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Travelling in a Strange Land

On Friday I made my first exploratory expedition in the literary world here in Northern Ireland, by attending David Park's book launch of Travelling in a Strange Land, hosted by No Alibis Bookstore in the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast. I was curious to see if things were done any differently to the States, and was happy to find out they are very similar.

David made this launch an extra-special event by opening with guest singer/songwriter Mandy Bingham, whose beautiful haunting voice perfectly suited the introspective mood of his new book. He also invited photographer Sonya Whitefield, who had put together a collection of photos of her impressions of David's novel to share some of them while he read accompanying excerpts from the book.

Before David gave a reading he talked briefly about its creation, and his life. Then he read the opening of the novel and the first few pages. Beautifully crafted, and wonderful to hear in the author's own voice. I look forward to reading it, and thought it was very creative to have the music and photography included in the presentation.

A most enjoyable evening, and my good friend June Wilson came with me. Our friendship began back in Primary School in Belfast when we were 5 years old.
It is a strange and wonderful thing to be back here again. Travelling in a Strange Land, one might say. For now, anyway, while it's still new!

There and Back Again

I recently had a good whine on Facebook about three 'endings' that have just happened in my life. The last of a group of friends in my neighborhood has moved out. About five of us used to hang out and get into the fun kind of trouble, particularly at the July 4th holiday and the annual Robin Hood Festival here in Sherwood.  And then my baby grand piano has a crack in the harp, so can’t be tuned. It gradually slides into tonal disarray, and eventually will have to go. That hurts! It took me years to get the point in my playing where I could justify having a baby grand, an item that had firmly been on my bucket list for decades. And my faithful 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier, nicknamed the Romulan Warbird, was  rear-ended a few weeks ago and is about to be collected by the insurance company for scrap.

People were so kind, rallying to offer me comfort and support. But I feel like a fraud! I can still visit my friends, I own an upright piano, and I can get another car if I want! You’d think I never had any real problems and these three things were overpowering me. In the past few years the kind of challenges I’ve faced are the death of a few loved ones, including my mother. I was ill for several years, declining horribly until I was finally diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, easily controlled. I’ve immigrated across the world, facing all the challenges that involves. And I’ve dickered with different life options, trying out new countries and careers, and come out of them much more grounded and appreciative of how blessed my life is.

The big picture with the lament is that I’m getting ready to return once more to Northern Ireland to help out my elderly father, but this time will be semi-permanent. I don't know when I'll be back ... I’m taking an apartment close to Dad’s place, and I booked a one-way ticket with my air miles. It’s a new adventure and I’m looking forward to it. How many immigrants get the chance to return home, be close to their families and friends again? In ye olde days, once the ship had sailed and the covered wagon rumbled off on the trail, that was it.

So, the timing on the neighborhood, the piano, and the car are actually perfectly aligned. A natural closure on three of the things I’d miss if I left.

The people are another matter. I will miss them. Fortunately, flight prices are reasonable, and I will continue to come and go as I have, just less frequently. Thank goodness for Facebook and Skype!

"We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive
where we started and know the place for the first time."  -- T.S. Eliot

Alien: Covenant

About a week ago I went to see Alien Covenant. A town a few miles away from Dundrum had sprouted a multi-screen cinema at some point, but I’d never noticed! It’s tucked out of sight down a hill, where even the signs are blocked by foliage, so unless I’d picked up their flyer like I did in the local shop, I’d still be totally unaware they were there. I remember a time when you had to wait almost a year to see new films after they came out in the States, and drive about 35 miles each way to Belfast!

So, the movie began and within a couple of minutes I had the sinking feeling that I’d seen it before. It turned out I hadn’t, fortunately. I was remembering the previous one, Prometheus, which I’d obviously found so unremarkable I’d totally forgotten it.

