Tag Archives: Saskatoon

The Canadian Phenomenon known as Tryouts

25 Jan

Thanks to everyone for all the kind comments about the last post; I felt pounds lighter once I hit “publish”, although sadly, I didn’t look any different.  It’s time for another hockey post, as this year’s season is a horse of a different colour indeed.  After the sorry fiasco of last year’s tryouts, with the boys unable to do pretty much anything more complicated than skate in a straight line in a forwards direction, they were all geared up for this season’s weekend of intense torture.  Benjamin was staying in Atom as a second-year, while Christopher was moving to Peewee as a first year.  Two whole weekends written off, just like that.  There was a last-ditch attempt at “Are you sure you don’t want to go back to playing soccer?” but ’twas all to no avail.  The ice is in their blood now.

Benjamin kicked off first, and Michael brought him out to the Friday night practice of drills.  The following morning was my turn to suffer, so I stood in the viewing area and watched the drills proper.  They were exactly the same as last year; it was almost hypnotic watching him weave the same patterns on the ice.  Comforting, also, to see that he could actually do them this time, and do them well.  Christopher stood beside me, filleting every swish of the blade with forensic precision. “He should have done x here, y there”.  The afternoon was the scrimmage session; they donned their allocated jerseys and faced off against each other, determined to impress the coaches lining the rink.  There were lots of solo runs and fancy footwork.  The rink was packed with anxious parents; no parents allowed rink-side (too many batshit crazy ones) and no shouting at your kid, whether in encouragement or criticism.  The balcony was strangely silent; we stood and willed them on.  The two rinks were packed all day; the Atom kids were divided into three groups, each group following the other at hour and a half intervals.  I watched everyone watching the ice, and had a quick probe at my stress levels.  Alarmingly, I realised that yes, I was a bit stressed.  He so badly wanted to be in Tier 2 this year, and I so badly wanted him to get what he wanted.  “Great”, I thought morosely.  “I’m turning into a parent that cares what Tier their kid gets into.  It’s all downhill from here.”  Benjamin came off the ice and we headed home.  “Hey Mom, guess what?” said Christopher.  “When we were walking into the rink this morning, two of the coaches stopped us and said they remembered us from last year! Isn’t that awesome, eh?” “Well, that depends if your definition of awesome is remembering you both as the kids that spent most of tryouts sitting on their arses on the ice, eh?” Sunday kicked off with the final scrimmage, the last chance to shine.  He survived without making any huge blunders, and we went home to wait.  Teams are picked on the Thursday evening, and players generally hear on the Friday where they’ve been placed.

I woke up the next morning to an email from the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association.  Benjamin had been put into a “bubble game” on Tuesday evening.  A Tier 1/Tier 2 bubble game.  A phone call to one of our hockey friends explained it all.  The kids who were neither a definite Tier 3 or a definite Tier 1 get to hit the ice again – because Benjamin was in the Tier 1/2 game, that meant he was definitely not going to be in Tier 3.  So yes, there was rejoicing.  And relief, because we couldn’t bear to listen to him otherwise.  The Tuesday night game came and went.

I discovered Modern Family while staying with my sisters in July.  I watched the first episode in fits of laughter, and started to binge-watch it with Michael when we got back.  Binge-watching is possibly the greatest invention ever.  Ever.  We’d watch one episode after another, cursing when we realised that it was after midnight.  The episodes are addictively short; sure it’s only another twenty minutes, let’s have a last one.  We were chortling away in bed on the Thursday night, stuck to the laptop, when the phone rang.  “Who is that at this hour of the night??” said Michael (accident, death, something tragic).  I picked it up tentatively, and said a cautious hello.  “Hi there!”, boomed a definite Canadian voice.  “Nobody’s dead”, I mouthed at Michael.  Well, nobody in Ireland, anyway. “This is Benjamin’s new coach, Jason!  He’ll be on the Renegade Lightning team!”  “Oh…em, great?” I said, wondering whether I was supposed to deduce something from the name.  “That’s a Tier 1 team”, he moved on, “and I’m delighted to have him on board”.  I started pointing one finger at Michael, who was looking increasingly confused.  “Tier 1!” I hissed at him.  Jaw dropped.  “So, is it true that your boys only played hockey for the first time last year?” he asked.  “Yes, yes”, I said, dying to go in and jump all over Benjamin in the bed.  “AWESOME!” he bellowed.  “See you at the parents’ meeting next week.  I’ll email you!”  I hung up, gently, and sat on the side of the bed.  “Tier 1”, said Michael, astonished.  “I know.  Do you think we’re ready to be Tier 1 parents?”  We absorbed the heavy responsibility of that thought for a moment.  And then woke Benjamin.  Who shrieked and then couldn’t sleep all night.  All. Night.  Christopher woke up to the news in the morning, and instantly descended into a swither of stress.  Tryouts starting that day and his little brother in Tier 1.  The pressure was on.

Benjamin 3 on 3 medal

Winner’s medal

Benjamin 3 on 3


The fact that both of them woke up with sore throats that morning didn’t help matters much.  Isabel and Nicholas headed off to school, while the rest of us sat through the hell of the walk-in clinic’s waiting room.  Eventually we made it to the inner sanctum, to discover that they both had viral infections.  “He has tryouts this evening”, I said, pointing at a wan-looking Christopher. “No problem!” beamed the doctor (young, male, sporty-looking).  “He’ll be fine.  Good luck, eh?” Fist-bump on the way out the door and we were good to go.  Peewee has completely different drills to Atom, so Friday night was spent practicing those, and then the real thing was evaluated the next morning.

Christopher faded fast as the day went on, until eventually the afternoon scrimmages were over, and he came off the ice, sweating and wheezy.  “I don’t like the look of you”, I declared, and carted him back to the walk-in clinic.  I started preparing him for the fact that he wouldn’t be going to try-outs the next day.  “But I have to!” he howled. “If you don’t go to tryouts, you’re automatically in Tier 3!”  “I know, sweetie-pie, and that’s just terrible, but look at you!”  We were called in eventually, to be met by one of the nicest doctors in this clinic.  However, he’s a former Olympian athlete, so the conversation didn’t quite go to plan.  He examined my wretched-looking son, and gave his verdict.  Chest infection – in need of antibiotics, liquid steroids and an inhaler.  I was horrified. “So, he has tryouts tomorrow; do I just need to contact the coaches and let them know that he can’t make it? Do I need a note from you?”  “No, no, not at all, he’ll be able to do the session.”  SERIOUSLY? Is there actually a doctor alive in Canada that would advise skipping a hockey tryout?  Or does that only happen if your legs have fallen off?  Christopher wheezed his way back out to the car, the Tier 2 dream still alive (Peewee has two tiers, 3 and 2, and then a whole separate league called Citywide, for the top kids in the city).  I rang one of the coaches to fill him in and ask him to keep an eye on him on the bench.  He struggled through the session, admitting defeat about 15 minutes from the end, and went home full of the woes of a bad tryout.  This whole hockey thing was getting way too stressful for me and Michael, and we still had four days to go before the teams were picked.

Monday morning brought news of a Tier 2/3 bubble game, and so he hauled his coughing and spluttering ass onto the ice again, while I stood on the bloody balcony and mentally recited the Rosary.  Some of the lads on the ice were huge, towering over me in their skates as they lined up waiting to get onto the rink.  An hour and a half later, we were done, and the only thing left to do was wait.  Or, in Christopher’s case, over-analyse every wrong move and failed attempt at goal and then descend further into miserable anticipation.  On Thursday evening, we were all settled into the sitting room in front of the television, when the call came.  Tier 2, thank God, and staggering relief all around.  How do parents do this every year?  It was definitely easier the first time around, when we had no idea what tryouts involved and even less of an idea about how seriously they’re taken.

Parents’ meeting were next.  Last year, this was a casual, 10-minute affair in the dressing room before a practice.  This year, not so much. Benjamin’s meeting kicked off with introductions all round, and then descended into a technical conversation that left me clueless at my end of the room.  “So, Coach, what’s your three-minute policy?”  “What about the penalty kill line?” “The power play?” There was talk of out-of-town tournaments, teams fees, 7am skates on Tuesday mornings, 9am skating outdoors on Sunday mornings.  I left the room with very little idea of what had happened and what the upcoming season entailed.  “We are definitely not ready to be Tier 1 parents”, I announced to Michael when we got home.  “What’s a penalty kill line?”  Blank look from him, and eye-rolls from the boys, who started complicated explanations of various rules until Michael and I tuned them out.

Sunday morning practice

Sunday morning practice

Christopher’s parents’ meeting ran along much the same lines.  It began, however, with the announcement from the coach that he doesn’t “do crazy parents”.  A wise way to start, I think, given some of the stories I’ve heard about how insane some parents allow themselves to get.  There was more talk of tournaments, fees, 7am skates etc., and the realisation on my part that I was going to need a Mom calendar with gigantic spaces for each day.  And so it transpired. My calendar for Fall looked like someone vomited on it in multi-coloured ink.  Two completely different hockey schedules for Christopher and Benjamin.  Early mornings and late evenings on the ice. Swimming lessons for Nicholas and Rebecca.  Trampolining classes for Isabel and Nicholas.  Science Saturdays at the University for Nicholas.  Junior Zumba for Rebecca and Girl Guides for Isabel.  Oh, and school.  Michael arrived home for lunch every day to be issued his instructions for the evening.  He would go in one direction with x amount of children, and I would drive around the ice rinks with the other pair.  Or vice versa.  The fact that neither Christopher nor Benjamin could remember all of their gear all of the time added to the lunacy, with repeated return trips across the city bearing jerseys, gloves, helmets etc.  and a clip around the ear for the forgetful eejit. We had the occasional evening off, where we hid in the house and prayed that we wouldn’t get a last-minute email gleefully announcing the procurement of extra ice.  Ice-time is a rare and precious commodity here; not enough rinks and a constant scramble to pounce on any sessions that might become available outside of the assigned schedule.

