Monthly Archives: August 2014


By Roshi Fernando

Ok, a warning… is becoming more and more the case, this post has very little to do with the book itself. I have a few half written posts which I meant to finish off with a little bit more reference to the books in questions, but those books are in transit and by the time they arrive I’ll have ready plenty more books and this is becoming a bit like my early teen diaries, where I was trying to fill in my pages for April in October, so what I’d written a few months ago was this:

Homesick, an appropriate title considering how I feel so much of the time. I will never regret these years, I have grown to love Spain, something I would never have expected if you had asked me 10 years ago. I first studied Spanish for South America, had no great desire to spend any particular amount of time in Spain itself, the high-rise of Torremolinos having left enough of an imprint on my 6 year old mind. And now we’re at a situation where in a few months’ time we may feel a certain homesickness for Spain, our home away from home.
The Germans have a word, ‘Heimat’ which doesn’t really have any equivalent in English, it somehow explains in a much clearer way, that pull of the homeland, that something which you will never lose, whether you want to or not.
I was so busy at work that I didn’t notice Easter creeping up on us, then last night it was as if the realisation just hit me. ‘I’m going home tomorrow’ and I felt so excited. My sisters will also be home from the UK and as far as I’m aware, on Sunday we’ll all be together for the first time in 2014. And maybe partners too? Is it possible that for ‘the first’ time ever all of my family and all of our partners will be together? In one sense being abroad and then coming home really heightens the emotions of a family gathering. There will be stress and emotion, but mostly laughter. Or at least here’s hoping…
After long drawn out talks of potentially moving back we finally have a fixed timeline and it’s beginning to feel real. And I was chatting to my sister on Facebook a few nights ago and she ended enigmatically with ‘soon it will be me’ but didn’t respond when I looked for clarification it’s been 5 years since we’ve all been living in Ireland, I wonder how long before we’re all back.
When I was younger I soon realised that it was very strange that all of my aunts and uncles (all 9 families) lived in Ireland, none of them had emigrated. Of course we had American second cousins, who would come back every few years.
Between my siblings we’ve lived in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Scotland, South Africa, England and Belarus. Obviously most of this was the so-called lifestyle emigration, well some of them student summer jobs, some longer. But the emigration of the last 5 years, that is less voluntary.
Compared to the characters in this book we have it easy though. For most Irish emigrants language is not a problem in the destination countries. Or even in many of them where English is not the native language it is so commonly used as a lingua franca in business that it may as well be. Nowadays we don’t face the discrimination of the ‘no blacks, no Irish’ days, apart from some parts of Australia, where some people are giving the Irish a bad reputation.
But wherever you go, despite what you may intend you will often end up hanging around with people of your own nationality. And sometimes you feel a certain shame ‘I’ve come all this way and I’m starting a new life and I really want to integrate and yet here I am. You may dismiss it all you like, or feel very un-Irish at times when you are at home, but when you meet fellow Irish abroad, especially if we’re talking about somewhere there aren’t too many of us, there is just a certain humour that is shared that you don’t find with anybody else. I don’t think this is unique, each culture has its shared history. There is a history you have grown up with, TV programs you’ve watched, songs you’ve sung, schoolbooks you’ve studied. You don’t need this when it’s all around you, but in small doses it can be fantastic. There is another issue though. You may want to integrate. You may be ready to do your best to make new friends, embrace the local culture, but the locals, they aren’t embracing you (or at least, not enough for a full social circle). And why should they? What have you got to offer them? If you are living in your home country, think about how many times in the last few years you have generously offered the hand of friendship to someone new to your country. For once I can say yes, yes I have. But that’s because I went through it myself before, got offered that hand of friendship and realised how much it meant to me.
Anyway all of this is a preamble to explain why you have a group of people halfway across the world from their homeland meeting up on New Year’s Eve to celebrate.
And now I’m looking over the lights of Dublin and looking forward to that first mug of tea with a slice of my mother’s brown bread.
