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My favourite love story

 

 

It’s Saturday December 1988.  My rock and roll dance lessons partner and UCD class mate, Patricia McKenna has suggested meeting in the White Horse in Putney where she is hooking up with some friends.  Another bunch of friends are meeting in Covent Garden.  It’s a toss-up but the decision to go to Putney is to have life-long repercussions.

I spotted Barbara pretty quickly when I walked I walked into the pub.  She was wearing a striking leather biker jacket and looked extremely cool and I was delighted to find she was one of Patricia’s friends.  We got chatting.  She was an SHO in the North Middlesex Hospital.  She had been on call the previous night.  It had been a rotten night.  A very sick child had died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.  Patricia (her flat mate) had to persuade her to go out.  I was working in the pensions department of a big law firm-about 10 miles from Enfield but a million miles from the sort of world that Barbara was seeing daily.  We talked or (unusually) I listened and she talked.  She hasn’t got a word in since….  In no time, it was closing time and we adjourned to some club nearby.  In the club we danced and then I lost my glasses.  When Barbara found them, what could I do?  I had to kiss her right?  So we did.  And we’ve been kissing ever since.

I was living in Loftus Road in Shepherds Bush and my staple diet was a Domino’s ordered on my way from the tube and a couple of beers from the nearby off-licence.  Unbelievably I had never tried Indian food.  Barbara was living in Ecclesbourne Road in cool Islington and in the course of short period introduced me to the local Indian, Chinese and most importantly Uppers Bistro.  We were kicked out of Uppers on more occasions than I care to remember replete, in my case (I kid you not), with Chicken Kiev served on a bed of white rice but probably more memorably a bottle of white followed by far too many sambucas.  By now I had informed my best friend Bernard that I was going to marry Barbara although I hadn’t been stupid enough to tell her as I think she might have run a mile.  But sometimes you just know and I knew….

We quickly started to spend all our free time together.  That was fine except that Barbara would often be on call on a Saturday night and for some reason after a skinful of Castlemaine XXXX (cans-you never drank the draft beer in the Prince of Teck in Earls Court) and buoyed by Dutch courage I had an annoying habit of calling her from the nearest phone box and shouting down the phone “I’m obsessed”.  That might have brought a smile the first time but when I called mid-operation and she was scrubbed up and I had persuaded some nurse to get her and hold the phone to her ear, I think the joke lost some edge.

In 1989, we went to Turkey on holiday.  In 1990 we went to Dublin to catch Italia 90 at home and in 1991, we went to Italy.  We were in a restaurant overlooking in Amalfi overlooking the bay of Naples.  With no ring and without getting down on one knee, I proposed and Barbara said yes.

We decided to get married in Galway May 1992 and we chose the Jesuit church for the ceremony and the Ardilaun for the reception.  We were driving to Galway to make arrangements and Bernard Langer was missing that famous putt in Kaiwah Island to lose the Ryder Cup.

We were married on Thursday 7 May.  The wedding was a blast. Barbara was about 30 mins late which meant that even my most irresponsible friends were in the church when she arrived, truly the most beautiful bride I have ever seen.  An ivory silk dress that she had had made in London, and an amazing veil which I believe I had to lift from her face when her brother, Cormac, had escorted her up the aisle.  My main memory of the reception is loads of unskilled practitioners following instructions from the band as we danced the Siege of Ennis and various other jigs reels and maybe even a hornpipe.  We honeymooned in Ireland for a week and then Mauritius.  We somehow managed to miss our planned flight to Mauritius so spent two days in a 5* hotel near Heathrow at a deeply discounted rate negotiated by a lovely Canadian airlines host responding to my new wife in floods of tears at missing the flight…….

Barbara and I planned to have lots of children.  By 1996 many of our friends who married after us had had one or two children and we were trying to explain unexplained infertility.  We were desperate to have kids. Barbara contacted a quack running a fertility assistance project called Foresight, we sent them hair samples and they sent us loads of supplements that we took religiously believing (as you always do) that this would work.  Before I’d leave for work in the morning I would take about six or seven supplements (I seem to remember selenium being one of them).  But there was a shadow over our marriage that we feared might never disappear.  We inevitably had a dog and two cats but when friends called with their little Johnny or Mary, the pain was real.  We tried IVF and it was a complete fail.  My uncle Sexton and his wife Patricia happened to call the night we found this out and we listened to Leonard Cohen – counterintuitively tremendously consoling music.  (“And though I wear a uniform, I was not born to fight” my favourite line from “Last Year’s Man”)).

