HE was no great shakes in the kitchen, my Dad, but he made a decent cup of tea.
Lyons Gold Blend. Strong and thick. A drop of milk. And two and a quarter spoons of sugar.
Always in a proper cup and saucer. He never used a mug. It was a porcelain cup, incongruous in his big weather beaten hands, or nothing.
When he and Mam would come back from the shops, it was his job to make the tea. He’d put away the heavy stuff first – the potatoes, the cylinder of gas for the Super Ser – while Mam sorted out the bread and the milk and then he’d get on to the real business of the day – the tea.
He always warmed the pot first, swirling the hot water around intently, like a science experiment. Three teabags between the two of them, boiling water, not even a second off the boil, and then a good stir with a teaspoon to bring it all together.
And then he’d wait. You always had to wait, you see. The tea had to draw. A good five minutes at least.
Look at that! A decent Jaysisin’ cup of tea, that’s what that is. The last cup for your mother, she likes it strong. Only a tiny drop of milk for her. No sugar. After 40 years he knew how Mam liked her tea. He made it for her every day after all and every day she agreed it was the best cup of tea she’d ever had. She’d sigh and say ‘God I needed that’ after the first sip. And he’d fold his arms and sit back and nod contentedly. Grand job.
He was always so proud. Making the tea after the shops was his job. Making the tea when there were visitors was his job. They all knew about the tea. They all knew Joe was the tea maker, the tea lover, in the house. The tea provider.
He was so proud.
I noticed it about four months after he died. Just suddenly one day, in my house.
Mam was making her own cup of tea. Weaker. With a large splash of milk. The tea paler than I’d ever seen it.
Then I noticed it again and again as the months and now years passed. Slightly weaker tea. More milk. The first cup out of the pot, not the last.
I thought it was grief. I thought it pained her to drink the tea the way Dad used to make it. That she couldn’t cope with the memory of it, the scent of it, the taste of it.
I was wrong.
It wasn’t grief. It was love.
This is how she likes her tea. This is how she has always liked her tea. Slightly weaker, with a slightly bigger splash of milk. The first cup out of the pot if possible. Maybe the second. But not the last.
She never told him. All those years of the tea and the sit down and the grand job. She never told him that it was good but it wasn’t quite right.
For nearly 50 years she drank her not quite perfect cup of tea and assured the love of her life that it was all she could hope for.
Hers is an Irish love story, soaked through with commitment and love and loyalty and tea.
Just like Dad used to make.
I REMEMBER waking up on the morning of my wedding feeling like I was going to throw up and die of excitement all at the same time.
We had been planning our big day for well over a year and had poured money, time and energy into making it the perfect day to celebrate with our friends and family.
We were (and still are) so in love and we wanted to shout it from the roof tops. We had the big day with the pouffy dress and the fancy hotel and the vintage car. I even wore a tiara, for God’s sake. Looking back at 2011 me, I still roll my eyes at that bit. I did lose the run of myself.
But the point is, it was our special day and we wanted to celebrate it our way, so we did. We had 130 guests, we fed and watered them and spent the night dancing the feet off ourselves on the dance floor. True story that, I still have bloody stumps where my toes should be.
When Yer Man got down on one knee at the top of the Eiffel Tower, I had no hesitation in saying yes – in fact I quite literally jumped up and down with joy and almost deafened him by bellowing my acceptance. And I practically danced up the aisle.
I said yes then and I’m writing this today because I believe in marriage.
I believe in love. I believe in fidelity. I believe in promises. I believe in joy. And I believe, more than anything else, that marriage should be open to all who choose it.
Currently in Ireland marriage is only open to opposite sex couples. LGBT people are not allowed to marry, they are excluded simply by virtue of their sexuality.
And I believe that this is wrong.
On May 22 Ireland will hold a referendum asking the Irish public to widen the definition of civil marriage in our Constitution, to allow same-sex couples to marry.
It’s going to be a simple Yes or No question – you either agree with it or you don’t. I agree with it and here’s why I think you should too:
- Marriage isn’t a delicate flower, available only to the chosen few. It is a strong and robust institution, one that gives so many such happiness and joy. And just as importantly, one that confers legal rights and security on the two people involved and their families. Why should a whole section of our society be excluded from that?
