Comings and Goings – twenty years ago!

Being, like Woody Allen, too hostile to drive, I left my son to the airport bus. He was twenty, the first child to cross the sea in any direction, and he was going to America for a year to work in a holiday camp for children. To the Catskill mountains he was going, near New York. I stood on the road until I couldn’t see the bus any more and then I went into town as though it was any old Saturday. At three o’clock, when I knew he’d be taking off, I sat down; I had discovered a new pain in a new place.

Later, I went into his room and looked at the empty bed. I changed the sheets and tidied and cleaned. And then I washed all his clothes and hung them out and took them in and aired and ironed them, and folded them, oh so neat.

Long days later he phoned. He wanted tea-bags, nothing else, just tea-bags, and would I send them? He was having a great time, he said, meeting people from all over the world and he loved the heat and the craic was great but he wanted tea-bags. He said the night he arrived he stood at a balcony window and looked out at New York and he couldn’t stop smiling to himself because he was really there. And the picture of his there, leaning out with hands on the railings and him smiling is still in my head like a lost photograph.

So I got the tea-bags and packed them up and sent them and waited to hear they had arrived. His siblings said it was great; they never had to answer the phone when he was away because I’d have broken bones trying to get there first.

The parcel arrived. He’d be happy now, I thought, and I pictured him in the camp, up in the Catskill mountains with a crowd of children all different colours like in a holy picture, and them all sitting round in a circle drinking tea.

One day in town I looked at a mannequin in a window, and whatever way the head of it was turned or the way I looked at it I got such a sharp, terrible pain. My feet didn’t know where they were and I put a hand to the wall to steady myself.

The months passed and the day came for his return. oh, such cleanings and washings – I had everybody working, and at last, at last, the car arrived and out he got – a stranger, older, tanned, dressed in shorts and sandals – in a place where even on the hottest of hot days the boys sweltered in jeans and runners. He looked like a visitor and for a short while seemed like one.

That was years ago and they have all left and returned many times. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I’m not.

Broadcast on Radio Ulster 2006.

A few words on “GOD, A USER’S GUIDE” by Seán Moncrieff

When this book was first published, I couldn’t wait to read it. World religions and all the various creation myths fascinate me, which is surprising as I’m an atheist. (I grew up in a deeply religious home and traces of those old beliefs surface from time to time.) I had to read the book twice as I gobbled it up so quickly the first time and I have referred to it many times since. The first chapter is Rastafari and the book works it way around the continents and finishes with Christianity. There’s an index at the end which I always appreciate. Here is part of the introduction:

“However, writing this book did present me with one problem; particularly the ‘How they came about’ explanation for each belief. All religions, by definition, claim to have been divinely revealed by God; otherwise they wouldn’t be much of a religion. Depending on the religion in question, adherents can be horrified, and, yes, even offended by the suggestion that their belief was influenced by a pre-existing one.

Yet if you view religion from a solely historical point of view, this does seem to be the case. And not just for one or two.

Thus, for the purposes of this book I am, for the record, dealing with Religion, not Faith. Faith is belief in God and an after-life; religion is the all-too-human business of figuring out what God wants us to do, and organising the worship.

Not everyone will agree with this division, and it is far from perfect. But humans, unlike deities, are imperfect creatures.”

The author also says in the introduction that he does not want to cause offence to anyone and that he remains objective throughout. However, his cynicism, and amusement even, does show through now and again. I think the reader would be better served without this personal attitude. All the same, it’s a small enough fault in a very well researched and informative book.

Seán Moncrieff is an Irish journalist and has worked in many radio and television programmes. He has also published the book “Stark Raving Rulers”.

Loose Threads

Two loose threads in the sheet

Separate and come together again

Like lovers in the wind of her breath

She makes a story for them

And they bend and dance and spin

At her command

But she must bend and dance herself

To a rhythm not her own

Blown by the stormy breath of others

The lovers are cast aside

Their story slides away

As she is born again

From the warm sheets

Sans mental teeth anyway.

A review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

I have read a good many books by Adrian McKinty, all of them a series of police procedure thrillers set in the north of Ireland and centred on the detective, Sean Duffy. They were great fun to read.

But here we have a stand alone novel, a new look at the kidnap and ransom trope. You r child is kidnapped; to get her/him back you have to pay a ransom and kidnap another child. When you have done that your child is set free; you free the child you have taken when her/his parents repeat the procedure. This is the chain and you are given to understand that it has been going on for a long time, unknown to the police or the general public.

At the beginning I thought – I can’t read this; I hate anything to do with children suffering in any way but I was intrigued and the narrative drive was so good I decided to read on for a bit. After a while I realised that this could never happen – life and people are too unpredictable, and unforeseen complications would always arise. So I relaxed into the story then, treating it as a puzzle to be worked out.

I found the characters interchangeable, loving desperate parents, cute, clever children; the story is entirely plot-driven and everything depends on whether parents, mothers in particular, are capable of doing ANYTHING for their own child.