I quit my job to do an MBA and realised quickly that I preferred business to law and that I should move in-house.  At the end of the MBA year, I got a job in Belfast with Bombardier Aerospace.  I loved it and, in my spare time, I contacted some adoption agencies.  We applied to be approved to adopt.  We had to submit answers to questions that explored (quite rightly) the strength of our marriage and lots of very intimate information about our relationship.  We prepared our answers separately but there was remarkable alignment in our stories with infertility by some way being the most difficult thing either of us had had to endure (even though Barbara’s dad had died when she was 12).

In early 1999, we met our allocated social worker, Barbara Williams, one of the many people I have met in public service jobs who should be recognised in the Queen’s honours list and who do more good in a week that Fred Goodwin did in all his time in RBS.  But that’s not how the world works.  In any case, Barbara Williams interviewed us several times.  We had said that we would consider any feasible options – a single child up to age 5 I think, a sibling group, a disabled child.  Six months later, Barbara Williams called to our house to check some part of Barbara’s medical history which apparently was causing an issue with our approval (Barbara had gone through several surgeries on cysts and so on and by now also had an ovary removed).  In any case, that was all sorted and literally the following week, Barbara was back with a huge smile to say she had some news.  We had been matched with a little girl, age 6 months and we were going to see her the following Wednesday.

I could write pages about our reaction but I will simply say that, in that meeting and before we ever set eyes on our to-be daughter, all the sadness disappeared.  And even now, 18 years later, we never tire of reminding Katie that she put our smile back.  Much re-arranging of diaries etc, and we were scheduled to go to meet Katie and her foster mum, the truly remarkable Elizabeth Nelis (see the heroes listed on my twitter profile).  Another blog in her own right…

On that amazing night, I know Barbara changed her outfit several times, as she wanted to look just right.  We went to Elizabeth’s house on the Cregagh Road in Belfast (there are tears running down my cheek as I write this) and Elizabeth showed us to her front room and two minutes later came back with Katie.  Barbara tells me that my eyes melted.  I can’t remember much other than that Katie surveyed us up and down, that she looked well fed (!) and that she was carrying a yellow star.  We made several more visits to that most welcoming house over the weekend of the 12th July and Katie moved in on 15 July.

This is my favourite love story because the period after Katie moved in was the first time since we married that we experienced unqualified happiness.  Katie was amazing, adapted quickly, figured out what she liked and we had to buy a 6ft bed because she didn’t like the cot.  She didn’t move out of our bed until she was 11.  And it’s my favourite love story because my Barbara was meant to be a mother and she has been the best mother (and wife) that any child (or husband) could ask for.  She has never put herself first.  She gave up several steady jobs to follow me around the world as I joined the rat race and sought the next promotion.  She is a better doctor than I will ever be a lawyer (and very irritatingly, she has a better vocabulary than me!).  And this is not biased.  You should see the cards and letters that she has received on each occasion when she has moved on from her different GP jobs. Of course not every patient needs a Barbara but it seems to me that the people who really need time and who need to be listened to seek her out and this is reflected in the fact that her surgery invariably runs late.

Life in recent years has not been easy for her.  Barbara has had to keep the family together when things have been very tough.  We had the great fortune to adopt Luke in 2006 (also a separate blog) but our lives were turned upside down when he was just about to celebrate his 5th birthday and I was diagnosed with cancer.

I’ve written five blogs before this (only one about cancer) and Barbara doesn’t get much of a mention.  But she deserves one.  Since 2010, I have been on and off chemo and well and not so well.  Through all of this Barbara has been my greatest support (but not only to me, to my parents, to my sisters and brother and of course to our children).  It’s not without challenges being a cancer patient but I think being married to a cancer patient is tougher as people tend to ask about your spouse and forget to ask about you. We celebrated our 25th anniversary last month and I can assure you that there have been many occasions over the last few years when getting to that milestone looked like a stretch.  Through all of those times, Barbara has constantly driven me to believe that I can survive and has persuaded me to do all sorts of things that I believe have really helped me, both physically (green juice, no sugar, healthy eating generally) and mentally (gently urging me not to let it get to me when I really didn’t want to get up in the morning).  So this blog is dedicated to the woman I love, a rock on which my marriage stands strong and without whom, believe me, I wouldn’t be here today……….