- Allowing LGBT people to marry won’t damage marriage, it will only strengthen it. It will only enhance it. After May 22 if the referendum is passed, I – and all other currently married couples – will still be married. Nothing will have changed. My marriage will still be legally recognised by law and all the current legal security I and my husband and my son enjoy will be maintained. This is fact. All that will happen after May 22 is that more people will be given the right to marry if they choose to do so. That’s all. Marriage equality will not take anything from my marriage, it will only add to it.
- Telling people they should be happy with civil partnership is like telling them to sit at the back of the bus. Currently there are 160 legal differences between civil partnership and marriage – it’s not fair and it’s not good enough. It’s second best. I wouldn’t choose it for myself, so why should I impose it on others?
- No campaigners talk about ‘redefining marriage’ as if it’s a bad thing. In my eyes, it’s not and frankly, marriage has been redefined about a bajillion times before. In days of yore marriage meant that your husband owned you. You were literally his property. Marriage used to mean that if you worked in the civil service you had to give up your job once you walked down the aisle. It used to mean that your husband could rape you, and nothing could be done about it. Thankfully, marriage doesn’t mean those things anymore because – you’ve guessed it – it was redefined. The meaning of marriage, the laws behind marriage have all grown and changed and evolved as society has evolved. And this latest move, to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples is another chapter in that evolution. If voting Yes on May 22 means that marriage gets redefined to be more inclusive, then fuck it, redefine it.
- Allowing same-sex couples to marry will mean more security for children. Currently the children of LGBT parents live with a lot of uncertainty. There are questions over guardianship and succession rights that don’t arise for the children of opposite sex married couples. These very real children exist today in limbo and they deserve to be catered for.
- It’s the only fair way to vote. If you vote No you’re saying that you think LGBT people don’t deserve the right to marry. You’re saying that they’re not equal to you. You’re saying that they’re second class citizens. You’re saying that you don’t care about them and their welfare. And when it comes down to the bare bones of it, you’re saying you don’t care about marriage. Marriage will only continue to thrive and to grow and to sustain if it is open to everybody. The more sectors of society we cut off from marriage, the weaker it will get.
I’m not a lawyer or a human rights expert, I’m just an ordinary woman with a blog, so perhaps I’ve oversimplified above or made mistakes, perhaps I haven’t grasped the legal situation correctly, but here’s the thing – I don’t care. No doubt there’s a No campaigner waiting in the wings to tell me how wrong I am, but I’m not interested.
When it comes down to it, this referendum is simply about extending civil marriage to same-sex couples. It’s about love and fairness and equality. Everything else is just noise.
Vote for love. Vote Yes on May 22.
For more information visit Yes Equality, the Campaign for Civil Marriage Equality
FOR as long as I can remember, every Valentine’s Day my Dad gave my Mam a bunch of flowers and a card signed ‘Love from, Guess Who?’
He’d secret both somewhere around the house when she wasn’t looking and wait for her to find them, teasing her about her secret admirer. It started as a joke, something to amuse her and us and then became a tradition, something he did every single year without fail.
Even his last year, three days before he died, he managed to scrawl a card for her and share the joke.
That last Valentine’s Day card is as precious to my Mam as the most expensive diamond – it is irreplaceable.
The past two Valentine’s Days have been bittersweet, coming just days before his anniversary and reminding us of that last card, that last joke, that last symbol of a lifetime of love and fidelity.
But there are dozens of happy memories of other Valentine’s Days too and for me, the way my parents always celebrated the day, has served as a great example of what it’s all about.
It’s not just about presents or cards or expensive trinkets. It’s not about conforming or buying something for a lover because you have to or it’s expected of you.
People often say that Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday, something invented to get us to spend yet more money on things we don’t need and to a certain extent, they’re right.
But for me, and for my parents, Valentine’s Day is about taking a moment out of your busy life to remind yourself how much you love this other person. It’s about taking a breath. It’s about reconnecting.
Yes, we should all be telling each other we love one another, every day of the week. We should be whisking our lovers off for romantic weekends all year round. Special breakfasts should be made on any oul rainy Saturday, not just on Valentine’s Day. All of that is true.