To my surprise, I was highly entertained by Covenant, expecting it to be ‘naff’ as they say over here. Admittedly, I laughed in a few places where it was supposed to be serious, and had a couple of moments where if I’d been at home in front of the television I’d have yelled, “What??? Highly trained team of scientists and experienced soldiers trek out onto a new world WITHOUT FILTERS OR MASKS OF ANY KIND????” Or “Don’t be stupid, only a moron would go in there!!!!” You know the kind of thing.

The special effects were great. With VFX technology as advanced as it is today, the aliens looked terrifyingly real. And ugly. And very, very nasty.

Throughout there were a few homages to the first Alien movie from 1979. One in particular, the entire audience chuckled and made eye contact with people sitting nearby.

It took me a while to realize the first scene was a prologue of sorts, but it made sense later on. The token sex scene was well … token. And rather silly. Just a device for something else, but I won’t spoil the plot for you. David the synthetic human, (á la Ash from the original) was quite hypnotizing in his role. A wee bit of eye candy too, which is always welcome.

All in all, I’d recommend going to see it while it’s still in cinemas. A good romp of a story with a nice dash of horror throughout.


A rude by any other name

I drove over to Ballynahinch today to meet my cousin for lunch. In the public car park, I parked in a space beside a stationary 4x4 Suzuki Grand Vitara, pulled on my hand brake and switched off the engine. The 4x4 driver mustn’t have checked her surroundings and swung round hard on her steering wheel, hitting my car as she reversed out. She scraped, dented, and scrunched into my driver’s side so I had to clamber over the gear stick and out my passenger door. She was hostile and rude as she approached me. Out of courtesy I asked her if she was okay.

"No," she snapped. "I'm not. Give me your insurance information!" I leaned into my passenger side to open my handbag to look for it, and asked politely for hers. "I don't have it," she snapped again.

I found a pen but could only find a bookmark for one of my novels. I didn't want to give that to her so I asked if she had a piece of paper we could use. "No," was the answer in her now customary rude tone.

I searched again, and when I couldn't find anything I asked her one more time, careful to be polite, of course. When she answered negatively again, I said, "Then, we're in a bit of a pickle, aren't we?"

She grunted and I rummaged in my car door pocket, produced a CD case, removed the cardboard cover and tore a strip to write on. My hands were shaking from nerves so the writing looked feathery and jagged.

As I handed it to her I asked, "Did you not see me?"

She blustered. "Did you not see me? Why didn't you see me?"

I looked her in the eye and stated, "You were stationary when I pulled in."

"I wasn't ... " Then she scurried to her car, got in and began to reverse.

I quickly got my phone and started taking photos because I thought she was going to drive off. She pulled into an adjacent space and got back out. I asked her for her contact details, and she barked them at me as I scribbled them down. She snatched my pen from me and made a big deal of copying down my car licence plate, then thrust the pen back at me.

"Thank you," I said. "Take care."

"Sorry about this," she growled as she got back into her car, then drove off.

I put coins in the ticket machine, affixed it to my windshield, locked up the car and headed to the restaurant to meet Clare.

Accidents happen, I know. That's why we have insurance. So, was it necessary for her to be so rude? The more polite I was the more angry it made her!

In the restaurant, poor Clare had to wait while I called the police and made a report, then my insurance company. It took over half an hour before we could settle and catch up. And it was a lovely time, as always. She's a sweetheart.

As soon as I got home I returned the calls that the insurance company had made to me. I am totally blown away by how accommodating and helpful and sympathetic they were. They assured me it was obvious I wasn't at fault, and have already arranged for a man from an approved car repair shop to come and collect my car tomorrow, and deliver a courtesy car for me to use while it's being fixed. This will all be billed to Mrs. Rude's insurance company. I have to say I highly recommend Hughes Insurance, Northern Ireland. They have been amazing to me today.

