Snow

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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Africa

In the context of writing my memoir, and as I write, taking into consideration the effect of my upbringing on my personal philosophy, I sometimes wonder why northern Ireland people often follow the philosophy of their parents, and why I and my own children have taken a different path, questioning the personal ideals of their parents. Listening to a world service programme on land ownership in south Africa, I remember as a child considering the value of missionary work there, and wondering why the African people did not seem to own their land, and why it was owned by white Europeans. Many of my contemporaries went as missionaries or worked as doctors, posing as if they had a right to change the basic lives of people in another country. It seemed to me so unfair, and pompous, the way they went there to impose their religion and ideas on a country that already had its own philosophies. Yes, Jesus said to go into all the world and spread the gospel, but it seemed so rude and presumptuous to do what they did. No wonder there was resistance.

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Mistaken

That itch in the small of my back, no

Higher up, between the shoulder blades.

No, more to the right, down a bit

Yes, yes, just up a tiny bit

Ooh, yes, that’s wonderful, oooooh! Yes!!

Widowed at 36, who can now scratch my back?

God knows my need, and yes, it is a need.

He gave me someone

Also with a need. Or seemed to.

Needing each other, flesh and soul to soul.

Two swans lamenting partners, sadness,

Touching, giving, opening hearts

Sharing our love, emotions, and respect.

A second time around.

But no, I was mistaken

There was no love, just useful for a time.

Goodbye dear John, you never said you wanted someone else.

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Gerry G finds a new shed

They met after hubby no 2 had discovered the local Men’s Shed. It gave an opportunity to offer his past skills in woodwork and machinery, to merge with the local men of the community, develop a network of new friends in this forgotten part of the United Kingdom, northern Ireland, Ulster as it was sometimes called. Although he had lived most of his life in England, his love of travel had encouraged him to ask me, a northern Ireland widow, to marry him, sell his apartment and move there, lock stock and barrel. They had 8 years together as a married couple until Alzheimers took over, and I laid him to rest, his ashes joining the fish, the boats and the watery depths of the sea he had loved. And Gerry G was in diffs in the Men’s Shed, where people smoked illegally, and when requested not to, attacked him verbally, possibly knowing he was gay. My garage workshop lay full of tools, with lighting and oil heaters when required, needing a man to fill its space, it was an obvious solution. A friend to share a coffee or a bag of chips, grateful for a space to fulfill his creative desire, and use his skills to make gifts for his friends.

Gerry’s background was very different to hers, but with some similarities that became evident as they chatted and got to know each other. Both born in northern Ireland, he in Holywood, she in Belfast. They had never met before, for a typical northern Ireland reason: both Christian but with very different backgrounds. Gerry was born into a Catholic family, and had moved to Dublin with his family early in his life. Catholicism was a ‘no-no’ in Norah’s family, being brought up in a ‘Brethren’ assembly’ or church. But after moving to northern Ireland as an adult, Gerry joined the Police Service of N. Ireland, courageously, as few Catholics ever became police officers. And somehow, along the way, as Gerry loved reading the Bible, he felt the need to explore protestantism, and attended some tent meetings run by a Brethren group. And through the preaching of Hedley Murphy, Gerry ‘gave his life to Christ!’ So he and Norah had a subject in common: Bible study!

This worked well, and the friendship grew, until Norah felt her house was really not suitable for her as she grew older. A fairly large garden, and at near the top of a hill, she found she could walk downhill to the shops, but walking back up with shopping was becoming a problem. She had a car, but felt that winter snows could be a problem, living on her own up a hill. And so, a decision was made to move back to a High Street apartment before the winter set in. At the same time, Gerry was having problems with the neighbourhood where he lived, and Norah suggested he could apply to the Housing Executive for a move to a house that would have space for a shed.. .. This soon showed possibilities, a 2-bed bungalow in nearby Comber, and Gerry soon accepted the offer, buying a new shed for his small back garden. Getting to know his new neighbours, and joining a church similar to the one he attended in Holywood, Gerry soon settled in, visiting Norah on occasions, until lockdown put a stop to even that.

