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Story Teller's Chair


  It feels like a lifetime ago since I first wrote about my intentions with A Great Place to Read a Book. I said I would probably waffle along about the ins and outs of my life as I travel. There have certainly been some ins and outs over the past 6 weeks or so. I haven’t had internet access for much of the time. This was a challenge. A delightful challenge as it turned out. Then the lack of internet access became a relief. It meant that I didn’t have to communicate with anyone during what is turning out to be one of the saddest times of my life.    

            A little about family: We don’t choose our families for the most part. Family is not necessarily biological. I have more than one family. When I come back to London I live with one of my dearest friends. To protect the privacy of her and her family I’m going to call her Ann. Ann and her family, (again, I’ll change the names of her children,) have been my family since I was 7 years old. Ann has two children. Sarah, a most joyous and delightful young woman. I’ve had the pleasure to know Sarah since she was 2 years old. She is the closest person to a little sister I have ever had. John is Ann’s youngest child. John is 42. I’ve known him since shortly after his birth. I’ve watched both Sarah and John grow up into superb people. John is married, and has two adorable children, one aged 6 and one aged 8.    

            I refer to Sarah and John as my little sister, and little brother. John wasn’t feeling very well when I was home in London last November. At Christmas he was diagnosed with cancer.    

As I write this, I am on a ferry pulling out of Hollyhead in Wales, on my way to Ireland for a few days to visit my mother and step-father. John is in hospital. His mother is staying with him every night. His pain is controlled with morphine. His body cannot cope with intravenous fluid anymore. He sips water and sucks ice-lollies. I can’t talk about this much right now. I feel desperately protective of John and his mother. My feelings are irrelevant at this time. All that matters is John and his family. I’ll deal with my feelings later and in my own way. And yes. My feelings are torn up, confused, inconsistent, you name it. I changed my travel plans to give Ann space to be alone in her home at this time. When she broke the news to me about how long John has left to live upon my return from Croatia, we agreed I would go to stay with my friend, Viv, in Wales, 4 days sooner than planned. All of my other travel plans are fluid. I can return to London as soon as I am needed.    

The Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne


This boat I’m on feels like the Starship Enterprise. I’m at the front in a little coffee bar. I have a table looking out over the horizon. There are a few children running up and down along the walkway. They are small, and thankfully, appear to be tiring easily. A baby has just begun to cry. It’s not as bad as a crying baby on an airplane though. The boat is smooth. It’s not called a boat. It’s called a fast craft. It’s like a cross between a hover-craft and a boat on stilts. The motion is gentle. The sickness I experience every time I travel is subsiding. I don’t know why, but every time I anticipate a journey I feel ill. I don’t suffer from motion sickness or anything like that. Just anxiety, I suppose. The gentle swells are rocking me into calm.  I’m not sure quite what is ahead of me. My step-father’s Alzheimer’s has progressed significantly of late. I hope he recognizes me this afternoon when he comes home from Day Care.    

Mum and Hugo


So. What about the books? The reading? The writing? Great places I’ve found to read in? I’ve read a little on my travels and taken lots of photographs.      

The view from our first room in Cavtat, Croatia


 I’ve kept handwritten notes some of the time. I’m going to endeavor to type up these notes over the next few days. It’s my blog and so I decided I can write things up and even post them in as chaotic an order as I like. There’s something to this chaos lark! I’ve been battling with structure and control for so long and I’ve finally given in to chaos. Who knows? I might even stop apologizing for chaos one of these days.    

Catching up on places and books:    

      I left Big Sur and the San Francisco Bay Area in early June.     

A familiar London street


 I arrived in London on June 5th. Since June 5th, I’ve been to London, the south of France, back to London, then to Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, back to London, on to Wales and now I’m on a boat to Ireland. I’ve read fewer books than I expected, for obvious reasons. There’s nothing quite like deep sadness to mess up one’s concentration. Since I left home, I’ve either finished reading or started and finished: People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, by Roddy Doyle, Away, by Amy Bloom, and The Second Prison, by Ronan Bennett. In addition to these books, I’ve read guide books. I never would have counted guide books as reading books before. I don’t know why. It seems ridiculous now to think of that. Guide books are an incredible art. A good guide-book embraces so much. I’ve learned a lot about the history, culture, sociopolitical and economic aspects of the places I’ve visited, all because of a few good guide-books written by some superb writers – writers who have ignited my imagination and taken to places even before I physically arrived there. I chose to read the Lonely Planet Guide to Montenegro, http://www.amazon.com/Montenegro-Country-Guide-Peter-Dragicevich/dp/1741794404/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1280402141&sr=1-1, and The Rough Guide to Croatia, http://www.amazon.com/Rough-Guide-Croatia-Guides/dp/1848364725/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1280402377&sr=1-1    

David Niven's old home


 I didn’t use a guidebook for France this time. I know the area we went to pretty well. I knew what I wanted to see and do. I’ve pasted a few of my favorite holiday photos on this page, call them palate teasers!    

The Woman Who Walked into Doors, by Roddy Doyle.    





London, June 2010 – Sitting up in bed most nights.    

