Madeira 2015


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.

Walking in Madeira

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?”

Pharmacy in Madeira

…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.


Back in the long ago nineties, Rachel Walsh was a mess. But a spell in rehab transformed everything. Life became very good, very quickly.