Saturday, May 31, 2003

When I awoke this morning, the sun was shining and I opened my emails to find that I have won second prize in the West End literary contest for my one page story, "Apres Anais Nin."
I woke Gill and danced around the living-room. A small success, I know, in the great literary world, but I still feel pleased with myself. Funny thing, I don't even remember what the prize is and I won't be able to attend the Award Night held in Vancouver on June 10th but I won. At last, I have won something for my writing.

Gill is pleased with herself too. Yesterday morning she wrote her physical geography and technique exam and feels she did well on the first part but was too tired and hungry for the second.

Last night, Karen said that my list of ancestors on yesterday's blog confused her and I've decided to cut out some of the long-winded comment from future blogs and give more of an overview of my final days in Northern Ireland.

Today, I am going to get my hair cut - a gift from Gill who is going to study for her next exam, "Human Geography" and not go out with her friends. (I am so impressed by this young woman.) I expect my cousin Ken will show up late morning and we will go on our last sight-seeing expedition.
This evening, I will dance the night away with my Auntie Barbara and Uncle Eddy and a group of people who are at least a decade older than me, who will make me feel like a young girl (extremely rare these days.)
When I awoke this morning, the sun was shining and I opened my emails to find that I have won second prize in the West End literary contest for my one page story, "Apres Anais Nin."
I woke Gill and danced around the living-room. A small success, I know, in the great literary world, but I still feel pleased with myself. Funny thing, I don't even remember what the prize is and I won't be able to attend the Award Night held in Vancouver on June 10th but I won.
At last, I have won something for my writing.

Gill is pleased with herself too. Yesterday morning she wrote her physical geography and technique exam and feels she did well on the first part but was too tired and hungry for the second.

Last night, Karen said that my list of ancestors on yesterday's blog confused her and I've decided to cut out some of the long-winded comment from future blogs and give more of an overview of my final days in Northern Ireland.

Today, I am going to get my hair cut, a gift from Gill who is going to study for her next exam, "Human Geography" on June 9th, and not go out with her friends. (I am so impressed by this young woman.) I expect my cousin Ken will show up late morning and we will go on our last sight-seeing expedition. And this evening, I will dance the night away with my Auntie Barbara and Uncle Eddy with a group of people who are at least a decade older than me and make me feel like a young girl (extremely rare these days.)

Friday, May 30, 2003

Yesterday, I had to turn on my brain. Early afternoon found me at the Public Record office for Northern Ireland (PRONI). I searched the indexes for Wetherall, Haslem, and Kennedy in my attempt to move further and further back into my genetic coding. I started on the death-bed of the men of the family since they held the purse-strings but the Wetheralls remain an enigma.
My grandfather Wetherall, a dentist in Lisburn, didn't leave a will and neither did he list himself in the "Inhabitants" of each village he lived in. It's almost as if he wanted to come and go without a trace.
My great-grandfather Henry John Haslem, who died 9 July 1958, in Belfast left an estate of 3025 pounds 18 shillings 6 pence to James Kennedy (?) and his son, John Edmund.
His father, my great-great grandfather, also Henry John, who died 12 January 1926, left his farm in Lurganville and a cow to his namesake and eldest son and a "roan heifer" to his unmarried daughter, Sarah Ann. His will was written 14 December 1925 (so he probably knew his death was approaching) and signed with a "x".
I found a Nathaniel Haslem who died 22 December 1912 and had a farm in Lurganville which he left to his son, Thomas James, but I'm not sure if he is the father of Henry John or a brother of the father. I will have to return to the Registry Office in Belfast before continuing.

I walked from PRONI to Queens to attend the Amnesty Literary Benefit . I am shy attending these functions alone, feeling like a wallflower, but, as I entered the large room, I ran into a writer from the workshop I had been attending at the university and sat with him, drinking a Harp (I've acquired a taste for beer) and then several other writers joined us including Olive from Cork who has the loveliest melodic accent I've heard.
The evening began with Conor Byrne and Meabb O'Hare playing traditional Irish music on flute and violin, followed by Julie O'Callaghan, a poet, originally from Chicago reading her rather sassy, sometimes mocking poems. Although she has lived in Ireland for twenty-five years, she says that most of her poems take place in the U.S.
Intermission. Another beer. And then Jonathan Coe, a prolific award-winning, English writer read from a novel-in-progress. His reading held us, a mix of satire and gravity, taking place now, in the Blair regime.
Hugo Hamilton, a Dubliner, followed reading from his non-fiction text "The Speckled People: Memoir of a half-Irish childhood." Hamilton's mother was German, his father was Irish who insisted that only the Irish language be spoken in the home. Hamilton writes of the confusion he felt as a young boy and the excerpt he read, with his broad Dublin accent, was so beautifully written with such original images that I nearly broke my ban on no more books. (I may break down before I leave.) He was by far my favourite author of the evening. When I hear such non-fiction, I want to continue in this genre. The only problem is that non-fiction has to be good, brilliantly good, or it can bore to tears. Life written as it happens - perhaps like this blog - is only of interest to those who know the person and even then it can be tedious.
Another intermission. And yes, another Harp - glass not pint - and the final writer, Maurice Leitch, from Killyleagh, now living in London, also read from a work-in-progress, a tale of the Irish or "Paddys" in England. I yawned a few times. A little too much cliche drinking for my taste.
I had to run to catch the late train and thank goodness one young man at our table was going to the same station, opposite direction. Polite conversation. He asked why I was in N.I. When I told my tale of Gillian's dream, he looked astonished and said, "I know your daughter." He had met Gill at Wallace when he was doing his teaching practicum. At last, I see, we are fitting into the local scenery. (I am actually having pangs about leaving.)