 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments.  Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds

Or bends with the remover to remove.

Oh no! It is an ever fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not within his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Up the Banner

My dad, my love of sport in general and hurling in particular

Last Sunday, my Dad (87), my sister Eileen, my son, self styled as the one and only Luke Murphy (11) and I went to Thurles to watch Clare beat Limerick in the semi-final of the Munster Championship.  Clare have reached a Munster final for the first time since 2008 and on 9 July will play the winners of the other semi final (Cork or Waterford).

Having been living abroad between 2001 and 2015, the game last week was my first Limerick match since Clare fell to a last minute point by Ciaran Carey in the Gaelic Grounds in 1996.  That year, Clare had come into the Munster championship as defending champions, having put an end the previous year to a 63 year wait for a Munster championship by defeating Limerick (in the end comfortably) in Thurles.  I was there, my wife was with me and of course Dad was there with my mother.  I had also been at the Munster finals in 1993 and 1994, when Clare had been beaten.  Barbara now laughs about travelling back from Thurles to Dublin in silence but it was no fun losing and losing and losing.

In Ireland, the term “hurling people” is often used to describe those for whom the game of hurling is more than just a sport that they follow.  It’s not especially profound but it reflects the unique relationship between people who understand the game and a sport that is one of the fastest ball games in the world.  My father is definitely a hurling person.  He grew up in the parish of Tulla in east Clare.  As a schoolboy, he played Harty Cup for St Flannan’s, Ennis, winning a title in 1947 and losing in the final the following year.  After he joined the Army, he won several all-Army championships and was a member of the Army team that lost the Galway county final to Liam Mellows in 1955.  That Army team incidentally included Billy O’Neill and Jim Fives both of whom played in the Galway team that lost to Wexford in the All Ireland final that year.  And the Galway captain that year was Liam Mellows’ Jimmy Duggan.

As a child, I liked to tell my friends about my father’s hurling prowess and was particularly proud of a scar over his left eye which was a legacy of his playing days.  And it is hardly surprising that from an early age, I found myself travelling with my dad to hurling matches all over the country.  I’m pretty sure I was at the 1972 All-Ireland final but the first game I remember was a Munster championship semi final between Clare and Tipperary on 7 July 1974.

I was 10 years old.  Dad and I set off from our home in Longford town in the family Peugeot 404 (reg DIX 325, how do I remember that) for the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.  The reason I can remember the day clearly is that 7 July 1974 also happened to be the day of the World Cup final between West Germany and the Netherlands in Munich.  In those days, I was a die-hard supporter of a declining Manchester United and, growing up in Longford, I played soccer but not hurling.  So I imagine that I was encouraged by my mother to travel to Limerick and that there would have been some reluctance on my part to miss the biggest soccer game of the year in order to see a relatively minor hurling match.

My father liked to get to the ground around half-time in the minor game.  In pre-motorway Ireland, match traffic started to build up well outside the town.  As soon as Dad saw people pulling up on the hard shoulder, he too parks up and, after eating sandwiches prepared by my mother, we set out on foot towards the ground.  Every junction on the route has a hawker selling hats, flags and rosettes.  The sellers are all from Dublin. The hats and flags are the same colour for both teams.  You can distinguish if you look closely at the peak of the crepe paper hat where the legend is  “Up Tipp” or “Up the Banner”.  My father chats to other match goers.  There is much analysis and speculation about how the game will go but a genetic pre-disposition in Clare people to fear defeat.  Clare are managed by a priest, Fr Harry Bohan and lining out for Clare is Ger Loughnane, later the manager of the historic 1995 and 1997 All-Ireland winning teams.

The stand in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick is the old Hogan Stand from Croke Park.  Once through the turnstiles, access to seats is through tunnels that run below the stand.  The tunnel also serves as a de facto pissoir so steering a straight line down the middle minimises the risk of splash damage.

I recall very little about the game other than that Clare did win.  Contemporary press reports describe the game in unflattering terms, Tipperary in particular coming in for severe criticism for a very poor performance.  Clare’s limitations were subsequently exposed in the Munster final when they lost heavily to a Limerick team that included genuine hurling greats, Eamon Grimes and Eamon Cregan.

