Discover the Walsh family tree
Now You’re Asking!
Hello and I hope you’re all well and that January is not too miserable for you. Which leads me directly to the subject of New Year’s Resolutions. If you’ve made any and have already lapsed, will you hear me out on the subject? See, I sincerely believe that almost every one of us is doing our best on any particular day. That’s not to say that our best (I should say ‘my best’) isn’t always something to boast about but we try, amirite? New Year’s Resolutions have always struck me as an exercise in self-punishment – all that deprivation. It’s too grim!
We front-load our Januarys with several wildly-ambitious plans – to stop eating, to start running marathons, to get promoted, to cut out alcohol, etc. At the best of times, these deprivations are cruel and difficult but at the moment, twenty-three months into a pandemic, we are SPENT. We are EXHAUSTED, we’re very ground down, our hope has been worn away to dust, it feels like a long, long time since we’ve had freedom and fun and normality – and we’re proposing removing the few things that give us pleasure? This, my beloved amigos, is not the time!
The only circumstances I would countenance any of the above plans is if you genuinely feel extremely strongly about say, stopping smoking on HEALTH grounds. Or going wild swimming (Or Swimming in the Sea, if you’re my age) for the legendary Cold Water High. It may be hard, but ultimately if you think you’ll feel better in your body and better about yourself, then yes, that’s a positive thing.
But may I suggest that ONE of these ‘difficult’ changes is enough. Doing without something that usually gives you pleasure or making yourself do something that you dread is exhausting. Depriving yourself of several dopamine-providers means that you’ll run out of endurance in double-quick time and lapse across all fronts, then (if you’re anything like me, in countless Januarys in the past) feel hopeless and useless.
Here’s my suggestion: instead of removing from yourself, how about giving yourself something nice? How about taking up something enjoyable, something that might be helpful to you? Me, for example, I’m back, for the gazillionth time, trying meditation. Again, I would suggest only taking on one of these positive changes, because overloading ourselves at the coldest, most solitary time of the year, might not be a great idea.
I must admit that as well as the meditation, I’m ‘toying’ with the idea of learning crochet, because I see all these beautiful colourful blankets on Instagram and Etsy and I think, “OOOOOH! I wish I could make one of them!” I’ve actually bought some crochet hooks and wool but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had any time to ‘log on’. Or whatever the word is? Is it ‘cast on’? Or is that just knitting?
Yes, think about something small and secret and nice that you have a curiosity about and, if you had the energy, make some enquiries about starting it. Making jewellery? Cooking something you’ve never made before once a fortnight? Allowing yourself to luxuriate in bed every Saturday afternoon, with a medium-sized Toblerone, as you watch eg Toast of Tinseltown, The Tourist or whatever you’re having yourself? Starting therapy? Planting things in pots or the ground (if you have access to a garden)? Making a promise to yourself to, every week meet up with a kind person or someone who makes you laugh? You know, something small, something that attracts you. And if it turns out it’s not your thing, then fine because now you know and there’s no need to feel like a failure at all!
If this is of any interest to you, the very funny, clever and kind Tara Flynn and I have started a podcast on BBC Sounds. It also goes out on BBC Radio 4 every Sunday evening at 7.15. It’s called Now You’re Asking and the idea is that people (indeed, you, if that was your thing) email us at [email protected] if you had any problems or conundrums you’d like us to try to solve. It’s all in strict confidence and the first show got lovely reviews. The Sunday Times called us ‘Oddly Soothing’ and Tara is definitely ‘soothing’ and I am undeniably ‘odd.’
And if you have a listen and like what you hear, we would be so delighted if you subscribed to the podcast!
As I write, it’s Saturday January 15th and Mammy Keyes, desperately missing her bridge sessions because of the latest restrictions is A) In an absolute fouler and B) Has issued an order to several of her children and grandchildren to show up at her house later to be taught bridge so that we can play it with her until normal bridge resumes.
And I swear to god, I am SO SCARED. She’s in ferocious form (entirely justified, she’s been so brave and optimistic so far, but even though it’s justified, it doesn’t make her any the less scary) and I don’t have ‘a head for cards.’ Himself is great at them, my sister Rita-Anne is TOP-NOTCH, brother-in-law Jimmy isn’t bad, Redzer the Younger is like Quick Draw McGraw, but I can see me, Hannah and Tomas (who isn’t even 2) being despatched, in no time, to Gobshite’s Corner.
But feck it! Maybe I’ll display an entirely unexpected aptitude for it!
What other news? Telly! Oh thank the lord for telly! I’m watching The Tourist and LOVING it so much. In Ireland, we’re limited it to one episode a week (those of you in Blighty are luxuriating in all-six-at-once, if you so wish.) It’s so good and Jamie Dornan is great! Did you see him in Star and Barb go to Vista del Mar? He was MAGNIFEEK in that! Utterly MAGNIFEEK! His performance in that entirely cleanses Wild Mountain Thyme from the record. Toast of Tinseltown, any takers? It’s niche, no doubt about it, but Matt Berry is so funny. If you’re interested, see if you can watch Toast of London first.
I will also admit that I’m watching The Apprentice. In general, I get cross when people talk about Guilty Pleasures, because most of these pleasures are perfectly innocent, but perhaps slightly sneered at by insecure folk who desperately want to appear cultured. But I do genuinely feel guilty about the pleasure I take in watching The Apprentice – it’s long departed from its stated purpose, to find a business partner for Alan Sugar. Instead it feels more like an invitation to be riveted by misfortunate young people, who are too innocent (or sometimes perhaps too egotistical?) to realise that they’re being had. And yet I enjoy it…
Books? Oh, mother of god! So many great books coming this year! The new Mhairi McFarlane, Mad about You, is published in April. I love her books so much!
Also in April is Louise Kennedy’s first novel The Tresspasses, is INCREDIBLE. Her short story collection The End of the World is a cul-de-sac got rave reviews when it was published last year.
Candice-Carty William’s second novel People Person is WONDERFUL. Very different to Queenie, in my opinion. This is about 5 half-siblings (1 dad, 4 mothers) meeting properly as adults, in response to a crisis and shaping themselves into a family. The tone is deceptively lighthearted, comic at times, but in the undertow we’re constantly reminded of the daily micro-aggressions that black people have to deal with and that white people are oblivious of. It’s warm, funny, sweet and political. Also out in April.
Coming in May is Louise O’Neill’s latest novel, Icon. Oh my god, it’s absolutely wonderful! Louise is always pushing boundaries. This book is very glamorous – until it isn’t. About a US self-help guru, who has ‘healed herself’ and become a multi-millionaire from writing books and doing massive events, finds the wheels coming off her glammy life, when something from her past comes out. I read it compulsively.
A I L M E N T O F T H E M O N T H
Nothing particularly thrilling this month except I have become Coldsore Girl. I was always ‘prone’ and have realised it’s quite a handy device, actually, in that it alerts me to the fact that I’m not fully well and am a bit ‘virally’. Usually after a coldsore makes its first, deceptively-innocent appearance on my chin – frequently masquerading as a small, harmless spot who isn’t planning to stick around for long – a bout of ‘not well-ness’ follows: the usual thing, you know? What we used to call The Flu and what we now call Not-Covid-But-I’m-Still-Sick – weak limbs, achey bones, a bit of a cold. Lately my coldsores have been playing a relay race – as soon as one begins to fade, leaving fecky pigmentation scars that take months to fade, another little blighter pops its tingley unsightly head up. But so it goes. What can we do and to quote Mammy Keyes ‘there’s always some poor divil who’s worse off.’ (Thank you in advance but I am already mainlining Lysine and using some beepy yoke I got off the internet. And still the blighters persist!)
And that is really all my news. I’m in a state of countdown to February 17th for the publication of Again, Rachel. I veer between terror and genuine excitement. My great fear is disappointing all the lovely people who loved Rachel’s Holiday but at this stage, a fair few bloggers and social media book people have read the proof of Again, Rachel and have been very nice about it. So I’ve decided to be hopeful. And I’d love it to be out because there are parts of the book I’m DYING to talk about but obviously can’t right now!
If you’d like a preview, my publishers are doing a thing called First Look Fridays on my Amazon page (I didn’t even know I had such a thing!) where you’ll be able to see – and hear! – the opening chapter. More will come every Friday, until the book is out in the world.
I’ll be back with one more newsletter before publication. I hope you’re well. Go easy and gently with yourself. I’m serious. Life is very draining right now. The bare minimum is what you should be asking from yourself. This is all about endurance. Anything that seems pleasurable or that might life your spirits, jump on it! Jump!
Thank you for all your loveliness to me
Lots and lots of love
I win a reward!
Old Vumman gets a new phone!