Sunday scrimmage

Sunday scrimmage

Rebecca moved from being a Salamander to a Crocodile to a Whale in swimming lessons, and Nicholas swam his way to Level 5; there are so many levels of swimming proficiency in Canada that I’m destined to spend an evening a week at the pool for all eternity.  Spring sports beckon, with Isabel and Nicholas still dithering over the myriad options available, and Christopher and Benjamin signed up to be goaltenders in lacrosse (another mysterious sport that we know nothing about).  Lacrosse is rumoured to be even rougher than hockey, with the goalies being in the most vulnerable position, so it should be an interesting couple of months.  Rebecca has opted for soccer, so we shall be back to swarm-of-bees mode, with lots of little ones frantically chasing the ball en masse.  Spring is coming, no matter what the weather outside thinks.

Snowy recess

Snowy recess

Skating at recess

Skating at recess at the school rink

Snowy school

St Angela School in the snow

A Cautious Unpacking of Memories

25 Jan

As 2014 slipped away, carrying the memories of a thousand small things and lots of bigger events, I found that the year split into a Before and After in my mind.  July pulsed quietly among the spool of months, and once I had written about our flights across the Atlantic, I shied away from putting any more memories to print.  I often lay awake in the small hours of the morning, letting the July days roll past me like a movie reel, writing it all down in my head, and then woke to daylight and a reluctance to think about it all.  I had a satisfyingly lengthy conversation with one of my most treasured friends this week, and she asked me whether I had stopped adding blog posts because it was too hard to write about our time in Ireland.  We landed at Dublin Airport, and it all came to a halt; I suppose there was so much to say and so many pitfalls.  The cliches of the emigrant, the trite observations about homecomings and leave-takings and reunions.  It’s the same at so many levels for any of us returning after an absence, and yet every story is different, and everyone setting foot on Irish soil again will have their own experiences and realisations.  I was anxious about many things; driving on the left-hand-side of the road again, seeing our house, clearing out some of our things, how the children were going to find being home, meeting up with friends and family and whether the old connections would still be there.  I let the thought of the inevitable leave-taking overshadow the days sometimes; there was an inexorable countdown always present in the back of my mind, the knowledge that all this would pass and we would be standing back at the airport again.

I’ll start with a cliche – I had forgotten how green it is in Ireland.  We live right beside the park in Saskatoon; trees line our parking lot and the South Saskatchewan river divides the city, with rolling parkland on either side.  Lots of green.  But not the green of home.  The lushness of the countryside – patchworked fields in every shade of green and abundant trees.  It’s odd, the things you forget.  Travelling from the airport to my mother’s house on the left-hand side of the road again and holding my breath at every intersection.  We arrived in Rathfarnham and I sat on my mother’s couch, as I have thousands of times before, and found it difficult to believe that it had been two years since that same sitting-room had been full of suitcases waiting to depart into the unknown.  It was disconcerting, that feeling that the previous two years had never happened.  Two years of building a new life from the foundations up, and it only took five minutes in my childhood home to make Saskatoon seem light-years away in distance and time.  Our body clocks were shot, and I couldn’t get the hang of the time difference at all.  “So, it’s 3 o’clock here, and therefore in Saskatoon, it’s …..3pm minus 7…no…. 3pm is 15:00, so 15 minus 7 is 8….8am…shit, missed Michael before he left for work….again”.  From a mathematical point of view, it’s easier to be in Saskatoon and add the 7 hours.  The kids were buzzing with excitement, while my mother and I were disintegrating slowly with jet-lag.  My sisters scooped them off to play with their cousins, while I collapsed gratefully into bed and oblivion. I woke to the same weird feeling of detachment; everything was as it used to be and Canada seemed like a dream.  Michael rang and asked me how it was all going.  “It’s just….odd..” was all I could say. “Everything is odd.  It’s so strange that you’re in the middle of the Canadian Prairies and I’m sitting in my mother’s kitchen.”

We spent some days in Dublin and then headed down the coast to Wicklow, where my sister Liz has a mobile home.  The weather was astonishingly, consistently good; I grumbled about all the room that I’d taken up in our suitcases by packing for the normal Irish weather.  I think it might have rained three times for the whole month that we were there.  As soon as we left, August brought the usual deluge.  When it is sunny in Ireland, there’s nowhere on earth quite like it.  We spent hours on the beach, and fished for crabs in Wicklow Town.

Wicklow Harbour


The children leapt off the pier into the harbour and swam to the floating platform in the middle, huddling with the other kids against the cold of the sea and taking turns in pushing each other off.  The little ones dipped the rasher-filled net bags off the pier, hauling up crabs of every shape, size and mood, squealing with horrified delight every time one of them scuttled towards bare toes.  The holiday site had tennis courts, soccer pitches, pool tables and a shop that sold ice-creams and candy; what more could any child want?  I used to stand on the deck of the mobile home, with the Irish Sea stretched out before me, sparkling in the sunshine, and watch the kids gallop and roll down the hill in front of us, humming the theme tune to “Little House on the Prairie” in my mind.

 Rebecca running down the hill in Brittas

I wallowed in the age-old ritual of swimming in the sea; the inching in, gasping as every wave hit, until eventually I stood on tiptoes, trying to avoid the waves rising up my midriff.  “Just dive in!” – the only way to get it over with and the last thing you want to do.  With a shriek I dived through an oncoming wave, and the kids rose to the challenge behind me, swept in by the lure of catching up, of being brave, of ducking and splashing and short, choppy races – “Swim PARALLEL to the shore, NOT OUT TO SEA!”.  I bobbed in the waves, trying to imprint it all indelibly on my mind.  Remember this. Their slicked-back hair and spiky eyelashes; the debris of buckets, spades, body boards lining the edge of the waves; the colourful swimsuits and the cliffs rising above us; Christopher’s glee when he tore past us in the race.  The feel of the sand shifting underneath my feet, the long slog back to the mobile home.  The chaos of whirling the nine children through the two showers, with little hills of sand accumulating on the shower floors and piles of scratchy, wet towels and togs waiting on the deck to be shaken out and washed.  That tiredness that comes with sea-swimming, the way your skin feels all glowy and scrubbed clean.

Arch on the beach Rebecca and Jennifer on the beach

We travelled down the N11 to Bree, and it was this part that held the feeling of coming home.  The familiar landmarks flashed by, and the children started to notice everything as we came into Enniscorthy.  The car filled up with memories as they pointed out their childhoods to each other – “there’s the swimming-pool, the bridge, the geese, our supermarket, that green house, the ruined mill”.  Rebecca strove desperately to keep up, insisting she remembered it all, inventing her own memories.  I ached listening to her, realising that her three-year-old self couldn’t muster up much common ground with her siblings.  We arrived at my brother’s house, bringing our kid total back to nine, and settled in for warm and fun-filled days of catching up and re-forging bonds.   My sister brought me into Wexford Town to collect a rental car; I was almost catatonic with terror by the time I got to drive it.  The woman in the hire company was full of the joys of the newness of the vehicle.  “It’s pristine!”, she assured me cheerfully.  “Only 5000km on it – it’s practically brand-new!”.  “Oh God”, I thought, horrified “I just want an old banger with plenty of dints and scrapes, not something that I can wreck while re-learning how to drive on Irish country roads”. I took the keys, and walked out to the car, doom in every step.  I sat in, looked at all the controls, turned on the ignition, and found that I couldn’t take the handbrake off.  I struggled with it for a few minutes, using one hand, both hands, different angles, but to no avail.  I rested my head gently on the steering wheel, and wondered whether this was a sign.  Out I climbed, and went back into the shop, clearing my throat and smiling apologetically at the woman.  “I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but I can’t get the handbrake off”, feeling like the stupidest returning emigrant ever.  She bustled out with me, folding herself behind the wheel and starting up the engine.  I prayed silently that it wasn’t going to be something embarrassingly simple.  God is good.  She wrestled with it for a  while, and eventually managed to loosen it, red-faced and breathing hard.  “Hmmmm, that’s an awkward one”, she agreed, and I slid back behind the wheel, pride restored.  I drove gingerly out the gate, and realised that every junction was going to pose the terror of stalling while trying to pull out into traffic.  I sat at the gate for an interminable length, waiting for the road to be clear in both directions, and praying that the woman wouldn’t come out to see if there was another problem.  A break appeared eventually, and I steered out, chanting under my breath.  “Stay left, stay left, go into fourth gear, that’s grand, what about fifth? no, too scary, stay left, Jesus these roads are so f%^$ing narrow!  stay left on this corner”  I think I aged about ten years on that trip back into Bree.  I couldn’t believe how narrow the roads were; roads that I used to fling my car around without hesitation.  The newness of the damn car sat like lead in my stomach, and every junction caused a momentary panic as I tried to work which side of the road I was supposed to end up on when I turned.  I had anticipated that driving a gear-shift car would be the biggest problem, but it was like riding a bicycle, easy as pie.  I drove through the village, and stopped outside our house, wanting to have a moment alone without dealing with the kids’ reactions to it.  I don’t know how I expected to feel, but I found myself rooted to the seat, unable to get out and walk up the stony driveway.  I felt like I could put my hands through the stone walls and melt back into our lives here.  I could be back in my big kitchen, with the forest behind and the forest in front, the children playing in the field and the crunch of the car on gravel as Michael arrived home from work. The trampoline and climbing frame were gone, and the house showed signs of a different inhabitant, but seeing it all up close was a task for the following day.