The Saw That Went To Hell

Almost six months have sped by and I find myself back in Northern Ireland again. It was actually quite a pleasant journey over, this time. Even though I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3:00 AM on the day of departure, I managed to get enough sleep the night before so I wasn't as brain dead as I might have been. It took me years to trust the online checking in, but I'm glad I finally gave in to this 'newfangled' system! It really does cut out most of the stress at the airport. The only thing I'd been concerned about was that my suitcase might be over the limit. Heaving it onto the weight machine, I held my breath and tried to look nonchalant. Exactly the allotted 50 lbs! Feeling like I deserved a prize for my packing aplomb, I made my way to TSA security.

Obediently I shuffled up to enter the roped area and join the snaking line. The TSA agent sitting at the entrance glanced at my pass and waved me into a queue to the right where only a few people waited. I smiled my thanks and began to draw out my laptop from my bag. I'm well trained. All my travel toiletries neatly in the required baggie, no belts or anything in my pockets, easily removed shoes … I've got it down pat.

I heard a loud 'tsk' from behind, and an agent standing off the side shouted, “No! Just put your bag through!”

"Really?” I asked in disbelief.

He snatched the bag from my grasp and laid it on the conveyor belt.

Shoes … ?” I began.

Just the bag!”

Blinking rapidly and decidedly alarmed, because THIS JUST DOESN'T HAPPEN, I walked through the metal detector arch, and picked up my bag from the other side of the x-ray machine. Wow. Finally I took a proper look at my boarding pass, and there in big black letters was printed 'Pre TSA screening'.

But … but … how?

Who cares! It was brilliant! I was through in seconds and on my way to the gate. All the seats looked like they were already taken but I spotted a free one beside a lady near the middle. I made my way over and asked, “Is anyone sitting there?” (Yes, I do know it's obvious that no one was actually sitting there at the time, but you know what I mean!)

No,” she replied, “but my stuff's there.”

I smiled and nodded. “Would you mind if I sat there, please?”

No, my stuff's there.”

I blinked. Did she really just say no? She had a cane leaning against the seat, and a bag on it, but…

Here, take mine,” said a male voice, disapproval oozing from his tone as he glared at the woman.

Too taken aback to say anything intelligent, I thanked him and sat opposite the woman and her 'stuff'. The man took off toward the public rest rooms.

I looked around and made amused eye contact with a couple of people. Then I surreptitiously drew my phone from my bag and took a picture of the woman. Passive-aggressively, I uploaded it to Facebook and one of my favorite sites, passengershaming.com (I showed her, right? That'll teach her to be selfish!)

The five and a half hour flight to Newark went by quickly. I'd purchased their in flight television package at a discount on line, so I immersed myself in a couple of films, including Disney's delightful Moana.

At Newark it was a quick walk to United's Club Lounge. My credit card company kindly gifts me a couple of passes every year, and it really does make things much nicer. In there I found the usual little corner hidey-hole that I like, and settled down for a three hour wait, catching up on emails and chatting with a couple of friends.

In no time I headed to the gate to catch the flight to Dublin, and made my way to my aisle seat quite close to the front of the plane. I'm glad I booked mine a month earlier. I'd checked the seating on line the night before and the flight was completely full. Imagine my delight when the two people who should be in the middle and window seats didn't show up!

As the plane doors slammed closed and we prepared for take off, I caught sight of a woman a few rows up in the four-seat center aisle, looking back at the empty seats. She twisted round and called to another woman across from me. “Hey, we could take those (and sit together!)”

Before she got to 'those' I had slipped into the middle seat and laid claim to the aisle and window seats on either side with my tablet and coat. Yes, I know. Not very polite of me. I pretended complete oblivion, but if she'd come over and asked, naturally I'd have moved back and let her take the seats. But she didn't. So I had lots of room and a bit of privacy once the lights went down. I can't sleep on aircraft, so I got comfortable and caught up on all the newly released movies. Tried to watch Jackie but couldn't. It was depressing from the get-go and I wasn't in the mood for being brought down.