When we got back to the car, we listened to the end of the West Germany Netherlands game on the radio.  Most neutrals wanted the Netherlands to win.  Everybody had been talking about Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels’ total football.  But this is West Germany, at home, captained by Franz Beckenbauer, and they ruin the script.  The Dutch scored a penalty in the first minute after Cruyff was fouled before any German player had touched the ball.  But Paul Breitner equalised with a penalty for the Germans after 25 minutes and the great Gerd Muller won it with a goal just before half time.

Throughout my childhood, Dad took me to all sorts of sports events.  At boarding school, he secured a pass for me to see a very good Clare team win a couple of national leagues.  But it wasn’t always hurling.  He was a decent golfer and we went to several Irish Opens.  He took me to Lansdowne Road to see Machester United playing Shamrock Rovers.  And he instilled in me a life long love of all sport.  He used to tell me how he would love listening to John Arlott on the BBC commentating on English cricket and it was a great pleasure to take him to his first test match at Trent Bridge in 2010.

I wonder if, in 43 years’ time, Luke will remember the game last Sunday at all.  It felt rather appropriate that his first Clare hurling match should be in the company of his grandad.  Luke grew up in Nottingham.  The parallels with his young dad are striking.  Soccer is his first love and he plays with distinction for Mount Merrion Youths.  Unlike his young dad though, he is a talented sportsman and he also plays hurling for Kilmacud Crokes u-12s.

And while Luke currently loves soccer, Manchester United, Ibrahimovic and the like, I do hope that as he gets older, he will grow to love the best game in the world as much as I do.  I’ve been to the World Cup finals in Japan, I was in Croke Park on the day when Paul O Connell’s Ireland beat England in a hugely emotional game, I’ve been to Wembley to see Ireland draw with England and to see a remarkable FA Cup semi final when Gazza scored an amazing free kick to help Spurs beat Arsenal.  But none of these fantastic matches can hold a candle to, for example, the 1997 All-Ireland final.  Thirty amateur sportsmen, a sell-out crowd in Ireland’s largest stadium and a nail-biting match characterised by an incredible winning point from midfield by Jamesie O’Connor and a brilliant save by Davy Fitzgerald from John Leahy.  Leahy is a winner.  He was through on goal and could have sealed the draw for Tipp by popping it over the bar.  But he went for goal.  And only for Davy they would have won.  The excitement of a game like this is simply unmatcheable by any other sport.  And I do believe that this an objective observation.

So thanks Dad for sowing the seed 43 years ago and I look forward to being with you in Croke Park in early September when, whoever is playing, hurling people like yourself will simply be there for the love of the game.

A walk the park (and Dara)

I think it’s fair to say that the term “sexting” includes the transmission by mobile phone of naked sketches of oneself (or sketches that could be oneself).  On the most miserable day of summer 2017, I was on the receiving end of my first ever sext. But before you start to think Weinergate, I should explain that this particular sext was sent to the 14 members of the “Doggies in the Park” whatapps group.  So in truth, it wasn’t a sext at all.  I just wanted to get your attention…….

When it snows in Canada, people get out their snow boots, Columbia titanium snow jackets and pants.  When the sun shines in Rio, the lads and lasses don appropriate swimwear and hit the Copacabana.  When it rains in Ireland, life stops.  Actually, that’s not right, life doesn’t stop but for many people, life becomes miserable.

My son Luke was playing football yesterday morning.  I generally use football matches as an opportunity to give Gertrude, my own personal babe magnet (A walk in the park (and Catherine)), a stretch.  The forecast was not good so I threw some waterproofs in the boot with Gert and headed up to Deer Park.  By the time we got to the Park it was serious cats and dogs (pardon the pun) and I thought Luke’s match might be cancelled.  But nope-there was the coach, in shorts and flip flops, absolutely soaked and organising parents to carry goals from the clubhouse to the pitch.  Parents, uniformly under-dressed for the weather, miserably helped set up the pitch while the boys shivered and sheltered under the nearest tree.  Maybe I have the right clothes because I have a dog that needs lots of exercise but, as I comfortably lapped the Park with Gertrude, all I could think was “why the fark did you guys not gear up for the weather?”  And to give you a sense of how wet it was, by the end of the game, the rain had penetrated my Dryjoy top!