Hello there and welcome to my November news, which may be brief because I am PONCHOED. Like giantly knackered. It’s been a fabaliss Autumn, travelling the globe and meeting so many people but I am home now and the adrenaline kept me going while it needed to but now that urgency has passed, I have hit the deck.
Now, Canada! Well I was only in Toronto this visit but unlike any other visit I actually had time to experience the city and here are my overall impressions. It is
It was a huge surprise because I expect all ‘North American’ cities to be like New York – speedy, get-out-of-my-way-y, judgey about hair and clothing and weight. But no! They were kindly! One day Himself ‘took’ a stumble in a store and instead of stepping over him as they would in New York, concerned Toronto-ites helped him regain his balance.
Before I went I made delicate enquiries on Twitter about bringing presents and learnt to my astonishment that Cadbury’s and Galaxy chocolate enjoys an exalted status there and suddenly people were offering me all KINDS of things (mostly maple syrup tbh) if I’d bring them some Twirls or fruit-n-nut. Then! I mentioned Percy Pigs and soon I was being offered prime land to build on, ownership of a mid-sized downtown apartment block and other real estate. So! Himself and I packed an ENTIRE suitcase with Cadbury’s, Galaxy and Percy Pigs and prepared to buy up most of Toronto and crash the Canadian dollar upon our arrival.
It was WONDERFUL! We felt like Saudi Arabia must have felt after they’d discovered their oil. Or like Icelanders must feel when they visit any other country. (Like, Iceland is beautiful and all that but BY CHRIST the prices would BANKRUPT you.)
(I am joking of course about buying up Toronto and devaluing their currency. They are too nice. I wouldn’t do that to them. So I dispersed the chocolate contraband in the form of gifts. It caused serious upheaval in their stock market but it settled after a couple of days.)
I did just the one event in Indigo books and so many lovely people came – people I knew from Twitter and people who were new to me. There was brisk bartering of the confectionary.
While I think of it, here is a life hack for you: do not ATTEMPT to go shopping for clothes whilst in the grip of jetlag. Yes, this is a cautionary tale…
See, I’d spent most of September/October agonising about what I should wear in Canada and many MANY garments were auditioned, found to be wanting and returned. But when I left Dublin I was fairly sure I had the right things. However, by the time I landed in Toronto, I suddenly saw that I’d brought NOTHING wearable. NOTHING.
A panicky trip to a foncy place called Yorkdale ensued where I completely forgot who I was and what my look was and the end result was that I bought several garments that, now that I’m home, I keep staring at in bewilderment and asking, “But WHY? What on earth was I THINKING?” (I appeared to be reattempting grunge, but I can’t be certain.)
All the same, I had a wonderful time. Every single person I met veered from ‘warm and friendly’ to ‘absolutely lovely’ and my best bit was being on The Social where I met my hero Elaine Lui (you MUST read her site LaineyGossip if you don’t already because she is a brilliant and entertaining feminist who writes about Hollywood types in a fascinating way.)
She’s also written a BRILLIANT memoir called Listen to the Squawking Chicken, about the cultural implications of being brought up in Canada by her mother who’s from Hong Kong.
Other books I’ve read and loved this month are White Out by Ragnar Jonasson. It’s a crime yoke set in Iceland, over the Christmas period. Very atmospheric, it was just like going there only not as expensive.
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan which is GAS. It’s about really rich Asians and their fabaliss lives.
Work Strife Balance by Mia Freedman, a non-fiction book by amazing Australian powerhouse of a woman, who writes about all the pressures that are brought to bear on women, everything from our struggles with our body-image to fertility to surviving as a woman in a male-dominated workplace. I found it extremely comforting.
AILMENT OF THE MONTH
To be honest, we are spoiled for choice! I’ve cystitis, cold sores, extreme knackeredness. But let’s circle in on ‘Gastritis, possible a stomach ulcer.’ Impressive, right? I’ve had gastritis for a long time (also a hiatus hernia) which flares up at time of strife/anxiety/worry/that sort of lark. So it being a busy time necessitating a lot of adrenaline, it has kicked off. Also the fact that I’ve been living on complete shite for the past 3 months (Diet Coke got singled out by the medic and excessively shamed and blamed) hasn’t helped. I was despatched to Canada with a prescription of uber-strength Nexium and told to drink a glass of milk whenever the pain got unbearable. The expectation is that now that I’m back and that things aren’t so lively, it’ll all quieten down in my stomach. So that’s all good then :0
As I write, last night was the Irish Book Rewards and The Break was nominated in the popular fiction category – and it won! And tanken yew so much to everyone who voted for it. It is a wonderful feeling to be acknowledged. Thank you again.
And now it is today and Old Vumman’s phone has been so crackly that we can barely hear her so I went to Woody’s (‘There’s no better place for DIY) to buy her a new un-crackly one and now I must leave for my quarterly appointment up at the nut-house where they weigh my brain, poke it with metal things and generally ‘assess’ me. However, I am feeling WELL. Seriously I’d take 20 stomach ulsters, a faceful of cold-sores and a 6 month bout of cystitis rather than a short go of ‘The Mads’. So all in all, everything is ‘tip-top.’
I hope you are well. Listen, mind yourself heading into the wretched Festive Season. The world won’t end if you don’t go to a party. Pace yourself. It’s like one of them assault courses, Tough Mudder and the like. Only for hardy types with stamina. Take Berocca. It’s GREAT.
Thank you for all your kindness and lots of love
Thank you Australia!
The Grim Redzer!
Ailment of the month!
Hello there and please bear with me as I’ve just got back from Australia and although I had a wonderful, wonderful time (more of which anon) I am jetlagged out of my mind and I know that that sentence has a bang of glamour about it (I think it’s the word ‘jet’) but ontra noo, going through it is GRUELLING and not at all glamorous.
There was a time when I’d go on a work trip and coming back I’d always have the fear that when I came home the house would have burnt down but this time I found I was hoping, just as I turned the final corner that the house WOULD have burnt down because at least then I wouldn’t have to deal with all the post. (But there would still be all the email stuff, so that would be a mad and useless thing to think.)
So yes, I was in Australia for 2 weeks and you know what? It was absolutely WONDERFUL. Thank you so so so so much to all of you who came to my ‘events’. What an honour it is to travel thousands upon thousands of miles from home and to meet so many friends. And so many years after my first book came out. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me. Also thank you for all the presents you brought me – the Timtams, the Caramel Koalas, the Cherry Ripes, the Haines chocolates, the Jurlique products, the chocolate Magnets, the books by Australian writers and the Berocca! Also the crocheted bootees and wrap for Baby Hannah! Forgive me for not listing everything, my poor brain is like mush and I still haven’t unpacked but rest assured I am delighted and grateful for everything.
Also, all the media was lovely – I literally didn’t meet one snarky-arse! And I cannot tell you how rare that is. But every single interviewer on the telly, the radio and the print media was LOVELY.
I didn’t have much time off but may I tell you about a Sunday afternoon in Sydney where I took tay with not one, not two but THREE Moriarty sisters! Yes, Liane, Nicola (author of The Fifth Letter) and Jaclyn (author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and other wonderful YA novels.) And they were – as you’d expect – LOVELY. All 3 of them individually fascinating and gorgeous and collectively, powerfully charismatic. I loved them so much I seriously contemplated moving to Sydney and only that it’s so far away from the Keyesez that it means I probably can’t.
Right, where were we? Okay, can I tell you about the Grim Redzer? Yes? Thanks! Well, for the past few years, above in Dundrum, there’s been a pop-up Halloween shop for the month of October and it’s become a sort of a tradition that myself and Himself go there with the 2 lads and give them a sum of money and let them buy what they want.
When we first started going they were too young to understand how money worked and used to be thrilled when they handed in their bit of paper and got back a load of Halloween paraphernalia AND a handful of small round metal things.
Now, Redzer the Elder is old enough to add things up so he took his 20 Euro and disappeared off into the shop and returned with 19.50 worth of house decorations, which he fecked up onto the counter, along with his 20 Euro note and said words to the effect of, “I think you’ll find that that should cover it.” (How quickly they grow up.)
Redzer the Younger (younger by 2 years) had a different approach. He richocheted into the shop, on the hunt for a scythe because he wanted to go out on Halloween as the Grim Reaper. For a while he was distracted by a plastic but otherwise very convincing blood-covered chainsaw but then he found his scythe and again, although plastic, was VERY convincing. And tall. Nearly as tall as me.
To go with his scythe, we found him a grim reaper outfit and then we spent 4 to 7 minutes looking for outfits for Baby Hannah and Toddler Teddy but sadly there was nothing suitable.
Then I realised I needed a mascara (not strictly a
mascara, it’s the Estee Lauder Little Black Primer, which goes under your mascara and provides colour but no crunchiness) so I called out, “Lads! We’ve to go to House of Fraser, I’ve to get something.”