St. Fintans High School, Sutton, Dublin

I’m a Roddy Doyle fan. I suppose that’s one way of putting it. I understand his writing. I lived in Dublin for the 6 years of my high-school career. I’m not sure I ever met Roddy Doyle, but he went to the boy’s school, and I went to the girl’s school in Sutton. If our paths crossed, it could have been at school dances, or the debating society. I wasn’t into sport. There wasn’t much else. We graduated from high-school in the same year. Many of the boys from his school accompanied the girls from my school to our debutante’s ball.    

Santa Sabina - my old high-school


Roddy Doyle paints a picture in his books of a working class area on the north side of Dublin. His work is authentic. He writes from a personal knowledge and understanding of life in a relatively poor part of Dublin. However, Sutton, where Mr. Doyle went to high-school, is quite an affluent community. There are a few less well off communities close by. One such neighborhood is called Kilbarrack.    

Doyle writes about his fictional Barrytown. For a couple of years, I lived with a family in Kilbarrack. Kilbarrack was full of the Barrytown sorts of characters. Having lived in Kilbarrack, I can identify with Doyle’s characters. Doyle refers to a housing development in Sutton called Bayside.  Bayside grew from the outside in. At first the houses, stepped back behind the big houses along the sea front road, were fairly large, semi-detached, with large gardens. My parents bought one of these houses. Our house was one of the first to be completed in the sub-division. The children in Doyle’s stories play amid the later phases of the Bayside development – the part of the housing development that meandered toward Kilbarrack. I remember some of those smaller houses and townhouses being built. Occasionally I played with a couple of friends in and out of the unfinished buildings. We pretended to be banshees, echoing our wails throughout the cinder-block garage shells a few steps away from the houses. I had long left Ireland before Bayside was completed.    

It helps to understand the Dublin accent, and the vernacular when reading The Woman Who Walked into Doors. Doyle effectively uses ellipses in his writing style, and while I’m sure this works for people familiar with the societal structure, cultural references and language specifics, I think ‘outsiders’ probably miss quite a bit. Having said that, perhaps what is missed by the unfamiliar reader is really just the icing on the cake for those of us who might be closer in perspective to the story.    

You can go online and read many excellent reviews of The Woman Who Walked into Doors. I don’t want to give away too much about any of the books I write about here. What I do want to share with you is a little about what the book meant to me. The Woman Who Walked into Doors is about Paula Spencer, a suburban Dublin housewife who has been abused over several years by her husband. Doyle does an amazing job of getting into the mind and heart of this character. I wish I could only dare to write from the point of view of a man. I’m completely bought into Doyle’s perspective on this female life. Battered Wives is the term I remember hearing used as I grew up to describe women subject to their husband’s and partner’s violence. Paula is among other things, a battered wife. She is a woman, a once-child and troubled teenager, a daughter, a sibling, and a mother. Paula had dreams and disappointments. She lived through tragedy.    

Several themes touched me while reading this book. I witnessed the hopes and dreams of Paula the child, the desire and longing for love of a teenage and adult Paula, and the disappointment and disillusionment of Paula at every stage. While I haven’t had to live through any of the experiences Paula has lived through, they felt very real to me. I felt deeply moved by Paula’s story. When I think about this book, I think about love and fear, disappointment, rejection, the need to protect ourselves, denial, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, ignorance – societal and personal, and the utter disbelief we can sometimes feel about what is happening to us at particular moments in our lives. One of the things that struck me the most about Paula is how loving she is as a mother. She is a tough old boot in many ways. She’s hardened to the life she’s lived and the circumstances in which she finds herself. She is tender though as a mother. She is loving and protective.    

Paula is far from flawless. This is one of the things that made her real for me. Many would argue that for a mother to stay in an abusive marriage is dangerous not only for herself, but for her children. It is easy to argue that to stay is to abuse the children also, and certainly this is a theme in this book. However, Doyle paints an excellent picture of the social and economic pressures frequently experienced by people like Paula, and we can understand, if not agree with Paula’s decision to stay in this marriage for so long. One of the things I found sadly believable, and infuriating is how society, the medical profession in particular, became complicit in Paula’s abuse and denial. It is common for women who have been abused to find excuses for their ‘war wounds.’ I fell, or walked into a door, are some of the excuses heard from women who do not want, or fear to tell their doctor’s and families what has happened to them.    

Paula becomes empowered in the story. The reader knows that Paula did what she believed was right for her children when she stayed with her husband for so long. We readers witness with Paula, her gradual understanding of her situation, her gradual realization of what happened to her, of what she allowed to happen to her, and ultimately what she put an end to. I leave this book thinking about the extremes we will sometimes go to for love. As a mother, I can’t stop thinking about what Paula did for her children out of love, and what many real-life women do for their children out of love. How far will we go and what will we do for the people we love in our lives?    

The Woman Who Walked into Doors is a powerful story. I’ve shared a lot with you, but not the nitty-gritty details. You have much to read and discover yet. If there is one thing that threw me out of the story from time to time, it was a section of frequent repetition. While I think this repetition was in some ways a good device to show shock and disbelief, and a means to come to terms with something, I think it was overdone. Who am I to judge? If only I could write like Roddy Doyle!