Iceland2 2018Long time bucket list item rose to the top recently, when I noticed that Icelandair were now flying from Belfast, from the little airport 15 minutes from my home. Local travel agent had a package for February, and I was just about to book it when I mentioned it to my daughter in London. “We want to go too!!” meaning daughter and grand-daughter, named appropriately Aurora. But I’m flying from Belfast! Package abandoned, and much scurrying about the internet as we tried to source appropriate flights. A friend says she knows someone who specialises in packages to Iceland. Daughter considers it rather expensive., and persuades me to do separate flights, and she would get a place to sleep using the Internet. Iceland specialist offers to arrange trips while we are there to suit my ageing inability to walk long distances or climb steep steps into coaches, and daughter agrees. I pay for all flights and the Iceland package, leaving food shopping and eating out to daughter, as these happen. As February approaches, husband in care with dementia is admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Cancellation considered, but he conveniently passes away 4-5 weeks before the trip. I’m sad, but relieved his Alzheimers journey is over. All good considering, funeral over, visitors away, legal paperwork begun, packing commenced, and Iceland becomes my post traumatic respite holiday. Paul would have said, ‘ You go!!’ He used to call ME Bossy Boots’! Thank you, Paul!

Our flights would arrive about an hour apart, and our driver Olav would collect us both, and drive to the Blue Lagoon for our first Icelandic experience before dropping us off at the ‘Ice Apartments’. On the morning we leave, daughter texts her flight is cancelled. Frantic attempts to re-book with another airport produce a result. I take a taxi to my local airport, ETD 10am, and as we approach the airport my taxi driver says my plane is delayed. Checking in, it will leave at 18:00, snow is starting to fall as I settle in for the long wait, relax buying duty free wine, cosmetics, and availing of a free facial. By 19:30 I’m in the air, and 3 hours later arrive in a severe blizzard. Blue Lagoon now out of the question, daughter texts to say they can’t even get into the accommodation, so I book a night in another guest house. Driver negotiates expertly through increasing snowfall, we find accommodation 2 and settle for the night. Next day, driver collects us complete with all bags and my walker and we arrive at accommodation 1, negotiating badly parked cars blocking our entrance way. Daughter to discuss previous night’s access problem with owner of apartment next day, and we settle ourselves, exhausted and stressed in the very welcome and cosy beds.

Next morning we head off with driver on the arranged plan to the Golden Circle, on snowy roads, visiting the Thingvellir National Park, and stopping at the Secret Lagoon for a swim in the geothermal heated water. Amazingly we encounter many cars that have accidentally driven off the edge of the road, probably tourists in hire cars, according to Olav. Lunch at the Farmers Cafe overlooking the cows munching at their hay, we enjoy an excellent Icelandic lamb dinner, and head off in the deepening snow for a photo shot at the Gulfoss waterfall and see a geyser erupt at Strokkur.

Plan for next day is to talk to accommodation admin in nearby shop, proving difficult to locate, and we explore the local shops, have coffee, see the tall church and enjoy an Icelandic pancake day treat for lunch. Apartment admin eventually located, and it appears I have not forwarded to daughter an email explaining access to apartment, which arrived day after husband’s death and thus out of my radar. Daughter hurls abuse at my poor email review management as she is embarrassed, but negotiates 50% reduction on first night. This has not appeared in my bank, but I put it down to bereavement expenses.

Our last full day is to drive to the south coast. Olav has brought his 8 year old daughter as company for Aurora. It is snowing hard, and he suggests a city tour seeing interesting sites, walking on the frozen Pond, a visit to the Whale museum, and lunch in the Perlan restaurant overlooking the city. Still snowing hard and roads to the south have been closed. Daughter suggests snowboarding for the kids, and Olav helpfully finds a suitable hill, having thoughtfully packed boards in the boot of his 4-wheel drive. We join the queue of cars waiting to drive south, it’s getting dark, but we eventually make it, driving again through snow clad high mountains, and find a delightful restaurant where we enjoy welcome Icelandic fare. And the day ends on a high note, as we stop at a place Olav knows is good for watching the Northern Lights. We are not disappointed, and Olav parks in a dark spot for us to enjoy the amazing treat we had come to see, the Aurora Borealis.

