Cross Your Heart

We visited Ireland two years ago and it felt like home.

I could say it was my Irish ancestry, but my last ancestor set foot in Ireland four generations ago – it’s not like I have relatives beckoning me back. I could say it was my vague Catholic upbringing, but it seems I only attended church (and Sunday School) to please my grandmother and The Church because my mother had to prove she’d denounced Protestantism. Pretty much like my Protestant grandmother did in the previous generation.

Hypocrisy aside. I’m getting off track.

Australia is home too, but Ireland resonated with me in a way I cannot easily explain.

As readers here probably know, I’m not especially religious, in that, I no-longer attend church. And while religion plays a part here, this post is mostly about people. Random people who briefly shared a moment of their lives with us when we visited Ireland.

1166 Rock of Cashel 08

The Rock of Cashel

In Kilkenny, I followed an older woman down the street carrying two grocery bags, one in each hand. As she walked, she shifted the groceries from her right hand to her left. She crossed herself and returned the bag to her right hand. We’d walked past a church.

I don’t know why I loved this so much. It was so real and honest and an action I’d never witnessed outside of church.

I have always loved churches. They’re like buildings of made of peace. History has shown us, of course, religion has caused much conflict. But churches for me are sanctuary, bundled by walls and pews. I’ve always found them to be peaceful, beautiful places.

I lingered around the entrance of a church in Wexford and wondered if I should enter – could I take photos? A woman bustled up beside me. She dabbed her hand into the font at the entrance, crossed herself and went in. I followed her. She lit a candle and rested it, flickering amongst the others. She said a prayer.

I crept around to the aisle of the church – my camera a heavy thought at my side. I marvelled at the windows and the architecture. With old habits I crossed myself and took a pew and noticed others already had – their heads lowered in thought, or prayer.

I mentally confirmed with myself it wasn’t Sunday.

Then I had another thought: People are actually using this church.

It made me feel so areligious. Australia is so full of empty churches.

I sat there. I took a moment.

I didn’t take any photos.

While in Wexford, we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast. It was unlike any other B&B we’d stayed in, simply because the owners had made little attempt to separate their business from their house. Essentially, we were boarding. We’d had an awkward introduction because minutes before we’d arrived, our host had received unexpected guests looking for a bed. We were ushered to our room, which wasn’t quite ready.

‘Weren’t you arriving on the 4 o’clock ferry?’

The next morning, our host was calmer, but frustrated because the other guests had decided to sleep in for breakfast. Which was a shame, because it was delicious.

We returned to the B&B after a day’s touristing, but struggled to get a park. Once inside, our host had prepared some salmon for us. She knew Seamus, who knew Peter, who knew a fisherman. She asked about my Irish roots and the places we’d been in the day, adding comments like, ‘you would have seen Eamon’  or ‘you must eat at Patrick’s’. Our host was a living street directory.

There was a knock at the door.

Our host’s neighbour’s neighbour greeted her. ‘Oh, I’ve just come from Siόbhan’s, I don’t know if there’s more I can do.’

They entered the kitchen and my husband and I were sitting there, munching on salmon. Introductions were made, but their conversation continued.

‘I’ve just taken around a casserole.’

‘I went around and did the dishes.’

‘You’re a good woman, Caitriόna.’

An elderly woman in the street had passed away. Everyone knew her. She had five children and several more grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The street was in mourning and a funeral procession was expected in the coming hours.

‘Will you go?’

‘Probably,’ our host nodded, ‘You?’

‘I don’t know, I don’t like an open coffin…’

Conversation circled like this for a while. Talk of life and death and family. We asked questions which were answered honestly.

The sense of community was overwhelming.

We saw many wondrous things during our travels through the UK and Ireland.
These unexpected and beautiful moments were among my favourites.

Do you have an unexpected, wondrous moment to share?


Stay Tuned

It’s a short post this evening, it’s getting late and my day was full. I’ve just got back from a family dinner and now I’m full on the inside. Full and sleepy.

What to blog?

And that question led to thoughts on technology, and how it would be nice if I could treat this blog like early colour television for an evening.


Regularly scheduled programming will be back tomorrow.

Tainted Goods

I haven’t watched the news for a couple of days now. It quite honestly makes me want to vomit, so to actually experience or live near or to  know people experiencing these current horrors  – I’m sure I cannot even comprehend. My thoughts are with you all.

And in my normal, thankfully mundane Sunday morning – I went to the market and I bought a badly battered picture. I love pictures, especially if they’re original works by a no-name hobbyist who was just making do with what they had at hand. This was a watercolour, a naively drawn picture of what was perhaps the artist’s family home. Given the title of the picture and the European look of the building, it appeared to be German or Austrian in origin.