So we went down the escalator, Oscar the Grim Redzer, wearing his Chelsea kit and carrying his scythe. At the bottom of the escalator, we turned left and I said, “Lads, see that blue and gold counter shimmering in the distance, that’s where we’re going. Now we’re short on time, so lets hop to it.”
Off we set, Oscar the Grim Redzer marching at our head, carrying his scythe, the other three of us locked in tight formation around him. We were moving at speed, very much a unit, extremely focused on our goal and – I now realise – with an air of mild maraudiness about us. I should mention that Redzer the Younger has bright, bright blue eyes and has an ‘anything could happen’ kind of energy about him. We were attracting startled looks and people were jumping from our path and from a distance I could see the woman at the Estee Lauder counter with a strange, ‘Sweet Jesus, don’t tell me they’re coming for me’ look upon her face.
I effected the purchase of the Primer as quickly as I could while the lads daubed themselves in double-wear foundation and Himself watched from an amused distance and then we left.
AILMENT OF THE MONTH
For a while there I was worried I’d have nothing to offer you other than jetlag which isn’t an ailment at all really, is it. But on my last day in Melbourne, what did I get only HAYFEVER?!?! Which I’ve never had before. I don’t know why Australian summer would be different from summer in the northern hemisphere but suddenly I sneezed 8 times in a row, my eyes started streaming and my throat felt thick and swollen. I bought some anti-hayfever stuff, then I left Melbourne at 3 in the morning and all symptoms ceased and have not recurred. And while I’m glad it went away quickly and I’m sorry for those who suffer from it, I feel that at least I can tick if off my list of ‘Diseases I have dabbled in.’ All part of life’s rich tapestry, amn’t I right?
Now, books I’ve read! Okay, you know, The Dry by Jane Harper? It’s FABALISS, right? I loved it, and you probably know all about it because it was (still is) a commercial as well as a critical success. Well, while I was in Australia, I discovered she has a new book coming, it’s called Force of Nature and when my publicist said she might be able to get me a copy I almost gnawed her arm off with longing. And sure enough, when she turned up to collect me for that evening’s event in Beaumaris, she had it! And I almost COMBUSTED! Then off we go to a beautiful restaurant full of wonderful people for a great evening’s event. BUT GUESS WHAT?!?! GUESS WHO WAS THERE?!?! Yes!!!! Jane Harper!!! I know, right!?! Just a pure coincidence. She was so very very nice and the new book Force of Nature, oh my god. Such brilliance. From the first paragraph I was hooked. She’s such an excellent writer and the sense of place is so powerful and – in a way this is the best bit! – it’s the same detective as from The Dry, Aaron Falk!!!!!!!! (Not out till Feb in the northern hemisphere, sorry.)
I also read The Memory Shop by Ella Griffin. She’s a beautiful writer, who creates extremely moving, absorbing books. The Flower Arrangement is one of my most favourite books of all time and The Memory Shop is up there too.
The Making of Christina by Meredith Jaffe is an Australian book I also loved.
I know there must be more I’ve read recently but, like I said, my brain is mush.
I’ve tried to keep on top of Strictly while I’ve been away and here is my current stance: I think I prefer It Takes Two to the main show.
However! Before you all take AGIN me, I am not myself. I have also developed a small crush on the president of China, so you see how things are for me.
I am away to Canada in about 10 days. And remember how cross I was that my publishers said I shouldn’t go to the Mumbai Literary Festival in December? Yes? Well, they were right. That would have been too much.
I hope you are enjoying Autumn. The clocks going back is always a special time. Now we’re REALLY motoring!
I will be back to you at the end of November. Until then, mind yourselves and thank you again for all of your kindness about The Break and for buying it and all.
Lots of love
The Break is published!
Birthday ‘passes peacefully’
Well! We have a lot to get through. I can barely remember the start of the month because even though September has only 30 days, they’ve been 30 very busy ones.
On September 3rd, Old Vumman and Daddy Keyes had been merrhied FIFTY-FIVE years, so there was cake and prosecco in their house, but Himself and myself had to leave the high-jinks early because we were ‘jetting’ to London. So off we went and that week I did bow-coo de interviews and was on Lorraine and Steve Wright and Matthew Wright and Channel 5 news and Front Row and spoke to many ‘print’ journalists and then ‘jetted’ back to Ireland to be on the Late Late show on the 8th and did a signing in Easons on the 9th and then the 10th was my birthday and I was pure fecking DESTROYED!
Plans had been in place that the Keyesez would come over to my gaff on the day itself (it was a Sunday) and have cake and prosecco (clearly we are an unimaginative family and only know one method of celebrating) but I was QUEASY with tiredness and begged for the day in bed and they said, right you are, we’ll do it next Friday instead.
So the next day I ‘jetted’ to Edinburgh and did interviews and then the MOST LOVELY evening event in Waterstones so many wonderful readers came – and brought me Scottish delicacies, to wit: Tunnocks Taycakes, Tunnocks caramel bars, Tablet (which is sort of like fudge, only a million times sweeter), Maracroon bars, oatcakes (always room for carbs even if they’re not sweet ones) and there was something else good – oh yes! SNOWBALLS!!! OH MY GOOD CHRISHT is all I will say.
The following day, we did NOT jet, no, we went on THE TRAIN from Edinburgh to Newcastle and at the station I met women who were going home to other Scottish cities because they had travelled specially to come to the Waterstones yoke and if I hadn’t already been feeling humbled by their kindness the previous night, I really was then. THEN I met two fabaliss young women who were ALSO getting the train to Newcastle – to see me! (Because the Edinburgh event was sold out.) And I told them that they had seen me now and could save themselves the journey but they said they’d still come…
And that journey from Edinburgh to Newcastle. Frequently I fantasise about running away to – is it called Northumbria? Or Northumberland? Like, the bit where Lindisfarne is? I’ve never actually been, I’ve just passed it on the train on various booktours but am mildly obsessed with its beauty. Then we arrived in Newcastle and I LOVE Newcastle, because I find the people to be very chatty and entertaining and oh, that ACCENT! We checked into our hotel (the Malmaison) and for some reason we were in a foncy room on the top floor (you never know what kind of accommodation will have been booked for you on a book tour, it varies wildly from night to night, sometimes you’re in a hoover cupboard above a chipper and other nights you’re in a foncy room on the top floor of the Malmaison with your own table football yoke. (Yes. I had. Himself was pleased.)
Interviews, Fenwicks, then a rather tragic tay. See, I was suddenly overcome with the exhaustion while we were waiting to go to the evening event in Waterstones and I desired a peaceful place to sit and I clocked John Lewisez and I thought, The café there would be peaceful!
So Himself and myself went and I don’t know exactly what happened but suddenly we turned into elderly people. We were fussing around each other and saying, Where are the spoons? And, Where are the glasses? Even the things we ordered weren’t our usual stuff, I believe I may have had tea – I never have tea! We were one word away from calling each other ‘Dear’.!!!! So we sat peacefully and ate our slightly grim sangwidges (it was the end of the day, it wasn’t the fault of the sangwidges) and there was no-one else there and the light was fading outside and it had started to rain and into the silence Himself suddenly said, ‘Let’s never do this again.’
And then! Off to Waterstones Newcastle for a fabaliss evening with more lovely people, again who brought many sugar-based items: chocolates from Maison du Chocolate (which is tray foncy) and many of the Percy Pig varieties. It was great!
Also on Tuesday the bestseller news had come in and The Break was number one in Ireland, number four in the UK and number two in Australia. TANKEN YEW. (This happened again the following week. Once again, tanken yew.)
Wednesday morning, we caught The Transpennine Express to Manchester. It was a trains that definitely ‘trans’ed’ the Pennines but was very very very very very un-Expressy. Still! It was fun!
Manchester was great, I’ll never get over the fact that people make the effort to come and meet me and thank you to everyone who came to all the events, I’m profoundly grateful. Also! I got to meet Terry Barlow! (You can find him on twitter @Terry_Barlow.) On Thursday we went back to Ireland. On Friday I went to the Rape Crisis Centre fundraiser, then on Saturday I went to bed and stayed there.
AILMENT OF THE MONTH
Something a little bit different this month – a return of my twenty-something facial excema! Always a thrill when it makes one of its rare appearances and I’m still not sure what triggers it. Could be anxiety. Having a book out makes me feel vulnerable and going on the telly makes everything a million times worse! Special shout-out to those adorable souls on twitter who thought it necessary to tell me I was ‘a nutter’ after speaking about my spell of rickety mental health on the Late Late Show!!