I have often wondered if the reason that Irish people are so ill-equipped to deal with bad weather is that they have a sub-conscious Catholic guilt thing that we deserve to be punished.  I mean, it’s not like rain is unusual in Ireland…  Or maybe it’s a conscious thing. Irish people love to talk about the weather – and if it’s miserable, the banter is likely to be better.

So I wasn’t exactly surprised when the first message of the day to the Doggies in the Park Group landed around half time.  It was Anne-Marie, my part time Airbnb consultant, and, sure enough, her message referenced the rain and her beagle, Scout, who, deprived of his normal walk routine, was wreaking havoc at home.  It wasn’t long before Dara, owner of the hilarious Luna (), advised that the rain meant she was undertaking a nude drawing workshop.

I wouldn’t know a lot about nude drawing workshops but I assumed that Dara was at home and that the subject of her art would be a lesser known but extremely handsome Irish poet.  So you can imagine my surprise when the aforementioned sext hit my screen.  Not a poet in sight.  Instead, and I have been challenged on this interpretation, it looked to me like Dara had circulated a naked (very tasteful rear view :-)) skelfie.  I think skelfie may well be the new word of the year for 2017.

If Kathryn is queen of the dog walkers, Dara is her social secretary.  She set up our WhatsApp group, she is organising the dog walkers Christmas party and she is the person to whom we naturally gravitate when we are in the Park because she has a lovely dry sense of humour that is epitomised by the video clip.  Her dog Luna is indeed a lunatic.  She likes to fetch balls but she doesn’t like to release the ball so that you can throw it for her.  It just occurs to me that a common theme among many of our dogs is undeniable signs of psychosis.

In any case, Dara denies that it’s a skelfie.  Whoever it is she has a lovely figure but Heidi, owner of Aussie and Lulu, was immediately supportive of Dara saying “You have much better legs……”.  That’s pretty typical of Heidi, mum, wife, dog owner and all round “sound lad”.  But I’ll tell you more about Heidi on another occasion……

Why I am grateful to cancer (and Paddy Power)

I have been having an affair with cancer since 2010. After I read a blog by a fellow traveller, Deborah James’ (@bowelbabe) and met her in the reception area of the Royal Marsden’s oncology day unit, I wondered if blogging about the disease might be cathartic. Deborah Alsina, CEO of Bowel Cancer UK, suggested that it might also help others. So that’s why I have titled this piece in a way that might surprise you. I am focusing just on the last couple of weeks but I should give a bit of context.

I was first diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in 2010. I was 46. All the usual clichés apply. I was devastated, my world would never be the same again (it wasn’t) and I worried for my wife and our two young children and my wider family. After seven years, I tend to talk about being in a relationship with the disease.  It’s an on-off relationship. Latterly more on than off. I was originally diagnosed just over a year after I had done the Edinburgh marathon. I had bowel surgery in August 2010 followed a rough time with a chemo concoction known as folfox in 2010/1.  I eventually returned to work in September 2011.  Two months later a scan revealed lung metastases on my left lung (so now stage 4)-more surgery.  I was just about to return to work (again) in January 2012 only to find that I needed surgery on my right lung preceded and succeeded by 3 months of a different chemo (folfiri). After nearly two years of pretty constant treatment, I got a break. I returned to work at the end of 2012 and, from a start point of 2 miles in twenty minutes, I worked my way back to a successful tilt at the Great North Run (a half marathon) in September 2014.

“Dramatic pause”!  At my next scan, May 2015, the disease was back. And since then, I’ve been having pretty much continuous chemo treatment. The recurrence of the disease was a catalyst for the family to move from Nottingham to Dublin in time for the start of the school year. I continued treatment in the Marsden (two/three days every other week) and I continued to work (I do short term contracts these days) until April last year.  The first treatment went well, then we had a few setbacks (eg failed radiotherapy) but we seemed to get the disease under relative control by Christmas. So in January this year I switched treatment to a tablet called capecetabine. The attraction of tablets was that I could fly to London first thing on Tuesday, get my treatment and take away two weeks supply of tablets. One day every three months in London as distinct from 2/3 days every other week.