Today, I am cleaning, showing a potential renter our flat, and spending an easy evening with Ian and Karen.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Yesterday, my cousin, Roy made a surprise visit to my flat. Robert Joseph John, officially. Roy is the eldest son of Grandpa's eldest son, Joseph John, Uncle Joseph to me. Roy told me about his marriage, his children (five sons and one daughter), his coal and oil business, and his memories of childhood and our grandfather. He also said that Ernie Kennedy, an uncle, once told him that our great grandfather or great great grandfather, Thomas Kennedy - both shared the name Thomas - came from Scotland. Here is a link I didn't know.
I am curious about my ancestors. I think if I can find out information about them, I will understand myself better. For instance, when I found out that my great grandmothers couldn't read or write - both signed their marriage certificates with an "x" - I understood why education for women wasn't a priority in my mother's family. This afternoon I am going to the Public Record office to hopefully find out more data on the Kennedys and hopefully, the Wetheralls. My father's family are an elusive bunch.

Back to yesterday. Not too much of excitement. In the afternoon, I went to the Post Office, mailed another box to France, and dropped in at the Estate Agent who informed me that they would return part of deposit if the flat was let mid-June. Good. I need the money. In the evening, Gill made dinner and I read a little and then watched "Catch Me If You Can" that, much to my surprise, I enjoyed. I am not a great fan of Leonardo DiCarprio.

This morning, Gill and I are running errands. In the afternoon, I'll catch a train to Belfast for genealogical study, and then on to the Amnesty Literary Benefit as today really is May 29th. Gill will study like mad (as she has been doing for weeks.) Tomorrow is her geography exam.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Yesterday, Gill and I went with Edna and Joe to Enniskeen House, an old elegant inn, outside Newcastle, surrounded by a vast garden with hundreds of multi-coloured rhododendrom bushes. As we sat at our window table, looking towards the glorious Mourne Mountains, Edna said that "a meal just isn't a meal without boiled potatoes" and so when the three-course feast was served complete with boiled potatoes and sweet trifle, she was content. Joe, who turned 80 last year, is my mother's cousin and the only member of the Kennedy clan to remain a Quaker. I'm wondering if this is why he and Edna are so easy-going, curious, content, and nice to each other.
After lunch, we went to Tollywood Forest, a great clamouring woodsy park where Joe led Suzi the dog, Gill and I along a trail through the forest, under several 18th century rock arches, past a stone hermitage, and along a clear stream while Edna, who dislikes walking, rested in the car. The rain held off until we were steps from the vehicle.

In the evening, I curled up and read "Journey by Moonlight" hating that the end was approaching. The tale reminded me a little of Herman Hesse's "The Glassbead Game". Antal Szerb, the author, was born in Budapest in 1901 and "died horribly at 43 in the forced-labour camp at Balf." This novel is a classic, loved by many "educated" Hungarians, according to the translater, Len Rix. I have begun to reread it to decipher how Szerb has created such rich provocative text. When he writes of the affection between two friends who were inseparable and thus not in love, for instance, he says: "For love, there has to be a distance across which the lovers can approach one another. The approach is of course just an illusion, because love in fact separates people." I am so in awe of this type of fiction.

Today, I will write my meandering thoughts in my journal and answer some correspondence and think once again on all I must do to leave.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Tuesday morning. I've been to market and had coffee with Uncle Joseph. At 11, soon, Joe and Edna are picking up Gill and I to take us to lunch.

Nothing exciting in the outside world but my inner one is ripening. I am reading a book by Antal Szerb, a Hungarian called "Journey by Moonlight". It begins with a quote by Villon:
"Mutinously I submit to the claims of law and order.
What will happen? I wait for my journey's wages
In a world that accepts and rejects me."
This book is sensual, seductive, intelligent. The tale begins with a man in Italy on his honeymoon, trying to be normal, trying to fit into the world, but when he gets off the train, leaving his bride, to get a coffee, and boards the wrong train, he is carried away to all sorts of adventures and people from his freer younger past. I have reached a page, for example, where he is reunited with a fellow student from his past who has become an academic:
"There's a man who's managed to stay fixed at the age that suits him. Everyone has one age that's just right for him, that's certain. There are people who remain children all their lives, and there are others who never cease to be awkward and absurd, who never find their place until suddenly they become splendidly wise old men and women: They have come to their real age. The amazing thing about Waldheim is that he's managed to remain a university student at heart without having to give up the world, or success, or the life of the mind."