Michael and I had made a list in Canada of what was left in our sheds and what he wanted to do with it all.  I’m sure distance and rose-coloured spectacles helped to conjure up the image I had of a neat and tidy space, with labels on anything mysterious and absolutely no spiders whatsoever.  I arrived over at the house at 10am, and was joined by Michael’s two brothers, my sister-in-law and my uncle and aunt.  I unlocked all the padlocks and re-entered Michael’s home from home, his infamous shed, where my granny used to think he had a woman stashed because of the amount of time he spent in it. “Ring me when you get there”, he had urged me the previous evening.  “But it’ll be the middle of the night for you!”, I protested.  “Doesn’t matter, just ring me”.  The men started pulling out the contents of the shed and spreading them out on the grass.  Motorbikes, strimmers, ladders, boxes and boxes of tools, paint-cans and dust-sheets, mysterious boxes and random items that were destined to be forever homeless.  My vision of a simple clear-out vanished instantly, and so I rang the perpetrator.  “Morning!” he bellowed, “how’s it all going?” (distance = increased volume)  “I’m divorcing you”, I announced sweetly.  “Have you any accurate memories of this f&%ing shed??”  “Ah, it can’t be that bad”, he said cheerfully, “sure I know everything that’s in it”.  And so we spent the next hour passing the phone from brother to brother to uncle, as they passed into that unintelligible world of tools and implements.  “Have you found the long-nosed carburetor something-or-other?”  “Yes, it’s in the Michael pile”  We had numerous piles.  For Michael, for storage, for any of the men present that could use the item, for my sister’s partner who had bravely expressed an interest in tools for the home and who ended up having everything thrown at him.  “Anyone want a router? Ah sure, give it to Keith, he can take up woodworking”.  My sister-in-law, who had arrived in white trousers and therefore had an immediate excuse for not entering the manky, spidery shed, corralled all the paint supplies, much to my brother-in-law’s horror.  More rooms to be repainted.  I left the men to it, and let myself into the house.  There were some paintings that I wanted to store in my mother’s house, and a particular mirror that we had bought at the lighthouse in Hook Head that I loved.  I walked from room to room, my footsteps and memories echoing, and felt like I had stepped outside myself.  Our tenant looks after the place very well, thank God, and all was as it should be, but it was odd to see other furnishings, other belongings, different furniture arrangements.  It was home, but not home.  I stood at the door of the children’s bedrooms, and remembered the nights where I would move from bed to bed, checking and tucking and feeling grateful for the sleeping peace of our household.  I unhooked the paintings and the mirror, trying to focus on the practicalities, and stepped back outside to the tool-strewn sunshine, where Michael was demonstrating the veracity of his statement that he knew exactly what was in his shed.  Vans were being filled and order restored, until the only thing left was our ride-on lawnmower, which sat fatly in the shed, with flat tires and a forlorn air of disuse.  It will sitting here for all eternity, I think.Loading the Sheds

Our next stop as house guests was with Nuala and her family, who welcomed us with open arms and pretended that an invasion of six was no bother whatsoever. Our friends soon enlightened me, however, and I heard of panic-stricken phone calls about bedding and inflatable mattresses, of punctured offerings and a dearth of pumps.  We had a gathering of friends in their kitchen that evening, and the threads that had woven us together in the first place re-tightened and shone golden.  I felt very lucky as I sat at that table, among the debris of food and drink, looking at them all in turn.  Those ageless, openhearted women, who move through all of life’s joys and hardships with grace and love and humour.  I made the best friends of my life while I lived in Bree; perhaps it was the age and stage of our lives that brought us all together.  We were women, wives, mothers of small children – nothing was too minor to be discussed and laughed about and we supported each other through the bigger heartaches and problems.  It was wonderful to see them all again, and hear of new adventures and changes.  My friend Angela had managed to keep the news of her pregnancy secret from me, and so there was a joyful unveiling of the bump. Her fourth, who appeared just before Christmas; a beautiful son, and a little brother to three delighted big sisters. We made a day trip to Johnstown Castle – gangs of children haring around while we sat on picnic rugs and dispensed food, napkins, drinks and admonishments.  Our eldest children, on the cusp of puberty, had all changed so much in two years; they weaved in and out of familiarity and self-consciousness, Christopher covertly eyeing up the heights of the boys and finding himself falling short.  “It’s because you’re a nightmare to feed”, I said smugly, having weathered many dinnertime battles and waited many years to finally say that sentence.

The children wanted to go and see our house; I dithered and fretted and finally decided that it would be unfair not to bring them over to revisit the place.  They were so full of the magic of being among friends and family again; there were tears about the fact that we had left and pleas to come back home.  Visiting the house was only going to add to that, and still they needed to see it again and re-earth their memories.  We crunched in the driveway, and stood for a few minutes looking up the hill, and across the road at the forest.  “Let’s go inside!” demanded Rebecca, and in we went, the children oddly nervous and me trying to damp it all down and keep it together, unsure of what their reactions might be.  We moved from room to room, remembering and remembering and remembering.  I thought I might drown in what they remembered, in their tears and their immediate re-connection to the house.  We went outside, and they all ran up the hill as they had a thousand times before.  Benjamin lagged behind, cross and miserable.  “Why can’t we come home? Why not?” He trailed up after them, his words flaming the air, and I felt myself panic about the enormity of it all, about the fact that we lived so far away now, in such a different country and culture.  We’ll come home, I thought wildly.  I’ll fly back and pack up and we’ll come back to our hill and our house and our bloody sheds.  Running up our hillThe kids tumbled down the hill, shrieking, and the rational part of my mind stood to the side, waiting for the knowledge of nothing to come home to yet to be allowed creep back in and push the emotional waves back.  We huddled together in the driveway, disarrayed and discombobulated, before getting back into the car and heading back to the busy comfort of Nuala’s house.  There were goodbyes with friends to be got through and another journey south to my sister Louise’s house.  We had tickets to a hurling match in Wexford town that we were looking forward to, and more crab-fishing in Rosslare Harbour.

The match in Wexford was something that I think the boys will remember for the rest of their lives.  We sat in the stands and roared with the crowd, willing on the men in the purple and gold, as the boys clutched their hurls and waited to take to the field at half-time.  The whistle blew and down they spilled, armies of children wielding the ash and dreaming of all-Ireland glory.  The second half began, and scores tied at full-time, the match moved into extra time.  I couldn’t hear a thing at this stage; my ears were ringing and my sides were bruised from the kids banging into me every time they jumped to their feet, yelling with delight or groaning with horror. It was end-to-end stuff, but Wexford triumphed in the end, beating Clare 2-25 to 2-22.  The spectators streamed uproariously onto the pitch, the kids clamoring for autographs.  “Sure that was the best value for a fiver ever”, said my brother, nodding at our five sons tapping the ball around in the middle of the pitch.  The match tickets are still upstairs in their bedroom, tucked away in their boxes of keepsakes.

hurling 2

We divided the rest of our time between Dublin and Wicklow, visiting aunts and uncles, and spending a day with Michael’s family on the other side of Dublin city.  It was so good to see them all again, to watch the cousins re-connect and sit in a sunny garden, eating gorgeous food and swopping stories.  A friend of Michael’s brother, Denny, drove us home in his taxi, chatting kindly about our time in Ireland while discreetly ignoring the sobs issuing from the children and the fact that I kept bursting into tears every five minutes.  “Ah sure, yiz’ll be grand”, he said reassuringly.  Halfway home, there was a squawk of horror from the seat beside me.  “I left my retainer in the kitchen”, said Benjamin, knowing that misplacing his retainer came under the heading of Worst Crime Ever.  I swore, and dialed Denny’s mobile.  “It’s here”, he announced, “we’ll get it to you some way tomorrow”.  I was looking out the front window the following day when an Army truck pulled up, and out jumped a soldier, much to my mother’s bewilderment.  She was out in the garden, watching him stride up the path, when I noticed the red retainer case in his hand.  “It’s Denny, Mam!”, I called out, mentally awarding him the award for Best-Brother-in-Law-in-the-Known-Universe.  More hugs, more tears, before he sped back to work, duty done.  I super-glued the retainer into Benjamin’s mouth.

We spent our final weekend in Brittas Bay, eight adults and thirteen children in the Tardis-like mobile home.  The older kids vanished into the wilds of the park, while the little ones played in a paddling pool on the deck and the adults talked relentlessly through the pressure of encroaching goodbyes.  We lit the outdoor fire and toasted marshmallows; played music and laughed at the kids murdering the latest chart hits.  We shooed them eventually into bed, tops and tails and tucked onto sofas.  They snuggled in, all thirteen, and the messing and talking dwindled away until the mobile was silent and the adults sat outside the sliding doors, playing cards and picking songs until the Night before the Last Night had to end and we crept in amongst the kids, re-tucking and re-positioning and finally falling asleep ourselves, bracing ourselves for an early start with them all.

Granny and grandkids at Brittas

Sunday dawned, and reality crushed the kids.  “Tomorrow?! We’re leaving tomorrow??”, as if time shouldn’t be allowed its inexorable march, as if July should have stretched out ad infinitum.  I think they hated me at that moment.  We said our goodbyes to my brother, his wife, the four kids.  Mel got into his car, stoical amid his sobbing kids, while Suzanne and I held on and cried, and the rest of them methodically packed, cleared up, cleaned and succumbed to the knowledge of the last 24 hours ticking away.  My head was already bound up in the practicalities; the packing, the weighing, the journey to the airport, the anxiety of the short layover in Toronto, the management of five children on my own.  We drove back to Dublin and time speeded up, spiralling away until I was standing in the check-in line with my mother, two trolleys of suitcases balanced precariously in front of us. “You’ll be paying a lot for extra baggage with that lot”, said the man behind us, nodding sagely and smiling.  “I have a child per suitcase”, I admitted, as they reluctantly left their cousins to come and be identified by their passports.  He looked at me with pity, and made sure to be sitting at the opposite end of the plane.  Denny and June and their children came out to the airport as well, and we sat around over coffee and cakes, making desultory conversation and watching the clock slow down to a crawl.  “It’s time”, I announced eventually, desperate now to get it all over with, for the worst to happen and then be dealt with.

