Saturday 22 December 2018

Over and Out

I thought I'd better make it official.  I won't be posting on Poppy Cottage Diaries anymore.  Over the last 18 months, my regular postings have whittled down to a dribble and then, no postings at all, since June.  Kind messages and quiet conversations from my readers probe gently if I'm okay, 'We haven't heard from you in a while', they say, 'I don't mean to pry'.   Well lads and lassies, I'm better than okay.  I'm doing mighty fine. 

Writing this blog and elsewhere has seen me through some difficult years, a diagnosis with M.S. in 2011, the death of my father in 2015 and a marriage break-up along the way.   Surprisingly maybe, I found it easy to write about these things, the words almost spilled out of me, like a big gush of uncontrollable tears.  The grief that I experienced when me father died was unexpected and I can say now on reflection, that writing about it helped with the healing.  He has been in my thoughts during the recent bad weather.   As a child, I was afraid when he went down the farmyard on a windy night, afraid that a creaky sheet of galvanised metal would rip off a roof and crack his head in two, a fear that I can still feel. 

If there was anything I might like to unwrite, or at least, add a disclaimer to, it was my writing about M.S.   Although my experiences at the time were very real, they have passed and I am, thankfully, as healthy as can be.  The diagnosis forced me to take charge of other aspects of my life that were making me very unwell.  Because I was very public about it, it might be something that I am associated with now, but can we shelve that please?  This chick ain't sick (touching wood and all that).

Writing about my children, family and my childhood memories was fun, stories that flowed easily.  And I could keep writing those.  But do you know what?  There's more important stories in me that I need to find another way to write.  A scab that needs picking.  I have to find the mechanism to do it.  I'll be experimenting with a new blog soon, under a new online persona.  Send me a message if you would like to find it.

Before I go, you may have read about my online dating escapades here, and in The Irish Examiner. (Just thought that I'd throw in the bit about the national newspaper).  And sure aren't you dying to know what happened next? 

There's a long version of the story for another day, but suffice to say that I met someone last year at a family wedding.  Offline and out of the blue.  Someone who has been around me my whole life, albeit from across the Irish Sea, someone who I thought had no interest in little old me.  But there he was chatting and laughing and asking me about my blog.  'I hear you have been writing', he said.

A thousand thank yous for reading peeps x

Saturday 16 June 2018

This Year’s Father’s Day

It is the scruffy looking young lad on the train that caught me again.  Lying half sleeping, sprawled across the shared table, he is wearing a knitted hat and a parka jacket, while the rest of the passengers on board swelter in their summer’s finest.  And I can see my father now, bursting in through the door of the back kitchen, in great form. Loud. He’s full of news, lies and cattle prices from the Sales Yard in Kingscourt. It must be Thursday, because that’s ‘Sales Day’, or at least, it was then.  He’s in his familiar short-sleeved shirt, half-tucked in, half out. My mother has persuaded him to put on a clean one before he left for town. He has probably protested, but gives in to her fussing, without much of a battle. He’s laughing about the old man at the Sales Yard who was wearing a top coat and wellies.  ‘In this heat! A top coat. With grand shiny sleeves. Oh, the smell off him too. A lovely whiff. Did you hear me? A top coat, I tell you !’. And he trails off, into another story and wonders what’s for tea.

I remember now, that The Sales ARE still on a Thursday in town.  I happened to be there one day
recently, doing the, what is now customary, trip to Super Valu with my mother’s shopping list before I
pay a quick visit to my father’s grave across the road.  For a long time, I had no interest in visiting him
there and avoided it with any excuse, but I’m at ease with it now. The new surround on the grave
invites me to ‘Stay Awhile’ and I do.  It’s peaceful. I assess the current state of the flowers, admire the
pinky hue of the fresh chippings and wonder who left the latest memento. I read the inscription on the
headstone, amusing myself as I do so - it’s not as if I don’t know how it reads.  I drive through the town
for a gawk, past the jeeps and the cattle trailers and ‘M&F Stores’, the drapery shop where I worked for
many years. I was often addressed by farmer customers as ‘John Russell’s daughter’, and they’d tell
me that I looked like his sisters.  

The comforting smell of cow shite stays with me in the car long after I leave town.   

I smile thinking of my father's feeling-sorry-for-himself announcement to me one day in the kitchen,
when he was still hail and hearty.  ‘Sure you wouldn’t have a good word to say about me if I died’. I
continued eating my cornflakes and said nothing. In my head though, I agreed with him - What would
there be to say?

