees in our neighbourhood and with strong wind came the shiniest of chestnuts just lying there for the taking!!!!
Every youngfella in our area had a prize collection of conkers that were hung by the end of an old bootlace to be slung at competitors in school during break times. The last conker standing was dictated by the technique with which you swung your chestnut or by how long you roasted them by the fire!!!