We assembled them all and started the long trek to the Departure Gates, wondering how this could be worse than the first time around.  And oh God, but it was.  I don’t think I will forget holding my mother until the day I die.  The children were crying uncontrollably, as I moved from person to person and choked out meaningless platitudes and gripped on tightly.  I rounded them up and we moved through the barrier, weaving through the endless steel lines to the gate itself until we got to the last corner.  We turned and waved at them all standing against the glass, crying and holding their hands against the glass, and stepped left.  The children were completely hysterical at this stage, and a security guard came over to help us.  I stood there, holding onto them all and hushing and hushing.  “It’s ok, it’s fine, we need to calm down, it’s ok, it’s ok…..”.  “Come on now, love”, said the guard, and start shepherding us along to where an apprehensive-looking couple of staff waited for us.  I pushed them through the metal detector, one by one, and the guard at the other end cajoled them and patted them repeatedly.  “Ah sure now, you’ll be grand, you’ll be grand”, he murmured, while another woman handed them back their jumpers and tried to establish some normality.  “And where are ye headed then?” she asked me.  “Back to Canada”, I said, eyes throbbing and my throat sore from crying.  “Were ye back for long?” “A month”, I said, and all the kids burst into tears again.  It was all getting completely out of hand.  I swept them all to one side, and switched into firm-and-calm mode.  “Ok, that’s enough now, everyone.  We need to get some snacks, find our boarding gate and get it together”. The sobbing gradually dissipated, with the odd dramatic shriek thrown in by Rebecca for good measure.  On we marched, into a shop to buy treats and ignore the sidelong glances of the other customers.  The kids’ faces were all red and blotchy, and I was fairly sure that I looked like I’d been hit by a baseball bat.  But, we were departure-side now, and practicalities held sway.

We boarded late and settled into our seats, three behind three.  I rented them an iPad each, and tried not to think about the fact that I was going to be airborne shortly.  The safety routine started, and I found myself completely mesmerised by it.  I stuck my head under the seat to check for life-jackets and then leaned over Nicholas and Rebecca to get the French version in the other aisle.  Our month home had been filled with air incidents, some of them tragic beyond belief, and others involving drama but no crashes. I was the best pupil on the plane that day, firmly avoiding the fact that if the plane went down, the safety talk would be of no help whatsoever.  Rebecca had discovered the laminated safety sheet in her seat pocket, and was completely entranced by it.  “Mom!”, she hissed, pointing at the sheet.  “We need to take off our high heels if we’re going down the slide!” I promised that we would make that our priority in the event of a sea landing.  We took off, late, and started back towards our other life, which was becoming more immediate all the time.  Upcoming camps, dental appointments, hockey try-outs.  Announcements were made about impending missed connections, alternative flights, new arrangements.  We landed and I was instantly overwhelmed by it all.  We moved along in the crowd, with no idea of what came next – security? baggage? Immigration?  I still can’t remember the order in which it all happened.  We stopped again and again, fishing out all our passports, Permanent Residence cards, customs declaration forms.  We made it eventually to the vast cavern of the Baggage Hall, and stood with the other passengers, getting increasingly desperate as the luggage and the hands of the clock rolled by.  Three out of six appeared and were hauled onto trolleys.  I rang Michael to tell we were back on Canadian soil. “Will you make the connection?” he asked.  “I don’t think so.  But I have to.  I can’t stay here for hours and I can’t take all this luggage to a hotel for the night.  I. Just. Can’t“.  All my resolutions to accept whatever happened regarding the next flight went out the window.  The crowd started to dwindle and the kids started to get antsy. Rebecca was tired and cranky, insisting on trying to pull the luggage off the carousel herself.  It didn’t matter that it was twice the size of her and twice as heavy.  I sat her on top of the cases and stationed the kids at strategic intervals, ready to pounce.  A new batch rolled out, and their eyes were peeled; our cases were gratefully seized and flung onto the trolleys.

“Let’s go!” I howled, and we set off at a run, me pushing three cases and a Rebecca, and one of the boys careening through the crowd with the other.  We queued for Connections, impatiently jigging the trolleys; finally the next carousel appeared and we cast the suitcases on, trusting their fate to the Airport Gods.  On we sprinted, corridor after corridor, getting directions from everyone in a uniform, until we skidded to a halt at the end of a gigantic snake of people.  A massive electronic board announced that it was a 15 minute wait from where we were to the Security Gates.  We hadn’t a hope.  We inched forward, doom-laden, and an angel of light appeared in front of us.  He was small and portly, sporting the Air Canada logo and a busy air.  “5pm to Vancouver? Any passengers for the 5pm flight to Vancouver?”  I leapt in front of him, gazelle-like, and squeaked out our destination. “We’re on the 5.10pm to Saskatoon!” He eyed me thoughtfully, swept a glance over the kids, and glanced back at his clipboard. “Welll…..”, he said, tapping his pen.  I held my breath. The kids adopted their best Oliver expressions.  “I suppose you better come with me”, he said, still reluctant.  He twirled and headed back to Security, a Pied Piper dispensing hope in his wake.  We scurried along after him, ignoring the glowering looks from those less fortunate, and arrived at the gates.  “How many of you are there?” called out the guy at the lower gate doubtfully. “Six”, I called back, batting my eyelashes.  Resigned, he beckoned us on.  I whirled the jumpers off the kids’ waists, threw on my handbag and backpack and shoved them through the detector.  I hurried over to collect it all, and saw the backpack stashed to one side.  For f$&*s sake, what now????  “Excuse me, Ma’am, but do you have a bottle of water in your bag?” asked the official.  Officiously.  “We’re going to miss our plane!”, said Nicholas crossly.  “Yes, yes, sorry, keep it…” I gabbled, as the kids grabbed their jumpers and we started to run again.  Next obstacle, the moving escalators; I gave up hope.  Miles and miles they stretched ahead of us.  “Stay on the left and MOVE IT!”, I commanded,  and they took off, Usain Bolt-like.  I was counting out the gate numbers, hauling Rebecca along by the hand, when I realised that we were only two gates away.  “Stop!” I shrieked at the sprinters ahead.  We veered off the moving hell, and landed at our gate, sweating, dishevelled, hungry, triumphant.  “We will start boarding now”, announced the woman calmly.  “Can anyone with small children come forward now please?”  I appeared before her in .01 of a second, grinning manically and lining the kids up as proof of my entitlement.  “Oh!” she said, taken aback.  I handed over all the passports for 6,694th time since we’d left Saskatoon at the end of June, and strolled on board, texting Michael the news that we would be landing as planned.  I tucked them all into their seats, switched on their screens, ordered snacks and breathed again.  The flight was smooth, uneventful, quiet.  Rebecca descended into oblivion halfway through.  We started our descent into Saskatoon, and I watched the Prairies pass beneath me.  I hadn’t noticed the first time around how incredible they look from the air.  The fields set out in uniform grids, the die-straight roads and tiny trucks.  The sloughs winking in the sun and the approaching outskirts of the city, appearing randomly in the vast expanse of prairie. We came in low over the North End of the city, and the red roof of the children’s school blinked by.  We left the plane last, Rebecca still asleep in my arms, and walked down the corridor and stairs to Arrivals.  None of the mayhem of Toronto Airport here.  No need to stop at all, until we walked through the sliding doors and I deposited Rebecca into the waiting arms of her Daddy.  The luggage trundled out and we walked out into the balmy heat of a July evening in Saskatoon.  Home? Not really, but the nearest thing right now,

Brittas Bay beach Brittas Bay

Re-Crossing the Atlantic

25 Aug

Flying cartoon
I woke at 4.30am, with a funny feeling in my tummy and my mind racing a mile a minute.  After a hectic couple of months and some serious packing, today was the start of our trip home, and I was consumed by the practicalities of it all.  First flight at 11am from Saskatoon, seven-hour layover in Toronto, next flight at 11pm,  land at 10.40am in Ireland.  The biggest obstacle would be the seven-hour layover; a perusal of the airport in Toronto didn’t reveal any amazing kid-friendly entertainment, and the flight to Dublin wasn’t leaving till 11pm, leaving plenty of scope for cranky, tired kids and even crankier mother and grandmother.  My mother had arrived in Saskatoon at the beginning of May, and we were flying back together. She had arrived with two suitcases, and was leaving with four, so we had seven lined up, weighed and ready to go.  Elaine arrived at 9am to help ferry us all to the airport; she took one look at me and passed over a packet of Rescue Remedy pastilles.  “It’ll all be FINE!”, she said reassuringly, “you’ll have a fabulous month!”.  “I know!”, I squeaked, mentally running checklists through my head.  We bundled ourselves and the luggage into the cars, and set off for the airport.

Saskatoon airport is small and cosy.  Lots of helpful staff and no long queues.  I was practically catatonic at this stage.  We wheeled our trolleys to the desk and watched them trundle off into the bowels of the airport.  “Hand luggage?” asked the man.  I produced my backpack and handbag.  He looked at me doubtfully.  “Is that all? For all six of you?”.  “Oh, yes”, I said firmly, with memories of our last transatlantic trip burning brightly in my mind.  Kids and hand-luggage.  Disaster.  Boarding passes in hand, we headed to Tim Horton’s for the obligatory waiting-to-leave snack, and then joined the line at the security gates.  The children and my mother all said their goodbyes to Michael, who was starting to eye the exits as he saw me becoming more wild-eyed by the minute.  “Okaaaaayyyy!”, he said cheerfully.  “See you in a month, call me when you get there!”  He took a step back.  I took a step forward, clutching onto him.  “It’ll be FINE!”, he said quietly.  Dear God, the next person to say that…..   He left, trying to restrain his glee at having the house to himself for a month.  I gave him ten days before the novelty wore off.