But writing about my father has given me great comfort after his death.  Oddly perhaps, I found it
easy to write and in fact, the more miserable I was, the quicker the words spilled out.  It helped to
heal what I didn't realise needed mending. As the healing came though, the words started to dry up
and with that, came a mixture of sadness that I was letting him go but also, a sense of relief, because
grieving is bloody hard work.  Worse if you try to resist it.

I thought that I was done with grief. But then my friend’s elderly father died, a man I barely
know.  I can see the pain in my friend, that wave of unexpected emotion that hits like a derailed train
and pushes out through your chest.  I go to the funeral home where he is laid out, but decide then that
I won’t go to his funeral, for fear that I’d become such a blubbering mess that people will take me for a
chief mourner.  My excuse seems lame, albeit truthful. The schedule of grief is unpredictable, I guess.
That's what it is good at.

Since their recent immersion in rugby, I’ve thought, with some regret, about how my father would have
enjoyed how children’s embrace of rugby. He would have been amused with my son’s knowledge on
Irish and international players and their current state of health, statistics on stadium seating capacity,
amongst other things.  I can picture Leon bombarding his Granddad with trivia and questions, until my
father would loose patience and tell him to ‘whisht gasun’ in a raised tone. My son wouldn’t know if he
should read it as a joke, or if Granddad was serious. He would look to myself or his Nana for a clue and
we would start laughing, giving Leon permission to join in. And then we are all laughing, except for my
father who is wondering if he’s missed something, or if we are laughing at him. He’d turn up the volume
on the TV and tell us that he is watching the match and to ‘make tea … one of yis’.

Father’s Day this year will be just another day that won’t stir much in me either way.  It's one
less card to write and one less present to panic-buy. I'm not looking to make a connection with Dad, but I
know that he will catch me unaware sometime soon again. It will be subtle as a flying brick and I'll catch it
with both hands.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

We went to Ed Sheeran, so we did

Back in July of ‘17, it was difficult to avoid advertisements for Ed Sheeran’s Irish tour this summer, if you had the radio on at all. It didn’t go unnoticed by my children and especially by The Boy, then 9 years young.

He had me hounded to buy tickets, flippin’ hounded. Daily, he told me that I was a ‘big meany bum’, who wanted to ‘ruin’ his life when I fobbed him off, suggesting that he ask Santa for tickets. Little did he know that I had already purchased the coveted goods - patting myself of the back for doing so, making a head start on the Christmas shopping while the sun was still shining.

Christmas morning came and a squiggly-written Santa letter in my children’s stockings declared the imminent arrival of Ed Sheeran tickets. The Girl jumped with excitement. The Boy announces ‘I don’t like him anymore.’ I spend the coming months persuading The Boy that he couldn’t disappoint Santa, reminding him of the near-constant nagging last summer and that the Big Lad must have been listening. I resist saying ‘Do you have any idea how much those tickets cost?’

He eventually relents and we are off to Pearse Stadium, Galway.

Driving back here to my alma mater, I surprise myself that I still feel a twinge. Could I be the only person in the world, ever, who can’t say that I look back fondly on my time in this glorious city? My Fat Years.  A time of wanting to be somewhere else. Thinking of my drummer boyfriend as he toured around Europe.  A feeling of never quite fitting in, despite having a great bunch of friends.

The big sting for me though - A ‘Distinction’ student throughout my years there, I received a ‘Merit’ in my final year results and I was devastated. I was 2% off a Distinction grade and the External Examiners weren’t for budging. It seems that my thesis ‘The Manufacture and Design of Navan Carpets’ was as dull as it sounds, although my History of Art tutor never flagged that with me, despite the fact that I was the first student in the class to submit.  By the time he got around to saying ‘I’m sorry, my dear’, on the stairs that day, it was too late.

I hear that internal whisper again - ‘See, I told you that you weren’t that good.’