I’m now sitting in one of my favourite cafes in Dublin (in the apparently ‘disappointing’ Temple Bar). The name above the door is the Brick Alley Cafe but to me it will always be the Joy of Coffee. Back when I was in college it was one of the few pure cafes (as opposed to cafe bars, not that they had reached their peak at this stage) that opened late. There are large wooden tables and you just take your place there. There is no feeling that you are strange for being alone. There are loads of flyers for different arts events, the type of things I might not always attend but I like to know are there. I studied my Russian here while waiting for a train home. I met friends. I watched people coming here for informal language classes. I watched. I confess I do miss a certain level of anonymity. It is great in one way to be able to walk into a restaurant in Casares and the people know us, but I miss the anonymity of a big city cafe when people come and go and nobody notices you sitting in a corner taking it all in.
I’ve picked up a flyer for the Dublin Writers Festival. I’m still planning on coming next month for the Giro but also two weeks later. D is doing an exam but I was planning on staying in Spain. Until one of my best friends who lives in Australia mentioned she would be home and asked ‘you wouldn’t happen to be in Ireland that weekend?’
(I just watched the Hare Krishna episode of Mad Men a few days ago and it’s mad to see them singing down the street just now!)
I thought the book might remind me a bit of ‘One more year’ by Sara Krasikov but that one was more about recent emigrants, a bit like myself, who say ‘one more year’ in ‘one more year I’ll move home. It was a bit like that with us. That one more year was slippery. We went to Spain for two years, we’ve been there twice as long. I’m slightly terrified about coming home. I sit here in this cafe and it’s all so familiar. I walk from Connolly to O’Connell St. Everything is familiar even if it’s different. That bargain bookshop at the beginning of Grafton St. is closing. If you want bargain books I’d prefer to buy them on the internet than one of those shops. If I want a bookshop I want a real bookshop, not this fake. There is a McDonald’s in Temple Bar. That is a disappointment. In some ways O’Connell St is a lost cause, too many fast food joints. Surely there could have been something else here. The Centra was bad enough. I read about The Factory being evicted and I think, weren’t these last few years supposed to be a time of regeneration, to discover what we’re about. Art was popping up everywhere, revitalising the city, but now that the economy is out the up it’s like ‘thank you very much, you can go back to the side-lines where you belong’
So I’m not worried about settling back in , but people, people. I have my family, I have friends, but 4 years is a long time to be away, no matter how often you make it back. In some sense I have to start again from the beginning.
But this book was more about the children of people who have stayed away, the Sri Lankans born at home do get some stories but the focus is more on the London boom generation. It is interesting to be reading this the week after the Ireland state visit. There were many articles in the papers about the identity of Irish in Britain, especially second generation. Dara O’Briain famously said that he would ‘love his English child’.
I’m sitting in my parents-in-law conservatory looking out over Blessington lake. It’s not quite as warm today as it was in the past few days, but still lovely in the conservatory. I’ve gone for a walk at Russborough with my Mother in Law and Sister in Law and we’ve marvelled at the beautiful colours on display there. I think some time abroad really heightens your appreciation of home. At first in Spain we marvelled at the beautiful surroundings there. Everything was so much bigger. The wilds were so much wilder. And yet, after a few years away you take that for granted and come back and appreciate the different but equal beauties of Ireland.
And it really irritates me when I read about how there’s nothing to do in and around Dublin and how boring a city it is.
On Friday evening I went to that concert in the beautiful Adam and Eve’s church. I do love a good requiem and the Mornington Singers are fantastic, even if I am biased. I remember when they sang at my brother’s wedding, thinking, I may as well never get married, we’ll never be able to top this.
Yesterday I went to the Battle of Clontarf re-enactment then raced into Dublin to catch the end of the Villagers set in Towers Records for Record Store Day. We needed some new CDs for our car and anyway as I’m not supposed to be buying books it was a good substitute to buy some albums. I don’t know if there is something wrong with me though. I looked in the movies section and couldn’t see a single one I felt like buying. A lovely Easter walk this morning after mass and lazy brunch. Today we’re going back to Skerries to celebrate my sister’s 30th. It will be the first time all siblings and all their current partners have all been together. It’s always such an effort to get people together these days. As an emigrant coming home there is always a bit of heightened emotion, trying to pack as much as possible, but even leaving aside the family aspects there is so much else I could be doing. I have a Monday and Tuesday to plan out.

