A CHRISTMAS CAROL

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

You come downstairs early. The wind woke you so that’s that. Anyway, you like being down there on your own, pottering around the kitchen while they’re all asleep above. You switch on the Christmas tree lights. Somehow they’re more comforting in the pale grey dawn than in the dark of the night.

Then you get a yearning for the Arvo Pärt Cantus, so you dig it out on your iPod and put on your headphones and listen to it as you wash up the wine glasses. It was good of Jenny and Chris to call even if she does think she knows it all.The state of your nails – maybe Liz will give you another voucher for that place on Grafton Street. You vow not to drink tonight when Claire comes over. How you’d manage without your amazing sister you’ll never know. You empty the dishwasher quietly, feeling the curve of every cup, the silvery heft of every knife as the strings hold that long long final downward major chord, searching for the silence that comes after the last bell toll.

You sit and look at the tree as you eat a small orange, the name of which you can never remember, something to do with a song, and have the day’s first cup of tea. That bloody rain will never stop. You wish there were more presents under there but Santa’s will bulk it up on the morning. There would be more if that beautiful brown eyed American man of yours hadn’t upped and gone back to California to chase whatever piped dream he’s after now. One year, three months and… twenty two days ago. Not that you’re counting.

Clementine, that’s it. Oh my darlin’. Now that’s a depressing song, you won’t go there.

And here’s the question – why didn’t you put on some Christmas music? There’s plenty of it for Christ’s sake (ha ha). What kind of person wants to listen to a Latvian elegy to an English composer while most of the Western World is celebrating a baby’s birth with hymns and carols, many of which you’ve been teaching the choral class for the past month?

But you know this is the same person who always identified more with the losing team than the winning one when you used to sit down and watch matches with him. And the same person who would like – once, just once – for the bad guy to win in a film. Not just the funny bad guy, but the real bad bad guy – Javier Bardem bad. So you know what kind of person.

You put on your Christmas podcast shuffle and stop dead with the first notes of Bach’s Oratorio. Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage. Which reminds you of your father, teaching you the chorus when you were thirteen. ‘Joy, Jennifer, Joy! Think of the happiest thing you can possibly think of and then sing it. Celebrate, rejoice, rise up! Happiness! We’re all saved!’ Him in that ridiculous house coat of his, almost hopping with the pleasure of it all. ‘Happiness, Jennifer. Feel it! Sing it!’ And then you think you’ll cry, but you hear a thump upstairs. She’s up. How a two and a half year old can make such a racket you’ll never know. But you’re glad. More thumps. She’ll wake her brother now and embolden him to come down to watch Ceebie Beebies.

And down they traipse; he, still groggy, with his blanky and her with her pink Teddy. She’ll need a new onesie soon the way she’s growing. Face a regiment already, she would; like her grandmother. So you negotiate TV and promise them pancakes and they consent to a hug because they really want to watch that TV and there are only four sleeps until Christmas. And the heat of them. And the smell of them. Apples in her hair from last night’s bath. Sweet little boy sweat on his neck, the skinnymalinks – got that from his father, the same nose too.

And once they are settled under the duvet on the sofa, you return to the kitchen and are relieved to see five eggs in the box for the mix. Those other two lazybones won’t be up for hours, but you’ll make enough for everyone. And you put the iPod back on and the song changes to O The Holly She Bears a Berry by the Chieftains and you half hum, half sing as you measure the flour into the jug:

Oh the Holly, she bears a berry, as white as the milk.
And Mary she bore Jesus all wrapped up in silk.

And Mary she bore Jesus our Saviour for to be.
And the first tree that’s in the green wood, it was the Holly.
Holly. Holly.
And the first tree that’s in the green wood, it was the Holly.

Just there, right there

Just there, right there

It’s been a magnificent Autumn.*

Wonders never cease. Out cycling on Friday, by the stream at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, a kingfisher flashed by. All touquoise, blazing over the water, and then he banked just as he passed and gave me a view of his lovely orange breast. At the Atlantic Pond a grey wagtail was bobbing about all clean and yellow (don’t ask it’s a bird thing). The grebe chicks seem to be doing fine, and there are pintails newly arrived.

And then, on my way back from Passage I noticed the unmistakeable insouciance of a raptor over the water, gliding into some gorse on the shore. I got off to have a gander (ha ha) and it wasn’t happy so off it took again with that arrogant lazy grace that only cats and birds of prey can muster. I think it was a kestrel, but for a moment it might have been my first sighting of the wonderfully named merlin – come down from the mountains for the winter to the coast, as they do. Turning right onto Jacob’s Island, a small flock of lapwings amid the seaweed, foraging. Na Pilibíní, with their little black jaunty crests above their heads. Cool as a breeze they were, mixing it with curlews and a few sanderlings.

Last week my brother Padraig, walking past Finbarr’s Cathedral, heard an unusual guttural gurgle overhead. It couldn’t be, he thought, but when he looked up there were peregrine falcons sparring with Ravens for the high point. RAVENS. In the city! He reckons it’s a young pair on a bit of a winter skyte, up to divilment, riling some of the locals, before heading back to a quiet remote breeding ground in the Spring. Later, he could still see the falcons circling above the spire. Amazing.

And the leaves! Autumn has been kind to us this year and kept the colours so bright and the leaves up for so long. The railway line through Blackrock and out to Passage is like a patchwork quilt. Here the small russet lobes of the oak, there the rich gold and amber of the sycamores. And the beeches are a spectrum from green to yellow, to ochre, to russet to brandy. There’s a larch on my road and, though this morning’s wind will probably take a lot of the needles, for the last few weeks it’s been giving a kaleidoscopic display.

There they all are, just there, right there.

 * Written November, 2015