More later. Must run.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Yesterday was brilliant. (Rob who has loved Van Morrison's music for decades, would have loved it.) We went to the concert expecting a few warmup groups and then the master and what we received was a mini Woodstock, held in the inner court of an inhabited castle. The first musician played at 2:30 in the afternoon and Van Morrison came on stage at 8:30 in the evening. We were there for eight hours. But all the music, save one group, was good and time passed quickly. Brian Houston who looked like a dark-haired, shorter Bob Dylan with a better voice was our favourite pre Morrison. Another performer spoke of the musical trinity of influences, naming Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Van Morrison.

After growing lazy and dreaming, it was a surprise, when Morrison's band walked onto stage and one musician said, "Welcome the one and only Van Morrison" and Morrison immediately walked on and began playing and played and sang continuously with scarcely a beat between numbers, and every beat, every note was perfection. I have rarely seen such professionalism and magic. In my mind's eye, I have always seen Van Morrison as tall and scraggly but he is short and immaculate in signature suit and Fedora.

This was Gill's first big concert, first outdoor concert and although chilled to the bone early evening, Morrison revived her. She was thrilled to hear "My Brown-Eyed Girl" but every song, including "Precious Time", "The Bright Side of the Road", "Fast Train", "Midnight Special", "Orangefield" had the audience swinging and clapping and drinking (I have never seen such a steady flow of alcohol consumed at a concert.) This is the Ireland, I have only caught a whiff of before today, the land of poetry and music (and drink) whose stars are as brilliant as any in the world.

Today is inconsequential. There are clouds but the sun keeps slipping through. I'm not sure what I'll do. Ah yes, this evening I will dance.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Van Morrison day and the sky can't decide whether to dampen our spirits or not.
Last night, Gill and I went to Karen and Ian's, or rather, Rosemary's, Karen's mother's house.
So good to be in a sprawling home rather than a confining apartment. So nice to sit and eat good food in a dining room and then retire to a den. I never thought I was a spoiled brat or that material comforts were that important but I see that they are, that my aesthetic environment allows me to breathe easier.

I finished Susan Hill's "The Service of Clouds", a soft tale of women, mothers, isolation, love and death. Hill interwines three tales and it isn't until near the end that one sees how each life relates to the other.
I then jumped into Philip Roth's "Deception" that is supposedly as sexy as "Portnoy's Complaint" but after several dozen pages - all dialogue - I have lost patience and won't continue. Only an established writer, I think, could get away with such lazy writing.

Gill has just stepped out of the shower and I will dress warmly and go and fetch a "London Times" before Ken arrives to take us to the concert.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

I awoke late and am moving slowly. I didn't get "home" until 2:30 a.m. This has to be a record for me: I am not a late-night person.
It was fun bringing the cousins together. I kept thinking of granny and grandpa who were inadvertently responsible for this meeting. The music at the Art Centre was good but not memorable. One singer, with a deep husky voice, was a Canadian who married an Irish man and has been here long enough to have acquired an accent. The other woman had a soft voice that suited her tender folksy lyrics. The sole male, a confident performer, reminded me of Gordon Lightfoot. We sat, listened - some of the cousins were more attentive than others - and then we all, except for Marion and Ken - went over to Deborah and Ian's for more wine and conversation. I enjoyed myself.

Today will be quiet, a reading day. Gill and I are going over to Karin and Ian's for dinner this evening. My life would be a lot lonelier without them down the street. I like their quick wit and intelligence. Both grew up during "The Troubles" and left to attend university in Scotland, which is probably why they are more detached than many here and see what I, an outsider, sees - an introverted people who don't like change (okay, I know I am generalizing which I hate but I have heard this remark from several sources.)

The sun keeps coming and going and Gill and I are keeping our fingers crossed that it appears tomorrow when we go with Ken to Kellyleagh Castle to see and hear Van Morrison.

Friday, May 23, 2003

I am an idiot. Read the notice, "Amnesty Literary Benefit" - May 29th - and caught a bus into Belfast, found the place, and nobody was there. I had to be told that May 29th falls next week. So now that I know that my mind is gone, what am I to do?

I have just spent the last two hours answering emails and my responses were brief! (Slow thinking.) Now, I will scrub my flat as my cousins are coming this evening and, being a respectable Irish woman, am aware that cleanliness is next to godliness, and as I'm not successful at the latter, must try to achieve the former.

I did read one book last night, a sicky sweet romance that, at times, made me want to puke. Beautiful English nurse meets temporarily blind Italian count who someone is trying to kill. In the end, wedding bells ring. In my defense, the cover looked intelligent and I like the title "A Voice in the Dark" - often my criteria for choosing books.

Will soon bathe, dress, wander to the post office and pick up a baguette for this evening. Another exciting day in shamrock land, you might conclude.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Another dull weepy day. I suppose this is the price the Irish pay for the gorgeous green land and the spuds. I read once that a lot of folk here suffer from melancholia. I now understand.

Today I will buy sixteen tickets for the Songwriter's Circle at the Lisburn Arts Centre. I have managed with a little twisting of arms, to get nearly all my Kennedy cousins to spend an evening together. I hope the program description "a relaxing evening of superb vocals and original lyrics ranging from modern to traditional" is true but, as Margaret says, at least I'll be giving my cousins something to talk about when I leave. (I had originally thought of making a meal or something like that to thank everyone here for their generosity but I don't have enough plates or space.)

