This week, I was gallivanting again, to Bantry, in a corner of Ireland where fingers of rock point to the sea. I could wax lyrical about the beauties of Bantry and the West Cork countryside surrounding it, or about the brilliance of the authors who at the literary festival we were attending. But as I did with Sneem and with Iceland earlier in the year, I prefer to concentrate on the little random wonders that often remain unseen.
Here’s a selection of ten small, sparkling moments from my stay in Bantry.
Eloquent rants about montbretia, those flame flowers.
The ship’s sail that cried, ‘Enough.’
The mountain filled with light and rain.
The man who let his Viking-style boat rot on a beach for seven years because he went to South America and nearly got married.
A cup of tea at the edge of the world.
The author who bathed us in warmth, humour and perfectly crafted words.
The author who drove the men away.
The barman who had never heard of Pernod.
The cable car with a psalm tacked onto the wall.
And the family who flung open the doors of their eighteenth-century farmhouse and fed us with fresh leaves, morsels of culture and tales of the Levant.
Some days have a special, shining quality. Colours are sharper, food explodes with flavour, and conversation flows. There is an ease to the day; everything you do feels just right. It’s a day when you feel fully alive. When a day like this comes along, I call it a Day of Days.
I was lucky enough to have a Day of Days just last week, when I jaunted up to Dublin, Ireland’s capital city, on a literary road trip with a friend of mine. On a Day of Days, it’s a bonus to have good weather to set the scene. After weeks of cold, rain and even snow, spring put in a brief appearance. There was proper warmth from the sun, and the sky was the sort of blue you’d find in an artist’s palette.
For me, travel plans that go like clockwork are an essential ingredient in a Day of Days. Thanks to the speed and efficiency of my friend, the jour was smooth. The motorway was free of traffic, and we arrived at our destination with time to spare. Enough time to tuck into various sweet and savoury treats, washed down with frothycinos.
Conversations and Connections
We were booked in for two events at the literary festival. The first gave us a chance to hear Gail Honeyman in conversation. Gail is the author of the runaway bestseller novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (link). It’s a novel that makes an art form of everyday life. Gail spoke to a packed theatre, but managed to make us feel we were all enjoying one big coffee morning together.
Gail’s laugh could be heart frequently as she talked, a warm, rich laugh that belly-rippled through her. When it came to question time, she was determined to make a personal connection with every questioner. After I asked my question, I was started when she asked if I could raise my hand to show her where I was. She wanted to make sure she answered me directly. She was, to use a popular Irish saying, ‘a real dote.’
After the event finished, we had a generous window of time to enjoy our surroundings and linger over lunch. We were in a picturesque part of Dublin by the sea, and we strolled along the pier, watching the sun sparkle on the sea and posing for pictures at the bandstand.
Food is a cornerstone of a Day of Days. We found an Asian restaurant and were served colourful bowls of Thai food, a feast of reds, blues and greens. Mine was washed down with a crisp glass of white wine.
Then it was on to the second event. This event was a little more cerebral in town, with a panel of authors engaged in an earnest discussion about depictions of love in their novels. There were fewer questions. One of the authors was a little bolshy. He slouched in his chair and made a stream of dry comments. And he pulled up the moderator when she stumbled over the title of his book. I felt it added a certain frisson to the occasion. After all, blandness is the enemy of creativity.
It took me a little time to immerse myself in this event, so I was pleasantly surprised when the moderator said it was time for the last question, and to discover that an hour had passed. It was time to head for home, and the homeward journey was just as smooth as the first. It flashed by in a torrent of talk.
Normally, time with this friend only happens when I can snatch her away from the treadmill of childcare. Now we had space to talk, to share the special moments of each other’s lives, to share humorous observations about the onset of middle age. We were able to learn more about each other’s quirks, likes and dislikes. We discovered that neither of have a taste for 99 cones, those mountains of whipped ice cream that have formed part of so many Irish childhoods.
This Day of Days was rounded off by the sight of my husband waiting at the gate, hot buttered toast and the rather excellent children’s movie Inside Out, which I referenced in a previous blog post.
On a Day of Days, I am released from the steel trap that holds my brain down. I feel reunited with myself, and with this colourful, scarred, yet beautiful world we live in. I would love to hear about what a Day of Days is for you, what releases you from your steel trap. Feel free to share yours.
In recent days, news of a mass school shooting in Florida sent shockwaves around the world, putting America’s gun laws in the spotlight once again. At times like this, headlines scream numbers at us: 17 shot dead in Florida, 58 shot dead in Las Vegas, 20 shot dead in Sandy Hook.
It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around such figures. Tragedies like this are best understood, if that’s even possible, by zoning in on one single life. This was something journalist Gary Younge instinctively understood when he wrote his book on American gun culture, Another Day in the Death of America
Younge looked at the impact of gun crime through the lens of ten lives. The lives of ten children who were killed in ten separate shooting incidents throughout the United States. In one day. Every day, between seven children are killed by guns in the United States. It’s become so commonplace that their deaths barely make a blip in the media.
Bringing Them to Life
Younge picked a random day and traced the names of ten children who had been shot dead on that day. He then set about telling their stories. The story of their lives and the story of the day they died. They were all boys, aged from nine to nineteen. They lived in towns, cities and rural areas. Seven were black, two were Latinos and one was white.
Younge visited the cities and towns where the boys had lived. In all but two cases, he spoke to their friends and families. He looked at their social media profiles. He researched police reports into their death. And from this, he created vivid portraits of their lives, using symbols that represented who they were. A bottle of Hennessy brandy. A recording of a rap. A T-shirt.
A Troubled Society
On a wider level, Younge gets under the skin of a society where guns are rife, where social structures have broken down, where poverty is a weight that is almost impossible to shrug off. He speaks to community workers and quotes from a rich variety of literature, from novels to research from sociologists.
As you read Another Day in the Death of America, you can hear the guns go off in your head. You can feel Younge’s quiet outrage pulsing through the pages. With these ten tender portraits, Younge reclaims the lives of these boys, so that they are no longer defined by the terrible acts that ended their lives. He shows us that their lives mattered. But he also makes you feel the real impact of gun crime, more effectively than any screaming headline.