The Shock of the Fall

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Over the past month, I have attempted to read several books. I have not been successful; each book has been returned to my local library within days of being checked out.  I wonder what this means. Am I loosing my skill at picking out a good read? Or is it the case that I’ve had my head stuck in too many books for too long a time? I’ve overloaded my brain with one story too many and things have got a bit mushy in that place I store my grey matter!

Then, something unusual happened. I could call it serendipitous, a lucky-find, or even suggest that the universe conspired to send something wonderful my way: yesterday, while sorting out the pile of magazines and unread books in my office, I came across a book a friend had given months ago (soon after Christmas, I think).  I remembered how she raved about how good it was, how full of feeling it was and that she was sure I would love it; that I would be hooked by the end of the first sentence.  Sure, I thought, that would be lovely but in actual fact I know from experience THAT type of book does not come around very often (the last time a book like that came into my life it was the unputdownable The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd), but I admired her enthusiasm and gratefully accepted the book. I had no notion of reading it for some time; I had more important books to get through, like the ones that had been especially ordered for me at the library. I thanked my friend and promised her that I would get to it soon.

I broke my promise.  That is, I broke my promise, until yesterday. In my attempt to get a handle on office-clutter, I spotted the book peeping out at me from under my desk.  The memory of my promise came ghosting after me, so I leaned in and pulled the book from the sloppy pile. I caught a glimpse of the red sticker, Costa Book Awards, Winner 2013: The Shock of the Fall.

Like a pro, I turned the book around in my hands and decided immediately that I liked the cover.  Forgive me for the cliché; I know a book should not be judged by its cover, but that’s exactly what I did. I loved the tree, its branches, its lovely little delicate leaves and the little birds peppered amongst the branches, but what really got me was the little boy sitting beneath the tree, his legs tucked up into his waist, a book in his hand and a little bird flying from the book he was holding.  It has a gentle cover I decided. I like gentle covers.  O’K, I thought, I’ll give you a go gentle covered book.  That was yesterday at approximately 10.30am – its 15.00 today, and I’m writing the review.

Told through the eyes of Matthew Holmes, a young schizophrenic boy, The Shock of the Fall SOFTFdetails Matthew’s struggles with not just his mental illness, but also the grief he feels in the aftermath of his brother Simon’s death.

Since his death, Matthew’s life hasn’t been an easy one. He is home-schooled by an over-protective mother (whose own life is shattered by her eldest son’s death) and who throughout Matthew’s life has rushed him to doctors at the mere sign of a sniffle. At seventeen he leaves home to live with a friend Jacob, the now-19-year-old constantly struggles with the overwhelming grief, and guilt, at the way Simon died. His time as a care worker, helping look after Jacob’s disabled mother, further illustrates Matthew’s caring nature all the time while he struggles with an illness that is trying to define him as a person.

Matthew is someone you warm to instantly. He displays genuine guilt for what his parents and extended family go through with his mental illness. Matthew’s story made me laugh and cry. His wicked sense of humour, his honesty and his courage ensured I was with him every step of the way – almost as if I was in his very head.  The story illustrates, how even in times of grief and sadness life still goes on, and how we must pick ourselves up and move into new chapters. It didn’t surprise me to discover that Nathan Filer is a mental health nurse: throughout the story there is insight and the knowledge of one who knows what the ordeal of mental illness means not just for the sufferers but also their family and friends.

This is a terrific story. It will stay with you for a long time. My hope is that Matthew, and all those who suffer similarly recover.

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On Kindness

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Above all try to be kind.

I have no doubt kindness is the greatest virtue.  You can find a million reasons in any one day to dislike people, to feel resentment or even loathing. But to be kind is to protect yourself from the worst parts of your own nature.  You may fear that to face people with an open heart leaves you vulnerable, open to abuse.  I rather doubt it.  The way of the hard face is much harder.  Be kind to others, especially the more difficult people you encounter, and that kindness will come back to you.

– Fergal Keane
journalist, writer, broadcaster

 

From 99 words collected by Liz Gray, published by Darton, Longman & Todd
www.99words.co.uk

Zephyr has arrived

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FernAnd the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom – Anais Nin

May has slipped in.  A fructifying west wind has arrived carrying with it the promise of summer. The world is greener, illuminated by each blade of grass and leaf. The sheer beauty of the Irish countryside is overwhelming – refreshing tired eyes and like a soothing balm restores the soul.

The hedges that flank the countryside byways are overflowing with the white coronets of cow parsley, its ancient scent suffusing the air.  The birds sing their rapturous song, an invitation to explore Nature’s bounty. Each living thing knows exactly what to do: grow, and thrive.

The orange, daisy like flowers of self seeded Calendula pepper the garden, their orange heads bursting with vitality; the Sweet peas are ready and set to scramble towards heaven upon their canes, and the flowerbeds are alive with Ladybirds, baby spiders and thousands of biting ants.

Tightly coiled, Fiddlehead ferns appear on every lane preparing to unfurl into a new frond, their pre-historic forms ready to greet a new world. The first blooms of Hawthorn fill the air with their heady scent and bring with it the veritable sign that summer is finally here.

Each trip outdoors, with the help of the green haze of May, is an opportunity to transcend oneself and observe all that Gaia has to offer. A collection of unforgettable May moments, each filed in my memory bank – ready to be called upon in the future.