En route to the Stadium, we come across ‘No’ referendum campaigners and I feel insulted that they have, again, invaded my space. I say nothing, but take a little bit of delight in the fact that one of the campaigners is holding her flyers upside up, an odd looking ‘oN.’
We land in glorious sunshine in good time for the warm-up acts. Straight away though, we have a problem. The Boy wants to hang out on the margins, away from the crowds and the noise. He looks longingly at the stand, but our tickets don’t allow us there. The Girl meanwhile, wants to dive in up front, ‘for the atmosphere Mam’. ‘You and me both kid’, I lament. They have faces like thunder, as we traipse back and forth through the crowd. I do my usual ‘there’s only one of me and two of you’ and put it back on them to come up with a compromise. It’s looking like stalemate during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations and I’ve no George Mitchell to assist.
I announce that I want to go home.

The eventual agreement is that we stand on the edge of the crowd, with my daughter using her short-assed mother for extra height, alternating between piggie-backs and shoulders-backs, so she can see a little more. My slippy rain jacket not really helping the situation. Despite her wee size, I feel it on my ribs days later.
As we settle ourselves, the children say out loud what’s in my head. ‘There’s a lot of fake tan in Galway’, ‘I can see that girl’s butt sticking out of her shorts.’ ‘They look very drunk.’ But as I look at the beautifully presented young wans surrounding me, I can’t but feel invisible and regret not making a bit of an effort, beyond a bit of lippy and mascara hastily applied in the car park.
Anne Marie comes on stage (yes, you DO know her - the one that sings F.R.I.E.N.D.S.). She’s a gal with ‘tude and my daughter has her first Girl Crush. I kinda have one too.
Ed finally arrives and I find myself thinking strange thoughts about this pop music mega star - That he looks like a lad with lovely manners. That he looks shocking decent. That despite his lovely manners and decency, that he sings about alcohol a lot. I realise that I am a Total Auld Wan. My daughter meanwhile recognises chords in Ed’s songs and it seems that those guitar lessons are paying off, leading to a warm and fuzzy feeling.
As the daylight fades, the video and light display surrounding Ed intensify, as does the mood of the crowd.  We make our way to the terraces and illuminated Ed seems closer now. As the familiar anthems are belted out, we sing, nod, clap, wave, shimmy and strut to the tunes, along with 29,997 others. In fairness, Mr. Sheeran puts on some show.
We leave the Stadium just before the last song, to avoid the mass exodus of the crowd, like you might do at a GAA match if your team was being hammered close to full-time.
The children are snuggled in duvets for the long drive home to Kildare. The Girl plays Anne Marie tunes on my phone as she dozes off. The Boy says softly in the darkness that he is ‘sorry’ and I tell him that it’s grand. He reckons that Santa must have known that he didn’t like big crowds and picked Galway for us, being a smaller venue that was ‘a better concert for children.’ We chat about pushing boundaries and how it’s good to try out situations that make you feel uncomfortable, because you just might enjoy it. I put it out there that sometimes Santa (and maybe even Mammies) knows what you need, even if you don’t always know it yourself.
The Boy can’t but agree.

Monday 7 May 2018

Bank Holiday musings

It’s Bank Holiday Monday.  It looks like it’s going to be another fabulous day.  I write this, propped up on

my cosy king-sized bed, with a steaming cuppa and the Breakfast in bed that I have brought myself,

looking out at the beautiful garden, that is bursting with

colour and wild-life.  I’ve had my hair done, mozzied around the shops and got a few wee bargains,

pottered in the garden, walked, washed manky windows, sorted laundry, recycled, listened to great tunes,

wrote letters, listened to Desert Island Discs, went for drinks with friends, dinner with family and tea with

more friends.

And quite frankly, I’m miserable as hell.

I was so busy buzzing around with work and family in the last few weeks that the Bank Holiday Weekend

and the children’s week-long mid-term break washed over me.  There was last minute negotiations about

co-parenting holiday arrangements and I packed them off for 5 days. My twinnies don’t usually offer a big

‘goodbye’ as I drop them off, but last Friday, they both ran back to the car and gave me big warm hugs

that have kept me going all weekend.  

I’ve gotten used to my pair not being here now.  Accepted that they will miss lots of family gatherings

because they fall when it’s ‘not my weekend’.  I look forward to the ‘break’. But it’s rarely that - it’s running

and fetching. So, this weekend, I thought best to just ‘be’, make no plans, turn down the kind invitations to

go visiting and just 'be'.  

Head space. Time.  Rest.

My lawn mower won’t start and I take it as a sign to take it easy.  I decide to embrace the dandelions.

Waves of unwanted emotion run through me.  

Loneliness.  I’m missing my children terribly.  So bad, I have a pain in my heart. I thought this stuff was

supposed to get easier?