The last time I'd flown into Dublin I'd used my American passport. That was a pain because of the queue and then answering all the immigration questions. So this time I simply flashed my EEU passport and was waved right through. Amazing. My bags weren't searched at Portland and went right through to Dublin, and there wasn't even anyone at Customs when we landed. It was convenient for sure, but I don't mind the security normally. It makes me feel a little bit safer in these, shall we say, trying times.

Straight out of the international terminal and a quick walk to the area where the complimentary hotel shuttle picked me up. In minutes I was at the hotel, and even though it was barely 9:00 AM, they let me check in with a twenty Euro addition as they only had a 'superior' room available. Are you kidding? I'd have paid more than that to get a room right away and still been thrilled to bits!

Unbelievably I slept for almost twenty-four hours, and then took the shuttle back to the airport to catch the express Airbus to Belfast. Just under two hours later my brother Ian met me at the station and we were on our way to Dad's. It's always nice to have this time to catch up, and we chatted all the way there.

At Dad's age and with him living on his own I worry that he might take a fall or something, so when I'm in the States we talk every single day via Skype. I knew he hadn't been feeling very well for a while but I hadn't realized how badly he felt until I saw him in person. He looked drawn and weak like he was suffering from a bad bout of flu, and he went back to bed to rest very shortly after I arrived.

The calendar on the kitchen wall hadn't been changed over from March yet. Very unlike Dad, who's a stickler for details. Some of the cupboards and drawers, usually kept in military precision looked like things had been tossed carelessly into them. When I went to make Ian a cup of coffee, to my horror I discovered that Dad had run out of food. There was literally nothing in the cupboard except for porridge. Even though he knows how to order groceries on line, he'd obviously been too unwell to deal with it. After Ian left I got online to Dad's Tesco account and ordered a delivery for early the next morning. It broke my heart when I saw Dad had gone to the effort of putting some items in his basket, but had been unable to complete the order. I think part of the reason he felt so ill was that he must have been undernourished.

Then I set to and straightened the cupboards, and took Cooper the dog for a quick walk before getting him some dinner. I was able to get Dad a bite to eat as well, and the next day he began to show much improvement. Within a few days he was bouncing back, thank goodness. He's eating properly now and getting some decent sleep. He told me he thought I'd arrived in the nick of time. I think he's right.

So, now that things are settling back to normal, I'm enjoying being here as always. I consider myself very lucky that one of my parents is still around and I can spend so much quality time with him. As I write this, I hear that he's back to his old eccentric self. He's out in the garden with a rusty metal saw, (a saw at his age!) cutting down an errant branch from one of his many verdant trees. True to form he's addressing inanimate objects, informing the offending branch at top volume that it will go to hell for being so difficult to cut!

Tickling the ...

It's been a time of reflection so far this year. I've recently had more time to practice my piano playing, and I dug out a couple of boxes of sheet music I'd stashed in the attic. They've been in there for years, most of it hauled from Northern Ireland when I moved to Oregon in 1989. I've always loved the piano, but honestly could never play it. I'm not being modest. I just couldn't do more than painfully plonk out facsimiles of the melodies, blemished with wrong notes and prolonged hesitations. For someone who had their mahogany antique birdcage piano shipped across the Atlantic, that's pretty sad. That piano met an unfortunate accident en route. It was severely damaged, but I placed it in pride of place in my hallway in the house in Portland until I could bring myself to part with it. My friend Karen Keller, who also happened to be my boss at the time, a super-successful Avon representative, took it so her husband could tinker around fixing it as a hobby. I got a small amount back on insurance so I put it to a lovely little pre-owned spinet.  Even though I tried to do right by it. that poor thing sat lonely and unplayed for years, apart from my occasional embarrassing honky-tonk. In the end I just accompanied myself on the guitar when I wanted to sing.