Today, I will wheel my cart over to Tesco, feeling as old as the hills, and pick up cheese and wine for tomorrow (everyone is meeting here at 7) and finish a letter that is long overdue. I'm wrestling with myself about tonight. There is an Amnesty Literary Benefit in Belfast at Queens and I don't know the musicians and writers but Sinead Morrisey is hosting the event. Problem is I'm counting my pennies and don't know if the depletion of my pocketbook will be worth the gain to my soul. That's the problem with this life: you don't know if anything is worth the price until you've paid and experienced it.

I may sneak into the library again. I began "Female Friends" by Faye Weldon and "The Friendship" by Connie Palmen and I'm not feeling that friendly. The glib style of the first and the internalizing of the second bored me. I want action or gutsy emotion, something to chew on, think about. I need ideas, inspiration.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

I fear I am going to bore you to tears these days: my life is so drab. Yesterday, Gill and I went to market and met Uncle Joseph for coffee. What a nice man he is and when I think of his brothers, Ken and Tom, I realize they too are soft-spoken men. Their cousin, Joe Kennedy (married to Edna) is also gentle. All these men sprang from my great-grandfather, Thomas Kennedy, a farmer, who applied, with his wife Isabella, in August 1883, to the Quaker church in Brookfield for membership. Several Quakers visted their home and found them "serious in intention and respectable."
I found this information in the Quaker library where Joe met me and helped me to search through old records in an attempt to unravel the Kennedy clan. I wonder as I look down the list of Kennedy births and note there are six Margarets, four Joseph Johns, three Thomas', two Adams, two Annies, if this is even possible. I also saw my parent's wedding certificate where my mom noted her age as "18 1/2". That half year would only matter to someone so young.

I hate to admit that I read an easy mystery "Black Amber" by Phyllis Whitney for the rest of the day, only stopping for dinner - a chicken stirfry with fresh market vegies - and laundry and emails. This novel, set in Turkey, describes the mysterious death of the famous artist's wife whose sister arrives, pretending to be an art researcher, to find out the true story of her sister's suicide. Lo and behold, she ends up in her dead sister's husband's arms. Not a lot of energy was expended. Could it have anything to do with the torrential downpour that came and went all day?

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Shoot. I just wrote my blog and it disappeared. Some computer error. Speaking of computers, I dreamed last night that Rob invented a bicycle seat that hooked up to the internet. (Inspired probably from Ian at the Internet Cafe who told me he is entering an invention contest.)

This morning, Gill and I are going to market, meeting Uncle Joseph for coffee, and then I am off to Friends School to meet Joe Kennedy (my grandfather's brother son) to check out the Quaker library. I'm still trying to unravel the Kennedy clan and since many of the parents persisted in giving their children the same names as their siblings, it's not an easy task. After this, I have no idea what I'll do. If something exciting happens I sign in again but don't hold your breathe.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Today, Gill and I are flying to Paris, Virgin Airlines, 1st Class, to have our hair and nails done at Galleries Lafayette, lunch at the Jules Verne, massages at the Voulez-Vous Couchez Avec Moi Salon (by two gorgeous French men) and lastly, a quick shop on the Champs Elysees before catching our Virgin flight home in time for my line-dancing class.

Thank you, Langston. When I looked out at yet another grim rainy day, I thought I'd kill myself.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Here I am Sunday morning all alone in my very clean flat chastising myself for starting and finishing a novel last night and not writing. And if that isn't bad enough, after finishing the one book, I began another by Fay Weldon called "The Hearts and Lives of Men" which is unusual as it begins "Reader, I am going to tell you a story..." and continues in first person without telling who the writer is. Although I turned the light off at 1:30 a.m., I lay awake for what seemed hours.

Being alone is strange. Rob often says it's "unnatural". It certainly isn't easy listening to my own thoughts all the time, but uninterrupted by other voices, these thoughts sometimes lead me to a new idea or asserts an old one. For instance, this morning I have a feeling that my voracious reading is going to pay off. I have a clearer idea about what I find offensive, boring, interesting. I know I've had this thought before but I am stubborn and stupid (like most humans) and must be hit over the head many times with such a thought before I act. Vaughan once wrote me that Eric Maisel (I think) said that a writer has exactly thirty seconds to pick up a pen and write when the urge or an idea hits. 30 seconds! How I envy the writer who is so inspired that she or he never misses such an opportunity.

Think I'll answer my emails and try to write a novel.

The sky is grey but not watering. Perhaps later, I will do my poor body a favour and take it for a walk. I am so lonely so much of the time. Expanses of aloneness is good. Expanses of togetherness is good. The difficulty is finding a balance that works. I don't believe anyone can give another a formula. It has to be individual.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

I've been on a cleaning binge today because some young woman is coming to look at the flat. (My mother would be proud of me.) I've also been daydreaming about all the stories in me and as my Gill is going out with her friend, Gill and staying the night, I will have a stretch of time this evening. I can only write when I am alone. (Oh, how I miss my little writing house.) I also want to spend some time with my genealogical charts as I visit the Quaker strongroom on Tuesday. I'm also tempted to go to the library as I've finished my three books (four, in fact, I snuck another one out on Thursday). Nothing worth mentioning but several good reads that were not literature. I am such a book snob at times. I continue to read the stories about children of the holocaust and they're so horrific, I can only read a few pages at a time. No one, children or adults, should have seen what they had to see. (One young man wrote of a cart of corpses going by his window. One body moved.)

