Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Blue Plastic Bucket

If you were to visit my house and wished to use the bathroom I'd probably direct you down the corridor to the ''Children's Wing''  Shower-room.  The phrase ''Children's Wing'' has a story all its own.

You might notice a small sky-blue/turquoise bucket on the floor.  Nothing significant to notice.  It's just a plastic sand-bucket a small child might have at the sea-side.  These days it serves to hold a can of aerosol, and some bathroom odds and ends.  As I said, nothing significant, nothing remarkable........perhaps you've been in that room and not even noticed it.

It was June 2007, after battling bone cancer for 15 years Joy was thrilled to be in Fethard, her favourite place on earth.  She was very thin, somewhat frail but I remember that she laughed so much that summer, just threw her all into what were to be her last months among us.

That year we spent time in Fethard for parts of June, July, August, September and October.  It was the year of the Elephants, it was also the year of the Blue Bucket.  When we take up residence in the Bungalow each year the first thing I do is go to the local shop and buy a big bunch of flowers, I add foliage and wild flowers to these and we're ''home''.   In the absence of vases I use the coffee pot, cut-down drinks bottles, anything.  that year, as I wandered around Dillons Londis I spotted a tower of colourful buckets beside a stack of spades and boogie-boards.  I took a yellow one in one hand and a blue one in the other, closed my eyes and liked what my mind saw......the blue bucket sitting on the mantle with flowers spilling out all around it.  I brought my bucket back to the house where it served its puropse holding a succession of lilies, honeysuckle, dog-daisies and poppies.

We left Fethard in the middle of July and I brought my bucket home.  Three weeks later we returned to the Bungalow and Bucket came too.  That summer was beautiful, yes it did rain but we were blessed with days of sunshine.  How often we do things, experience things, not knowing that it's to be the last time.

Joy was always first into the water with us young ones.  She loved bracing the rollers on Pettis and enjoyed walking through the water all the way along the beaches.  We think life will stay the same.  That summer, 2007 Joy made it down to the beach a couple of times.  On Duncannon we could just drive onto the beach.  Sadly the majestic Atlantic beaches, our favourites....Pettis and Sandeel were just impossible for her.  One beautiful day that August, Juliet was also with us, Mum and I took Joy to Grange beach.  She managed the slope slowly with her stick and leaning on Juliet's shoulder.  We made ''camp'' at the bottom of the slope ann mum and Joy sat in their chairs while Juliet and I threw ourselves into the sparkling sea.  I swam out a bit and, looking back to shore, saw the tiny figure of Joy sitting happily, holding up the childs umbrella she used to shade her delicate skin from the sun.  I treaded water and waved.  I can still see her as she waved back at me, something in her wave made me know she was smiling, smiling wistfully.  I came in and dropping down beside her told her how lovely the water was.  Her feet were swelling in the heat and from her illness and I so wanted her to be able to dip them in the sea.  I grabbed the blue bucket and brought it down to the waves.  I went back and forward pouring the cool, refreshing sea-water down her shins as she closed her eyes in bliss.

The tide was almost fully in and I saw some children running, squealing from the water.  There were jelly-fish  and small crabs everywhere.  This sometimes happens at high tide in the evening.  I grabbed Blue Bucket and ran into the sea and managed to scoop two small sapphire blue jelly-fish into the brimming bucket.  They swam round and round the bucket like little jets, filling up, puffing up then scooting forward.  It was beautiful and I had to share the moment.  Mum had gone for a paddle, Juliet was sun-bathing and I held the bucket on Joy's lap.  She gazed in at the lovely water-dance taking place.  It was a special, precious few moments.  Because of Blue Bucket I was able to bring the sea to my beloved Aunt.  Soon the crabs were everywhere and all the children ran to safety.  I grabbed Old Bluey and somehow managed to dive head down and eventually I caught a small crab and, delight of delights, a hermit-crab in my hand.  I slipped them into the bucket and ran to show them to Joy.  As she watched them her merry smile turned wistful and she asked me to pour some more water on her feet.  I put the crabs back into the water and gave Joy what was to become her last feel of the mighty sea on her limbs.

We returned to Fethard twice more, packing so much happiness and so many memories into the days.  Joy was never happier.  Bluey was always there....either holding flowers or being used to carry things.

On October 18th we returned to Fethard.  Mum, Joy, their friend Ida and me. There was a big party planned in nearby Horetown House for my Mum's 80th birthday.  Joy had been busy for weeks planning this treat for her sister.

On Friday night just before going to bed Joy went over the seating-plan with me........the following morning at shortly after 7am Joy layback into my arms where I was sitting on her bed, gave one short breath, closed her eyes and died.  I washed her hair for the last time before laying her on a snow-white pillow where family and friends could come to say their farewells....Blue Bucket carried the water I used to rince the shampoo from her lovely head.