So ... fast forward to 2012. My singing voice had deteriorated so I'd stopped playing guitar. I hadn't realized that my immune system had gone mental and was attacking my thyroid, hence the voice problems. I won't bore you with this story (again!) In a nutshell, I developed Hashimoto's, then Graves Disease, which were undiagnosed for several years so my health rapidly plummeted and things reached a critical point, blah, blah. Then during a fairly routine surgery I had a thyroid storm (basically a heart attack caused by prolonged overactive thyroid), a blood transfusion, and finally a diagnosis had me on a long but successful path to recovery. After a zap or two of chemotherapy to kill off the psychotic thyroid gland, my singing days were truly over.

No endorphins from making song was a sad loss indeed. Until my dear friend Phyl Radford decided to get rid of her electronic piano. She sold it and gifted her music books to me. When I looked through them, the proverbial road to Damascus scales fell from my eyes. They were written for easy piano with simplified compositions that even I could play. Until then I didn't know such books existed! For the first time I was able to sit down at that sweet little spinet and play something recognizable. It was the theme from Titanic if I remember rightly. I soared through Phyl's books, then got online and ordered a ton more: easy classics, movie themes, Broadway musicals ... you name it. Suddenly I could 'sing' again, through my fingers.

I have two pianos now that I alternative between (so neither gets jealous!) My faithful spinet and a much-loved baby grand that I bought from a neighbor. I can't describe the joy that surges through me every time I sit down at that instrument. I've moved on from beginner ... not sure where I'm at now .... perhaps intermediate. Not expert! Never will be. But I just finished playing Handel's Largo from Xerxes. I fell in love with that haunting piece and included it as a funeral theme in A Song of Bullets, my Northern Irish novel, which came out in November. I never thought I could play something like that! It's a form of meditation, I feel such peace and happiness. And yesterday, ploughing through all that ancient sheet music I so wanted to, but never could play before. And to my excitement, I can tickle the ivories with quite a lot of it now! Even if some pages are almost in tatters and still have the price of 6 shillings printed on them.

Mind you, I wouldn't dare record myself playing. I get self-conscious and mess up if someone's watching. But here is a quick video of an extraordinary pianist who inspires me in every way, from her incredible musical talent to her intelligence and zest for life. Any of you who have been to my St. Patrick's Day parties will recognize my sweet friend Michele Freeman. We went piano shopping before I bought my baby-grand, and she gobsmacked the entire store when she performed an impromptu concert on their 18k gold-hinged $200,000 grand! Needless to say, she was invited to come and play anytime she wanted.

The end is nigh! :-)

I have finally finished A Song of Bullets! It took several months longer than I'd anticipated, but is now completed after two years. The beginning's been reworked per editorial order, and the ending has totally changed from the first draft, because what worked for a dynamic Hollywood film script did not work in a book. The proofs are out to readers and I anticipate that the launch will be in early summer of this year.

Quite honestly, I am not certain I would have ever begun this book, let alone finished it, if it weren't for Kim Guidone. She was a guest professional from Hollywood, to whom I pitched the screenplay version a couple of years ago at the Willamette Writer's Conference in Portland, Oregon. She read it and came back with some really insightful notes on how to make the story better. Strengthen the love story, for example. The relationship between my protagonist and her love interest became the one constant throughout the story, despite the roller coaster of blazing rows, break-ups and unfaithfulness. I had hereto concentrated more on the thriller aspect ... the undercover and espionage work, and terrorism. Suddenly thanks to Kim the book whooshed into life, and I just hung on, writing down what my characters decided to do. It certainly was an awesome ride!

I'm still ambivalent about the title. It was originally called The Peace Between Them, but is now officially called A SONG OF BULLETS.


Enlightenment or ramblings?

I am the most pathetic blogger! Jay Lake used to despair of me, and strongly encouraged (nagged) me into writing more regularly. So in respect for the one year anniversary since his death from cancer, I'll at least try to catch you up from where I left off last.

The trouble with blogging and me is that I'm okay sharing the fun and eccentric things that happen in my life. And of those there are plenty; I seem to attract them! But once things take a personal turn, I clam up. Jay had no compunction about this. He shared his deepest thoughts and emotions right up until the very end. He told me I'd find it cathartic if I did the same.