Buoyed by a relatively easy time with the tablets, I started to look around for a bit of contract work so that I could earn a few quid and not feel guilty going to the pub! I had to explain the gap in my CV in numerous job applications by saying that I had had a course of chemo, that it was now complete and that I was ready to return to work. There remained a risk of fatigue so I applied for jobs that I hoped I could do within a normal work day. That of course deterred some recruiters. Not Paddy Power Betfair though, who asked me to come and see them.

I had a scan booked for Monday at the Marsden and was getting the results on Tuesday. I was seeing Paddy Power on Wednesday. I was convinced that the tablets were working and was all geared up to receive the scan results and continue treatment on Tuesday. However, when my old friend Doctor Kaz explained a delay in starting the treatment because they were studying the images, I knew something was up. Needless to say, the drugs were not having the desired effect. Long story short, we were going to go back to visits to London every other week, 48 hour chemo pump and travelling home by train and boat (I am not allowed to fly with the pump).

There’s always a period of disappointment when the results are not good. My immediate thought was to cancel the Paddy Power interview. An hour later, Prof Cunningham appeared on his round. I asked him two questions-could I go for a holiday to New York in July and what about the interview scheduled for the following day. To the first question, “you’ve got to live and make sure you have insurance”. To the second, an unequivocal “go for it”. If I make a habit of blogging about cancer, Prof Cunningham will feature prominently. A hugely respected internationally renowned consultant oncologist, he is one of the greatest human beings I have had the privilege to meet. So with his encouragement, I decided to go meet Paddy Power the next day.

I wouldn’t describe the interview with Paddy as tough but Reg did ask me a few technical questions and I didn’t quite score 100%. His delightful colleague, Faye, tried to reassure me by pretending that she had not known one particularly esoteric point until they had been prepping the questions!!!  In any case, the interview went well and I thought I was in with a chance when enquiries were made about availability to start and so on. Of course, I now had to explain the impact of the news received the previous day-namely that I needed 2 days off every other week. Reg didn’t blink. On Friday Paddy Powers’ HR guys called me to say I was being offered the job-that they just needed a letter from my doctor essentially to confirm that it would not be harmful to me to start work (their duty of care).

Delighted with this news, I set off on Saturday morning for a family gathering I had organised in Ennis, County Clare. The idea of a family reunion in Clare had been hatched at my mother’s funeral last year, when a few of us had been saying how we Murphys never seem to meet any more other than at funerals. As I was off work, I took the lead in setting up a dinner and we ended up with 55 people accepting the invitation.  I won’t go into the evening in detail but I will say that it was as good as I could have hoped for. Of course, I was delighted but the success of the evening was 100% about the people who showed up. We don’t all know each other so well but no-one left before midnight, the chat was brilliant and the tail end was still hanging around at 2.30am.

I woke up on Sunday and took my dog, Gertrude, for her morning walk around the Fair Green in Ennis. Reflecting on the previous evening, I could only think how lucky we were to have started to get to know a whole new bunch of cousins and their partners and families. My wife and daughter headed back to Dublin because Katie is studying for the leaving cert. I spent the afternoon on the Cliffs of Moher with my son, Luke, my cousin Pat, his wife Aileen and my new bestie, their daughter, Evelyn. We had lunch in Vaughan’s in Liscannor-amazing oysters!

When I was diagnosed in 2010, I was COO of a small business. I had, in my own mind, made it. I worked long hours, I drove a big car, I enjoyed nice holidays and I was stressed out of my head. A memory of the time of diagnosis that I am not proud of is hoping that I would need chemotherapy because that would allow me more time off work. How messed up is that?

At the time of diagnosis, I remember reading a one page Observer profile of Lance Armstrong (pre scandal) which was headlined “Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me”. And that message chimed with me. I don’t think cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me. But, if I had not got sick, I’d still be living in England (I love England but it’s not home), I’d probably be earning more money, have a bigger car and taking more luxurious holidays. But I might also be dead due to stress or on meds to manage it. I wouldn’t have had so much time with my children (admittedly not something they always appreciated!). I wouldn’t have had the time (or possibly the inclination) to organise a family get together like the one we had inn Ennis. I would not have had some very precious time with my mother before she died. In fact, my mother’s terminal illness last year forced me out of a low mood and I am grateful that I was able to see her always smiling face every day I was in Dublin between April last year (when I had to stop working) and her death on 29 June.