The reality however, is that when you are bogged down in life – in your job, the bills, the kids – it often simply just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t.
You love one another, of course you do. But finding the time and taking the time to demonstrate it, can often be hard.
And for me, that’s where Valentine’s Day comes in and has its place. It’s simply a reminder, a little nudge for us to show our appreciation for each other.
Valentine’s Day is only as expensive and as commercial as you make it. For me it’s about love and reconnecting with those I love, and what’s wrong with that?
SOMETIMES it’s like your heart is so full you feel as if it could explode at any moment.
Sometimes you feel almost frantic; panicked, like lightning is running through your veins. You feel happy and terrified all at the same time.
That’s what it feels like, to be a mother – like falling in love while marching towards your death. That heady mix of unconditional love that threatens to overwhelm everything and a bottomless pit of fear.
His silky hair. His velvet skin. His tiny perfectly formed fingers. His smile, his big blue eyes, his arms reaching out to you. Only you.
The way he discovers new things, plays busily with his toys, smushes food into his high chair; the way he delights in everything.
I stood in the cool dark beside his cot last night, listening to him breathing, watching him. He slept, as usual, on his back, with his arms thrown up carelessly behind his head.
So perfect. So content. So loved.
As I stood, I thought about the other child. The other perfect little being, not much older than my boy, who died yesterday in America after being accidentally left in a car. And my heart shattered.
I thought about his mother and his father. Destroyed. Broken. Their worst fear realised. Their lives undone.
How does a parent cope when they lose a child? I can’t imagine it. I don’t want to imagine it.
Stroking my baby’s forehead last night I wept for that other little boy and his parents. Tears of sorrow and tears of relief, that it wasn’t me. And it wasn’t him.
Hug your little ones a bit closer today. We don’t know how lucky we are.
PERSONALLY I blame the drugs.
There’s no other excuse really. Why else would a reasonably sane, grown, intelligent woman buy heart-shaped cookie cutters, with no intention of making cookies, for Valentines Day?
I must have been off my face.
It was supposed to be a simple trip to the supermarket, to pick up a Valentine’s Day card for Yer Man and some lamb for stew for tomorrow’s dinner.
But some madness, no doubt brought on by the painkillers I’m horsing into me to try to cure the laryngitis and tonsilitis I’ve been plagued with since last Wednesday, made me stop by the Valentine’s Day tat on special offer.
Heart-shaped candles. Heart-shaped fake petals. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Heart-shaped poxy ramekins. (What IS a ramekin anyway, why isn’t it just a dish?)
Anyway, I should have just walked on by, as I usually do, rolling my eyes at the tat, wondering who on earth buys this sort of stuff.
But something made me stop. Something caught my eye. Sweet little heart-shaped cookie cutters. For €1.50. They were practically giving them away.
‘But you’re not making cookies,’ the rational part of my brain piped up, reminding me that cookies aren’t Slimming World friendly.
‘Yeah but, shut up, I could make heart-shaped something else’s,’ I wittily riposted, fighting my way through the throng of last-minute shoppers, and flinging them triumphantly into my basket.
Vegetables, I thought feverishly, wandering aimlessly up and down the aisles. I could cut out heart-shaped vegetables to go into the lamb stew!
Yes! Heart-shaped vegetables! I could even mould the meat into a heart shape as well! Heart-shaped EVERYTHINGS!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against a little Valentine’s Day cheese, I always buy Yer Man a card and a box of chocolates is always welcome, but that’s generally where I draw the line.
Actively planning to spend hours chopping vegetables into the shape of a heart is just that one step to far. That way madness lies. It’s a thin line between that and calling my husband Bunny, in company.
What have I become?
I actually like Valentine’s Day – I know it’s commercialised, blah de blah, I know. But a day to celebrate love can’t be all that bad. It’s not all that bad. It needn’t cost anything and in today’s busy world, often couples forget to stop and smell the (heart-shaped) roses. So a reminder every February 14th isn’t the worst thing in the world.
But heart-shaped vegetables?
I’ve gone over to the dark side. And it is heart-shaped.