Since my (temporary) death in 2012 I have learned so much about living. And about myself. The Graves' Disease forced me to make vastly better choices than I ever had before. Before, I was living my life for other people. Always saying to myself, "Okay, I just need to [-fill-in-the-blank-] first, and then I'll be able to write/relax/be free/think/be/live/gain happiness etc." It was only after I came through the ordeal that I learned to say no and try to put myself first. I wasn't great at it in the beginning, and know that I must have hurt and bewildered a number of people. I do regret that, but can't change the past.

This year I've had even more blindingly bright revelations about living. Sometimes, (being fanciful, here) I fear I'm close to extinction, because this feels a lot like enlightenment! But I don't think I've ever seen things so clearly.

What things? you ask.

Life things. My life. How people relate to me, past and present. What is unacceptable to me, such as disrespect, and whether I have the courage to do something about it. Also, my hopes from whatever future life is left to me. I think I'm standing at the proverbial crossroads, or perhaps at Robert Frost's two roads diverging in the yellow wood.

Excuse me while I moon you

Hard to believe I'm back in Northern Ireland again! Time has this pesky habit of sneaking away from me. Last time I looked, it was the end of January ... and here we are, already in May.

As always, I have tales to tell about my journey over here. It didn't start very auspicially when United decided to cancel the direct flight from Portland to Newark. They had me flying into Chicago with only half an hour to change flights to Newark. After my last experience ('take a taxi ... to Ireland?) I knew that was impossible. The email read pretty much 'take it or leave it'. I phoned customer service and they couldn't have been more helpful. Between us, we worked out the best route and moved everything a day earlier. So, at the ungodly hour of 0400 I dragged myself out of bed and got to Portland International in plenty of time for my 0720 first leg of the trip to San Francisco. I had a window seat, as I'd literally been squeezed in at the last minute. A girl in her twenties took the middle seat next to me. She had an interesting style ... a DPM U.S. Army jacket with a red wool beret tucked under the left epaulet, a black miniskirt, white socks and concourse trainers. (What we used to call baseball boots in the UK, I think.) As she got herself settled, I noticed a huge tattoo on her thigh. It looked like a feather. Of a sudden the entire tattoo was revealed as her skirt got caught on the armrest. Absolutely stunning, of a Native American woman. I opened my mouth to compliment her on it, but was left speechless at the sight of a bare buttock!

"Oops, sorry," she said, hiking her skirt back down again. "Excuse me while I moon you."

I laughed, replying, "No worries, nothing I haven't seen before." But was she really sitting on a much-used fake leather plane seat, with no underwear on? Ergh.

We passed the time discussing the merits of tattoos and body piercings. I have none, other than my ears. I told her I'd always fancied a tramp stamp, and she informed me in no uncertain words that women aren't tramps!

The flight was over quickly, and with an easy cross from one gate to another, I then boarded the Newark flight. I always try to get an aisle seat for flights longer than a couple of hours, otherwise I feel trapped. I stood up to let a young eastern Indian couple in beside me. She clambered over to the window seat, and her husband took the middle one. I smiled and greeted them, but they didn't acknowledge me at all.

I have a tiny water bottle that I got on Qantas Airways when I visited Terry in Australia in 2013. To most people's horror, I keep using it over and over as it's just the perfect size to pop into a handbag. After the plane took off I pulled it out and promptly dropped it. Damn. I've never seen another bottle that size so didn't want to lose it. I asked the man behind me if it had rolled back somewhere around his seat but he couldn't see it.

When the Flight Attendants brought the beverage cart along I asked one of them if they could spot it. "Oh, I'm sorry," said one of them. "I just put it in the trash."