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Growing up

Looking back on the 16 to 22 years, from my early 39s…

It is only a part, because we are always growing up, always learning something from our surroundings and circumstances. But somehow, during the late teens and early twenties, we are actually more acutely aware of our reactions to them. We want to experiment with situations, so as to see what our reactions will be, and we can work out and add this to our code of living and belief. The young person in this category tends to be questioning, idealistic, in her pursuit of finding out her own moral ethic. She may be influenced by people or books she respects. Or is she? To her, experiences must be first-hand, even though this may bring some hurt to herself. The sad thing about life is that youth has the energy without the experience. When experience comes, it may be too late, and though the lessons learned could be passed on to those still growing up, they aren’t interested, they want to try it for themselves.

Some young people look on those in their 30s as ‘past it’, over the hill, almost another breed, and in a way it is true that around 30 one’s beliefs become more formed, and as one sees more of life, one’s ideals become dulled, depending on the type of person. But when you think of it – in 10 years time you will be there, and it comes sooner than you think!! And although 10 years have passed, it’s still the same you, same hopes and aspirations, same temptations, joys and sorrows. When you next meet a person of about 30 or so, think to yourself, they were once adolescent, unsure, questioning, idealistic, in and out of love – with just the same problems that you have. At 30, I….. tbc…

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Meeting Chris again.

When writing my memoir, I was going mainly on memory. But yesterday I found my story written in 1968, the year we met! So, starting again, from that Sunday morning coming out of church, waiting to have a chat with my best friend Yvonne. A friend of hers arrived simultaneously to ask her to a party the following Friday, and as I was there, he had to ask me too! Little did I know what a big difference that chance invitation would make to my whole life.

The party was, I may say, pretty poor. It was suggested we should dress as hippies, and Yvonne, Marion and I really went to town, painting flowers on our faces with lipstick, and putting flowers in our hair. We were the first to arrive, but we were in the party mood. Others drifted in, and we noticed that we were the only ‘off-beat’ girls present. “We’ll show them”, we thought, “how to enjoy ourselves”. Funny enough, though, the boys picked partners from the more conventional types, and I made a mental note that it didn’t pay to be way-out!

So much for the party. Marion had arranged for us to get a lift home with some girls, and I thought, ‘Crummy end to a crummy party!’ The party was in a barn in the country, and we walked down the lane to the road, where Marion informed us there was only room for herself in the girls’ car, and could we get lifts ourselves. There was only one boy there, Yvonne’s friend John Yates, whom we knew well enough to ask. “Sure”, said John, “only my car is parked down at Shaw’s Bridge with a flat battery, and you could help me give it a push!!”

So the two of us tumbled into John’s friend Ricky’s car at approximately 1am, and set off for the short distance to the bridge. A car followed us, Ricky making rude comments about the driving ability of its owner. John’s car was an old Austin 7, and it took some pushing to even move it. I was doing the steering, though the owner of the car behind, who turned out to be a friend, helped push too. After half an hour’s sweat and toil, we decided it was no good, and abandoned the car. We were about to go, when the driver of the car behind discovered he had locked his keys in his car. It was now nearing 2am. After some discussion, the only solution seemed to be to drive us all in Ricky’s car to Chris’s house (for that was his friend’s name), collect the spare key and go back and collect his car.

On the way back, we called in at John’s girlfriend Gladys’s flat for a cup of coffee – actually it was handed out to us in the car, so we wouldn’t stay too long! So time wore on. By the time we got back to Shaw’s Bridge, we were ready for some more coffee, and were now completely past our sleep! It soon appeared that John had invited everybody to my flat for coffee before going home. Now it had been a long journey to the other side of Belfast and back, and on the way I happened to be talking to the bespectacled stranger in the back seat, who had locked himself out of his car! During the conversation, it appeared he was in fact working in the same hospital where I was a nurse (where, I suddenly thought, I had to go on duty that very morning at 7.45am!!). Furthermore, he was hoping to get a flat in the block of flats where I lived, as he was studying hospital administration, and was required to be resident! He was therefore fairly interested in seeing the inside of one of these flats. I was fairly interested in him!