Guilt.  For not visiting my Mam.  The self-afflicted ‘only-daughter’ sense of duty, responsibility and love,

heightened since my father’s death.  But that 4-hour round trip just seemed too much this weekend.

I phoned her last night to apologise for not being there.  Her cheery voice talking about her busy weekend

leaves me feeling reassured and a little less shit about myself.

Dread.  One of the other things I did this weekend was to sort out paperwork for my upcoming divorce.  

The thing that I’ve wanted so much for so long if finally here, and I’m half terrified. I want it all to go away.

I’ve had so many days in court already, taking a day’s leave off work, paying a solicitor, to sit there on a

hard wooden bench, hoping that my case would be heard, leaving feeling drained.  Taken aback by the

court systems. How the experience can make me feel, so little opportunity to speak, not have my voice

heard, as the judge tells me to ‘hurry up’ while I choke back the tears.   ‘You’d think you’d know better with

your big Council job’, he said one day, when I didn’t have a document that I didn’t know was required. He

didn’t hear me when I replied ‘I’m here as a citizen and mother.  Not as an employee’.

I think about how it all has knocked my confidence.

Stopped my writing.

I just want it all to stop.

My phone rings as I type.  It’s my daughter. I can hear my son in the background.  She’s wondering if I

remembered to pay for her school tour, if I got that email from teacher.  I joke with her that she might not

enjoy the tour, that it might be better if she stays home that day.  She’s laughing. I don’t tell her that I miss


So, what to do?  I don’t want to feel like this.  

I’ll post this online.  I’ll say it out loud, in amongst all of the cheery Bank Holiday posts, because just naming

it helps.

I can’t run away from these feelings, but I will pull on the sports gear and go for a run.  It will be a poor

attempt, but it will be good for the head, as well as the body. I’ll come back and potter again in the garden.  

It’s so vast - all the jobs will never get done.

It’s a work in progress.

A bit like myself.

Saturday 14 April 2018

Finding Your (Rugby) Tribe

Finding Your (Rugby) Tribe
My faithful blog followers may have noticed that I haven’t written anything in months. My writing rate is now so poor that I feel that I should demote my status from ‘blogger’ to ‘bogger’, a label that suits me so much better. Because it’s been so long since I have written, I’ve had something of a crash in confidence and a writers (bloggers) block. I’ve also been really busy. Really. And preoccupied. But I’ll tell you about that again.
But here I am and what has given me the push to write now?
People who know me for a long time will know that I am not remotely sporty. Never was. Of course I followed Meath’s GAA football glory years of my teens and indeed this gave me some of my happiest memories with my late father. I recall too, the buzz of Italia ‘90, but my interest started and ended there. And while I enjoy running, a long walk and digging holes in the garden for physical exercise, I’ve always been inclined to sprint gently in the opposite direction away from competitive sport.  And don't expect to see a status update on how many kms per hour I achieved (or didn't) any time soon. It ain't happening.
Lots of things were sacrificed in my marriage breakup in the last few years and I’m ashamed to say that one of those was my children’s requests to get involved in activities. I operated in ‘preservation mode’ and tried to minimise commitments for places-to-be, while also avoiding clashes that could arise in co-parenting situations.
Last September though, my children arrived home from school with a flyer from Athy Rugby Club, welcoming new members. It appears that the two of them had a committee meeting, a twin-sibling speciality, before cornering me, with pleading eyes and sad faces about joining up. A proper sit-down chat followed and the pair agreed that if I paid the fees and bought the kit, that they would commit to rugby for a full season. Deal done. From day one, the two took to rugby like ducks to water, The Boy and The Girl joining the U10’s teams. Much of the training took place in pretty grim weather conditions and there has been ne’er a complaint from them. It seems that they thrive on the encouragement from their coaches, fuelled by a desire to achieve.
Outside of training and matches, my children love watching Leinster and Ireland play - boosted of course by Ireland’s recent Six Nations win and Grand slam (We even had the privilege of holding the silverware in the Club House last week). I’ve enjoyed watching matches with them, hoping that I’d learn something from the commentary and the ten-year olds, sponges for information, who between them know more than I ever will. We have been to two Leinster matches, travelling by bus with their teammates, reinforcing the camaraderie between them. The Girl acting as flag-bearer with the U10’s for a Leinster V Scarlets game, when the U12’s girls played an exhibition match at half-time and the pride ran through me.
Since they were tots, I’ve had to bring my children along to work-related cultural events at nights and weekends, ranging from poetry readings, local history reenactments to visiting film sets, with varying levels of boring-ness for children. They are always good as gold, although it has cost me a fortune in bribes. With rugby though, this interest has come 100% from them and for that, I am pleased. I think it’s called payback.
It is a juggle though. In October, they both had matches in Naas early one morning - the first big match for The Girl. My ability to watch two matches at once was pushed to the limit, with a relay of 5 minute sprints to go from one pitch to the other - waving and cheering furiously, so Child no. 1 could feel my presence, before doing a legger and repeat ‘I’m here!’ actions for Child no.2. Afterwards, I peeled the mud off the children at the back of the car, with a jumbo pack of baby-wipes, before doing a Wonder Woman-esque costume change on myself, so I could arrive in Newbridge for a lunchtime event for the Kildare Readers Festival I was speaking at. I’m sure if you look closely at the photographs, you can see clay in my hair.
I got a fright one Saturday last November when I spotted a missed call on my phone from one of my daughter’s rugby coaches, while I was at a wedding. I felt a wave of panic as I called back, fearing that The Girl had been injured. She hadn’t. The call was to ask if I would help out with the coaching of the Girls U10’s team. I must have had a rush of blood to the head and agreed to it … me who knows nuthin’.  I am an advocate for more women getting involved in sport though (and in all things generally), so someone needs to step up to the mark and why shouldn't that be me?