Thrifty me wanted to request she get it right back out again, but an American would be totally appalled that I wanted to reuse it after it had been thrown away! "Oh, well," I said with a smile. It was no big deal, but she was so kind. She brought me a plastic glass of water, and then presented me with a full size bottle. Unfortunately I promptly dropped it on my seat companion by accident. Apologizing profusely, I bent double to rescue it from the floor, and realized belatedly that my face was practically in his lap. I could hear him huffing and puffing in outrage, and I couldn't help but get the giggles. Rendered pretty much useless I retrieved the water bottle and straightened up.

"I'm really very sorry," I managed with a wobbly voice, tears of laughter escaping down my face.

In unison the husband and wife turned their faces away. I shook with laughter for a while, and eventually managed to calm down. It's awful when you get the giggles in public, isn't it? The more embarrassed you feel, the more you can't control your laughter. At least the Flight Attendant saw the funny side of it and offered me an amused wink.

About three hours into the flight, I heard, "Excuse me." Turning round I wasn't sure if it had been addressed to me, as neither of my seatmates were looking at me. I went back to my work, and heard a slightly more emphatic "Excuse me." He almost made eye contact with me, and gestured toward his wife. I leaned forward to look inquiringly at her. Beverage and snacks were finished, and I thought she wanted me to hand some trash to the Flight Attendant. She ignored me. I looked from one to the other with a quizzical smile on my face. They both finally managed to look at my face without actually meeting my eyes. "Oh," I said, the penny dropping. "You would like me to get up?"

No response.

But I unclipped my seatbelt and complied. Yes, that was what they'd wanted. They shuffled by me and made their way to the back of the plane. I sat back down and before I could refasten my seatbelt he appeared at my side. I began to get up.

"No!" he commanded. Leaning past me, he retrieved his laptop from the pocket in the seat in front of him and took off again.

Dear me. And there I was, planning to slip a flashdrive into his computer when he was gone and stealing all his data. Bah, foiled again.

Back they came in due course; I was well aware of them standing over me. But I pretended to be absorbed in my editing. They stood. And stood. They would have gone on standing, but for the Flight Attendants bringing the beverage cart down the aisle again. I got up and as before, the charming, friendly young couple took their seats without acknowledeging my presence.

Well. Each to their own. Or perhaps that invisibility spell from A Celtic Yearbook took effect again? Hmm.

I gave them the benefit of the doubt, assuming it might be a language barrier. But as the plane approached Newark they chatted to each other about their upcoming visit there in perfect North American English. I thought about making them sit and wait at Newark while I fiddled and faffed with my bags, but decided not to be petty. It was again an easy transfer upstairs to the International terminal, and I didn't have to go through Security again, like I used to when flying directly from Portland. I have a complimentary pass to United's Club Lounge, but as I only had just over an hour to kill, I left it for my return trip, when I'd have more time at Chicago.

I was the first person to reach the gate for the Belfast flight, and sat in solitary splendor for a while. A lady in her seventies came along, spotted me, and beelined across the deserted waiting area to sit right next to me. She was from Donegal in Ireland, and we spent an enjoyable half hour chatting about how much life has changed for the better all over Ireland. She had been visiting family in New York, accompanied by her daughter and son-in-law. They turned up shortly after that, and spirited her away to get something to eat before the flight.

When United's Customer Service had changed my flights, it was with such short notice that on the website I could only select an aisle seat on the very back row on the plane. I couldn't face six and a half hours with a steady stream of people looming over me as they lined up for the toilet, so I splurged and bought one of the Economy Plus seats that offer a lot more leg room. Conversely, the flight was pretty empty despite what the website had shown, so I got the entire row to myself. Wonderful! Once the doors were closed I shifted to the middle seat and spread out, claiming my territory.

Unlike Aer Lingus with whom I traveled the last time, United had gluten free meals ordered for me, which I cannot say how much I truly appreciate. It's probably silly, but I feel so cared for and valued when they go that extra wee bit. And then when I ordered a glass of wine to accompany it, the Flight Attendant waved away my credit card and said, "This one's on me."