We boarded and settled into our seats.  My mother heroically sacrificed her seat beside us to a woman whose child would have been on her own for the flight, and I settled the five children in.  Seatbelts.  Snacks.  Television screens on and earphones ready.  We took off, with them all glued to the Lego Movie, and a frenetic “Everything is awesome!” soundtrack humming through my brain.  I hate flying.  All of it.  Take-off. Landing. The bit in the middle.  Michael tried to explain how it worked to me once.  “I know how the f&*&ing thing works!”, I spat at him.  “It still doesn’t make any sense!”  I plugged in my earphones and decided to watch Gravity; I thought it would help with the “it could be much, much worse” mantra.  I only got halfway through the film.  Snacks, toilet breaks, arguments etc. – they all consume quite a lot of time when you’re stuck in a metal box thousands of feet up in thin air.  The first half was beyond crummy.  George Clooney floated off into space and Sandra Bullock did an astonishing amount of crying, gasping and grunting.  There she was, all alone in space, with a banjaxed shuttle and only herself to talk to.  I was losing the will to live.  Twenty minutes before we landed, I was reduced to picture only, as I got all the kids resettled before hitting the runway.  I had one eye on the screen and one on a semi-hysterical Nicholas, who was wailing about his ears popping, when George Clooney reappeared in the shuttle.  WHAT??!!?? He found her in the vast blackness of space????  No f*^%ing way.  The screen went blank as the plane landed, and I resolved to contact June, who’d seen the movie and said it was rubbish, and find out what had happened.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

We trooped off the plane, collecting my mother en route up the aisle, and exited into the massive terminal at Toronto, where I was supposed to be meeting my beloved friend Elfriede, with her two sons, Devin and Sebastian.  Elfriede, Fergal and the two kids lived beside us in Bree six years ago, and we hadn’t seen each other since they returned to Canada.  I couldn’t wait.  We were to meet at the Swiss Chalet, which naturally, we couldn’t find.  After some aimless circling with whining kids, I stopped into a shop to ask for directions.  “Well honey, you’re still behind security”, beamed the assistant.  “You need to exit security and go upstairs!”.  I hate the way things like this are so simple for everyone else.  As soon I walk into an airport I turn into a complete idiot.  We found our way out of the maze eventually, and rang Elfriede.  “Where are you?” she said excitedly.  “Upstairs, outside the Swiss Chalet”, I said, turning in circles and searching the crowds.  “Oh, I’m downstairs waiting for you outside Arrivals!”.  “Well, shit, I have no idea where that is!  Can you come upstairs?”  “I don’t know, am I allowed?”  I looked around again; surely these people were all just part of the general public? As opposed to actual travellers?  I walked over to two security guards nearby, babbling about our predicament; they assured me that we had managed to exit security and were safely among the great unwashed.  “You can definitely come up. Stairs are right beside us”, I told Elfriede, as I took up a position with a clear view of the escalator.  People came and went.  No sign of her.  I whirled around a couple of times in case she was planning a ninja attack. Nada. On the third whirlaround, I spot her, clad in an Irish flag and wearing a huge green leprechaun hat, with her two beautiful sons trailing beside her, suitably mortified. “Barbara!” she shrieked, and started to run.  “Elfriede!”, I yelled, and set off towards her.  The entire airport transformed itself into a slow-motion movie.  We leapt, gazelle-like, towards each other, shrieking at a pitch that only dogs could hear, and collapsed, weeping, into each other’s arms.  Our kids stood by, astounded and horrified in equal measure.  We did that whole sobbing, squealing, patting thing for a couple of minutes, and then disentangled ourselves to re-introduce the kids to each other.  They mumbled awkward hellos, looking at the ground.  “Benjamin, Devin, don’t you remember each other?” I asked, remembering when they had been thick as thieves.  “Not really”, they confessed.  Six years is a long time for a child, I suppose.  Thankfully, the usual herd mentality of children kicked in, and within two minutes they were sprinting gleefully into the Swiss Chalet for food, perusing the menu and debating the merits of various flavours of pop.  Even root beer.  Which tastes exactly like cough medicine.  Vile stuff.  Our fabulous waiter arrived, completely undaunted by the prospect of seven kids and three adults, and we sat, ate, chatted and laughed.  Six years disappeared in the blink of an eye.  We’re knit from the same cloth, Elfriede and I, and those few hours with her and the boys at the airport were such a gift.  DSCN0176

We sat around the terminal for a while, with the kids playing catch with the insides of the Kinder eggs they got for dessert, and their mothers trying to cram all the essential stories into our compressed time together.  As the minutes moved by, the prospect of saying goodbye for another few years began to creep into the edges of the conversation.  Toronto is so far from Saskatoon; it’s not like we can drop in for a cup of tea and a chat.  I might as well be in Ireland as Saskatchewan.  The children reluctantly finished their game, and we walked to the parking lot exit; the children were crying and Elfriede and I were trying to console them while struggling with our goodbyes.  “You’re just going to cry for the whole month in Ireland”, she said, smiling through the tears.  “I know,” I said, “this is just the start of it”.  And so she went.  Please God it won’t be six years till we see each other again.  We need to do a road trip and meet halfway.  That’s only about a thousand miles each.

A Toronto Reunion

A Toronto Reunion

With another four hours of boredom stretching out in front of us, we managed to find a deserted play area for smaller children, and off they went, hurdling big foam cushions and playing tag, while my mother and I sat on hard chairs, deflated and willing 11pm to roll around.  With about two hours to go, we set off for the boarding gates and managed to miss them completely.  On and on we trudged, looking for the Air Canada desks, when finally, like a beacon in the night, the red maple leaf appeared before us, and we entered through the sliding doors.  It was all blocked off.  A security guard waved us over, and redirected us all the way back as far the play area.  The kids were united in sullen mutiny at this stage, and my mother was fit to drop with tiredness.  Back we went, gritting our teeth, and finally entered the security area, where lines of people were waiting for their turn to go through.  We made to the top eventually, to be met by a ridiculously tall security guard, who beamed at us from a great height. “Well now”, he boomed, “Look at all of you!  Five children…. and you must be the littlest”, bending down to Rebecca.  She simpered.  “And the cutest”, he chuckled. “I was much cuter in my passport photo”, she confided.  “Mom! Show him!”.  I looked down at her and realised that this was not a battle that I would win at this juncture of the trip.  “Mom!”  I fumbled with the six passports and managed to extricate hers.  “See?”, said the world’s Most Precocious Child.  The guard looked at it solemnly, then back at her.  “You’re right.  You were even cuter then!”  More simpering.  Eye-rolling from her siblings.  We moved on through, shepherding the kids through the metal detector and finally collapsing into seats at the boarding gate.   There were trips to the washroom and more snacks and drinks consumed.  Eventually, the tannoy bing-bonged, and the infuriatingly chirpy woman at the desk invited us all to board.  We shuffled tiredly into the endless queue.  “I need to POO!” announced Rebecca, temporarily misplacing her volume control button.  Smiles from the people around us.  I groaned.  All the way back to the washroom, backpack, handbag, blah blah blah….. “Ok”, I said wearily, and turned to go.  “Oh wait!”, she said, with a look of fierce concentration on her face.  “It’s ok, it was only a fart!”  The other passengers muffled their snorts of laughter and pretended not to be listening.  We climbed on board, found our seats and arranged ourselves.  “Now, everyone is to sleep!” I said, with Nicholas and Rebecca on either side of me and Christopher, Isabel and Benjamin in the row in front.  My mother was sitting behind me, wrecked.  We sat on the runway for an hour, without any explanation, and finally took off at midnight.  Rebecca and Nicholas fell asleep on top of me, pinning me to my seat.  Nobody else slept.  I shuffled out from under starfish bodies and rearranged myself into the aisle seat. The trolleys trundled endlessly up and down the aisles, with me and my mother constantly having to shuffle the children’s heads/feets/hands out of the way.  Dinner arrived.  I pulled down my minuscule tray and dealt with all the meals in turn, peeling off the plastic and passing the trays around.  The kids picked their way through the bits they wanted, passing the rejected food groups back to me.  I had a teetering stack of apple and celery salads and all the plastic knives.  There was a meal, a snack, endless drinks, garbage runs, toilet trips, constant consolation of frustrated, exhausted children and a complete inability to switch off and get some sleep.  I had no idea what time it was anymore and how much of the flight was left.  “I’m never doing a night flight again!” howled Benjamin, as he tried to make himself comfortable for the 168th time.  “Me neither”, I agreed, pushing his head back in from hanging over the aisle.

All things pass, however, even interminable flights, and we staggered off the plane in Dublin, to see a huge queue stretching in front of us.  My mother stepped niftily to the side, smiling at the man holding open the barrier.  “Where on earth is she going?”, I wondered foggily, clutching Rebecca’s hand while my mother beckoned us over.  “You have Irish passports!”, she said, and just like that, the world became a better place.  We sidled through the barrier, and walked past the five thousand other non-Irish people that we had shared the flight with.  “This rocks!” said Christopher gleefully, as we arrived up to an exceptionally cheery security guard.  “How’re yis?” he said, grinning.  “Have ye brought a whole soccer team with ye?”  Oh God, he was the most blissfully Irish Irishman I’d seen in a long time.  I flung the passports at him, and grinned inanely as he called out the names like a roll-call.  The kids skipped through on cue, and my phone started exploding with messages.  “Where are you? have you landed yet? We’re right outside Arrivals!!”  “Baggage”, I texted back.  “Seven cases. 1 down. 6 to go”.  “OMG!”  “2 down.  No, 3.” “Hurry up!” “5 down, just 2 left”  “JUST LEAVE THEM!”  Eh, no.  The kids hauled them off one by one, all memories of the flight wiped out by the excitement of seeing the Other Side.  We piled them up and set off, watching those double doors glide open for us, and seeing rows of expectant faces scanning the people emerging.  There they were, Liz, Louise, Keith and baby George, who had been only 1 when we left and was now going to turn 3 the following week.  More tears, more hugs, more squeals.  We were home, and a whole month of reunions lay ahead of us.

Slip-sliding away….