I was in Ireland for about a week but for the life of me, I can’t remember what I did. Sorry! Oh, well, I continued auditioning clothes! I’d started sometime in July, angsting about what I’d wear on telly. Many of the telly things were now done yet the need to keep ordering clothes and returning them almost immediately, continued. Especially because I was due to appear on IT TAKES TWO!!!!!! On the first Friday panel of the year!!!! On September 29th!
So I came back to London on September 27th (on the ferry, we’d had enough of fecken jetting) and did a gorgeous event with Sarra Manning for Red Magazine on the Thursday. And then! The Friday Panel. The other two people were Melvin Odoom and Jodie Kidd both of whom are THE LOVELIEST PEOPLE. I know you think I say that about everybody but I swear to god I don’t. It’s just that if I don’t like someone it’s probably better if I keep it to myself. Also, I’m very all-or-nothing about everything and if I like someone, I really really really REALLY like them. I rarely say, “Yes, she was quite nice.” I say, “Oh my god, she was the best person ever and I really want to be her best friend and she has a very warm heart, you can tell, I can tell, she’s kind you know, kind to her core….” And so on. But that was how I felt about Jodie Kidd. I wanted her to adopt me. And Melvin! He’s so funny and lovely. And of course Zoe Ball! Best person in the whole world ever!
Being on It Takes Two is like being at a party. (But I mean that in a good way. Because mostly a party is my idea of hell.) The dressing rooms are full of glitter and sparkle and the same crew work on it every year, I’m talking about the fabaliss make-up artists and producers and the young fellits who get you diet coke, so there’s that feeling of meeting old friends. And Zoe always remembers Himself and gives him his “once yearly hug” as she calls it.
And if you watch the show you’ll know that the show ends with a ‘musical performance’ and this week it was Nadine Coyle and we were all in the audience at the end and everyone was dancing and I was trying my best and next thing I see Himself! Caught up in a dancing cluster with Goddesses Zoe and Jodie and they’re giving it SOCKS on the dancing front and Himself is also acquitting himself well and I was very proud of him but afterwards he said to me, “The only thing I was thinking to myself was ‘Smile for the love of god, SMILE! Look like you’re enjoying yourself because the camera is bound to be on Zoe and Jodie and everyone will see you too.’ But I was in hell, so I was.’
Next morning I was on Saturday Kitchen and do you know it? It’s the best fun! And thank you for voting so that I didn’t have to ate mushrooms.
And now it’s Monday October 2nd and Pasha and Chizzy were voted off last night and I’m very sad for the pair of them. Tonight I’m going to do an event at the V&A museum called ‘Fiction and Fashion’. And that’s kind of the end of the publicity I’m doing in Ireland and the UK and now my anxiety has shifted to packing for Australia (going on 13th.)
Tis all go! Thank you to every single one of you who bought The Break and who came to the events and who have been so very lovely to me on Twitter about the book. I’m so grateful for your kindness.
Are you watching Black Lake? Swedish yoke. Very scary! I don’t usually watch horror or ghostly things but it’s different if it’s Swedish. I know I’ve read books this month but me poor brain is a bit askew. Elin Hilderbrand. Do you know her? US writer, sets her books in Nantucket. I like her vay much.
Thank you again! I’ll write again around the end of October or the start of November, bringing you news of Australia. I hope you’re enjoying the Autumn. I’ll tell you what I love. I love Hallowe’en! I’m back from Australia just in time to go out with The Redzers.
Lots of love
Baby Hannah arrives!
Himself goes away and I go feral!
Hello and welcome to my very very very favourite day of the year which is the 1st of September! September the first is the gateway to all good Autumnal things – the cessation of wretched Summer, the arrival of chillier evenings, the smell of woodsmoke, walking through leaves in my new boots, and last but VERY MUCH not least, Strictly.
But first! Baby Hannah Keyes arrived into the world on August 24th (a Leo, not that I believe any of that codswallop) and you cannot believe the joy she has brought with her. We are particularly delighted that she’s a girl because frankly we’re sick of boys – the last four – FOUR! – Keyesez have been boys, it’s been seventeen long years since we got a girl (that was the magnificent Ema) and a new one is gratefully received. (Disclaimer, I am only joking about being sick of boys, you know how I love Luka and them there Redzers and Baby Teddy, who is no longer ‘Baby’ Teddy as that title has now been given to Hannah.)
And she’s a yummer, Hannah is. If Irish people said ‘bonnie’, which we don’t because we’re not Scottish, ‘bonnie’ is how I’d describe her. She’s plump-cheeked and has the most beautiful mouth and little nose and it’s all very very exciting.
I’ve had a very very very very very very busy month, ‘prepping’ for publication. (I only said ‘prepping’ there for the craic, I would never say it for reals.) Doing interviews and recording radio ads and doing filming for The Pool – do you know The Pool? Oh, you must go on it! It’s an online magazine is how best to describe it, it’s daily and they have everything – clothes and make-up and news and opinions and lifestyle and books and food and telly – and it’s all really kindly. No-one gets shamed for wearing a ridiculous dress to a fillum premeer or for getting too much lip filler or any of that other mane stuff. It’s my friend, when I feel a lot of women’s magazines aren’t.
So yes, there I was, working like the clappers, except there was a week in the middle of the month when Himself was going away for 8 days, to climb cliffs in Switzerland. And being honest with you, although I’m happy he’s his own man with his own life and all that stuff, I much prefer it when we’re both here in Dun Laoghaire, watching telly. (If there is a heaven being prepared for me, it would be me and him, lying on our couch, eating Percy Pigs, watching Strictly interspersed with Swedish/Danish/Norwegian crime yokes, for all eternity.)
He goes away on these climbing yokes twice a year and sometimes I go away too, like I went to Istanbul with Caitriona and Sean and Suzanne two years ago. But this time I took a notion that I would go away on my own! Yes, I would go away on my own to a remote spot and write and contemplate my life and go for walks on my own and I was DELIGHTED with this picture of myself. I felt mature and interesting and admirable. So I booked the remote spot (it was in Scotland) and boasted widely of my plans and people seemed insultingly surprised but I styled it out and said, “Oh yaze, well, I’m very good with my own company, yaze.”
…and then, 4 days before the off, I got the COLOSSAL fear. I am NOT very good with my own company, I admitted to myself, I am very very bad with it. I would be in a remote spot. Alone. Possibly with no Wifis! Or means of transport!
So please don’t judge me, I didn’t go. (I had to ate the cost of the flight but mercifully not the cost of the accommodation.)
I stayed in Dun Laoghaire but the thing was that many of my usual cohorts were away, it being August when the entire fecken world is on holiday, so I ended up over-pestering Old Vumman. And poor Old Vumman quickly tired of my presence and would only address me in poetry.
Example: “Mam,” I said, “Tell me something nice.”
Quick as a flash, she launched into what she calls a ‘recitation.’ “There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the North of Kathmandu! There’s a little marble cross below the town.” She made her voice all hushed for the next bit, “Where a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew.” And now ominous, “And the yellow god forever gazes down.”
She was having a great oul’ time, acting out her ‘recitation’ but when I complained that she only knew sad stuff and did she know anything happy, she (angrily) changed horses mid-sentence to, “When fairies have a picnic, they always tidy up! THEY CONSIDER IT A SHAMEFUL THING TO LAYVE A BROKEN CUP, WILL THAT DO YOU?”
By the time Himself had been away for 4 days, Old Vumman had taken to pretending that she wasn’t home when I called round. But I have my own key, so I’d let myself in anyway and go into the television room, where she’d be lying on the floor with the curtains drawn and I’d say, “Get up. Entertain me!”
And she’d say, “For the love of god, Marian, you’re nearly 54! Go home to your own house!”
Yes, now speaking of 54, I will be 54 on the 10th of September and I must admit, it sounds very very old. I’ve always been comfortable with getting older but all of a sudden I’m a bit, Hold on there a minute!
The thing is that I feel about 39. Clearly I’m suffering from Age Dysmorphia. I’ve never really believed that one day I’ll die and all of a sudden, I’m thinking, “Christ, you know, I just might…”
The day of my birthday falls right in the middle of the publicity madness for The Break, I’ll be just back from London and I’ll be heading off to Edinburgh the following day, so the Keyesez will come round to the house on the Sunday afternoon for cake and Prosecco. (I have already bought Himself’s present to me, it’s a Coach bag, embellished with flowers. It’s effing BEAUTIFUL.)
Now, books I have read recently!
Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan. A feminist reimagining of familiar fairy-stories, in a delicious little hardback that looks like a traditional storybook. It even has illustrations. Exquisite, poetic and ominous…
The Choice by Edith Eger. Oh my GOD, lads! One of the most impactful books I’ve ever read. A memoir from a woman who survived Auschwitz, it’s about the power of forgiveness. But at the risk of sounding disrespectful, it’s also a ‘great oul’ read’, the author is a brilliant storyteller.
Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane. I read this a couple of months ago but by Christ, lads, if you’re looking for something to disappear from the world, into, this is the boy. I was GRIPPED!!!!!!
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. Described as a ‘literary thriller,’ it’s more like a series of absolutely excellent character studies. There is a ‘mystery’ but it’s not really the point of the book. Highly enjoyable. And, of course, literary. Yaze…
There have been lots more that I’ve read but I can’t remember them, on account of my Ailment of the Month, so this will have to do for now.
AILMENT OF THE MONTH
I was worried there that I’d have nothing for you because I’ve been enjoying unprecedented good health. But in the last week, my old friend Insomnia has come a-calling! It’s the waking-up early version which is FAR nicer than the waking-in-the-middle-of-the-night version. I’m doing all the stuff you’re meant to do to combat it: regular exercisement, taking the magnesium supplements, ‘cleansing’ the bedroom of digital stuff. But this is something I’ve learnt over the years – what works for one person doesn’t always work for another. Even though – and I swear to god, little annoys me more – they will insist that it DOES work. I’m guessing that it’s pre-publication head-upheaval and what I will do is wait it out because with many ailments that’s all you can do.
So there we are! Did I tell you that Nigella tweeted something lovely about my buke? She said that it was ‘all kinds of funny, sad and true.’ I know, right!!!! Nigella!!!!!
At the end of this here Newsletter, you can read the first chapter of The Break, if you’re interested.
Details of the readings and events that I’m doing in Ireland and UK are in the Events bit of the website and as soon as I’ve details for Australia and Canada I’ll post them.
I got invited to India to the Mumbai book festival and I nearly lost my reason with excitement. I was googling Bollywood Studio tours and houseboats in Kerala even though Kerala is about 90,000 miles from Mumbai. Then I got a talking to from the grown-ups who warned me that a) I was already booked up in December, and 2) I was getting carried away and saying yes to too much and did I want to go made-in-the-head again? Sulkily I admitted that I didn’t. So no Mumbai for me…
Tanken yew for all your kindness, I hope you have a lovely, lovely September and I will be on to you soon. The plan was that I’d do one of these ‘missives’ every 2 months but if I’m able, I’m try and do it monthly instead.
Big kisses to you all
Hello, I’m back!
And so is Autumn!
Hello there, welcome to my shiny new website and I hope it is to your liking. It’s been a while since I’ve done a newsletter and my apologies for that, but the plan is that I’ll do one every two months for the foreseeable and maybe even one every month but we’ll have to ‘monitor’ things a bit. Because I feel very well in my head right now and I’m so grateful and delighted about that but I have a tendency to think that because I’m fixed I’ll never be broken again and that is not how it works, is it? So we are going to take things, not slowly, no, but at a brisk, trotting pace. But no galloping, not yet in-an-anyway.
Right! So today is August the seventh and I LOVE August because it’s the last month before Autumn officially commences and I ADORE Autumn more than I adore Prada dresses and new socks and Percy Pigs and Pasha Kovalev, which is, to say, quite a lot.
Also! This week, we will be tolt the name of the first Strictly celebrity! About bliddy-well time, amiright? What has kept them? I distinctly remember ‘learning’ of Jeremy Vine mid-July two years ago. But I am not complaining. Well clearly, I am, but shur lookit.
So what can I tell you? Well, I’ve a new book coming out on September 7th. My apologies (as always) for the length of time it took me to write it. It’s called The Break and it’s about a man and a woman called Hugh and Amy who’ve been together for 18 years and for various reasons Hugh hits a mid-life crisis (he’s 46) and wants a Marriage Sabbatical (ie 6 months off from the marriage to be temporarily single.)
I was quite proud of it until it went to the printers and then I realised it was a load of shite, but this always happens to me (and most scribers, I gather): As soon as it’s too late to change anything, the doubts start. But a good few people have read advance copies and said nice things so that will have to do me.
All the Keyesez are well. Well, well-ish – as you know, we are a family who enjoys bad health. None more than me (more of which, anon.)
We are just back from our summer holiers in a villa in Italy, in a lovely little town near Sorrento. It was fearsome FEARSOME hot but I endured it because I am very fond of my siblings and their spouses and nippers and I hid in my dark room during the day and did me scribin’ and I emerged, in the relative coolth of the evening to be fed and have the mighty craic.
The Redzers are quite grown up now – Redzer the Elder is nine and Redzer the Younger is seven. Baby Teddy is two and a half and we’re going to have to stop calling him ‘Baby’ Teddy because any day now (imminently) a new sibling for him is expected.
Teddy is GAS and is very fond of his Auntie Rita-Anne but was having trouble saying the full ‘Auntie Rita-Anne’ so he decided to shorten it to ‘Gary’. He took to bursting in to her bedroom and yelling, “WHERE ARE YOU GARY? GARY! GARY I WANT YOU!” No-one knows why he picked Gary but I feel it displays a pleasing strain of eccentricity which many of the Keyesez have.
The telly has been shite all Summer – with the exception of Love Island. I sneerily dismissed it but then Gary said she was watching it and Gary has no truck with anything distasteful or vulgar so that made me take a look – and the next thing myself and Himself were hooked! And so was Gary’s husband Jimmy.
Now about Jimmy, Jimmy is a botanist and on holidays he was reading that book about Wounded Knee and he likes documentaries and he’s THE LAST PERSON you’d think would watch Love Island. But when I met him on Friday just gone he looked extremely sorrowful and he said to me, “How’re you getting on?” When I said I was fine, he said, surprised, “But since Love Island finished on Monday? Does your life not feel empty and pointless?” I said, no, no more than usual, anyway and he sighed heavily and said, “It seems to have hit me hardest of all…”
I’m watching and loving Game of Thrones. Also Top of the Lake which is so fabulously odd and raw and unexpectedly funny – Brienne of Tarth is HILARIARSE! And Dicte, do you watch Dicte? It’s a Walter Presents yoke on Channel 4, a Danish crime thing, but very sweet except that I’m slightly agin the daughter Rose, for being a bit of a sap. Other than that, I love them all, especially JOHN WAGNER, the poor clueless craythur.
Now books! I have read many brilliant books ‘in recent times’. Let me alert you to some of them:
- The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman (Magical)
- Friend Request by Laura Marshall (Grippy)
- The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig (A state of the nation novel about Britain. If a man – say like John Lancaster – had written it, it would be winning prizes.)
- I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice (non-fiction, exquisite writing, moving, very special.)
- The new Michael Connolly, the name escapes me (crime procedural, new character for him, a female detective, he is so very skilled at what he does.)
- Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear (debut novel, crime/family dynamics. Great writing.)
There are more but we’ll leave it at that for now.
I’ll be doing a fair few ‘events’ in September and October in the UK, the details are here on the site.
Then also in October, going to Australia, details will be coming and in November, Canada!
Now it’s time for:
Ailment of the Month!
I expect this to be a regular feature and I hope to sport many strange and unusual ailments. This month I am thrilled to announce that I’ve been diagnosed with arthritis in my hands and feet! I’m only thrilled because it’s a little bit different from my usual ‘flu-like virus.’ Now that I think about it, I’m very worried that I might have to wear flat shoes and that CANNOT HAPPEN. Because a) vanity and b) I’ve worn high-heels for 40 years and the muscles in my calves have bunched up and shortened and my heels (my actual ones, not my shoes) haven’t touched the floor in over two decades.
Oh Naples, I forgot to tell you about Naples. After the week with my family, myself and Himself went to Naples for three days and I was excited and a bit apprehensive because more than one person (two) told me that Naples was a shithole.
And yes, on first encounter, it was ‘not-clean’ and fairly covered in graffiti and dusty and roasting and crowdy and the traffic was INSANE. Also, we were warned we’d be pickpocketed and swindled and swizzed by taxi-drivers and mugged on the metro and in fairness we WERE swizzed by our inaugural taxi-driver and I was in a fouler. But in less than 24 hours, I’d adapted to the place, I liked the energy and I found the people to be warm and kind and I quickly got the hang of the traffic, you’ve got to be ‘bold’ see, you’ve just got to step out into it and the cars and Vespas will swerve around you.
And the FOOD! Holy mother a’ Jez, the food! Pizzas, yes, of course, but other quare little cakes, which were so wonderful and which the Neapolitans are rightly proud and everywhere we went we got given free drinks and by the end of our stay I was in love with the place and I’d recommend it if you were prepared to be brave and embrace the chaos.
There are museums and galleries if you like that kind of thing. I don’t, but no judgement. I – being honest with you – like going on the hop-on-hop-off open-top bus and getting a sense of the place, as it’s lived now.