Our journey home was thankfully less eventful, and we can look back on a holiday never to be forgotten.

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Trust and Obey

She was a trusting sort of person, compared to some she knew…….

At about the age of 10, she wrote a poem expressing her absolute belief in the aspect of Christianity she had been taught.

But even by the age of about 9, she was discovering things that left her distrustful of those whom most people usually trust implicitly – their family, their church, the belief system they imbibed as a child. In other words,’ the big things of life’.

So by about 9 or 10 she was asking questions. She had been thrust into a fee-paying school environment which her poor but middle-class parents assumed was best, as it was the one associated with the grammar school her father had attended. But here she was bullied. In P.1 she was top of the class academically, but could not tie her own shoe-laces. By P.3, she had a fear of the maths teacher, who was cruelly unkind, and she was so unhappy that her parents decided to move her to the local primary school, just 5 minutes walk from home.

This was a happier environment, and through the new class teacher, Mrs Brown, she grew to enjoy writing ‘compositions’ and to fear maths less. She joined the school choir, and entered the Belfast Musical Festivals. This began a long association with choral singing. But the class that set her thinking more than anything was the Scripture lesson. They read from the same Bible, sang the same hymns, and were taught the same lifestyle rules. But having to ‘get saved’ was never mentioned!

They lived in a smallish Protestant enclave within or on the edge of a Catholic area. These were people who were, according to her mother, not as clean or tidy as her own family, and who because of their religion had to have as many children as they could so that there would eventually be more of them, and this was re-enforced by her paternal grandmother.

So at almost 70, and pondering why it was that although she grew up in a deeply religious family, and was not allowed to ask questions they didn’t have an answer to, she rejected their brand of faith, but continued to ask those questions, and over the years found some answers, as well as reasons to accept there may not be an answer to some, and even at age almost 70, she continued to have a deep faith.

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baby Norah 001Brought up the eldest child of a not very well off middle class northern Ireland family with Brethren Irish/ Scottish roots, I started my schooldays at Downey House, a paid-for prep school of Methodist College, the grammar school my father and his siblings had attended in Belfast after his Tyrone based farmer father suffered a severe stroke. Shy and a bit of a dreamer, with no older siblings, I couldn’t yet tie my laces at 5, liked English, reading and nature study, but didn’t like the maths teacher. Still, I was awarded 1st Girl in Form 2, but from there my marks went down. I was unhappy, and my parents transferred me to the local primary school, where I learnt the joys of singing, English composition, and a well stocked library. Passing my 11 plus, without ever feeling any pressure to do so, I went on to Ashleigh House, a Belfast grammar school my mother had attended for a secretarial course. With a place in the A group due to 11 plus results, I did reasonably well until mock O-levels, of which my results were average. On a summer job in France I received my actual O-level results, which I could hardly believe, as they were good enough for me to return for A-levels. However this was not to be, as my return to commence A-levels was determined by my poor mock O-level results, and by this time my parents had decided I would commence a nursing career as most of my aunts had done. And so it was. I suspected they felt Uni would give me an opportunity to ask too many questions for a Brethren girl, and I deeply regretted not having been given the choice. But nursing training was of a high scholastic level and I passed my exams with ease. A further 6 months Midwifery training convinced me that was not for me, but I had met the man I wanted to marry, and babies followed. Only after he was diagnosed with leukaemia aged 36 did I start to write, and when he died I had the responsibilities of single parenthood. A further career in clinical research followed and my writing ability came to good use. I have now just finished writing my memoir.

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Senses like a flower

Spreading out towards me now

Giving warmth and joy

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There was once an inventer called Richard

Who dreamt up a scheme to make knickers.

The machine had a curse

It went in reverse

And he had to feed its voracious appetite with all the sexy ladies’ underwear he could lay his hands on.