After months in the co-coaching seat, I can take credit for tying mucky laces on boots (which is a challenge even for an adult on some of the uber-chilly training nights), checking gum shields and dangly earrings and rubbing sore legs. My confidant, Mr. Scarlets tells me that if I just encourage the girls to ‘play what’s in front of them’, that I can’t go wrong. I’m not sure how that works with back passes though. Oh, my poor wee head.
Reflecting on the last few months, I’m aware of how outside of my comfort-zone I am. I’ve always been inclined towards things I have a flair for. I had a ‘moment’ recently when I wondered-out-loud to The Girl, questioning if I really had anything to contribute to her team. She pulled me aside after training last week and pointed out a list of things I was involved with that night, saying encouragingly, ‘see Mam, there’s lots that you can do.’ Her wee face smiling up at me and I wondered who was coaching who.F

Sunday 22 October 2017

Two Years

If anyone asks me what did my father die of, I'd be tempted to say that 'he died of a Monday', borrowing one of staple family corny jokes.  But that he did - die of a Monday - two years ago this week.

It was his anniversary proper on Thursday.  Other than an early morning phone call from a cousin asking how I was, closely followed by a message from one of oldest friends, which caused a brief wave of emotion, the day was uneventful.  That morning, at tea-break, I sat in the same cafe, at the same table, (but with a variation of work colleagues present), at the time as that memorable day two years ago, when I received two phone calls, one after the other from my brother.  The first one saying that my father had a heart attack and the second, saying 'he's gone Lucy'.  I thought about mentioning the anniversary at tea-break, but the banter was in full flow and I let the moment pass.

So much has changed within the the steady backbone of Milltown in the last two years.  In the summer of 2015, our neighbour's son Robert, only 19 years of age, died in a tragic farm accident.  Nothing that has happened there before or since is comparable to their loss.  At the time, my mother remarked to me that my father had driven over to the wake, instead of walking, which would have made much more sense.  The signs were there that my father wasn't well.

The elderly couple up on the hill, who were there for forever and a day, died within a relatively short period of each other.   And our dear neighbour Dinny, living just down the road, passed away in the last few weeks. Coincidentally, his grave is directly beside my our family grave.  If you put your head to the ground there, you might hear my father giving a colourful running commentary on the politics of the day, with Dinny, head bowed, smiling.  Quietly agreeing. Nodding. 'That's right John, that's right'.   No doubt there would be a dig at Dinny for his liking of my mother's baking and 'The Case of the Freshly Baked Flan' that disappeared from our back kitchen, where it was cooling.  My brother's eyes popped out on sticks later, when Dinny offered him a slice of flan in his house, my brother recognising the pattern on the plate.

Visiting and enquiring about the couple on the hill and Dinny had become part of my mother's new routine since my father's death and now that will change too.  She announced recently, with a touch of melancholy, that she now was the oldest person living on the road and I feel for her and have a heightened sense of her vulnerability.  But with that, a gratitude for her family, family and neighbours that have rallied around and made a new routine.