Oh I forgot! After we’d been swizzed by the taxi-driver, people told me on Twitter to talk Italian in a strong Dublin accent and the Italians would think I was Sicilian and would give me the respect. So I did! And it worked! And it was only the fact that the only Italian I speak is ‘Buona Sera’ and ‘Mi Scuzi’ (favourite phrase ever, in any language, Himself wants to correct the spelling to scusi, but I like the z) and ‘Prego’, that led to me being eventually uncovered as a non-Sicilian. But for those few minutes, I was TOTALLY channelling ‘Scary Sicilian crime boss.’ Ah, well… *Dabs eyes*
So there we are, my amigos / amici. We will talk again next month, when I will ‘address’ you on the eve of publication. Yes, I know I said this was a two-month yoke, but because of the book publication, we’ll make an exception. Also, you will get the chance to win a signed proof copy of The Break (if that’s of interest to you.)
Tanken yew for all your kindness, I hope you’re keeping well and I’ll be back in September.
Lots of love
Ahowayiz! Now you may or may not know that I made a rash promise on the Twitters that I’d do a diary of my holiers in Madeira, the way I did when I was on my holiers in Antarctica. However! I had not factored in that it was a walking holiday I was on in Madeira and at the end of every day I was absolutely SHATTERED and in no fit condition to be writing my name, never mind a diary. So I must apologise profusely for letting you down.
However. All is not entirely lost because I’d written the below, while I was on the 2 planes flying to Madeira (From Dublin to Lisbon. From Lisbon to Funchal.) and it seemed a shame to decommission it entirely. So it’s not about anything much, except the Friday Night Dinner over at Mam’s, but nevertheless you may find it amusing.
Once again my apologies. Also, I hope you are keeping well. Thank you to all of you decent, kind-hearted people who’ve been buying The Woman Who Stole My Life and keeping it so high in the bestseller lists all summer. Also to all of you who’ve been buying the Kindle version – huge numbers. Penguin who are my publishers say the figures are ‘unprecedented’ – which is nice!
And thank you to everyone who has come to the readings and yokes I’ve been doing – there are a few more coming. I’ll be at The Feile in Belfast on August 6th, at The Cheltenham Festival on (I think) October 7th. Also, there are thrilling plans afoot to do a reading/Q&A/enthusiastic chinwag at – get this! – the Gudrun Sjoden shop in Monmouth Street, London on September 26th to celebrate the arrival of the Autumn clothes. Also I’ll be in the ACTUAL Swedens in October. And more appearances ‘to be announced.’
Thank you again and onwards we go!
So like I said, this was written on the planes, when I was still convinced that I wouldn’t be spannered with exhaustion every evening and well able to turn out a lengthy account of my day…
“Here is a diary of my holiers in Madeira! However, as I’m on the plane on the first leg on the flights, flying to Lisbon, I don’t have much but minuitae to report. So I will report said minuitae!
Well I rose at 8am, readying myself for a 9.30am departure from the house. I donned my Fitbit and this is only my second day of the fecker but it is already tyrannising me. I decided I needed to do a quick skite to Ronan the Chemist, because I suddenly became worried that the 3 crates of medicaments that I’d purchased earlier in the week wouldn’t be enough. And although Ronan isn’t far away, I usually go in the vehicle, but with one eye on my ‘step-count’ I decided I’d – yes! – WALK to Ronan! But then, after a discussion with Himself, I realised that actually I DID have enough medicaments and that I was just doing the panicky pre-holiday thing that I always do and I abandoned all plans to visit Ronan.
I ‘took’ my bricfeasta of porridge and enjoyed it tremenjussly but I was brimming over with pre-holiday giddiness that had no outlet, so I had to eat 15 cinnamon and apple ‘diet’ biscuits in order to calm myself. Then I hated myself. And that was grand, business as usual, you might say.
I will backtrack slightly to yesterday, where we had the Friday Night Dinner at the Mammy’s. Turnout was low because all 4 of the Praguers were ‘otherwise occupied’ as they prepared for their holiday in Madeira with myself and Himself. Present were: Me, Himself, Mam, Dad, AnneMarie (visiting from UK), Rita-Anne and The Redzers. It was a joyous occasion because The Redzers had just returned from wrecking New York and I’d missed the little blighters while they’d been away, things had been eerily quiet. I interrogated them on what they’d done, whilst ‘Stateside’ and Redzer the Elder said they’d gone swimming. And Redzer the Younger said, “The pool was in the outside.” So I assumed it was the local baths in the park opposite Caitriona and Sean’s apartming in Brooklyn.
But no! It transpired that The Redzers had gone swimming in the roof-top pool in Soho House! And I nearly got SICK from the laughing. I’m sure you know but The Soho House is a foncy members club – I’d been in the New York one a few years back and around the pool is profoundly intimidating – many, MANY slender beauties in elaborate bikinis and ginormous sunglasses lounging around, being aloof and soignee and icy and drinking foncy elegant cocktails in misty glasses with tiny white straws – the time I was there I was a cringing ball of fear and unworthiness. And the thoughts of The Redzers in their goggles and armbands, doing energetic waterbombs and wild shrieking and splashing had me in convulsions.
“Then we had pancakes,” RTE (Redzer The Elder) said.
“No, we didn’t!” RTY (Redzer The Younger) said. “We had BRUNCH!!!!”
“Yes,” RTE said, in a rare display of agreement with his brother, “We had brunch.”
And that started me off with the laughing again, and it made me think of the scene in The Blues Brothers when the 2 brothers go into the foncy restaurant and make shows of themselves, flinging food across the table into each other’s mouths. I had to check with Rita-Anne, but yes, The Redzers really DID have brunch in The Soho House. “We had HASH BROWNS!” RTE said and clearly the hash browns had made a big impression on him.
Next thing, Tadhg’s car drew up outside and we all rushed to the window because a) he’d been vague about whether or not he’d be coming over at all. And b) and far more importantly, he hadn’t given a definitive Yes when we’d asked him if he was bringing over Baby Teddy. And being quite honest with you, no-one has much interest in Tadhg these days, unless he’s accessorised by Baby Teddy. “He’s getting out,” someone says. “He’s out. He’s on his own. No, no! He’s getting something else out of the car!” Then, in disappointment, we saw that it was only a bag. “Awwwww, it’s only a bag,” RTE said.
“But why would he need a bag?!” Mam asked. “Tadhg isn’t a ‘man-bag’ type. He’d only need a bag if he was bringing -” “BABY TEDDY!!!” We all chorused, and then we saw Tadhg opening the back-door of the car. “He’s opening the back door! He’s opening the back door! There he is!!! THERE HE IS!!!!” And sure enough, there was Baby Teddy in his little chair, bring led up to the house.
Everyone thundered out into the hall, and as soon as the door opened, we were all pawing at Baby Teddy. Mam yelled, “Don’t be UP in the craythur’s face! Don’t be UP in his face!”
Out of the corner of my ear, I heard Rita-Anne say, “When did Mam start saying that saying?” “While you were away,” Mam replied, “And you can’t make fun of me because it’s a real saying, I checked. So don’t be UP in Baby Teddy’s face.”
But we couldn’t help ourselves. We were UP in Baby Teddy’s face, and it’s a good job the poor little divil is as easy-going as he is, because a lesser child would have been terrified.
Details on Baby Teddy: he was six months yesterday. He is GINORMOUSLY fat – he has the fattest thighs you’ve ever seen. He is SUPER-smiley. He loves dogs, and his best friend is Tadhg and Susie’s boxer Katie (named after Katie Taylor.)
I hadn’t a hope of getting near him so I went into ‘the room’ and had a little chat with Dad, who greeted me by saying, “You look very dirty.”
“That’s my fake tan,” I said.
“What’s that?” He asked. I attempted an explanation, but I’d have got more sense out of Baby Teddy.
“And why do you put them colours on your nails?” He asked.
“Because I like them,” sez I.
“So do I,” sez he. “Are you married?”
“I am,” sez I. “Well, I wish someone had told me!” He declared.
Then it was dinner time and this week it was mine and Himself’s turn to get the grub and I’d gone off-piste. Usually we get them big pasta yokes from Marks and Spencers but I’d been up in Stillorgan and airly, I’d said to Himself that I’d ‘pick up’ some dinner from Donnybrook Fair because I liked that picture of myself, of a woman who stands at a delicatessen counter, chatting with a white-attired chef/server person about the various different salads and things.
And I’d got – what I considered anyway to be – a FABALISS array of Summery things – potato skins, lemongrass chicken, coleslaw, something called ‘Summer salad’ and garlic bread, and ontra noo, I’d only fecked in the garlic bread at the last minute because I sensed there might be a mini-revolution if I didn’t.