My hope is that these gathered seeds will remind me of my favourite month, and how blessed I am to witness, for forty times, the bounty of magical May.

 

(c) Maria.E.FitzGerald
Photo: Greendragonflygirl/Flickr


Recipe for Friendship

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Baking just isn’t my thing.  Baking I try, really I do, but my successes are fewer than the hairs on a gooseberry. Although it is in my blood it certainly isn’t in my genes, I haven’t inherited that particular gene: the one my mother, two grandmothers, great-aunt and sister have. My mother is a dab hand at making almost anything. Her repertoire is impressive: scones, apple tart, rhubarb crumble, chocolate cake, brown bread, Irish soda bread (I could go on). Let me tell you what she creates does not resemble the countless bland varieties found in the food forecourts throughout the country. No, my mother is a pro – an unadulterated Irish mother who has no need for recipe books or the latest app – everything she needs is stored neatly like multi-coloured spreadsheet tabs in her brain ready to be summoned at a moment’s notice.

It is often said that genes can skip a generation. I believe this to be true for it has happened to me. During my embryonic stage, the baking gene took one look at my DNA structure, clearly found me to be an insufferable host, and thus went running and screaming up my DNA strand begging the Almighty to find a more suitable home. I did, however, inherit the gene for optimism: of the eternal kind! Each time I raid the baking cupboard I hope that I will hit the baking jackpot. But hitting the jackpot is a tricky business. Very. So, I try again, and in doing so I have developed the art of turning a blind eye to my baking failures.

I review my botched-up attempts and retrace my steps. Like any good detective I try and figure out where it all went askew. I blame the ingredients – the flour wasn’t fresh, maybe the eggs were too cold or the sour-milk wasn’t sour enough. Then some lucky, or rather unlucky person – usually my sister (who, by the way should seriously consider entering The Great Irish Bake-Off) will witness my rant and my musings but never really eat what I’ve just baked!   She’s a great sister and will patiently go through the recipe with me – she’s my Watson, and together we piece the jagged baking jigsaw puzzle. Deduce is what we do best.

Sis: Did you weigh the flour exactly as it states in the recipe?
Me: Yes, of course – 8oz exactly.
Sis: Did you use self-raising or plain flour?
Me: Self-raising 
Sis: Did you add a pinch of baking powder?
Me: No, sure why would I? It’s self-raising isn’t it?
Sis: Yes, but it’s always good to add a pinch, helps the bake rise more.
Me: Oh, no one ever told me that.
Sis: Ok, so did you add all the other ingredients correctly?
Me: Yeah, even added a few extra.
Sis: Extra, what do you mean by extra?
Me: I thought some ground almonds would add a bit of a crunch and some orange juice, but I only used a smidgen.

That’s when she usually raises an eyebrow and her mouth sort of goes lopsided with a smirk. 

Sis: Why did you think orange juice would work in this recipe?
Me: Dunno, just like the idea of almonds and orange essence together.
Sis: Orange essence, is that what you’re calling it?
Me: Well it is! Isn’t it?
Sis: No, not really. It’s orange juice, but I know what you mean!
Me: I put a few bits of grated orange peel in as well…just for effect.

At this point, she can hardly contain her amusement at my inventiveness and blatant disregard for following instructions.

Sis: OK, did you put in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 mins?
Me: Well, I used the fan oven so had to drop the temperature to 160 degrees, but I did leave them in for 30 minutes.
Sis: Bravo!
Me: Ha bloody ha!

Her line of questioning serves its purpose.  Perhaps IF I followed the recipe things would pan out a lot better. But sticking to recipes is not who I am – it is not in me. So onwards and upwards I must go – until I have my very own Eureka moment…but in the meantime I think Watson will have her hands full with unsolved cases!

Here’s one recipe I have no problem following…get baking your way!

Recipe for Friendship
Start with smiles and conversation
Next stir in appreciation
Slowly add, in equal parts fun and quiet heart-to-hearts
Mix in honesty and trust
A pinch of patience is a must
Don’t make a mess, but if you should, apologies are very good
Serve it warm and loving care
And lastly, don’t forget to share.
There’s nothing like one good friend and two good cookies.

 

Recipe for Friendship poem (c) Becky Kelly, Spoonful of Stars
Image courtesy of Doire Greenspan: At Home       

A Little History of The World

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In 1935, Ernst Gombrich was invited to attempt a history of the world for younger readers.  He was 26 years old had a doctorate in art history and no prospect of a job. He completed the task Historyin six weeks.

This is a fascinating book. In 40 concise chapters, Gombrich tells the story of man, the story of us, from the Stone Age to the Atomic Bomb.  However, instead of providing the reader with a deluge of dates and facts, Gombrich leaves out the boring bits and recounts our history in an amiable way as if he is in the room with you – telling a story.

This story starts with ‘Once upon a time’ and as Gombrich weaves expertly in and out of real-life events we learn of humanity’s achievements and are reminded of our failings. We cannot see where the story ends, but we do hope there is a happy ending.

Ernst Gombrich’s wonderful book demonstrates that history does not need to be boring or stuffy; history books do not need to be covered with a thick layer of centuries old dust before they appear interesting. It is the tales contained within the covers that are important – it’s all about the stories!

 

Among E. H. GOMBRICH’s many writings are the international bestsellers The Story of Art and Art and Illusion. He was director of the Warburg Institute of the University of London from 1959 to 1976. For further information please click here