5 Feb

I spent Saturday at a hockey tournament in a small town called Radisson, west of Saskatoon.  I whispered into the boys’ ears at 7am, and we snuck downstairs to grab breakfast and get on the road.  The hockey bags were loaded into the boot, and we took the highway towards North Battleford, a completely unfamiliar road up till now.  The skies lightened as the car ate up the kilometres, and we caught glimpses of the shadowy expanses of snow-covered prairies on either side of us.  The boys and I listened to the radio and watched the signs tick by for the myriad small towns dotted along the highway.  We reached Radisson at about 8.20am, and I relaxed a bit, thankful not to have missed my turn-off, and that we had plenty of time to spare before the puck dropped at 9.15am.  Finding the rink proved to be our undoing, however.  I wandered up and down various sleepy streets for a few minutes, until we eventually came across a sign for the rink, which we duly followed.  The big building on our left as we went straight through the crossroads should have been a clue, but we adhered to the direction indicated and sailed on up the road, where a large red people-carrier was doing a u-turn a couple of hundred yards ahead of us.  As it came past us, we realised that it was Dennis, the team manager, who had spotted the rink on our left and adjusted direction accordingly.  I drove on, and swung into a u-turn at the same place; the car slid gracefully off the road and refused to budge any further in any direction.  I tried reversing and winced at the ensuing crunching noise.  I put the car into a low gear and strained forward, only for the crunching to become a grinding.  We all got out, with me wondering what the hell to do next, and the boys whingeing about missing their game.  “Don’t be ridiculous!”, I snapped, “there’s the ice-rink across that field!  We just have to get out of this first….”.  I rang Janice, one of the hockey moms, and one of my favourite people in Saskatoon.  She’s funny, sarcastic, warm and kind, and watching games with her is a great way to spend an hour.  She answered. I wailed.  “I’m stuck in a ditch.  I need a number for one of the guys!”.  Janice swung into action, while I listened to her stream of consciousness at my end of the line.  “Ok, ok….Dennis’ number….why is this writing so small?…let me see…Don’t let the boys out of the car in case they get run over…are you warm enough?..are the boys in the car?…do you have a shovel?…where is this number?  Oh, here it is…” she rattled off a number, that I scratched into a scrap of paper with a frozen pen.  “Oh no, that’s not it, I read it backwards….here it is…”  I scratched out the new number, cut Janice off in mid-admonition and rang Dennis.  He answered immediately, sounding faintly puzzled. “Barbara?  You were right behind me, what happened?”  “I’m in the ditch”, I confessed lamely.  “But”, I said, rallying myself, “it’s actually your fault, because I followed you into that u-turn.”  He laughed, hung up and the cavalry arrived about 3 minutes later.  The coach’s black truck spun up the road, out piled four of the hockey dads, and we were back on the road, lickety-split.  I never heard the end of it for the rest of the day. “What happens if the next game is a tie, Dennis?”  “I don’t know, I didn’t get time to read the tournament rules this morning.  I was too busy pulling Barbara and the boys out of the ditch”.  Funny guy, Dennis.  Janice and her husband Conrad arrived in time for the second game; the boys were hammered by the opposition, and Benjamin was banished to the penalty box for tripping.  They redeemed themselves in the third game, and went home triumphant and exhausted.  I was numb with the cold and looking forward to a night on the couch.

Jeff, the photographer from the Star Phoenix, had come over to take some shots of the boys on the rink in the park the previous day.  They called some of their friends to come along, and we all stood and froze our asses off while the hockey game raged on the ice.  Jeff took loads of photos, Nicholas retired to the car, whining about the cold, Rebecca and Isabel skated around (and fell over a lot) and Janice and I kept calling out five-minute warnings which were completely ignored.  We persuaded them off the ice eventually, largely through bribery (chocolate cookies) and shivered all the way home.  Wind chill is a bitch.  The photos were great though; the lads were delighted to see themselves in action, and Jeff even managed to get one glimpse of Nicholas just before he threw in the towel and fled to the warmth of the car.







Jeff Christopher 6


Jeff Christopher 5


Jeff Christopher 4


Jeff Christopher 3


Jeff Christopher 2


Jeff Isabel on the ice


Jeff Isabel and Rebecca on the ice

Isabel coming to the rescue

Jeff Rebecca and Isabel on the bench

Girls on the Bench

Jeff Rebecca starfish on the ice


Jeff Rebecca on the ice

and skating…..finally….

Me and Janice

Me and Janice

Nicholas on strike

Nicholas on strike

As part of the recent Expat Blogs contest, I submitted a piece about the 10 essential facts everyone should know about Saskatchewan.  This is it:

10 Essential Facts about Living in Saskatoon/Saskatchewan

By: Barbara Reidy

Winters are cold in Saskatchewan

Icicles on eyelashes cold. Our first clue as to what a Prairie winter is like should have been when our friend in Toronto didn’t manage to muffle her horrified shriek quickly enough. “Is it that bad?”, I asked, surprised (oh, the innocence of the past). When you’re sitting in Ireland, complaining about it being a bit chilly at 4 degrees, it’s hard to fathom what waking up to minus forty might feel like. A Prairie winter is a communal event. We all dig out our cars, shovel our paths and sidewalks, discard our snow boots in the entrance of every home and business. Our cars are plugged in overnight. Bizarrely, no-one ever comes along with a couple of drinks in them, and thinks that unplugging them all would be the most hilarious thing ever. Getting the children ready for school is a achievement. “Where’s your jacket/hat/gloves/scarf/snow pants/snow boots?” “Lost/wet/in school/he took them/I don’t want to wear them/it’s not cold outside”. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve said, through gritted teeth – “This is WINTER. In CANADA!”. I’m not sure whether they just don’t feel the cold as adults do, or whether they just enjoy seeing me channelling that kid in The Exorcist as they leave the house. Winter lasted for six full months last year. By the time April rolled around, I was insane. A slight thaw showed me an inch of grass on the front lawn, but a snowfall that night obliterated all hope for another few weeks. I found myself sobbing on the phone to an Irish friend living a few blocks away. “Do you think”, she said gently, “that you might be over-reacting to the weather forecast for more snow this week?” “Do you realise,” I countered, “that we’ll have winter again this year? In another six months, we’ll have winter, and we haven’t even seen green grass yet!” We are now experiencing that second-winter-in-a-year, and thankfully, so far, it’s not as bad. We have snow and ice, and temperatures today of minus 42 with the windchill, but next week will bring us back up to the minus teens, which is almost tropical. Acclimatisation officially occurs when the temperatures reach minus 15 and you don’t bother with your jacket because it’s so warm outside.

It’s essential to know how to skate

Canadians are born with skates on their feet. They glide and swoop around the rinks and skilfully dodge all those non-Canadians who are repeatedly falling over, emitting squeals of terror and clutching at thin air. Some of the rinks provide Zimmerman-like devices to help propel beginners around the ice; this involves abandoning any iota of dignity and self-respect that you might have possessed, and joining the two-year-old Canadians as they gain their ice-legs. It’s important not to assume that hours spent at the roller-disco in your misspent youth will stand you in any stead whatsover. Skates are laced up with numb, cold fingers, while keeping one eye on your revoltingly adaptable children, and another on the 102 year-old couple that’s swanning around like Torvill and Dean. I tried staggering around an outdoor rink last Christmas, holding on to two of my sons, and breathlessly repeating “Don’t let me fall!” over and over again. After 15 minutes, I was exhausted, and they had disowned me. I tried again at an indoor rink last week, in a fit of misguided optimism. I managed one circuit, clinging onto the side and swearing at my husband when he offered suggestions. It’s time to accept that skating is not one of my talents.

Ice hockey is terribly important

When Bill Shanley made his comment that football was not just a matter of life and death; that it’s more important than that, he clearly hadn’t experienced ice-hockey. Hockey is deeply embedded into the Canadian DNA. Two of my sons decided that this was their sport of choice this year, and so we bravely took up the mantle of hockey-mom/dad and sallied forth to kit them out and get them started. I think that their hurling days had made us complacent; we used to arrive at a muddy field five minutes before the game started, slap on their helmets, hand them their hurls, and off they went. It didn’t take us long to discover that if the puck drops at 6pm, Operation Get Ready needs to begin by 4.30pm at the very latest. The boys need to put on the under-armour, the chest armour, the boxers with the built-up cup (“make sure it’s all tucked in!”), the shin guards, the socks, the elbow pads and the suspenders. They need to pack their enormous bags, haul them up the basement stairs, put them into the car, throw in their hockey sticks, fill up their water beakers and get on the road (after unplugging, defrosting and clearing the snow off the car). When we get to the rink, we have to find parking among all the other clinically-insane moms and dads, haul the bags and sticks into the appropriate dressing-room, and start Operation At The Rink. This involves donning the neck-guard, mouth-guard and helmet, and being laced into their skates. Finally, the puck drops, and it’s time to cheer them on, all the time knowing that the whole process has to happen in reverse in an hour’s time. Would Velcro skates be too much to ask for?

There is endless sunshine in Saskatoon

It didn’t take us long to get used to never-ending blue skies, wall-to-wall sunshine and mind-blowing sunsets. It rained twice during the day last winter. We could plan days out without packing for every season. Our bodies were overloaded with Vitamin D, and we started every conversation with Canadians with a remark about what a lovely day it was. Cue puzzled looks. “Well, what other kind of a day is there?”, we could almost hear them thinking. It’s a luxury that everyone should experience. Even winter, with its ridiculous temperatures and longevity, is sunglasses weather.

Mosquitoes live here

The beautiful Saskatoon summers have one tiny, but multitudinous, drawback. We bathe in bug spray before we leave the house, and then spend the day thinking “what’s that horrible smell? Oh, me”. We had a rude awakening on our first morning in Saskatoon, as we traipsed around the park at 5am (jet lag) and wondered why there were clouds of “black things” rising from the grass. Lots of savaged arms and legs later, we realised that mosquitoes live in Saskatoon and they’re no fun.