So in a nutshell, I am grateful to cancer for helping me to become more like the person I want to be. I am a grateful that I am in Dublin and that I can visit my dad regularly and have him round for dinner regularly. I am grateful that my wife is in a job she really enjoys and has her beloved brother and sister in law living nearby. I am grateful that I have had time to coach my daughter Katie for her exams. I am grateful that I can watch my son Luke playing soccer, Gaelic and hurling (he just been promoted to the senior hurling team in school-not bad for a proud English boy who just took up the sport last year). Above all I am grateful that I now feel more pride in having facilitated the family re-union than I ever did in having a big car and a “big” job (in a small pond). Many of my friends have genuinely big jobs and are themselves. I think I wanted a “big” job in order to be someone else. It took cancer to make me realise the real truth of the oft-quoted Oscar Wilde remark “Be yourself-everyone else is taken”.

And I am grateful to Paddy Power for giving me the chance to get back on the horse. I can honestly say that I have never felt as happy as I do today.  And all I am wanting is to stick with it for the next 9 months because I like to deliver. And there are new drugs coming on stream all the time and I know that if we hang in there something is coming that will allow me to plan more than 9 months ahead….

A walk in the park (and Kathryn)

My dog’s a babe magnet.  That is, if you call yummy mummies, divorced mummies and retired mummies babes.  When you get to my age, trust me, they’re all babes. My dog’s a springer spaniel called Gertrude.  She’d be a babe magnet even if she wasn’t blind but when I share her visual impairment with the mummies, there’s an outpouring of sympathy that I love to wallow in.

Gertrude and I go to Carysfort Park most mornings after I drop eleven year old Luke to school in Booterstown.  Carysfort Park is beautifully contained so that even a blind dog has limited ability to get lost.  Between 8.45am and about 11am, there is a constant stream of dogs and their owners through the Park.  I tend to do a few constitutional laps of the Park and Gertrude plays with some of the dogs she meets.  It hasn’t take me long to discover that Carysfort Park dog walkers comprise an independent not too secret society.  There’s about twenty women who show up regularly and Robert, Conor, Ultan and me.  There are other men who walk their dogs but they don’t seem to need to get in touch with their feminine side or repressed gayness or whatever it is that has caused me to inveigle myself in with the girls.

If you don’t own a dog, I apologise for banging on about mine.  If you do, you will understand that dogs are more effective than pretty much any drug or drink available to take the edge of a dull day or a shitty experience.  My father in law used to have an expression “the more I see of man, the more I love my dog” and when some red-faced commuter blasts me out of it as I dreamily don’t respond instantaneously to the changing of the lights, I kind of understand what he meant.  Such incidents are a cue for Luke to observe “They won’t get any greener Dad….”

This morning we met Kathryn (amongst others).  Kathryn is arguably the queen of the Carysfort dogwalkers although there’s another Catherine who could challenge for that title.  Kathryn has two lurchers, Dexter and Daisy.  God bless Daisy, she is the least Daisy-like dog I have ever seen but she is gorgeous-my missus wants to nick her.  Like a lot of the dogs, Dexter and Daisy are both rescue dogs.  They have long long legs and big trunks.  They have the combined weight of the Irish front row (well the under-20 front row anyway) and it’s prudent to keep an eye on them as an inadvertent collision will only have one winner.

Kathryn plays in a band called Perfect Day.  They mostly do weddings and play Journey and Creedence and other standard wedding requirements.  Kathryn’s very matter of fact about the music she plays.  She’d like to do Ron Sexsmith and Leonard Cohen-it’s just that newly weds don’t want any “depressing” music on the first day of a life manacled together.  Kathryn, Dexter and Daisy have a routine which involves a trek around the Smurfit Business School next door but there’s invariably time on the way there and the way back to stop and shoot the breeze with any of the rest of us girls who happen to be around.  Kathryn has picked up plenty of business through Carysfort-it’s not because people like her dogs (though they do)-it’s because Perfect Day are good!

Catherine doesn’t like to paint naked men.  Dara (who has a dog called Luna) confessed to that this morning but I’ll tell you more about Dara another time……

  • if you read one book this week make it HHhH by Laurent Binet
  • if you listen to one album, I suggest American Band by Drive-by Truckers