On a brighter note, last night was a touch of Irish vaudville at the art centre in Lisburn. A cowboy serenaded the crowd entering, followed by a comedian whose jokes were old world naughty and then the star attraction, Joe Nolan appeared in white suit, shirt, tie, and shoes. After a few numbers, I caught a whiff of Liberace. The audience loved him, especially the women, even when he gave his tie to one of the few men in the front row. My cousins, Marion and Cheryl were there and they confessed to being Nolan groupies: they have been following him around since high school.

I suppose I'll dress now, answer a half a dozen email about the French workshop - they never end - and see if I can sit myself down to write a letter I owe. It's raining out and I'll probably venture out later but I do not feel inspired. There are so many good writers in Ireland. What's wrong with me?

Friday, May 16, 2003

It's a cold miserable day outside and I'm out of sorts. Too many little things to do. Obstacles too great to complete anything and besides, no one is answering my letters and email. No comfortable easy place to sit and write. Too much work anyway when there's no payoff. Sick of myself. And lastly, who ever invented mouth guards should be shot. So there.

Gill and I went to Bangor late yesterday afternoon and heard Levi Tafari recite his poems. Spoke of his Jamaican influences and also those of "The Lost Poets" and among others he mentioned Langston Hughes. I know Hughes from his lines "without dreams,/ life is a broken-winged bird/ that can not fly. Tafari recited chant-like with a reggae beat, simple thoughts about love of people and the environment, love of Liverpool and the bad rap it takes, love of being dark and how we're all one big family. A good man and although I wasn't bowled over, I liked him. He does a lot of work with children and is trying to de-mystify poetry and encourages young people to read and speak their truths.
What am I going to do today? I suppose I'll deal with all the emails re French writing workshop, mope around, despair a little, and tonight Gill and I are going to see Joe Dolan, "Ireland's top showman and international superstar" sing at the Lisburn Art Centre. The program asks "Could you be the lucky lady to collect his tie?" I certainly hope not. Besides, I'm no lady.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

After visiting Marion yesterday morning and wandering through Lurgan, I caught a bus back to Lisburn, picked up blankets at the dry cleaners, and Gill and I walked to Auntie Barbara's to leave them (borrowed from her at the beginning of our stay.) In the evening we were merciless and sorted out our clothes into three piles: those we loved to be shipped back to Canada, those we weren't too keen on to be given to charity, and those we needed now and for France. With shipping costs so high, we were careful. So begins our exitus.
Today Auntie Isobel is dropping in for lunch and then Gill and I are going to Bangor for dinner and a free reading at the library by Levi Tafari, a black Liverpudlian, who makes "dupoetry" to a reggae rhythm. (This daughter of mine is attracted to beautiful musical dark-skinned men.) Should be an interesting evening.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Yesterday, I was a tourist in Armagh, the ecclesiastical centre for Ireland, boasting the first church that St. Patrick built. Not to be outdone, there are two St. Patrick cathedrals there - one, Church of Ireland, the other Roman Catholic. Both are impressive. This is not a poor town. I began at the visitor's complex, a three part exhibition where I watched a film that traced the story of Armagh's pagan monuments through to the present day where there are more churches of more denominations than an other town/city I have seen. The interesting part of this film was its declaration of religious tolerance. The second part of the exhibit illustrated the illustrious Book of Armagh, an ancient manuscript of St. Patrick's writings; and the third part was a child-orientated display, showing Jonathan Swift (who truly was a rogue) and telling his story of "Gulliver's Travels" complete with a 20 ft. giant and the tiny people of Lilliput.
I then wandered this properous city through an impressive theatre and art gallery complex to St. Patrick's Cathedral (the protestant one as the catholic is closed) to an ancient library founded in 1771 but containing books from as early as the thirteenth century. The wonderful part of this library is that anyone can use it as a reference room.
My head spun with too many images and history, so I walked the mile to the impressive grounds of Armagh's city council, the refurbished palace of some archbiship, and waited for David to finish his day.
Today, Gill writes her first exam and I must run and shower to catch a train to Lurgan to meet Marion for coffee.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Tuesday morning and David is picking me up to show me the town of Armagh where he works. John McAllister also works there (the writer from the workshop who has just published a book) and suggested I visit. Apparently this is a beautiful (rich) town and I'm looking forward to the day.
As David is arriving in half an hour, I must run, having already cleaned up and run to store. My days are filling. Yesterday, Gill and I stopped in and saw Joe and Edna Kennedy who are arranging a visit to the Quaker "strong room" so I can find my parents wedding ceremony and hopefully more grand occasions of the Kennedy family.
In the evening I went to line-dancing which I am still enjoying immensely. This is good clean fun. The women are warm and love to laugh and joke. A night of craic, as they'd say here. I love some of the expressions. If a person apologizes for anything, the usual reply is "you're all right."