We were an odd looking set as we entered the tower of flats. I hoped none of the other residents would see us, but it wasn’t very likely at 3am. We were still wearing our hippy gear, and Ricky had a guitar. Over our mugs of coffee, Chris and I got to know a bit more about each other. Ricky was also very friendly. But at 4am when the boys left, I said to Yvonne, ” Do you think this might be it?” She was staying the night with me, but we didn’t have much sleep!

Next day on the ward I was a bit dreamy, due to lack of sleep and thoughts of Chris. I hoped against hope he would ask me out sometime. Two hours sleep is not enough to do a days work on! The following day was Sunday, and during our conversation on Friday night, Chris had promised to come to the hospital hymn singing that night. I was very proud to have him sitting beside me, and hoped he would give me a lift home, as I was living out that night. Unfortunately, he was living in – he had a room in the Musgrave and Clark Clinic, doctors’ quarters.

During that week I had my State Final exam, and had to put romantic thoughts out of my mind and do some studying. The following Sunday, I hoped to see him at the hymn singing, but he didn’t come. On Monday, however, I was having tea in Bostock House, when I spied him sitting with a medical student friend. Egged on by my companions, and plucking up a lot of courage, I went to his table and asked him to come to a party in my flat, supposedly to celebrate Finals being over, but really in aid of him! I don’t think I ate much at that meal!

Occasionally, I went to see Yvonne, and we discussed my chances in great detail. Preparations commenced for the party. On Saturday night I went to the Help Heavenward at Vic on my own. Henry Hutchinson, an old heartthrob, whom I had just about given up on asking me out, was also there on his own. I took the opportunity of asking him to the party – after all, don’t put all your eggs in one basket! To my surprise, he asked me out for coffee. On Wednesday I did my oral exam and that was the end of all studying for a good while. Friday night was the party, and it was great. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and I certainly did. At one stage, I went and sat between Chris and the record player to talk to him, and Ricky squeezed in between me and the record player. I didn’t mind, it put me even closer to Chris. I was also fairly impressed with Ricky, and put him in second place, with Henry a close third. Chris and Ricky promised to come round the next morning and help clear up the mess. Only my brother Arthur arrived, however.

The next afternoon, after we had cleaned the place up, I met Yvonne in town. Chris had been telling us about his old Standard car, which was broken down outside Matchett’s Music shop in Wellington Place. We just had to go and see it, and there it was, parking ticket stuck behind the right windscreen wiper. A mischievous idea entered our heads, and we went to a nearby coffee bar to write an anonymous note to put in with the parking ticket, to the effect that we would help to pull it away, and illustrated profusely with drawings of us in match stick form, pulling and tugging at the old Standard.

I wasn’t speaking to Chris for about another 10 days, though I saw him a few times in the hospital. On 31st October, the Hymn-singing crowd were arranging a party, which, in its usual disorganisation, was called off, and at the last minute was called on again! This necessitated getting some men invited, and quick. I thought of Chris, but didn’t want to appear to be ‘running after him’, so I went to see June Bennett in Casualty, and she rang him up in Xray where he was working, and asked him if he and some of his friends would like to come to a party. He said yes, and that was that!

The party was both a success and a failure – for me at least. I don’t know what other people thought of it. Chris arrived on his own – his friends, i.e. Ricky etc, couldn’t come. He came in, said hello to everyone around except me. This was disastrous. Nothing I did seemed to attract his attention toward me -that is, until supper time. Supper took place in the next room, and people sat around in groups. I poured tea and handed round biscuits. Eventually, I got round to Chris with the biscuits, and sat down beside him. ‘This is it, girl -you’re on!’ Then followed half an hour of silly bantering and sarcasm, such as I had never enjoyed with any man before. To an outsider, it may have sounded ridiculous and childish, but to us, our wit was superbe.