And let me tell you that it was the mercy of god that I DID get the 2 garlic breads, because when I dished up the lovely off-piste dinner, there were wild cries of disappointment – where were the pasta yokes? Why were they being fobbed off with this shite? Nervously I strove for airiness – “I thought we’d try something new!”
“New?” They cried. “Why would we want ‘new’? We like the pasta yokes!”
“But it’s Summer. These are Summery things.” Then I played my trump card. “They’re from DonnyBrook Fair.”
“I don’t care if they’re from Fossett’s Circus,” Mam said. “I want the pasta yokes.”
“Are these hash browns?” RTE poked the little cubes of chicken in deep-fried batter.
Sensing I could potentially form an alliance that would serve me well, I said, stoutly, “Yes, YES, Redzer the Elder, they ARE hash browns!” So he shoved about 6 into his mouth, gave a little chew, then spat them out again – and I knew I was sunk.
They divvied up the garlic bread amongst themselves and, giving me baleful looks, placed their alloted tiny slice on their otherwide empty dinner plates and ate in resentful silence. Even Dad, who, under usual circumstances would eat the leg of the chair, refused to partake of my lovely Summery food. “Well feck yiz,” I said to them. “Feck the lot of yiz!”
“Feck you,” Dad said, “Feck you right back.”
But then it was Magnum time and the Mammy took everyone’s orders and while the rest of us went into the sitting room and flung themselves on the couches, Mam went into the kitchen and began burrowing around in the freezer and now and again she’d come back into the room, with bits of hoary frost eyebrows and say, “Where’s Oscar? Here’s your Mint Magnet. And Rita-Anne? Here’s your Pink one.” And someone would say, “Where’s mines?” And Mam would say, in shrill tones, “I’m going as fast as I can! There’s only the wan of me!” Then back into the kitchen she’d go and we’d hear the funny scraping noises that are made as a mother moves around bodily inside a freezer, burrowing her way into cardboard Magnum boxes and emerging with the correctly flavoured Magnum and bursting joyously to the surface with it held between her teeth.
“The tea might have been a wash-out,” Tadhg said, “But we’ll always have Magnums…”
So now it is Saturday and I am attempting a spending spree in the Duty-Free but I’m being THWARTED! Which is a great word. I tried to get the Bobbi Brown Moisturising Balm but they didn’t have the colour I wanted, then I tried to get the Estee Lauder EE cream but they didn’t have the colour I wanted there either. THEN! We had to walk twenty miles from terminal 2 to terminal 1 because even though we had to check in at Terminal 2, our gate was in terminal 1 and it wasn’t the worst thing in the world because I was thinking of my Fitbit and how pleased it would be with me and THEN! We passed through the Terminal WAN duty-free and I dived into the Bobbi Brown bit and as luck would have it, they HAD the colour I wanted and I was in good form – until the woman said, “And it’s 20% cheaper than on the high street.” And I said, “What high street?” Because in Ireland we don’t have ‘high streets’, we have ‘main street’ or ‘down the town’ or ‘in town’ or ‘In Arnotts or Humdrum or Brown Thomas.’
However, this ‘high street’ business must mean that in the Dublin Duty-Free they’ve been told they can knock off saying, “It’s cheaper than ‘Downtown’ prices” – which used to make the red mist descend on me, because Irish people would NEVER talk about ‘Downtown’ like we are from Detroit or San Diego and it used to feel terribly wrong. But anyway… I got my stuff and I was happy.
The flight was uneventful, which is probably the best kind and then we landed in Lisbon and despite my great love for Jose, I’ve only been to Portugal once and that was donkeys years ago but I remember being struck by how LOVELY the people were. On that previous visit, myself and Himself spent about 4 days in a place called Sintra, which is atmospheric and sort-of-spooky and had lots of fabliss houses that – if I’m remembering correctly and I mightn’t be – Byron and his A-quills used to be taking drugs and stuff in and there was a funny well and lots of overhanging trees and like I said… atmospheric.
Then there was a seaside town – would it be Cascai? Something like that – with old-fashioned restaurants set into the dunes and the marram grass and the waiter tempted us to have the ‘fish of the day’ which he said was done in ‘the Portuguese national sauce’ and when I enquired what was in this national sauce, he declared, like he was telling me, “Unicorn eyelashes!” But the words he said were, “Boiling water!”
However! Himself is disputing my memory of that conversation. But he has added this codicil, “That is not to say that the food we had on that holiday was not the blandest stuff we’ve ever had anywhere, ever. Wasn’t that the place we got cod-fish for every meal?” And it was.
At the time, I’d found something slightly sinister in the tautological word ‘fish’. Either the Cod is fish or it isn’t. If the food is fish, there is no need to add the qualifying word, ‘fish’, is there? So at every meal I suspected that the ‘Cod fish’ was not ‘fish’ at all but some other quare food like sea-vegetable.
After 4 days in Sintra eating so-called ‘cod fish’ cooked in boiling water, we went to stay in Lisbon and when I asked the ‘man’ in the hotel what tourist things he recommended in Lisbon, he said, “You must go to Sintra! Sintra is the best thing about Lisbon. We will organise for you a car and a driver-man for to take you there – Jose! Fetch the hotel car to take Missy Keyes to Sintra, for she will love it! Byron went there, Missy Keyes. Off his nut on laudunum the whole time he was!” And it was the mercy of god that I found my voice in time to tell the ‘man’ to stand down his vehicle, that wasn’t I only after arriving direct from Sintra and that delightful as it had been, I wanted to spend a bit of time in Lisbon.
But the man was glum and downcast and could hardly bring himself to unfurl the map of the local area onto the counter and stab at our current location with a blue biro, so Himself and myself elected to go exploring on our own and these are my abiding memories of Lisbon: custard pies, a furniture shop run by a man called Senor Toucan, quare-flavoured Magnums, difficulty finding a public wees-facility, kindly people, custard pies…. Oh! And custard pies!
And now we are on the quare little plane, flying to Madeira-land and they have come around and gevv us FREE hang sangwidges and ‘drinks’ and they are SO nice and smiley and warm and friendly and I’m quite – still! – giddy! I mean, it’s nice, when people are nice, no? Why can’t we all just be nice?”
…and there I’m afraid, my Madeira Diary ends… I know! I know! I’m sorry! But you know what I was thinking – I like this sort of writing. I love it, in fact. It’s a lot easier than writing novels. Why don’t I just write travel books? Like, not real ones, obviously. Comedy ones. Travel books refracted through the prism of my peculiar personality. What do you think?
I’m actually serious. Are you on the Twitters? If you are, will you twitter me and let me know what you think and if you’re in agreement, where you’d like me to go.
I suppose I’d need a theme, these sort of books need themes… Well, one thing Himself and myself thought of a few years ago was doing a Sprite Zero hunt. Because you may not know this, but Sprite Zero in 33ml bottles is very hard to find. Yes!
Or another thing – and those of you with more refined sensibilities might wince at this notion – but I ‘suffer’ with my bladder and spend 89% of my life anxiously scanning my surroundings, looking for a wees ‘outlet’. I’m never comfortable in a situation until I’ve established where the nearest jacks is.
Himself suggested we do a project called, “Weeing Across America.’ He said this after we attempted to drive from LA to San Francisco and I made him stop approximately once every 15 miles for me to duck behind a hedge.
Obviously, this wouldn’t do. Who would want to read a book about a woman terrified of not being able to find a spot in which to dispense of any excess wees? But if anything occurs to you, be sure and let me know. Tanken yew in advance and now I will sign off as I have to go and make the tay.
Once again my apologies for the lack of Diary. Once again my thanks for all your kindness. Once again my best wishes to you and yours. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
PS I nearly forgot! I love this, so I do – on Friday at dinner time, I rang Mam’s from Madeira, just to see how they were all getting on and Rita-Anne came on the phone and over the shrieking and crashing noises in the background, managed to tell me that when she was driving the Redzers over, Oscar (Redzer the Younger, who is only 5) said, in sudden high alarm, “What if Auntie Marian is doing the dinner again this week?!” And it took a good bit of TLC AND effusive promises that I was faraway in another land before he calmed down.
Sali Hughes! Pretty Honest! Readings!
Hello amigos, hello, hello, hello. You are probably surprised to hear from me again so soon after my lengthy spell of unreliableness but so many interesting and lovely things have happened that I HAVE to tell you.
Firstly, may I tell you about last Wednesday, which turned out to be one of the happiest days of my entire life? I may? Tanken yew! Well! You know Sali Hughes, the make-up artist and beauty journalist who writes for The Guardian on a Saturday? And has her own website where she does great videos called In The Bathroom, where she visits the bathrooms of famous and/or interesting people and discusses their beauty products and skincare and whatnot? Well, I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time because while she really loves all things beauty, she’s entirely honest and reliable and informative. She knows everything.