Next time you see something somewhere.  Something insignificent, unremarkable......you never know what stories it could tell.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


The other day we disturbed a Tortoishell butterfly which had just gone into hibernation in some curtains.   We have them all over the house during winter and we usually know where they are and have no need to disturb them.  About two years ago one of these beautiful creatures had taken up residence in my en-suite.  I came and went, bathing etc without causing so much as a flicker of her prayer-like wings.  One cold, cold day I put the heater on for a good hour before having a bath.  When I came into the bathroom to light my candles and soak in the warm water I noticed that my butterfly was awke and fluttering about.....the heat of the room had confused her sleep.  I wash my hair when I bathe so the bubbles come at the end of the bath,  I was sitting, singing to myself and scooped up a handful of water to splash over my shoulder when the beautiful, delicate creature fluttered down onto my hand.  I sat quiet as a statue and just gazed, enraptured as she moved on to the edge of my little finger and began to drink from the small well of water in my hand.....putting out her long proboscus and curling it back up time after time.  The water grew cold but I didn't care because what was happening was so beautiful, so extraordinary I didn't want it to end.  After a time she flew off my hand but landed again on my shoulder and 'licked' the water from my skin....it was so gentle I could barely feel it.  Every time I see a Tortoishell butterfly I think back to the beautiful moments when one drank from my hand.  I doubt this will ever happen again........but I was blessed.  The smallest wonder can make any day special and you would be surprised how sudenly you cna be ''surprised by joy''

Sunday, October 3, 2010

All Creatures Great and Small

I was 15.  It was August, late August way back when summers shimmered and fed us with their glow.

There is a hotel in Foulksmills, Co. Wexford.  Horetown House.  Some of you may know it now.  It is a sumptuously appointed 4*, overly priced place......though very beautiful.  Ah, but I jumped through time, so let me take you back to an idyllic time which I was so very blessed to know.   Horetown House was owned by the Young family, Theo, Vera and their 3 sons and 1 daughter.  We discovered it whilst in Fethard where a tantalising poster hung in the Post Office.  It offered Pony Trekking for all abilities and all ages. I already loved horses and had done a little riding.  We teen-agers squeeled with delight and begged and cajoled until mothers and fathers packed us into cars and made the journey past the honeysuckle hedgerows.  Mum had gone to the Village phone box and turned the handle (do you remember those?) the operator put her through to Horetown and she booked a lesson and trekk for 5 of us.  Foulkmills, especially then, was a small, pretty village dominated by a beautiful water-mill, still in use.  There were tall trees and glorious wild flowers everywhere.  Horetown House is set about a mile outside the village.  We drove through the gates, and entered a huge hall hung with trophy heads shot (remember this was another age) by the previous owner, a Major Laken.  Theo was a farmer and his wife, Vera ran the hotel.  It was a house which embraced you as soon as you entered, a little run-down but oh so wonderful.  Theo with the help of his son Robert ran the Trekking Centre.  This is a story in itself but I must skip from 13 to 15 in a few words.  It became my second home.  Vera welcomed young people from around the world to stay in 'lesser' accomodation at the top of the house.  One could go for a week, full board, all day riding for half price if we were prepared to muck-out, groom and help in the kitchen.  Everyone loved Horetown and, in the evening elderly couples with no interest in horses, various tourists and a bunch of boys and girls, boots left at the front door, lounging in Jodhpurs, would gather after dinner and sing along with Vera playing the piano. Then before bed-time, as the evening star was coming out, a huge trolly was wheeled into the Drawing Room laden with tea, hot-chocolate, biscuits, cake and buns. It was during one of these magical ''Special'' weeks, that I was left with memories which could never be repeated.  I was in Horetown with my friend Sally.  We had been allocated a pony each.  We were completely in charge of our pony.  After a hearty breakfast we'd wander down the dusty lane to the stable-yard, past vast blossoming hedges and tall trees on one side, and pasture/parkland on the other.  Mucking out and grooming done, we'd be in the saddle all day either having lessons, riding out or just messing about.....riding down to the local shop, tethering our ponies to the petrol pumps, then returning lazily swaying, one hand on the reins the other gripping a large ice-cream.   After supper, as the sun was burning with that last, low intensity of an August evening, we would take the ponies out for a last, glorious half hour.  In those days the milking was done by hand in Horetown, we drank greedily of frothy, unpasteurised milk.....none of us the worse.  At evening milking-time, and this is the memory of memories, we'd unburden the horses of their saddles and swing ourselves back up on the hot, sweating animals.  Sometimes we'd lean forward along their necks, bury our noses in their manes and just hug them.  I can still remember the sweat from the flanks soaking into my jodphurs, and with my face buried in the musky neck, I felt as though my pony and I were one.  Then, on Robert's 'command' we'd (usually 4 or 5 of us) ride bareback down the winding lane to the ''Flesh'' field where the milk-laden cows would be waiting with bees buzzing around their heads.  We would then herd the cows back up the lane into the byre in the stable yard.  Horses, ponies seen to we then went into the byre and, if we wished, we would help with the milking.  How can I ever describe those day-ends.  Sitting on a milking stool breathing in the sweet cow smell with only the buzzing of bees, the chewing of hay and the ''swish-swosh'' of milk into the pail breaking the silence.  I could have stayed there for ever, with my head resting on the warm flank of a placid cow as I watched the milk I was drawing, fill the bucket held between my knees, with creamy, frothy milk.  After the cows made their swaying, lazy way back down the dusty lane to the ''Flesh'' field.  We would make our way back up past the Parkland on one side and the tall trees and flowering bushes on the other.  We would climb the steps between the colums to the front door, pull off our boots, lay them neatly in a row and, tired but oh so happy, we'd follow the sound of the piano and the smell of the log fire, through the big, square hall with its flagstones and trophy-heads, into the Drawing Room and sing our hearts out.