A NEW feature on the blog tonight readers is Lookback Friday – an evening where I dedicate the blog to a story which happened way back in the echelons of time about me and Yer Man and what got us to this point of almost-wedded bliss.
Cast your minds back, if you will, to September 8, 2006. It was a fine day, if a little chilly. Maybe it rained a little. Ok, I’m talking about Ireland. In September. It definitely rained a little.
I found myself standing outside Chanz Chinese Restaurant on St Andrew’s Street – alas it is no more, it’s a posh coffee shop now – at 8pm waiting for my date to arrive.
A man walked towards me.
5’10” perhaps. Bearded. Wearing an anorak. A stained anorak. And carrying a worn Tesco bag.
Surely not. Surely this wasn’t him?
Anorak man stopped beside me and gave me a terrifying grin. “Got a smoke?” he asked.
Shaking with relief, I shook my head mutely.
It wasn’t him. Anorak man shuffled on and I was left to peruse the street. Hoping. Ever hoping.
I was on a blind date you see. But not just any old blind date. A blind date with a man from an online dating agency. A blind date with a man from an online dating agency which I had arranged.
A blind date with a man from an online dating agency which I had arranged and would have to write about in a newspaper the following week.
Your common or garden blind date goes wrong, you tell your friends, you cringe, it’s over with. This blind date however, I was sharing with the world.
At the time I was blogging under another guise and had been offered a weekly column with a local newspaper in Dublin, along the lines of my blog.
I was to write about my single self, go on dates, and report back. After a while though, my regular dates weren’t enough for my sadistic editor so I was, well, gently encouraged to sign up online, to get more fodder for the column.
And so it began.
The endless blind dates with highly unsuitable men, the broken hearts, the stinging disappointments, the laughs, the downright weirdness.
How about the chap who had a bizarre form of agoraphobia and could never leave Finglas?
“You’d like it over here,” sez he “I just get a bit panicky when I leave Dublin 11, so I live, work and socialise here.”
The guy who mailed me to say he was into ‘backyard fun with scantily clad ladies’ – he got short shrift. Though, naturally, I couldn’t resist a goo at his profile. I was right. Fat. Balding. 50.
The guy who wined me and dined me for two months, letting me think that maybe, just maybe, there might be something to it, before dropping the bombshell that he had a girlfriend – a pregnant girlfriend – abroad. And, you know, he wasn’t ready for commitment.
The Most Boring Man in the Universe TM who took me out to dinner and spent the night making eye-contact with his plate of pasta, and giving me monosyllabic answers. A quick trip ‘to the loo’ later and I was on the way to the bus stop, leaving him with the bill. Sue me!
How about the guy from Belfast I ended up having a miserable drink in the Foggy Dew with? Miserable mainly because he spent the whole time complaining about the Tia Maria and Coke he bought me and how much it cost. €7.20 if you’re interested. He left after one drink. Couldn’t afford me apparently.
Then there was the guy who looked me up and down with a sigh when we met. “Oh,” he huffed “you’re not as pretty as I thought you’d be.” And you’re just as ignorant as I thought YOU’D be was my witty rejoinder. I never saw him again.
“Are you Karen?” a voice asked, interrupting my thoughts.
Average height, average build, brown hair, friendly blue eyes, big white smile.
It was him. Yer Man. Complete with freshly cut hair and pressed shirt.
He ushered me in the door and taking my coat off I gave him the Blind Date Once Over – normal shoes [trendy shoes on a man give me the heebie jeebies] dark denims, good ass, smaller than mine, but you can’t win ’em all, blue shirt, bit of hair on the chest. He’d do.
We chatted for two hours and stuffed ourselves silly – prawns in honey followed by duck for me, chicken and sweetcorn soup followed by chicken fried rice for him – before venturing into the night.
As with all blind dates, the end of the night was awkward. No kiss. No sneaky hand holding. Just a peck on the cheek, a quick duck into a taxi and everything left up in the air.
I sat back into the leather seat, letting the taxi driver’s chatter roll over me. Was it a good date? I wasn’t sure. He was nice. And normal. So very normal. Surely, there had to be something wrong with him?
My phone beeped with a text. It was him.
“I just realised I never told you how beautiful you looked tonight. I wanted you to know that.”
Well, after that, what was a girl to do?