We first came into contact when I twittered asking people what I should do about the little broken capillaries on my face and everyone told me to email Sali – and she emailed me back immediately, giving me a variety of options and telling me the upsides and downsides of each. And after that we stayed in touch and even though we hadn’t met in real life, I loved her already because she has great sweetness and gentleness coupled with razor-sharp intelligence. Also, she gives airtime to all kinds of brands, they don’t have to be big names and expensive, so she’s in nobody’s pocket, so I know that what she writes in her column is genuinely impartial. Also, she’s wonderful for giving exposure to new and emerging brands, which thrills me because I am a divil for ‘New and Exciting.’
And now she’s after writing a book, called Pretty Honest and it is the ABSOLUTE BEAUTY BIBLE – it covers everything from the very basics, such as identifying your skin type to how to manage your beauty when you’re going through something awful like cancer, and she de-mystifies the ‘anti-ageing’ industry, separating out cod science from things that do actually work. (As well as acknowledging that there’s nothing wrong with looking your age – basically she gives you every option.)
Every woman should have this book. Because beauty stuff is a passionate hobby of mine, I thought I knew a bit, but compared to Sali, I know nothing and I’ve already consulted the book many times.
So anyway, there I am, living in Dublin and you know, living a quiet life, seeing my mammy and the Redzers and the Praguers and going for walks with Himself and Posh Kate and Posh Malcolm – when Sali sends me this invitation to a lunch. A foncy lunch – being thrown for her by Bobbi Brown – yes! The make-up brand Bobbi Brown! And I was invited! There were only 20 people invited and I was one of them – and when I saw the list of the other invitees, didn’t I nearly get sick! They were all writers or journalists that I hold in HUGE regard – India Knight, JoJo Moyes, Sam Baker, Polly Samson, Miranda Sawyer, Hadley Freeman, Lucy Mangan, Maria McErlane, Georgia Garrett, Julia Raeside, Jo Elvin, Camilla Long, Sophie Heawood, Bryony Gordon and Sarah Morgan. Also invited were three amazing women from the Estee Lauder group – Jay Squier, Cheryl Joannides and Anna Bartle.
My immediate impulse was that I couldn’t possibly go, that I didn’t belong, that I wouldn’t fit in and then I thought, feck it! I want to go. I’m GOING!
And this was huge for me because I’ve been mad-in-the-head for so long that I’ve had to keep my life very small and safe because it was all that I could cope with. But I realised I was ready to go into a daunting, intimidating situation and try and hold my own.
And off I went. And I really hope you don’t think I’m being a boasty-boaster, I just wanted to let you know that if you’ve suffered from the MITH-ness yourself and you think you’ll always feel terrible, it may not be the case forever.
I ‘jetted’ in from Dublin – normally when I travel by air, I simply fly, but because this was so glamorous, I ‘jetted’ and the lunch was upstairs in the private room in Balthazaar and I had to scuttle past the welcoming committee to go to the ladies to do last minute checks on myself – only to discover that – horrors! – I’d somehow managed to leave Dublin without my comb!
For a brief but very real moment I contemplated leaving Balthazaar and getting a taxi back to the airport and flying home – yes ‘flying’ home, no ‘jetting’ this time, it would be an ignominious return – and never contacting any of the people here today ever again. Then I remembered a day long ago when my mammy couldn’t find any of her combs because all of her daughters had stolen them and she had to go to Mass (not a Sunday but a holy day of obligation) and she ended up having to comb her hair with a fork. Inspired by her ingenuity, I resolved that as soon as was polite, I’d secret a fork from the table into my handbag and race back to the ladies and sort my hair out that way.
So in I went to the room and I was appallingly nervous – the first person I saw was Camilla Long – Camilla Long! In real life! And then I met Sali and my hands were shaking so much, my fingers were all fumbly. But she was the kindness, nicest woman you could meet, and exquisite-looking, like a doll.
And as it transpired, everyone was INCREDIBLY nice. The only person I’d properly met before, apart from the amazing Jay Squier, was the wonderful novelist and Red editor-in-chief Sam Baker, who is very grounded and calm and kind and she passed on a little of her calmness to me. And she was with Jojo Moyes – Jojo Moyes! My love, my admiration, my downright jealousy of Jojo’s talent knows no bounds. But would you believe Jojo had also forgotten her comb! So I decided that if someone as amazing as Jojo Moyes had forgotten her comb that forgetting ones comb was actually admirable. Perhaps it could become ‘A Thing’. A bit like the ice-bucket challenge – where you go out for the evening without your comb…? No, maybe not. Sorry. Not all my ideas are runners…
Then I met Miranda Sawyer, the music journalist, who is so cooooollll! But she was extremely welcoming and warm and fun and that did a huge amount to put me at my ease.
So we were standing around having drinks and I went mad and had a diet coke, because of the day that was in it and before I knew it, I was in the thick of things. Initially I was acting, trying hard to chat and act normal and not keel over with intimidation, but after a while it became real – and then I discovered I was enjoying myself. Like really enjoying myself.
And when we sat down for the lunch I discovered several things:
A) a personalised name tag – while we’d been doing our chatting and mingling an illustrator had sat in the room and sketched each of us – here’s a picture of my one. I’ve never encountered a more charming, delightful gesture ever
B) I was seated on Sali’s right hand which was a massive honour.
C) On my other side was India Knight and oh my GOD! She’s incredible! Utterly hilarious – I nearly got sick laughing – and entertaining and warm and vital and alive and passionate and smart as a whip.
D) A Bobbi Brown goodie bag next to my sideplate. It took EVERYTHING IN MY POWER to stop myself from ripping it open and kissing the things inside
E) I was seated opposite Hadley Freeman, who is the nicest nicest person and was so complimentary about Ireland that I totally fell in love with her.
F) Maria McErlane was sort of diagonally across from me and she was another one that had me choking with laughter.
G) Diagonally across from me on the other side was the aforementioned lovely Miranda Sawyer
What was very interesting was the atmosphere in the room – there was nothing but love. I’m very attuned to undercurrents and unspoken tension and there was absolutely none. Everyone was so happy for Sali and everyone seemed genuinely thrilled to be in such a beautiful room, eating such delicious food, and being with such lovely people. And there was no oneupmanship or posturing or “Oh yeah? So when’s your book coming out? Because my book…” And believe me, I’ve been at my fair share of those sort of competitive yokes over the years and this was nothing like them.
I was having such a great time that the time rattled by and before I knew it, it was 4 o’clock and I had to leave to ketch my flight to ‘jet’ back to Dublin (definitely ‘jetting’) and as I was leaving I had a little chat with Lucy Mangan and to be honest, I was afeerd of Lucy Mangan because she’s such a passionate defender of the poorest and most deprived people in Britain, that I thought she’d dismiss me as a fluffy eejit airhead. But! Would you believe that we talked about shoes! Yes! We both have abnormally small feet and we bonded over what a pain in the arse it is to never to be able to find shoes to fit.
Then off I went and because everyone was so great and because it’s not that long since I was so mad-in-the-head that I couldn’t even get out of bed, it was one of the best days of my entire life.
Right then, in other lovely news, on November 5th, at 6.30, I’m doing a reading/question&answer session/chat about shoes, nails, BeachHouse Banjoing and anything else you like, at Waterstones, Piccadilly in London. [Sorry – appears to be sold out now – Himself]
There are tickets (available here) and they’re £5 and I’m sorry there’s a charge at all (it doesn’t go to me, I suppose it’s to cover admin and whatnot) but The Woman Who Stole My Life will be available at half-price and you’ll be getting it a day before official publication, so I hope it’s okay with you. The first batch of tickets sold out very quickly, but more have been made available, so please comes, we’ll have lots of fun.
Also, in Dublin, on November 8th, at Eason’s Dundrum, at 2pm, I’ll be doing a signing. No tickets needed for that, just come along.
So that’s all my news! What else? I’m looking forward to Hallowe’en when we go out with the Redzers. They live in an estate that’s ASWARM with nippers and everyone does their house up lovely and has skeletons swinging from the upstairs windows and spooky noises playing in their gardens and the quality of the sweets given out! By gor! Second to none! Dylan is going as Darth Vader and Oscar is going as Ben 10, but with a blue face… Riiiiight….
Thank you very much for reading this, I really hope I didn’t come across as a braggart or a boasty boaster, I just wanted to let you know that MITHness can go away. Mine could well come back again but it’s managable for today and shur, today is all we have.
Big kisses to you all and lots of love
PS I forgot to say that Sali Hughes will be coming over to film me In The Bathroom, sometime in late Nov or early Dec. We’re also going to film in my shoe press…