Monday, May 12, 2003

It's almost Monday noon and I have been roaming and doing odd jobs since before seven this morning. I have notified all the women of the French workshop that there are rooms at a Chambre d'Hote, a kilometer out of town. It looks good--an ancient building, swimming pool, and offers breakfast and dinner for a little extra. There are also rooms at a beautiful chateau a little further out but unfortunately they are only available till the fifteen which means I would have to find other rooms for three nights. This may not be easy. But I am much relieved that everyone who has registered now has a bed.

Brendan called yesterday and told me how wonderful the weather is in Vancouver. Rob, a few days earlier, said that it is so warm that he opened all the doors and windows. Why is it, I wonder, that the weather is brilliant when I'm not there?
The sun here is very temperamental. It shines for half an hour and then disappears only to return when I've given up hope.
I cleaned the front windows earlier to catch as much sunlight as I can and then went to the library for a few more books, daydreaming along the way, and trying to think of a place for two finished stories. Make that three. I am at a loss. I choose randomly and then once I've sent something, I must wait a month or longer for acceptance, rejection or no reply before sending it someplace else and by that time, I've lost hope, ambition and/or interest. I suppose I don't really think that it will ever happen. But enough pessimism. Think I'll attack my novel.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Sunday morning, Mother's Day back home. I have already written one blog today but for some reason it disappeared.
It's two in the afternoon and I still haven't dressed. Feel lazy. Gill made me a feast for breakfast and I curled up on the couch and read Barbara Neil's "A History of Silence." I didn't realize until I was half way through that I've read this book before. It's beautifully written but the story of two sisters who were abused as children, makes it a terrible tale. How can adults hurt children?
I don't intend to do much today. Yesterday Ken and I went out visiting but no one was home although I left the two tins of blueberry pie filling on my aunt's window. We eventually ended up in Hillsborough and took a slow walk around the lake in the park.
I know I should try and motivate myself but it is not especially nice out - raining off and on - and I may as well be self-indulgent.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

I have already spent two hours on the internet answering emails and looking for houses near Castelnau for the writing workshop.
I have since showered and returned to my computer thinking of all the boring little things like dishes, laundry, and shopping I must do today.
Ken will arrive sometime in the afternoon and we will go for a drive somewhere, perhaps to Auntie Marina's as the tins of blueberries still sit on my kitchen counter. Maybe, we can drop in on Marion as well. My social calendar is completely blank this weekend so I suppose I will read a little, write more than a little, and walk if the weather holds.
Life at present feels like a waiting game. Waiting for France. Waiting for home. And I don't like living like this. Time is too short.

Friday, May 09, 2003

I am late writing my blog today as I have spent several hours sorting out all the emails and accommodation requests from the writers attending the workshop in France. I spoke to Susan last night and we have two new possibilities (houses) so I'm hoping that at least one will be free. I'm also getting Gill to phone the hotels this afternoon to make sure there is space there. I am surprised at the response as Babette who runs the art school in the north of France said that they tried to entice writers one summer but not one registered although their art classes are always full. I imagine that Marlene Schiwy is the attraction (and I can understand this, after attending a number of her writing groups. She is smart, generous, knows her material and is always well prepared.)

Yesterday was also spent organizing or trying to organize flights home (oh how sweet that sounds) to Vancouver at the end of the summer and co-ordinating Gill's flight with Karyna's. This may not be possible. I also sent a box of books to France and it cost 30 pounds (75 CAD). I have decided to carry the remaining ones with me and as many of the household goods as is possible. I did email a shipping company, thinking it would be easy to send all ahead en masse but after receiving a quote of 450 pounds (that includes sending the bed), I decided to sell a few things if I am able and bring what I and Gill and the Haslems can carry. Such a pain. I like simplicity and am willing to pay a little extra to achieve it but this amount is impossible.
Earlier this morning, I sat in a restaurant writing in my journal and my cousin, Cheryl passed by and told me that she is going to be a grandmother. Her youngest daughter who is 18 is going to have a baby in November and will live at home. Cheryl says the timing may be off but they are happy and the baby will be well loved. I'm happy that times have changed, that a marriage is not being forced, and that the family is supporting the young woman. My mother was this age when she married my father (also with a little one in the belly - but to have a baby out of wedlock (interesting word) at that time would have been scandalous.)

It is now 2 in the afternoon and, although the day began cool and gloomy, the sun has appeared. I will play with my writing. Excuse me. Work at my writing and perhaps take a wee dander around the town.