My joy was short-lived, however. Returning to the other room, we were to play the ‘honeymoon train game’. This entailed all the men sitting on one each of a pair of chairs arranged in the form of a train, and a girl had to sit beside each man. Before I had plucked up courage to sit beside Chris, alas, another girl had done so. Well, its only a game, I thought, but no, the next game Chris asked the same girl for his partner, and sat and talked to her for ages afterwards. Things were getting out of hand, and I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t late, though, and I thought that before the party was over I could get the chance to talk to him again. Next thing, Chris and the girl got up and walked out of the room! I was completely deflated. Then I thought, he’s only leaving her home. He’ll be back. But no sign of him. June said she hadn’t thought he was ‘that type’, and this only introduced worse thoughts into my mind. I went back to the flat miserable that night, and cried my heart out.

The next day, I could think of nothing else, but during the evening something happened to cheer me up a bit. I went to Yvonne’s flat to discuss the travel arrangements for getting to Benburb, for the 21st birthday party of Gladys, John’s girlfriend. She said she had to ring John, as he was arranging the transport, so out we went to the phone box. During the conversation, Yvonne was trying to find out from John if Roger was going to the party. Then she said I was also interested in who might be going too. “Ah”, said John, “a nice-looking fellow with glasses?” This sounded a very good description of Chris, and I immediately thought – goodness, there must be some attraction on his side, after all, if he has been talking to John about me! I was once again in the heights of elation. Final arrangements were not made about travelling, and I was to contact Yvonne later…

The next day I went into town to get something to wear at the party It was to be an Irish ceili, and I had nothing green. Aftter some search, I found a very short green mini-skirt and top, and green hoopy earrings to match. I rang Yvonne that night to find out about the transport , and was told that I had misconstrued what John meant the night before. He had meant Ricky, who also wore glasses, not Chris; which was all very nice, but I preferred Chris. Anyway, John had arranged that I should go with Chris, as we would both be leaving from the same place , i.e. the Royal. Iris Mulligan would also be going with us, and John himself. I had told Yvonne I wouldn’t be off till 5.15 , but somehow the arrangement was made that Iris and I should meet Chris at the Musgrave and Clark clinic. I met Iris there at 5. 15, but of course, I was still in uniform. So I told her to get Chris to come over and collect me at the flat. Some time later, he and Iris arrived and I went out to get in the car. I wanted very much to sit in the front with Chris, but as Iris was already there, I had to take the back. We picked up John on the Lisburn Road.

The journey was amusing, as the car was a rather old and eccentric M.G. The traffigators went out all right mechanically, but needed some manual help to go in again! Also the oil pressure seemed to have a habit of gradually dropping to zero, which could only be remedied by either switching off the engine or freewheeling or stopping, dependent on the gradient! However, we got there eventually, and here began possibly the greatest evening of my life.

We arrived just in time for tea with the Mulligans. After this we started to get ready for the party. I was helping Gladys’ sister Frances with her hair, when she said, “If you want to go dowwnstairs and be with Chris, it’s OK.” I said, ” Oh, he’s not my boyfriend”, adding under my breath, “Wish he was!” I had arrived with him, and sat beside him at tea, so Frances naturally assumed that we were going together. People started arriving, and then we left the house to go by tractor and trailer to the cottage where the party was being held.

There was a log fire and candles. Soon we were dancing to Irish folk songs. Chris partnered me most of the time, and we really enjoyed ourselves and let ourselves go. Halfway through the evening, we had Irish Stew and other patriotic foods. The evening continued with dancing in one room, and someone playing a guitar in another. I was so energetic in my dancing, I sprained my ankle slightly and we had to sit down and join the folk singing. Just sitting together, we discovered how much we enjoyed each other’s company. Gradually we became more oblivious of the others in the room, and the next thing we knew we were the only two in the room, and someone was standing in the doorway, asking were we not coming out to see the fireworks display! We went out, and suddenly everyone seemed to be talking about us! Well, at least I knew I was now sure of a lift home!