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Ian 1983

Wandering spirit, traveller from the East and Gallic lands,

Coming to share my grief, the loss of one so dear

To both of us.

One, part of both our lives, a memory strong

Who dominates my thoughts,

Who made me what I am.

I see in you familiar glimpses: hand, thoughtful, gentle air.

Loving his children, taking delight in each development of body and of mind.

What draws us close? Is it memories alone?

You stir my feelings, fill an emptiness within my soul.

(Is there a void in yours as well?)

My God fills mine in ways so hard to comprehend

And still He knows my needs –

I trust him for the future.

The now-ness is but temporary, part of faith.

I’d love to share that with you, but some hurt

Has shut your mind to Him a little.

My love, like His, is offered for the taking

Demanding nothing of you, but accepting what you have to offer.

You search for something, perhaps not even knowing what.

I pray your search may end in joy, peace, love.

14th April 1983

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Jeannie’s Happiest Day

That morning, her mother didn’t know her. She had met him over a year ago, and knew he was the answer to her dreams. But to her mother, it was just a flight of fancy. In her mind, she had conjured up ideas of unwanted pregnancy, emotional break-ups, even losing her daughter. ‘You should wait a year’ she said, and to keep her happy they complied. It was as if she had never envisaged her only daughter marrying and leaving home. Her mind was tortured with the thought of life not following the path she expected it to. Someone in the family died: she fell apart. Someone left the confines of her family and went abroad, even made a success of their life: she was in tears.

So they had a long engagement, at least it seemed long to them. Her mother’s sister advised them to elope, but no, they wanted a proper wedding. And Aunt Myra was probably right! The ‘At Home’ evenings, with displays of wedding presents, tray bakes and best frocks became a threat: was the room well-enough decorated; was there enough food; why did Mrs B not attend? They complied as best they could, but preparations continued. The tension at home rose, but they were oblivious. She spent more time with her fiancé than with her own family. Nothing would hinder the process of marrying the man of her dreams.

The day arrived. Aunts and friends helped her prepare for the ceremony. Her mother was in tears, unable to leave her bed. An aunt tried to help her get into the outfit she had chosen. Eventually her daughter was asked to help her to get out of bed. But no, the demons had taken over. Jeannie was strangely calm, as it became apparent that her mother would not be present at the church.

Jeannie knew her father must have been distressed by the turn of events, but he alone was there for her, as the limousine arrived at the front door. It was a windy April day, and they set off to the church, leaving an aunt to stay with Mum until the doctor arrived, and later accompanied her to a local hospital.

It was all strangely remote to Jeannie, as she walked up the aisle and met the man she knew would meet every desire she had. At the reception, she felt as if her face had frozen into a smile that would not go away. They  were on target, and the past was behind.

On the plane to London, Charles felt ill, and Jeannie dismissed it, thinking it was nerves. At the hotel, another disaster would befall them, but still Jeannie was happy, and felt she could cope with anything. Someone left a bath running above their room, and their matrimonial bliss was shattered by water pouring onto the bed. The only other room available was the manager’s penthouse suite. Settling into the unexpected grandeur, Jeannie was still happy, feeling nothing could spoil their bliss.

But no, Charles’s pain increased, a doctor was called, and for a huge sum diagnosed appendicitis. Off now to a London hospital by ambulance, but Jeannie had for some reason to take the tube, tears now running down her face while other passengers looked away.

Soho beatings and drug-induced states surrounded them as they waited for a doctor. “Sorry we don’t have double beds here!” was the comment when the doctor heard they were just married. Jeannie’s aunt turned up and took her for a meal, plying her with champagne ‘it is your wedding night’, she said!

Back home, the insurance money paid for furniture for their new flat, and yes, it was the happiest day of her life! But the future held more pain, as 13 years later Charles was diagnosed with leukaemia, and died following a bone marrow transplant. And her mother commented, ‘Why do all the best people have to die?’ ECT had extinguished all memory of the wedding.


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