Oops, if I haven't bored you to tears, I forgot to mention my reading. I was well behaved at the library yesterday and only took out three books. One - "The Doves of Venus" recommended by Anthony Burgess - I started in after dinner and finished at 1 a.m. No, it wasn't all that wonderful but it was an easy read and kept my attention. The plot goes something like a young woman leaves her mother and sister in a small village and moves to London to find a job as a painter. Of course, her education is inferior and she falls for an older man who has his own problems, namely an impossible wife who left him for a younger man and then tries to commit suicide and lands on his doorstep. Hmm... I am also reading a truly bizarre little book by Fay Weldon called "The Rules of Life." The novel is set in the future, 2004, (written in 1987) when it is possible to record the thoughts of the dead as they recall their life. Interesting premise. I'm not sure whether the book is holding me. I read it in bits and pieces. I need something thick and exciting. Perhaps I'll have to write it myself although I still wonder about writing: there are too many mediocre books out there already.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

I lived through yesterday.
Lunch with Margaret in Queens Great Hall, a buffet affair, was good. I feel that I am getting to know my cousins and extended family. They are all generous and down-to-earth, less formal and competitive than my parent's generation who are still overly concerned with appearances but are mellowing. I think we, their children, have forced this upon them.

After lunch, I walked, found another cafe, read my story over and over, paced up and down the hallways and stairs at Queens until the writing workshop began. I was the second person to read a manuscript. I felt my voice quivering so I read slowly. How can one be terrified and still function? Afterwards, everyone said that I read well. John, whose book I just finished, said that I held his attention, he listened to every word, and felt that I am a subtle in the same way, he is. High praise. On the whole, there were only a few editing comments and several people suggested it is ready to publish. Afterwards several others, asked me for advice on their work so I feel I gained some acceptance. Too bad, this was the last session until September.

Today is cloudy but I shall wander to the library and post office. Already I have been cleaning and trying to organize Gill and my flights home. It's more expensive than I thought but not as bad as the original quote so I suppose I should go for it. Air Canada from Paris to Montreal to Vancouver. Gill was excited to see the printed itinery. She, as much as me, misses family and friends and is ready for home. (This is not to say that we won't miss people and places here. Both of us will.) Gill has her post-formal dance tonight. One of the wonderful things about the Northern Irish is their love of dance. And Gill has had so many pre-formals, formal, and now posts, that I think any old excuse to move to music will do.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

The sun is shining. Today, I'm going into Belfast at noon to meet Margaret at Queens for lunch and then later in day, I will go to writing forum where my short story will be discussed. I am nervous to say the least and hope my voice will support me when I read.
Other than this, I finished "The Impressionist," a thick read and although the writing is good, I found myself scimming pages in search of the plot. Too much descriptive detail for my taste. I also read a few short stories from John McAllister's book and enjoyed them, especially the escapades of Police Sargeant Barlow. Good clean writing with strong plots, told with a sense of humour. I will congratulate John today.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Went to Margaret and David's for tea (which I would call dinner) last night and David forced me to drink, not one but two, glasses of Pastis. After eating, we sat in a solarium-type room that looks over a freshly ploughed field to Cherryfield, Granny and Granpa's old home. Margaret, who did not indulge in Pastis, drove us home and then took Gill on to a movie theatre to see X-Men 2. I curled up with "The Impressionist" an epic by Hari Kunzru which reminds me a little of Candide. (After the Pastis, I decided to save the line-dancing for next week.)
Today looks gorgeous outside. Sun shining steadily. Auntie Isobel arrives after eight and after nine, we will head to Greens to meet Uncle Joseph, and then across street to weekly market. If the weather holds, I may go for a long walk, do a bit of house research in France (there are now four new people who need accommodation!), and do a bit of moving research. Lots of bits and pieces to take care of.

Monday, May 05, 2003

For where there are Irish
there's loving and fighting,/And when
we stop either, it's Ireland no more.
(Rudyard Kipling: The Irish Guards)

I kept thinking of this quote when I was in Derry.
In just over a month, I will be leaving and I still have to return to the Registery, the Public Records Office, and the Quaker library. So today my head is swimming with thoughts of departure and how to go about shipping goods and all the little things I want to accomplish.
This will be an organizational day: cleaning, washing, sewing, making lists, and running to Tesco's for food.
Outside it is grey and so I am uninspired. It is also a bank holiday and little is open. Last night I finished "Being Dead" by Jim Crace. It begins with a couple being murdered on a beach and then traces their lives backwards to the time that they met on the same beach. Crace is not a romantic and the tale is matter-of-fact and rather scientific resembling the couple who were murdered - both were scientists. A bleak tale.
I also finished Rose Tremain's "Evangelista's Fan', a collection of short stories that had the same touch of realism as Crace's but were seasoned - or at least some were - with optimism.
I also started reading "Children of the Hollocaust", a gift. I will read it bit by bit. (It's by the same American author who wrote "Children of the Troubles.")
I think I need some nice light reading that makes me want to dance rather than cry. Speaking of dancing, I go to my line dance class tonight. Thank goodness.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Saturday evening, City Hotel in Derry, Esther Miller introduced "Peel me a Grape" by saying that every self-respecting man has peeled his wife a grape. I'm still waiting for my man to become self-respecting. After this she sang, "The Other Woman." Extraordinary voice, provocative lyrics. I missed Rob because he would have loved the jazz and his pleasure would have spilled over. (How's that for a jazz line?) Even music can influence one's writing.