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Being loved

I have been loved by various people in my life. My parents, of course, though back in the 50s when I was a child growing up, people were not so demonstrative in showing their love. I just knew I was loved. And I was loved by aunts and uncles, though my maternal grandmother, a widow, was not a demonstrative person, and never gave any sort of presents to show love. My other grandmother having died young, I had a step-grandmother who did seem to love children in her own strange way. Childhood friends, my brother Arthur and 6 younger cousins were not seen enough to develop any deep relationship with me. They were just that, younger cousins, who I saw infrequently, showing no deep affection. So the first love of my life, my husband Chris, awakened those deep needs for affection and understanding. Sadly, he died from leukaemia aged 36, and by then I had 3 children who I loved and felt loved by. But having à need for adult love following my loss of a very dear husband, I became deeply attracted to some of the men who then surfaced in my life. First, Ian, an old school friend of my husband, then the rather elderly widower Joe, who adored me. Other prospective partners, Richard and John, though as friends showed some affection, but not the real love i had before experienced. Girlfriends, Sancia and Lynn, offered some measure of affection, but not until I later met Paul, did I feel anything like the love I had first known with Chris. By then my own children were grown up and had moved away, with loves of their own, and producing children of their own, who I also dearly loved, though they lived quite far away. Sadly Paul also died, and my now grown up children though living far away with children of their own were my only source of love. But having lives of their own, I was far down the list. Niall has been supportive and I feel his love continues. Jonathan has lost contact so that’s a dead end. Jenny lives nearest, though à sea divides us, but I seem to be just an irritation in her life. A new friend, Gerry is gay, but we have an affection towards each other. Old friends have moved on, Sancia has dementia, and Lynn has fallen out with me. Yvonne is still a good friend, but at a distance and we sometimes just agree to disagree. Local girlfriends come and go, including my cleaner Sharon who died suddenly at 60. Now in lockdown from Covid19, I am alone. My lovely sister in law Suzanne in Dublin fills a gap though 100 miles away and I love her dearly, as I do her husband Terence and my own brother Arthur, who is very supportive to me. A married friend of Chris, Nigel, is always sympathetic and supportive, and an old school friend Valerie, now living near my daughter, is very caring.. A huge thank you to all my friends, as I now make this blog open for all to read.

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Pandemic thoughts

There’s a sadness as we walk past our church these days, a feeling of being detached, a loss of regular connection with the people we’ve come to know over the years. While some have met on committee to discuss and plan practicalities for returning to a regular plan, we think of those at home with little contact with their church family, some perhaps enjoying the online mini sermons or evening worship, here in Northern Ireland, or in Cork or even another denomination in London. How our lives have changed, even broadening, leaving behind the well-trod paths of weekly worship. Some folk dislike change, others thrive on it, perhaps it can stretch our minds, allowing us to explore new places, thanks to the benefits of technology. Others miss the close contact, the hugs, but thankfully God is ever-present, whether at home, or in a building, on the street or walking in a forest. New friendships have been formed, a re- formation of our lives, never to return to exactly to how things were before this pandemic. We look to the future, trusting the God we know and love, to take us through, till we reach a new normality, softly enveloped in His care.

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How The Troubles affected me

On reading my memoir recently, another member of the local U3A ‘Exploring the Short Story’ group asked why I had not mentioned ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. I said that although I was a nurse in Belfast from 1964 to 1968, I then spent about a year in London doing midwifery training, had not worked in The Royal at that time, and was little affected.

But the real reason was that I had just met the love of my life and shortly after married him, and anything else had little importance to me. We read of bombings, and even heard one that exploded fairly near our home. We were approached on our doorstep regarding our political attitude, and refused to say, as another reason was that we both came from quite pacifist families, our parents belonging to Plymouth Brethren and Presbyterian, his parents spending most of their married lives as missionaries in China. The Irish question was hardly mentioned, except by his brother who studied at Trinity College, Dublin, was married there (to an American) and settled there. My father was Scots-Irish, and my mother was from Ballina in the Irish Republic. But the subject of politics was rarely mentioned. Chris had written a scholarly article on Rev Ian Paisley, but it was only published locally. To us it was just a other political matter we had some opinions on, but had little effect on our lives. Later I became involved in a church organised peace movement, but this had little real effect on anyone.