To avoid spoilers I won’t give details, but I had many questions regarding the Big Brother aspects of the plot. I couldn’t imagine how the story would be resolved and it was a terrible anti-climax when it arrived. The reason the baddies were caught was far too light considering the heavy material being written about here.

The writing itself was fine and the dialogue was good but the pace just wasn’t right, especially in the last quarter of the book. It was a novel idea though and I think the book should have been a good bit longer with a more thought-out resolution.

I’ll give it 3 stars ***

I’m happy to announce Launch Day for the paperback edition of “We All Die in the End” available now from Amazon.

This intriguing collection of interlinked stories set on the Co Down coast, is full of devious, eccentric, lonely characters. Many of the stories are grim, some deal with abusive relationships, but there’s a lot of black humour in this book. and an odd flash of joy too.

“SADIE said nothing. She trimmed the fat off the kidneys and the liver, her fingers curling away from the soft, red slither and she held her breath against the faint smell of blood.”

“Well, that didn’t make any sense but then Lydia stopped and I saw her speak to the doll. Oho, ARTHUR, I said to myself and I threw down the cigarette. Oho, I said, what’s this? What have we here?”

“Elizabeth Merry’s characters leap from the page, fully formed.” Jean M Roberts, historian and genealogist.

“The stories were compelling and addictive.” Sammi Cox, writer, blogger and reviewer.

“Merry’s is some of the best writing I’ve read in a while. Like Faulkner, she creates a fictional world unto its own . . . “Kurt Brindley, author and blogger.

If any of you are kind enough to read this book please leave a review – good or bad- all feedback welcome. Thank you.

Elizabeth

This Friday’s Ulster Poet: Frank Ormsby: One Looks At One (Gate of Heaven, Valhalla, N.Y.)

She steps from behind a tombstone,

is delicately there,

as though shaped from those sad poems

about dead deer.

or simply to stop trembling

and accept the caress

of the way I keep my distance,

muffle the trespass

of even a sudden look.

She watches me sideways,

I ogle a Celtic cross

for as long as it takes to be counted incidental

then not to count. At last I can watch her pass

unscared into the morning, so tuned to place she

is its sole movement. How soft must be the air

in her fine nostrils. How sweet the cemetery grass.

Upcoming launch of paperback edition of “We All Die in the End”

Here’s a short excerpt from my book. It is currently available as an ebook and I’m looking forward to the paperback edition. Should be ready tomorrow so maybe Monday for launch day . . .

“Upset!” Bridie turned sharply to her husband.  

“She doesn’t know what upset is. What do you want to get married for?” she said to Brigit. “Aren’t you comfortable here? You never said before you wanted to leave. Of course we’re getting on now. You’re bored with us, I suppose.” 

“Ma! Why would you say that? Don’t – ” 

“Nothing for you here only knitting every night and listening to your father shouting at the television.” 

“You leave me out of it,” Reuben said.  

“Tears now and the dinner ruined. I know what you’re at. Oh aye, up to your old tricks again.” 

“Am I talking to you? Am I? Am I talking to you?” 

“Talking!” Reuben stood up.  

“You’re not talking, woman, you’re ranting! Well, rant away. I’m going to eat in the kitchen.” 

“This house is yours,” Bridie said, tugging at Brigit’s hands.  

“You have all the security you want right here. I don’t understand why, all of a sudden, just because that fellow asks you out – ” 

“It’s not just all of a sudden. He was always . . . there, you know. I thought you’d want me to get married. You did, you and Da – ” 

“Huh! Him? Sure what did I know? I was only a girl.” 

She put her hands on the table as if she was about to get up, and then she half-laughed. 

“I married him because I liked his name.” 

“Aye!” Reuben pushed open the kitchen door.  

“I heard that. And it’s the only thing you ever liked about me.” 

He pointed at Brigit. 

“Do you know what she said when you were born? She said that I,” Reuben tapped his chest, “that I, was a monster to put her through all that, and she’d die before she’d let me near her again. One year I had of married life. There was no pills in them days – not that it would have made any difference to her. Marriage! Don’t talk to me about marriage! Work, work, work for me – take, take, take for her. And I’ll tell you more than that. She tried to make you the same as herself – wouldn’t allow you as much as a lipstick – ” 

“Stop it!”  

Bridie’s chair scraped on the floor. Her face was flaming, her cheeks bulging. 

“Ma!” Brigit cried out. 

“You’re a dirty man! Such things to say! You’re a dirty man to talk like that in front of your daughter.” 

“Daughter!” Reuben roared. “Look at her! She’s nearly a middle-aged woman!” 

“Da!” Brigit clapped her hands over her ears.  

If you liked this excerpt, find out what happens next . . .

amazon.com/author/elizabethmerry

Cycles

I called you Peter

And you rocked the earth

My church is full of stones

I called you Fire

And you consumed me

My mouth is choked with ashes

I called you Truth

And handed you a sword

How often I am pierced

And pierced again

Old scars produce new blood

The letting leaves me

Desolate and grieving

The cycles of my life

Revolving endlessly.