Roads are different in Saskatoon

They drive on the opposite side of the road. It took some time for us to get the hang of waiting for the bus on the correct side, and not getting run over when crossing the road. Once we started driving, there was a white-knuckle period of transition. There were lots of “Other SIDE!” moments and some scary car-park encounters. Saskatoon is also home to the three-way and four-way stop phenomenon. This involves arriving at a junction, and taking your turn to go. Imagine the chaos that would result in other countries. “I was here first!”. “You were in your a***!” Three-ways aren’t too bad. Four-ways can cause some anxiety in anyone with short-term memory challenges. “Ok, the red car was first, then the truck, then me, because that Dodge Ram arrived last. No, wait, did it pull up before me? Oh God, the truck has gone through, is it me or the Dodge? ME OR THE DODGE?” Another thing to watch out for is the disappearance of all road markings during the winter months. They are either obliterated by snow, or scraped off the roads by the snow ploughs.

There are over 100,000 lakes in Saskatchewan

This is an important fact, as knowing it will prevent you from making a complete fool of yourself in conversation. Everyone in Saskatoon goes to The Lake during the summer. As we met more Canadians, and heard about their cabins, boats and weekends at The Lake, it assumed gigantic proportions on our mental map of Saskatchewan. It took a while, and some near-misses on the revealing-our-stupidity front, but it gradually dawned on us that people were going to different lakes. There are thousands of them, some only accessible by plane.

Saskatchewan is enormous

This province is 651,000 square km. Ireland can boast of 84,000 square km. A long-standing joke in Saskatchewan is that you can watch your dog running away for three days, but the prairies are only part of the story. Saskatchewan moves from rolling sand-dunes in the south, through the prairies, and into the forests, lakes and mountains of the north. It is incredibly diverse and astonishingly beautiful. Saskatchewan people think nothing of driving long distances, at any time of the year. They set off to neighbouring provinces or the United States at the drop of a hat. “It’s only six/fifteen/thirty-seven hours”, they say reassuringly, and we have become accustomed to the fact that nobody gauges distance in miles or kilometres. It all spoken of as hours taken to get there. So I know it takes about two and half hours to get to Regina, the capital, but I’ve no idea how many miles away it is. You’d need to ask Google for that, rather than a Canadian.

A shared language can be a barrier to communication

What’s a bunnyhug? Is it a. A type of rabbit? b. An expression of affection? c. A hoodie? d. None of the above? c. It’s the uniquely Saskatchewan term for a hoodie. A hat is a toque, pronounced tooook. We shop at grocery stores and load our bags into the trunk. We fill our cars with gas, and try to remember to say 2.30pm instead of half-two. We have moments in supermarkets where we ask for something like “chutney”, and it becomes a group think-in, as we stand around with all the store assistants describing what it is and then trying to think of a Canadian equivalent. We visit the washroom and try to avoid confusing Customer Service people by asking for change for the trolley, instead of a loonie for the shopping cart. A loonie? A loonie is a one-dollar coin, and a toonie is a two-dollar coin.

Animals can kill you in Saskatchewan

They have bears here. And coyotes. Snakes, moose and gophers. Chipmunks and white-tailed deer. It’s quite disconcerting to go for a walk through nearby grasslands, and encounter a sign advising the public to make plenty of noise to deter cougars from attack. Of course, the people in Saskatchewan are well able to reciprocate on the whole killing front. Hunting and fishing are huge here. My son’s teacher sent us home some freshly-slaughtered moose (which was delicious) and coils of white-tailed deer sausage (which the kids adored). He butchered the moose in his garage, which filled me full of admiration for his wife.

Saskatonians are incredibly friendly and welcoming

My husband and I have lived in Saskatoon for over a year now, and we are still bowled over by how friendly and open the people are here. This city is unbelievably family-friendly, with infinite activities and sports for children and adults alike, and various events on every weekend. We’ve spent impromptu evenings toasting marshmallows in backyards, days at a nearby lake, weekends at outdoor ice rinks and nights at open-air cinemas in the park. There is an old-fashioned, community feel to Saskatoon, and a constant willingness to help out, share stories and issue supper invitations. People are interesting, and interested in you; one hockey-dad summed it up when he said “We’re all immigrants here”. Saskatchewan is a young province still, and it’s fascinating to live in such a melting-pot of races and cultures. The positive energy and hope here is contagious.

A Trip to the ER (and George Clooney was nowhere in sight….)

25 Sep

I’m ill.  Not as ill as I was on Monday, but ill enough to be grumpy and tired and wanting to stay in bed all day.  Benjamin had strep throat last week and decided to share his germs among us.  While he spent two days off school (and the second day he bounced around the house, full of the joys of spring), his ageing mother was run over and flattened by the strep juggernaut.  I started feeling bad on Sunday night, all aches and pains and a sore throat.  I hobbled up to bed, and spent the night shivering and roasting and tossing and turning with the pain.  Michael got up to take my temperature, and stuck a fan beside the bed to cool me down.  Now I know how irritating I am when the kids are sick and want to be tucked in.  I kept pulling the duvet back over me and he kept taking it off again – “you have a temperature!” – until I wanted to kill him.  Except I didn’t have the energy.  I crawled out of bed on Monday morning, packed the kids off to school and headed to the doctor with Nicholas, who also had a sore throat.   45 minutes of sitting in the waiting room finished me off.  By the time we got to the doctor’s office, I was a shivery achey mess.  She examined Nicholas, decided to do a throat swab, and eventually had to call a nurse to help her hold him still on the bed.  He was gagging and complaining and I was longing to lie down for a week in a dark room.  Ten minutes later, I was all tucked up, under hot sheets (that the nurse had kindly warmed up in the microwave), full of paracetemol, waiting for a phlebotomist to come and take bloods.  Nicholas had assumed the role of Keeper of the Handbag, and was busy sneaking chewing gum out of it at every opportunity.  Michael had to leave work to come and collect me, and I crawled back into bed feeling very sorry for myself.

I’m sure it’s the same in most houses, but the impact of the woman of the house being sick and the impact of the man of the house having to take to his bed are entirely different things.  He gets sick, goes to bed, takes his medicine and has his meals handed to him. Everything in the house continues as normal.  She gets ill, and the house falls down around her ears.  Nobody can find anything.  Everyone eats random items out of the fridge.  The floors get crunchy underfoot and the bedrooms resemble bomb sites within half a day. The laundry….well….there are no words.

The kids wandered in and out, looking for help with their maths homework, for forms to be signed, for suggestions for food.  Michael started cooking the dinner, and arrived up to see if I wanted anything to eat.  At this stage, I was practically catatonic in the bed, and so off to the Emergency Room we went, with Eddie and Kelly kindly sacrificing their evening (and sanity) to mind the kids and get them off to bed.  I was feeling so unbelievably awful at that stage that I didn’t give a hoot about anything except lying down again, so the fact that I was sitting in a wheelchair, with my mouth open, my eyes closed and my hair all over my face, intermittently keening and occasionally retching into a bowl, didn’t bother me at all at the time.  Now, I look back and hope to God that nobody there will ever see me again and think “there’s that woman that was mooing like a cow in the ER that night. And she wasn’t even wearing a bra!”.

I was wheeled off to a bed, covered with mountains of blankets (bliss), and hooked up to a drip (urgh). I could hear doctors talking to Michael, but I wasn’t really able to speak, and so I just curled up with the drip, the pulse thing, the oxygen mask, the blood pressure cuff, and tried to go into a nice peaceful coma (which is difficult when you can’t turn over without getting tangled up in all the wires).  Not that there’s anything peaceful about the ER in any hospital. Doctors were discussing all the various cases, and there was a dispute going on as to whether some man was having a heart attack or not.  The woman beside me was elderly, I think, and her daughter was looking after her.  She was so calm, and her mother was obviously agitated, because she kept pulling off all her ECG wires, and sliding down the bed.  It all became a background soundtrack and I drifted off into a semi-aware state, morphined up to the eyeballs and toasty warm. Every so often someone would arrive to ask me questions.  The kind of questions they ask to make sure that some weird virus isn’t frying your brain. “Hey Barb, do you know where you are?” “The hospital”, I’d slur.  “Which hospital?” “The Royal University Hospital”.  Seriously, what a mouthful when you’re sick. Thank God they didn’t start asking me questions about Canadian trivia.  I’d have been carted straight off to neurology.  The doctor came back to talk to Michael again about tests that I’d had that morning in the doctor’s office.  “She had a swab for strep throat and blood tests for West Nile Virus”, said MIchael, “which were sent here to the hospital”.  I struggled into consciousness.  “Regina”, I whispered.  They turned to look at me.  “Regina“, I said again, starting to feel cranky that they weren’t understanding me.  Michael nearly had a heart attack.  “Oh my God!”, he said, “she thinks we’re in Regina!”  Thankfully, the doctor had belatedly realised what I meant, and rushed to reassure him that I hadn’t started losing my mind.  “The tests for West Nile Virus go to Regina”, he said.  I decided it would be safer not to offer any more helpful remarks.

It’s amazing what being rehydrated and shot full of morphine can do for a person.  After being wheeled in looking like a saggy bag of limbs and hair, I managed to walk out of the ER five hours later, still feeling awful but well enough to realise that I must have been really ill to have left my bra at home.  At the time, the thought of having to manoeuvre my way into it was enough to kill me. I got into my own bed, put my head onto my own pillow, and slept all night.  Two days later, I’m still not right, but I’m hoping the weekend will bring a new me – no more germs, all-day pyjamas, unwashed hair and general sickie-ness.  The Canadian health service is great, but I don’t really need any more close-ups of it.


Royal University Hospital Saskatoon


15 Sep

“Football’s not a matter of life and death….it’s more important than that” – all of you nodding sagely along with Bill Shankly’s famous quote have obviously never come into contact with the world of ice hockey.  Or just plain hockey, as it’s called here in Canada, because clearly no other kind of hockey exists, or matters in any way.  Hockey is like a religion over here; it’s deeply embedded in the DNA of most Canadians, and Christopher and Benjamin have decided that this is the sport they want to have a go at this year.  So, we registered them, got them kitted out, and waited to hear about the tryouts.  Kitting them out is not as simple as the phrase might suggest.  It was up there with school supplies shopping.  I don’t think astronauts have to don as much gear as someone venturing onto the ice with a hockey stick.  They needed helmets (with cages), mouth guards and neck guards.  Their chests, shoulders and upper arms are encased in a padded vest thingy, and they need elbow pads as well.  They wear shorts with a cup, and padded hockey pants.  Underneath these are massive shin guards and over these go huge hockey socks (which are held up by the velcro on the jockey shorts).  Their gloves look like something a boxer would wear.  They need skates, a hockey stick, and a gigantic bag to keep the whole ensemble together.