Nowadays I feel all I can do is vote, or join a non-sectarian political party, which incidentally did well on the recent elections.

Not everyone here allows politics to rule their lives. My children have all left northern Ireland, disinterested or perhaps disgusted by sectarian attitudes.

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The Nook

68 Galway Pk 1969-70

It was my sixth house move since my first home as a wife, and possessions had accumulated, far too many according to my daughter Jenny! Brother Arthur helped decant them from my latest attic, and handed me a tatty red notebook, circa 1970. And as you do when checking what to keep and what to discard, I found myself back then, starting life as a new wife. The hours passed, as I reminisced on those days we searched for a place to live…

After our marriage on 9th April 1969, we had rented an apartment on Kirkliston Drive, Belfast, near the famous Cyprus Avenue, until we found a house to buy! And that was when we found ‘The Nook’!!

Looking for the right place for us, the first priority was for the house to be close to my place of work, as Chris could drive to his. We must have gone through practically every available house/bungalow in the area, and were on the verge of buying not a few! With a husband whose eyes sought out those little details, like poor wiring, or possible subsidence of the back garden, and both being particular about the style of fireplaces, outside decor and other details which would be difficult to alter, we found we were rather hard to please! It was all very discouraging. In any case, the places we looked at were all too far from the hospital where I worked for me to walk there, and the bus service seemed neither convenient or cheap! It is one of my principles not to waste my hard earned cash on getting to work!

Our next idea (we were brimming with ideas, it was practicalities we were rather low on!) was to buy a building site, and build a house to our own specifications. This seemed the ideal solution, but the only site we found had a tiny 30ft frontage, and we wanted a garage! We tried many arrangements of rooms, but came to the conclusion, which we had really known all along, that the site was too narrow!

One day, while on one of our frequent tours of the neighbourhood, looking at houses for sale, we spied a small bungalow, not 5 minutes’ walk from the hospital, with a newly erected ‘For Sale’ notice in the garden. The next day, key in hand, we approached the front door of ‘The Nook’. It was probably the only house we saw which possessed absolutely none of our previously thought-out requirements. It had a long, dark hall, many doors, tiny rooms, especially the kitchen, which was so small that the cooker was housed in a make-shift lean-to wooden shack just outside the back door. The garden was long and sloping, with a few untidy fruit bushes, 2 apple trees and 3 outhouses with leaky roofs. There was no garage or even space for one. My ever observant husband also detected squeaky floorboards, suggestive of rotting joists, and rotten wood in the window frames.

Opposed to these relatively minor snags, The Nook possessed 2 essential qualities – first, it was convenient to the hospital, also bus stops and shops. Secondly, it had a view unmatched by that of any house we had yet seen! A golf course was immediately across the road – near enough to watch the 7th hole from tee to green (which pleased my father), but not near enough to have golf balls flying through the front windows! Beyond that, the fields and trees stretched upwards and back for miles. The third quality which finally clinched the deal in our minds was that indefinable quality – potential! The word itself inspired thoughts of marvellous conversions of anything from barns to churches to stately homes! Needless to say, the price was important in this consideration, and at the modest price of £3,000 we considered mortgage repayments would be low enough to allow a certain amount to be spent on the house.

While the legal side of buying the bungalow was in process, Chris was frantically making plans about our conversion. Sometimes he would sit with that dreamy, far-away look in his eyes, which meant his mind was at work on the house…..! Looking back I think to myself, how fortunate are those wives whose husbands are first practical, and second, idealistic! We must have considered 10 brilliant ideas for every one that was carried out! Still, ‘Look before you leap!’ – and probably we would have hit many more snags than we did, had I not had a husband who thought things out in such detail first of all!

