Saturday, November 24, 2012


The subject of the lines below is a lady who was very much part of my early and later life.   At difficult times she always seemed to be there, a warm shoulder to lean on.  Her presence during one very painful life event helped me more than she'll ever know.  Amazingly, her voice has not altered with time, which for me is magic because when I hear her speak, I'm once again that little girl, so excited at being in the company of someone who is very special to me.  It's been a few years since I heard that voice, so before this year is out, I intend to right that.  Meantime, this is for you, dear cousin.


My newest mother is peering down the Brownie camera lens
while I, in your arms, scowl at the box.
I'm two and a half years old
And not used to having my photograph taken.
My newest backyard is still an unfamiliar playground,
But safe within your arms, the strangeness holds no fear.

I'm eight years old,
It's dark, you hold my hand as we descend the cast-iron steps to your underground workplace.
I've never been in a canteen,
My eyes and ears absorb the sights and sounds of tea trays being delivered through little wall hatches
And the merry chatter of people enjoying their evening meal.

I feel certain it's the same evening, you take me to a big house,
Up the stairway to a room where both cheery mother and bustling brood welcome us with lively banter.
I love being here.
I protest at leaving the joyful spirit of this tenement lodging.

I'm ten years old,
I wait at the corner of our avenue on balmy summer Friday nights.
You bring sixpenny bars of chocolate, that's all I remember.

I'm twelve years old,
You arrive to our house every few weeks with your first-born daughter
In her magnificent high pram with the rose on the side.
I get to wheel her up the avenue.   I get to hold her.
I want to be a mother like you.

I'm seventeen years old,
I'm living with your Mam and Dad.
I don't see you as often as I'd like
But I see your first-born daughter some week-ends.

I'm forty five years old,
You hold me in your arms as I grieve the loss of my not-so-new mother.
She had her problems but she was a good mother.

I'm forty nine years old,
We hold each other as we grieve the loss of my not-so-new father.
He had his problems but he was a good father.

We're both older mothers now.
I don't see you at all.
I want to hear your voice again.
I want to hold you and feel your motherly arms around me.
I want to savour the chocolate bars one more time.

© Ann Brien 2012

Above image:  Me, taken by Julia in my backyard, 1954.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Too Cold For "Piggybeds"

I'm not quite sure what it is about this time of year but I find myself yet again wanting to describe a winter memory as I experienced it during my childhood in Ringsend, Dublin.   I pray all these  memories I will carry with me to the end of my days, and with some luck, into the next life.

How wonderful it would be if we could transfer our happy recollections into our childrens' minds for them to glimpse what life was like for a child in the 1950s and 60s long before street games were replaced by sitting at a computer monitor where the only physical movement is that of your fingers on a keyboard and the periodic clicking of a mouse.   I suppose it has something in its favour, perhaps the children of today have a level of mental fitness that we could never achieve, but Boy, were we physically fit as fiddles!

Below is a little piece I wrote when remembering the other day, the winter's evening my friends and I had been playing "piggybeds" (a kind of hopscotch) at the end of my avenue and when it became too cold, they went home.

I, of course, with my goulish fascination for bleak winter nights remained in the avenue for a while in the hope that a storm-force wind would suddenly blow up and then I'd also get to hear the eerie fog-horn which always excited and terrified me at the same time!

Too Cold For "Piggybeds"

The street lamp casts its amber glow upon the eight-squared white chalk pattern,
A dirt-filled polish tin lies abandoned just outside square four, its abrupt end to play, the consequence of frozen fingers.
Mesmerised by the bleakness of this November evening,
My gaze begins its long fix on nature's tapestry;
The fog-shrouded moon,
The navy clouds, their wispy pink tendrils trailing off in zig-zag directions and, across the road,
The ink-black Liffey as she rhythmically pounds the sea wall.
Enveloped in the freezing mist
My thoughts now turn to bright red flames leaping in our living-room hearth,
And so, without much inner persuasion, I place the long-discarded "piggy" in the safety of neighbouring hedgerow,
Then make my way homeward to the promising comforts of warm hands and Irish stew.

© Ann Brien 2012

Above image: My avenue, taken by me, July 2011 (hedgerow to right still in existence!).