"Really?" Pleasantly surprised I thanked her profusely. I don't know why I was favored, for I noticed other people paying for their drinks. Then when I thought about it, I'd said hello and smiled when I came on board, while most of the other people just shifted along, ignoring her. Perhaps that was it, but I really appreciated it. Then I curled up on the three seats and managed to have a twenty minute nap, which is more than I've ever slept on a plane before!

I woke up with a start and raised my head to look out of the window. I'm so glad I did. The moon looked amazing with wispy tendrils of smoky cloud linking it to the wing of the plane. I watched the sky change from dark cobalt to light rose as dawn crept in, and saw Venus rise, sparkling out in the horizon.

Then we began our descent. I watched as the green patchwork quilt of Ireland's fields rose to meet me. It doesn't matter how many times I come back here, they always fill me with a sense of joy and expectation.

I'll stop now and post this before time starts slipping away again. I have lots to share, and promise to write more in a day or so.


Fly me to the moon ...

First blog of 2015! And Dad and his eccentricites already promise to make this a very entertaining year.

This afternoon I was lost in work, trying to catch up where I got behind over Christmas. At some point I became aware of thumps and bumps, and Dad's customary assortment of exclamations, including: "Damn it all to hell! Goddamn bastard!"

Then there was one almighty THUNK, followed by, "Fucking BASTARD!" Almost immediately the front door slammed and Dad tornadoed past the window, hurried round the outside of the house to the back door.

After a lifetime of listening to his harmless rants I have become highly immune, so I tuned it out, distracted by the sight of a luminescent golden moon hanging in a pink sky, so close over the neighbor's house that it looked like it might rest on top on the chimney tops. Grabbing my camera I headed down to the kitchen to go outside and take a picture. But the door from the kitchen into the utility room was blocked by a garden two-seater cane sofa.

Dad was on the other side, working at a metal screw in one of the sofa legs.

"What's happening here?" I asked without thinking.

"What does it look like?" he retorted.

Again, so used to his ways I automatically replied, "You've perfected Star Trek's teleportation device disguised in this sofa and you're trying to beam to another planet?"

Obviously so used to my ways, he didn't even react and carried on working at the leg.

"How did ... " I began and then stopped. I didn't want to know.

He'd gotten a new year's urge to clean out the spare room, and had hauled out two ancient mattresses, intending to take them to the dump this weekend. He had mentioned he wanted to retrieve this sofa from the garage and put it in there, trying to make a nice guest room. I just didn't think he meant today. The mattresses now stood upright in the corridor, awaiting transportation.

Putting down my camera I used both hands and shoved at the sofa to see how wedged in it was. It didn't budge.

The screwdriver slipped from Dad's grasp and clanged to the tiled floor. "Oh, for goodness' sake!" He flounced out the back door, letting it slam behind him.

Bending down I saw that on the other side the rocker part of the sofa was loose, and if I could push it out a little, the sofa might shift enough to slide through the doorway. I pulled over the pine kitchen stool, climbed up onto the counter by the door and clambered over the sofa.

Dad came in through the front door, and between us, we got the sofa back out into the ulitity room and outside.

"Shall we try the front door?" I asked.

"No, put it back in the garage. I can' t be bloody bothered, anymore."

Good, I thought. "It would be hard getting it past the mattresses, anyway."

"Oh," he said. "I'd forgotten about those. This was a fruitless task from the beginning."

I wondered how long he'd been dragging all that furniture about? I'd been so involved in my writing I hadn't even noticed.

We stowed the sofa back in the garage and as we returned to the house I noticed the moon again. "Did you see the moon?" I asked him.

"What moon?"

"The only moon up there that I know of."

"Where is it?"

I knew he was teasing me and chuckled. "Up there. Come and see." I headed back outside.

"I'm not that bloody interested," I heard him say but ignored him.

"Look." I pointed.

With a sigh he joined me. "Sure, it always looks like that," he muttered, turned on his heel and went into the house.

I could only see the funny side and doubled over, laughing. I'm so glad to see he's still indominatably eccentric. What will he get up to next, I wonder?