Looking back, my father's death had much more of an impact on me that I would have ever expected.  I didn't think I'd miss him as much as I did.  In the years coming up to his death, my visits to Milltown were brief and conversations were few.  My marriage was falling apart and I wasn't able to talk about it. I worried about my mother worrying about me and about being an embarrassment to my father - Not so much ME being an embarrassment, just the situation.  Not exactly the conversation for the pub on a Saturday night now?  Not when it's your daughter.  Is there a good way to break news like this?

I standing in front of the stove in the old kitchen, hands gripped on the rail, the story spilling out of me. I'm trying to be matter-of-fact about it.  Giving the appearance of someone who is fine.  My father remains seated, elbows over his newspaper and listens.  He doesn't understand.  Didn't see it coming. Liked going for a pint with my husband.   I have to tell him more than I initially wanted to, things that he can't comprehend, things that I am struggling with myself. He's quiet.  Disappointed maybe.  Taken aback.  But no harsh words.  I leave him to consider the new reality for me and for his grand children.

There have been many times since his death when I have felt his presence, not that I've looked for it.  It just was there and not always subtly either.  This is John Russell we are talking about, remember.  Bad Country & Western music blaring in the Square, as I enter court for a challenging appearance; his energy right in front of me after a visit to my neurologist, a feeling so real that I can almost reach out and touch him and it startles me.  Although, if he was reading this, he might say it's a 'heap of shite'.
His death gave me a boost to my writing too.  Writing about him gave me both comfort and a new confidence.  Funny, I suppose, because I'm not sure if he ever read anything I wrote.  If he did, we both would have been to uncomfortable with each other to discuss it.

My children and the other grand children mention my father regularly.  The general gist of the comments is that 'Granddad was great fun'.  I'm heartened that even the youngest grandchild Eliza describes him in visual accounts that I know are her memories that not ones that she has heard from someone else.  As time goes on, the distinctive Russell genes come to the fore and I, and others, see my father more and more in his two brothers.  JR is never far away.

I took on the job of getting his memorial cards.  A simple task in terms of text and graphic design, compared to the publicity material and reports that I prepare regularly in my work capacity.  Yet it has taken me the guts of two years to get around to it.  I had underestimated the emotional impact of this relatively small task, this final gesture.  The graphic designer asks kindly 'Were you close to you father?'. 'No', I say and the tears start and don't stop for a fortnight in the run up to his second anniversary.  This doesn't suit me at all.  I thought I was done with this.  A new wave of grief pulls out from my chest like a tacky glue stuck to my fingers, in a way it hadn't before.

I put it down to the new peace in my life that has created space for untapped emotion to flood in like a tsunami.  

The finished memorial cards look well.  In the photograph, my father looks relaxed.  It's a photo taken on a European forestry trip.  I had looked for a suitable poem to include, a Seamus Heaney one perhaps, but then I realise that I have no idea what my father thought of Heaney, or any other poet indeed.  If he has strong views either way, I'm sure that I would have heard.  My mother chooses a prayer.  Images of Milltown Glen will be recognisable to anyone who ever travelled it.

I show my daughter the card.  She approves.  'Granddad is smiling!', she laughs.  Granddad had a bit of a reputation for not smiling, or indeed looking in the general direction of the photographer and sometimes, disappearing before the photographs were taken.

We used to joke with him that we wouldn't have a decent image for his memorial card.

'That's a shocking thing to say', he would say, put the head down and continue reading.


'Make me a cup of tea, like a good girsha'.

Sunday 3 September 2017

Princess Diana and me

I was surprised to see that it has only been twenty years since Princess Diana died.  In my mind, it was ‘long ago’, with her etched into my childhood memories.  I was a girlie-girl who loved fashion and make-up, the kind of kid who made wedding dresses for my Sindy doll out of net curtains. (Sindy was my doll of choice, over Barbie, who I recognised even then as being ‘too skinny’.  Sindy, on the other hand, had a decent pair of hips).  

I was mesmerised by Hollywood actresses such as Audrey Hepburn Diana and Doris Day, but they seemed very far away.  Diana seemed closer, when she came to my attention as a mere ‘Lady’ and got engaged to Prince Charles in 1981.   