The glass was broken, the picture itself looked to be mounted in recycled cardboard while the frame was much older, its contents secured with handmade nails. This frame was over 100 years old, its wooden core decorated in gold painted plaster. A chunk of the plaster finish was missing and I intended to replace it.

I’ve spoken before about the history of objects. That I love the little hints an object offers of its past life. I think that’s why I have a particular affinity for these old pictures. Often they are dated and signed, they often have a personal touch, there are sometimes pictures behind the pictures as the frames are reused over time.

I’ve been saving old objects for years and uncovering their secrets. It’s part of the joy.

Today’s discovery was this: A print of Hitler.

The previous owner had recycled a print of Hitler, flipped it over and used it to mount their art. So, while it was a print of Hitler, it was cut-up print. They had to cut it in half to fit into this frame. The lower half was clearly used as a cutting board to create the window in the top half – and in doing so, removing his eyes.

The whole thing left me feeling cold. And with more questions than answers.

Did the artist once worship Hitler and own a life size portrait in their house? Did they simply hang it to appease those who would otherwise question their loyalty. Did they intentionally deface his picture and hide it behind another? How did it get to Australia?

And there are other questions. Do I put the cut-up print back? Do I preserve this picture’s past like I would any other?

It’s an uncomfortable discovery at any time. Right now, while the world seems more at odds with itself than ever, I look at this print, and look at the news and I wonder if we’re learning.


Click on the link to visit the team of Tiny Peppers. It’s Rarasaur’s version of NaBloPoMo and it’s called Nano Poblano.  Or, as I’ve been calling it lately Nano Problano.

We’re blogging every day in the month of November!

Collecting Memories

004 Aus music book

The Australian Music Books series. Circa 1900

Sounds like the name of a novel doesn’t it? No wait – I should have gone with The Memory Collector. That’s the name of a novel. And if it isn’t, I might copyright it or something – right now – STOP! It’s my title, you can’t have it.

But this post isn’t about books I haven’t written.

Christmas has faded into a happy memory. Over the holidays I was gifted ‘Stardust (by Neil Gaiman) but as soon as I read the blurb I realised I already owned the DVD adaptation. I already loved this book.

But this post isn’t about how slowly I make connections, either.

001 Music stackWith Christmas comes the clean up. Not from Christmas festivities (although, that too) but from the year-long accumulation of stuff in my loft. I always intended to convert the loft into a studio for my writing and arty-crafty faffing about and while I am inhibited by the climate up there – sauna in summer and freezer in winter – it forever remains a depot for random stuff I can’t give up but have nowhere else to place.  Cards, letters, old school memorabilia, old craft projects and school projects can all be found here. I’ve saved boxes for wrapping presents in. I’ve got artwork I can’t find a place to hang. Also up there are a significant amount of  flea market finds I struggle to slot into my home.

This is a difficult thing to explain to the anti-hoarder/my husband.

006 Etude Music mag 1913

Also amongst the sheet music, ‘The Etude’ music magazine. Now 101 years old.

From a market a few years ago I bought a whole box of piano sheet music. I broke my arms getting the collection back to my car but it was wholly compensated by the buzz of joy deep in my chest. The lady who sold it to me asked if I would play it. She’d grinned at my enthusiasm and said, “I’m glad it’s going to a good home”.

I sat on the floor and sorted through it.  While I knew it was a box of music, it was such a delight regrouping the sets, removing the lonely pages and discovering the old music coverpages. I planned to reuse the incomplete music as unconventional wrapping paper. I managed that once – it took me so long to decide which piece to sacrifice I haven’t tried since. I’ve attempted to play some of it, of course, but mostly it’s remained upstairs with its makeshift dividing markers.

Montage of sheet music

Some of the more interesting coverpages. All published in 1926/7.

The owner had written her name on some of the music in fine calligraphy. I surmise she’d inherited the older music which dates from the 1900s but she’d added her own musical tastes to the pile all the way up to the 1960s and undoubtedly played it. It was well thumbed and dog-eared and yellowing. They were all out of order because she probably kept them long after she stopped playing . She probably kept them even when piano-less. A lifetime of music.

I love things relating to pianos, and cover-art of this era. On this basis you could argue I collect music. Maybe I do, maybe I have. But this isn’t just a box of music, it’s also a box of memories – is it so strange that they’re not my own?

Objectivity: Bookylicious – Part 2

Old books can be a time capsule of opinions, experience and misinformation. You can Brontë your way around nineteenth century Yorkshire, you can analyse the social classes, observe stereotypes, wonder about developments in medicine and laugh at the handling of taboo topics. Some prefer to bleep curse-words than use euphemisms and they’re edited out with a series of dashes; “D——- children…” (one can assume the children weren’t delightful). Also bleeped were locations and addresses, “W——- Street” implying that the author or the publisher censored a genuine address instead of inventing a ficticous one. And of course they were written differently, you are more inclined to read a tedious, self-indulgent prologue, you’ll see more flowery detail and boy, did they like an epic sentence. Commas, apparently, were not taxed.