But the first practical realisation was that we must knock down some walls to make the rooms bigger, even if it meant having fewer rooms, and the second was to install central heating before moving in, and while all this upheaval was going on! We approached several builders with our rough plan, and each said it couldn’t be done. Without inspecting the structure of the roof space, they claimed, together with an architect friend, that the wall requiring demolition was a supporting one. Undaunted, and having inspected the structure of the roof space, my brave husband, with practically no knowledge of building, disagreed. And we finally found a builder who was willing to give the idea serious thought, and at last the work commenced. Two walls were to be knocked down; the first between the hall and the lounge, and the second between the existing small kitchen and the smallest bedroom, which we planned to make the dinette (very sixties!) Next, three fireplaces were removed completely and the walls papered over. The rotten floorboards and joists were replaced in the lounge, skirting boards fitted where walls had been removed, and gaping holes in the ceiling temporarily covered over. The meaning of the word temporary underwent a profound change for me during those first few years, Two weeks would lengthen into four, then into months as we found we were short of time, money, or ideas to carry out certain renovations. Finally central heating was installed, as we found this best for a small bungalow The fridge and cooker were both gas, and there was a new gas fire already in the lounge, so we were able to run these fairly cheaply on the low central heating tariff.

This marked the end of phase 1, and after a weekend spent cleaning the place, we moved our meagre furnishings and possessions into our newly acquired property.

Opposed to some relatively minor snags, The Nook had possessed our 3 essential qualities: first, it was convenient to the front door of the hospital, and even eventually Chris’s work, as he started a new job in the Civil Service, also just across the road. And though it was probably the only house we saw which possessed absolutely none of our previously thought out requirements, it was transformed to what we wanted. Though it had had a long, dark hall, many doors, tiny rooms (especially the kitchen, which was so small that the cooker was housed in a make-shift lean-to wooden shack outside the back door) we now had space that we needed. The garden was long and sloping, with a few untidy fruit bushes, 2 apple trees and 3 outhouses with leaky roofs, but it was manageable, and even had an arch of romantic cottage roses over the path! There was no garage or even space for one, but that had become less of a priority. My ever-observant husband had indeed noticed squeaky floorboards suggestive of rotting joists, and rotten wood in the window frames, but we had finally found a builder who was willing to give the idea serious thought, and at last the work had commenced. Two walls were knocked down between the hall and the lounge, and between the existing small kitchen and the smallest bedroom, which became the dinette. Three fireplaces were removed completely and the walls of two plastered over. Rotten floorboards and joists were replaced, skirting boards fitted where walls had been removed, and gaping holes in the ceiling covered over. And while the legal side of buying the bungalow was in process, Chris was frantically making more plans….

THE PLAN (as jotted down in pencil in his notebook!

Stage I. (before moving in):

  1. Knocking down wall between hall and lounge.
  2. Knocking down wall between kitchen and small bedroom.
  3. Installing central heating.

Stage II.

  1. Moving bedroom door
  2. Removing L-shaped wall
  3. Bringing in cooker, getting cupboards, fridge etc, for kitchen. And a ‘junk shop’ table after Chris fell through a temporary one!
  4. Ordering carpet, papering kitchen, dinette and lounge.
  5. Papering bedroom and getting carpets and a built-in cupboard.
  6. Filling up old kitchen door and putting up shelves.
  7. Wooden cladding on chimney breast.

Stage III

  1. Attaching a porch.
  2. Replacing front windows and guttering.
  3. Cleaning the roof!!

I don’t remember exactly when we moved in, but there was definitely a lot of rubble around on the day we first woke in our newly purchased first home!

Memories of that time:

  • Watching the moon landing
  • Inviting friends for suppers
  • The lodger in the attic!
  • Learning how to prune roses

Stage IV plans (after moving in!)

  1. To extend the back bedroom – £100. Not sure if this happened!
  2. Dormer windows – £100. Yes, and they are still there!!
  3. Sun lounge -£250 (sadly, didn’t happen!)
  4. Waste disposal -£50 (had to happen!!)
  5. Garage £1000 (didn’t happen)
  6. Floor the attic
  7. Workshop (didn’t happen)

Pencilled notes continued in the Notebook, along with pencil sketches of the dear husband, shopping lists (prices in pounds, shillings and pence!) and details of my new job after baby Jenny arrived, The Modern Nappy Service!

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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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