So…..that was how far I’d got to. 4 weeks in and I am happy to be home, though I’m sure some of the euphoria will disappear soon enough.

Like I said, I’m not going to write any more about the book at the moment, but it is a good one, well written and with moments of joy and horror and normal everyday life. It’s difficult to emigrate and be an emigrant, but you deal with those issues of living far away from home because….sometimes…’s even more difficult to move home.


Amanda’s Wedding

by Jenny Colgan


Oh dear God, this was a bad book. I’m sure I’ve read and enjoyed Jenny Colgan books before but maybe I was less critical in my earlier reading. I didn’t realise it was one of her older books, but oh my, it has not aged well, All the gay jokes are just……ugh, cringe. None of the characters are likable, except Angus and you suspect maybe Linda, except that you see her through the lense of our superflawed ‘heroine’. Melanie has a leech of a boyfriend who disappeared for a year and was welcomed back with open arms. Even though you know this is just a standard ‘girl has lousy boyfriend, ditches him for somebody better’ plot, you just want her to grow a backbone. Sirens are blazing! Alarm bells are ringing! And yet she still crumples into submission.

Fraser, the ‘laird’ who is marrying Amanda, the bitch of a best friend, is not much stronger. Amanda has chased him for his castle and title (I always find it funny reading about anybody fawning over a ‘laird’, since that is my name).

The only thing I can say is that it did slightly keep me guessing until the end, but maybe I just like my chicklit a bit more predictable, where enough hints and nice scenes are dropped to make you root for Mr. Right so that when it finally happens you cheer. Perhaps I’m spoiling this book by saying I didn’t. I just groaned and kept turning the pages hoping there would be a last minute reprieve.


I never really understand books with a character who seemingly has got engaged by accident. I mean, I’m not saying that nobody has ever felt pressured to get engaged and then changed their minds, or been impulsive, but surely there must have been some genuine affection for such a nice lad like Fraser to ask Amanda to marry him. And if not and he just liked her body, well is that somebody to admire?

All we see is a bitch. There is no second dimension to her character, a little bit of pity (but more schadenfreude) when few people turn up to her hen party, but overall she’s just brought it on herself and poor Fraser missed it.

Ugh. I just wanted a nice simple book to tide me over during my first few days at home. So I bought this one in Eason’s with a Natasha Solomons book I hope is better.


Our things have not left Spain yet so most of my books are still sunning themselves on the Costa del Sol while I commute to town from Costal del Fingal (when you can’t even swim right now). I have no excuse for the purchase though I have a lot of books here still.

Anyway my ire was worked up and maybe it’s time for me to start exercising my brain again. As for this one, I’m going to dump it on the train tomorrow morning. Maybe somebody else can enjoy this drivel.


Postscript: I forgot to leave it on the morning train, so had it out and ready to leave on the train back. However at the back of my mind I was thinking ‘If I leave this here, somebody is going to point out to me that I left it.’ So I waited until the very last moment, when the train was already stopped, then hopped up, leaving the book on the seat. And yet still, as I was walking to the gate somebody tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I’d left my book. I kind of laughed nervously and said it was deliberate.

‘Oh ok, I might take it back to my partner then…for our holiday.’

‘Sure, it’s just, it’s not very good.’


On hearing the hesitation in his voice I nearly panicked, thinking he might hand it back to me:

‘Oh it’s fine really, for a holiday, like…’

‘Ok, thanks then!’


Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov

Edited by Robert Chandler


I hate that some people may take from my recent blogs, Facebook posts, tweets etc. that I am anti-Russian. I hate what Putin has done and I hate the fact that plenty of Russians believe the propaganda of the fascism of the West, but there is really so much I love of Russia and its people and definitely its arts. I already mentioned my Belarusian friend, whom I met in Skerries when I was 14 and who took that trip to Crimea with me 10 years later. 10 years later she is living in Dublin with her Irish husband and I am godmother to one of her two sons.  She taught me the cyrillic letters and introduced me to Russian literature. I had head of War and Peace but it seemed like some huge tome that was meant to sit on a shelf and not be read. She told me they studied it in school. At the time I was studying Steinbeck’s novella ‘The Pearl’ and it didn’t seem to quite compare.