'The Lost Emerald' By Mrs Emma Marshall

‘The Lost Emerald’ By Mrs Emma Marshall

   “There was the old stone cross, to begin with, rough and timeworn, it is true, with the storms of centuries, but standing bravely, through all changes and chances, on the same plinth, and with the same rough carving at the top which had marked it ever since the day when it was raised there to show the place where a queen, beloved of her husband, had rested on her long, sad journey to a silent grave.”

Chapter 1, page 7-8
‘The Lost Emerald’
By Mrs Emma Marshall

For all of its eleven commas, it has quite a thoughtful pace.

But there’s more to these books than you might think. Photographs, postcards, pressed flowers,bookmarks, bookplates and dedications. These details hint at a story beyond the book. They can tell you about the person who read it, who never finished it, who gifted it or who won it. With my interest in family history, on occasion I’ve had enough information to research those scribbled names and I’ve learnt what happened to them. Peering inside the front cover of these old books once led me to a book that belonged to a friend’s great grandfather.


Book finds: School prize book plate.
Lucky Bertram.

And sometimes, there are other surprises. My Twitter header features a fairly ordinary looking book titled ‘Elements of Social Science’ which I later discovered to be a façade. On the inside cover, the book offers an alternative title, ‘Elements of Physical, Sexual and Natural Religion’. Curious? This is a third edition reprint of a 1856 book featuring female hysteria among other more unseemly ailments. The author himself chose to remain anonymous but it offers a fascinating insight into medical understanding (or lack of it) at that time.

Book finds

Book finds: A pressed leaf and an unconventional bookmark (Happy New Year card dated 1903)


The owner of this book once wrote: Bought at Book Depot April 24th 1893 most likely the last hymn book that the old man will buy as he is 74 years old.

Have you ever dreamed of a library in your home? Wall to wall books accessable by a ladder, and a comfy chair in the corner? If you are not yet convinced by the joys of book collecting, if stored in the afore mentioned manner, they make excellent insulators. Keep your home warm with books!

Objectivity: Bookylicious – Part 1

Etching style illustration by Watson Charlton from 'A King's Treachery' by Albert Lee (1922)

Etching style illustration by Watson Charlton from ‘A King’s Treachery’ by Albert Lee (1922)

I didn’t intend to collect old books. My overwhelming revere for books has me saving them from markets and then I slot them into my bookshelves unread. It’s one particular aspect of my hoarding that my husband struggles with. Why have books if you’re not going to read them? More to the point – why buy them? I don’t even collect books properly. I don’t covet first editions, pristine binding or rare historical dialogue, and while sometimes these are happy side-discoveries they are never the reason for my purchase. I just think they’re beautiful.

The earliest book I have dates to around 1800 but the majority date between 1860 and 1920 largely because they are relatively common and affordable. Earlier works are harder to come by and if I do encounter one even in passable condition, I really can’t justify the price. Sometimes I have nineteenth century publications of older books, like my two copies of ‘Robinson Crusoe’. Two copies, bought at separate times because I forgotton I’d already had one (*laughs manically* who am I kidding? I would have bought it anyway). This probably adds to my husband’s frustration. My particular favourites also contain etchings or coloured pictures. Some are worth framing.

Then there’s the binding. Even though my books aren’t especially old the detailing can be extraordinary. It can be exquisitely embossed and coloured, covered in leather or fabric and sometimes with externally applied pictures (although these struggle to last the test of time). The book’s construction is as important to me as the content. We are so deep in technology in this digital age it’s easy to forget what it took to print and bind a book. Handwritten manuscripts would have been submitted to publishers, typesetting, block printing and compositing. One book I have is disintegrating but I love it because it shows this publisher reinforced the spine with recycled paper.

Damaged spine revealing the recycled paper.

Damaged spine revealing the recycled paper.

It is also interesting to look at cover design and book titles. I suspect cover design not only reflected the era and style of the time but also affected price. The more intricate and detailed covers would have sort higher values than the cheaper, plainer fabric bound books which I guess were the old fashioned version of a paperback. Without a blurb, potential readers would have been reliant on the titles for the gist of a story. Examples from my collection include, ‘The Lost Emerald’, ‘Terry and the Ancestors’, ‘The Welsh Singer’, ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’, and ‘A King’s Treachery’. Here are some obscure titles, ‘Manco’, ‘Noble but not the Noblest’, ‘That Merry Crew’, ‘The Crimson Whistler’ and ‘Filling up the Chinks’.


Some of the more interesting covers in my collection

[To be continued…]