Derry or Stroke City was strange. Young woman at the hostel told us where cheap eats are, where jazz festival was happening, and added: "Catholics are on this side of the river. Protestants on the other." And directed us to the history museum. We followed her orders, when to the museum and stuffed ourselves on history of Derry with all its blood and shifting religious loyalty. I think I was full after the seventeenth century. We escaped to a pub for a light lunch and then Gill took off shopping and I wandered onto the stone wall that surrounds the inner city, walking by cannons aimed towards the Foyle River.
Sunday morning, I slipped away to a little cafe on the river (couldn't find an internet cafe) and sat eating decent scrambled eggs and toast, listening to the radio that catered to Sunday listeners. As I opened my journal, a child's voice was singing "Jesus Loves Me."
I returned to hostel for Gill and we walked into the area that holds the murals from the 70's. At the entrance is the famous sign announcing "You are now entering Free Derry" with much graffiti pro-IRA and five huge murals, each the length and width of an apartment building. Broken glass and rubbish was everywhere. We felt uneasy.
Forgot to mention: the hostel we stayed in was simple. An old house, bedrooms crammed with bunk beds, two bathrooms with a toilet and shower to service the twenty-eight beds, and a communal kitchen. The staff were helpful, easy-going, extremely trusting, and we slept well.
Sunday afternoon, before catching bus back to Lisburn, we went to the Da Vinci Hotel to hear another jazz group, "Harry Connolly Jazz and Friends" (Harry played the saxophone, flute, and sang) while we ate our one and only fancy meal. Need I say, that two types of potatoes were served?

Don't really know what to tell about this city. I feel as if I had stepped into another world. The rain poured the whole time so we probably missed its beauty similar to someone visiting Vancouver in the rain. I don't know if the scenes from Bloody Sunday, that were shown in the museum, affected us but it was weird walking the same streets, like walking through a scene from the past, even though a lot of the city has been updated, restored, and a huge modern shopping area is being completed in the centre.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

The night of reading at the Linen Hall Library was delightful: some of the poets and prose writers were exceptional. I only wish that I had started attending the workshops at Queens earlier.
A note about yesterday's blog. I am embarrassed by my childish over emotion and wonder where its roots lie. Is it that being my parents' "easy" child, I am afraid of rejection? I experienced real terror and incredible release when the situation was resolved. I now have over two more clear weeks to prepare for the writing workshop. This is a dream - to use this house in France that Rob and I own, for writing and writers - but fulfilling this dream means that I must scrub, paint, furnish, and decorate. In other words, it means a lot of hard work.
Yesterday when I was checking on car rentals for my father, the man at the agency said that he would guarantee everything but the sunshine. A woman in the office retorted that "rain is good for the spuds." And another man responded: "Kerr Pinks." I had no idea what he was saying and asked him to repeat himself. He spelled the words and said they were the best potatoes in the land.
Today, as planned, Gill and I are heading for Derry. A friend, Ian, co-owner of the Internet Cafe here in Lisburn said that he wouldn't go there. Bloody Sunday has left its mark.

Friday, May 02, 2003

I have been a nervous wreck all day. I can't stand the thought of not being in control of my life and not having future plans in place and here in Northern Ireland, where I have to depend on the good will of others, I have been especially vulnerable. Now I am hit with the dilemma of having to organize travel and shipping of goods to France at an affordable price, plus the stress of preparing our home in France and finding rooms for four more possible writers while at the same time, entertaining visitors for the entire month of July, and I find myself in tears. I simply can't do everything and so I must tell several people today who I love and owe big that I can't keep them for an extended period in our French house.
I have also just paid my rent a day late and given in my notice asking for a special dispensation with nerves jangling. I am a terrible coward.
Add to this the request from my father to check car rental prices in Lisburn because he has a desire to drop in on me before I leave, and I am barely coping.
I did manage however, thanks to Brendan, to book Gill and my flights to France this morning on Easyjet and Ryanair at a reasonable price.
Tonight I will escape to Belfast to hear writers from the Queens' group read their poetry and prose. And Saturday morning, Gill and I take off for the city of Londonderry (if you're a Protestant), Derry (if you're a Catholic), or "/"pronounced "stroke" according to Karin who doesn't remember where she heard this. Where am I? If I can make it through this day, I will be alright.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

First of May and the sun is shining. Yesterday afternoon, I went to Queen's for the weekly writing forum. I enjoyed the editing of five writer's poetry and prose. (Will I feel the same next week when everyone tears apart mine?) After the session, everyone walked to Alibi Books to support John McAliister, one of the participant's, who was launching his first book "the fly pool and other stories." Champagne and wine were served and John read several excerpts well (he told me later that he had worked briefly with a drama couch so he would feel comfortable reading.) When Sinead Morrisey introduced him, she said that he has been attending workshops at Queen's for thirteen years. Encouraging information. Friday night everyone will again congregate at the Linen Factory in Belfast and read poetry or prose. Another up note: several of the women writers expressed an interest in the French workshop and are going to try to get grants to attend. (Apparently the Irish are very generous with their aspiring writers. ) I also received an email from another Canadian who has signed up. Now, I must try and find another house.
Today is unfortunately rent day and I will also give my notice. At this point, I am planning to leave around the 15th of June and Gill will leave a week to ten days later with Auntie Isobel. I have already started packing books and have sent out queries to several shipping companies.
If I have any remaining minutes in the day, I will clean, read, write, and go dancing this evening.