A photograph by then Fleet Street photographer John Minihan, captured a shy looking 19 year old Diana, with the sun shining through a flimsy skirt that revealed her long legs, causing a pre-internet media sensation - an image that always stayed in my mind.  I suppose the image was controversial at the time and looking back, represents a shift in the media in terms of what was off limits.  Funny that years later, with my work-hat on, that I would become acquainted with John, who grew up in Athy and chat to him about taking that iconic image.  When I was purchasing his equally iconic collection of portraits and scenes from Athy for the local authority Municipal Art Collection,  I considered including the Diana portrait, but decided against - not sure that others would have the same affection for the image as I do, or if it there was a place for it in the collection.

The fact that Diana married a prince was incidental to me.  Talk about the monarchy and 'The Establishment' went over my head. I just loved her style, all shoulder pads, crisp collars and drop earrings.  Her floppy hair and eye liner.  The way she blushed and held her head low.  Her wedding dress that creased on the day because it was was so voluminous and made of silk.  Her humanitarian work. I poured over her image in Hello magazine and made sketches in copy books, practice for when I was going to be a fashion designer.  

This summer, I was charmed to see the original toile of her dress and miniatures of her bridesmaids dresses, created by ''The Emanuel's'' in The Style Museum in Newbridge Silverware.  Instantly, I’m transported back to seven year old me, sitting in an armchair beside the TV, watching coverage of the Royal Wedding for what seemed like hours, while my mother goes about her work, occasionally stopping to watch, the smell of dinner and Saturday afternoon baking wafting around.  

Do you remember where you were when you heard that Diana died?  I was staying with my aunt Aine and she woke me on the Sunday morning to tell me, handing me a cup of tea in bed.  A surreal moment indeed.  The previous year when I had stayed with Aine, I answered her phone on a Saturday night to be told that her cousin Anna and her husband, Leo had been killed driving home from mass in Ardee.  We had often accompanied Anna and Leo to mass and I remember lots of laughing and skitting in between the prayers.  For whatever reason, we stayed home that night and I had just finished dying and cutting Aine’s hair.  I was glad to be there for her, and in an odd way, happy that at least her hair would look well for the funeral in the coming days.  Thinking back on it now, I am also amused that she trusted me as hairdresser.

Aine was another style icon for me, the aunt who gave me hand-me-down clothes and shoes as soon as I was old enough to fit into them. She gave me leftover make-up too - the palettes of eye shadow with only navy and purples remaining.  I could hear other children whisper in a shop when we stop to buy Iced Caramels for my Nana, ‘that girl is wearing make-up’.  I regularly asked Aine when would she get married, somehow missing out on the fact that she doesn’t have a boyfriend.  

As the years go by, I take on the role of Personal Shopper for Aine and my mother, on our day
trips to Dublin for wedding outfits, or whatever is on the list.   I feel pulled in two directions in Arnott’s store, with Aine having an aversion to lifts and my mother, escalators and neither of them fancying the stairs.   After a stand off, a compromise is reached after I train my mother to use the escalator.

In the weeks before Aine died in 2013, I watch her appearance take on the strain of illness.  Her elegant wardrobe is reduced to bed wear and she is too sick to care.  My heart sinks as I walk towards her hospital room, with the door ajar and I only recognise her now by the colour of her dressing gown.  When she dies, she leaves me a beautiful rose gold bangle in her will, a gift from an old boyfriend of hers, a man I have heard of, but never met.  I’m devastated when I am unable to find the bangle after a break-in at my home last year and am even more upset telling my mother. Imagine my joy when I find it recently, tucked in the back of a drawer. I bring my mother clothes shopping recently and we find ourselves picking up garments in dusty pinks and blues, noting ‘this is a real Aine top’.

Much of the commentary in this week’s media was around the mass expression of grief when Diana died, a new phenomenon, before a world of social media.  To me though, my feelings of sadness are very personal, linked to my childhood, inspiration and coming of age.  Twenty years on, I am looking at the coverage of Diana’s death through my own eyes as a mother and really appreciate the impact that her death, aged just 36, must have had on her two young sons, children who had already experienced the separation of their parents.  And all in the glare of the media too.

I picked up a Hello magazine recently in my hairdressers.  It was jam packed with photographs of the Royal Family, which I had limited interest in, apart from amusement at the attention given to Kate Middleton’s sister butt.  In fairness though, she would give Sindy a run for her money.