I got the email about tryouts last week.  I don’t know exactly what I’d envisioned, but I thought we’d toddle along to a rink for an hour and the coaches would divide them into the three different tiers with their league.  Christopher and Benjamin are playing with the Atom league, and the tiers run from 1 (the best in the age group) down to 3.  God forbid that tryouts would be that casual or flippant.  It’s like a full-scale military operation.  Their tryouts were to take place on Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning – 75 minutes each time.  The 75 minutes doesn’t take into account the previous 60 minutes of trying to help them into all the gear, and the subsequent 20 minutes of hauling them out of it again.  This is tortuous.  I spent forty-two years biting my nails, and finally had my first manicure ever last week, only to realise that pretty nails are not an asset when trying to lace up and unlace the bloody skates.  I can’t believe that no-one has invented an alternative to laces yet.  They have to be tightened bit by bit all the way to the top and then loosened all the way down again.  The laces are hard and rough and then wet and cold when it comes to taking them off.  I hate them.

So, on Friday evening we started the whole process.  Michael and I helped them into all the gear, loaded their bags into the van, and off we went to the rink, which is right behind Costco, and which, apparently, I “couldn’t miss”.  Canadians are such an optimistic race.  Round and round we drove, until I eventually pulled into a gas station and headed inside to ask for directions.  There were six men at the counter.  Six. And they all looked at me blankly when I asked them where the ice rink might be found.  Off I went again, into a nearby Subway, where a very enthusiastic Riders fan sent me back up the street with instructions to turn left and then right.  I found myself driving around the huge car park of the Credit Union Centre, with no ice rink in sight.  We finally spotted a lone truck driver at the far end of the lot, and he redirected us to the rink, which might as well have had an invisibility cloak tossed over it for all the notice the locals take.  It was packed.  We battled our way through the doors with the bags and into a jammed locker room, which was stuffed with padded kids and sweating parents on their knees, trying to lace up their damn skates.  Fathers were issuing advice, none of which I understood, and the atmosphere was loaded with nervous excitement.  Their time came, and the doors to the rink swung open; off they glided on to the ice, where black-clothed referees and coaches were circling nonchalantly, clutching cups of coffee and making skating look like the easiest thing on earth.

Now, I know that the term “ice-rink” should have been a clue, but I almost died of hypothermia sitting on the benches and watching the drills.  My breath was frosting in front of me, and I couldn’t feel most of my limbs after the first thirty minutes.   I took the occasional stroll outside to warm up (it had been 30 degrees all day) and then returned to see what horrors the next drill held.  Some of the kids were amazing; they knew all the drills and were completely at home on the ice.  Every time a new drill started, the coaches would send them off first to show the rest what needed to be done.  Christopher and Benjamin managed fairly well until about the fourth drill in.  They were supposed to skate all the way to the end of the rink, then skate backwards towards us again, then skate to the end while dropping repeatedly onto one knee, and finally back to us again while jumping over the markings with both feet.   They started well, got to the other end of the rink, and then couldn’t get the hang of going backwards.  It was painful to watch.  One by one, the other kids passed them, while my sorry-looking pair floundered on the same three feet of ice, going nowhere fast.  One of the coaches came to their rescue, and showed them how to carve large semi-circles in the ice, while waggling their hips.  They struggled to the end, and then attempted the bending of the knees bit.  I was drinking my tears laughing at this stage.  They knelt, fell over, pirouetted inelegantly, got up, tried again, same thing…..got to the end, turned, and came back towards me, jumping with two feet, splatting onto the ice, scrambling up, same thing again….

Eventually one of the coaches couldn’t take it any more, and took them aside to show them how to stop, and how to skate backwards.  They learnt more in thirty minutes than they had all winter on the rink beside us.  The session ended, we spent twenty minutes back in the smelly changing rooms, and headed home to get some sleep before Round 2.   The next session was where they evaluated the drills; this time around they managed to do them all without making a show of themselves, and the afternoon session was a scrimmage game.  They were divided into two teams and played two 30 minute games.  This was great to watch – the five players on the ice changed over every couple of minutes, and the rink was full of whirling figures in red and green jerseys.  The referee circled constantly, while the evaluators watched from the bench.  The last session, another scrimmage game, was this morning, and the teams will be announced this evening.  I don’t know how good a fist we’ll make of being hockey parents, but we’ll try it out for this year, and learn the rules as we go along.

In other news of the week, I’m down 20 pounds since last Tuesday, and had my first photo-shoot the same day.  More about the photo-shoot later – what an amazing day :-). The first article in the Star Phoenix appeared yesterday, and the blog that I’m writing about this experience also appeared.  Here’s the links:



Random misunderstandings and various events

18 Aug

Jo Ann is indulging in some property viewing at the moment.  This is one of my favourite things to do, so I’ve been living vicariously through her visits to various home around the area.  I check two property websites every day in the hope of finding a new possibility to make her go and see and then report back on.  So off they went one of the evenings last week, Jo Ann and Louis-Pierre, her gorgeous French-Canadian husband.  He finds it difficult to understand me sometimes when I’m speaking to him – different accent, rapid speech – and this gave rise to a memorable moment earlier on in the summer, when we were heading out to visit friends of theirs who live on a farm out of town.  One of my children (I won’t say who) was putting on a remarkable display of pre-teenage angst, and eventually I stormed out the front door and marched over to Louis-Pierre to assure him that we would be ready to leave any minute ( as soon as Michael got the straitjacket and gag onto the little delinquent).  “No problem”, said Louis-Pierre.  “Can we do anything to help?”  “Well,” I said, “could you take my brats with you in your car?”  He looked puzzled.  “My brats.  In your car”, I repeated and wondered why he was looking at me oddly. There was no time to elaborate, as all the kids were finally strapped in and ready to go.  We arrived at the farm, chatted with everyone and then went to see the animals in the barn – goats, pigs, kittens etc.  Louis Pierre sidled up to me in the middle of the mayhem. “Barbara”, he began, “I misunderstood you earlier.”  “Oh! about what?”, I asked idly, watching beg Michael to let her bring a kitten home.  As if.  “I thought you asked me to bring your breasts in my car”.  Well.  That certainly got my attention.  “My breasts? In your car?” I repeated doubtfully.  “Yes. Your breasts.  I was a bit confused”.  Light dawned.  “No, no”, I said, “my brats.  BRATS.  So that I could have some peace in the car?”  Cue explosive laughter.  It’s one way to bond with Canadians I suppose.  Here, take my breasts.  Just temporarily, mind.  I’ll want them back for the return trip.

So, back to the house viewing.  They arrived, parked, meandered up the driveway, eyeing the garden, the exterior etc.  Rang the doorbell.  A man appeared at the door.  “HI!” said Jo Ann brightly.  He looked at her in silence.  “We’re here to see the house!”  Silence.  “Your house?” she repeated. “It’s for sale? We’re here to view it”.  “Oh!” he said, taken aback, and showed them in.  Alarm bells were starting to ring faintly for Louis Pierre, and he started fishing out the paper with the house details on it.  “Jo Ann?” he murmured.  “I don’t think this is the right house.” Relief for the witless non-vendor (thinking “my wife has put the house up for sale?!?!?!”), confusion for Jo Ann.  “We’re at the wrong address”, Louis Pierre elaborated.  “Oh!” she said, and they exited rapidly. leaving behind a bewildered home owner.  As soon as they escaped out of sight, the funny side of it all struck them.  Through the laughter, Louis Pierre got right to the dynamic at the heart of the poor man’s marriage.  “There,” he said, “is a man who does what he’s told”.

A couple of weeks ago, we spent a great Friday evening under the stars on the banks of the river.  We sat with hundreds of other people, in camping chairs and on picnic rugs, with snacks and blankets, and watched “The Rise of the Guardians” on a massive screen.  This outdoor cinema event happens every year, and it was such fun to be out in a park, laughing with the rest of the audience at the funny parts, and walking back to the van at 11.30pm, with tired children who were delighted to be out so late.


We spent one of our Sundays at another event along the banks of the river – Pets in the Park.  It was scorching, so we found a bench in the middle of the park, and watched the world, and most of the animals in it, go by.  I’ve never seen so many dogs in my life, from the ridiculously tiny to the absolutely huge.  We were sitting in front of the dogs’ obstacle course, and after the first event was over, they asked for some volunteers from the watching children for the next event.  Benjamin and Christopher were quick off the mark, and so a team of five was formed.  They practised running up to a tilted wooden board, kicking it to release a tennis ball, catching the ball and running back to let the next team member go.  The opposition lined up beside them.  Five dogs, trained to do exactly the same thing at great speed.  They took their marks and waited for the signal to go.  It was hilarious.  The dogs were blurry as they shot by, with incredible ball-mouth co-ordination and a neat turn and twist.  The crowd were cheering on the kids, who were starting to get the hang of it.  They eventually resorted to some minor cheating by leaving the blocks early, and the result was declared a draw.  The park was teeming with all kinds of animals at this stage.  A gigantic cat was being wheeled along in a cart; every dog around us stiffened and eyeballed it greedily.  The cat was haughtily unconcerned, but we were bracing ourselves on the bench for a sudden flurry of skin and hair, which thankfully never came to pass.  A man walked by with a ferret wrapped around his neck, and a lady stopped so that Rebecca could admire her bird on a leash.  A dog the size of a pony scared the life out of her in an attempt to befriend her, and we started to notice how many dogs look like their owners.


Irish visitors 009

Bird on a Leash

Little and Large

Little and Large