I had always been a fan of fairy tales and enjoyed reading those from lands far away, including Russia. When choosing my college courses as a clueless 16 year old, I had selected some course relating to folk tales as my top non degree choice. That was never going to happen though, I was always going to end up doing a more ‘useful’ degree. (My practical self should thank the elders who persuaded me this way, my dreamy self regrets what might have been.) When I left Belarus, my Russian teacher and good friend was very enthusiastic, though perhaps a little over optimistic, about my progress. She wanted me to prepare for exams for teaching Russian as a foreign language. On the train to Crimea I had some books to read, a diary to write in and an exercise book for my Russian. I did continue going to classes in Dublin for a few years after I returned, but I am ashamed to say that I have forgotten most of it through lack of practice. (Like my French, like my Irish. I wish I could be one of those people who seem to be able to hold multiple languages in their head and juggle around. It is not for a lack of fantastic and generous teachers. Frau Harbison, who devoted her life to teaching German to the children of Skerries and helped me when I was going through a rough patch with my degree; Oksana, who taught me twice a week as paid for by my employers and three times a week out of the goodness of her heart and Lorena, who became a part time wedding planner and full time friend. We said ‘hasta luego’ last night and there were more than a few tears as the realisation set in.)  Oksana gave me some lovely copies of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy etc. when I left Minsk, but probably those I would be more likely to return to at this stage are the ‘skazki’, the fairy tales. Randomly I’m just remembering my attempt at translating the Children of Lir into Russian (deti Lira) back when I had my daily lessons.

One of my favourites growing up was The Firebird and I was happy to find that one here. I suppose it is probably one of the better known tales, since it has been transformed into a ballet by Stravinsky, though I haven’t managed to see that one yet, even though in my time in Minsk I tried to take in as many ballets as possible at the local, but well regarded Bolshoi theatre. Back in Dublin you see the same standards every year, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty. It drives my ballet teacher cousin crazy.


Speaking of fairy tales, a few months ago I discovered an enchanted forest close to Jimena de la Frontera. As we had made the decision to move home we tried to make the most of the time we had left here and visit the places we hadn’t seen. We arrived on that March night in heavy rain and there were lots of snipes at each other. The next morning I was not surprised to discover that the hike I wanted to join was cancelled. If in Ireland we always waited for dry weather we’d never go hiking at all. The owner of the posada pointed me to a short route around the edge of the town. I noticed that a longer route followed the river and decided to try for that one. (The posada by the way was ‘rustic’ but enchanting and had a huge library which must have been owned by some late expat; it seems like it was stuck at a certain point of time. I wouldn’t say this was the best place I’ve stayed at in Spain, but I liked the quirkiness.)


According to the map at some point there was a bridge across the river but I never came across it. ‘Marked’ walks are a bit like that in Spain, you follow a few spruced up signs, begin to believe the trails are as well organised as Switzerland…… and then you’re on your own. I did pass an area where I saw some blocks under the water and I wondered if that was it. In any other season there might be less water and it could be easy to cross but it wasn’t a goer at that time. I didn’t want to get to the other side and find I was wrong.

So I continued on, following what must have been sheep’s paths, getting further from civilisation and closer to the monster’s lair or the hidden prince’s palace.

It was nice to be somewhere different and all alone. Around Casares there are so many houses blighting the landscape. I’m sure they could not all have had the proper permits. You are never this alone.

As I moved on searching for the elusive bridge I had to hope I could follow the gingerbread crumbs back. I felt like that guy in ‘My Side of the Mountain’. I could just start living in a tree and make my life here. Does anybody write children’s novels like that (or, say, ‘The House at World’s End’) any more or do they all have to be super realistic and basically child services would be called in?

So the book itself. Despite my intention to replace A Clash of Kings with The Count of Monte Cristo, this became my go to car book. As the stories are short it probably made more sense.

It’s interesting that some versions of the tales have been from the same base story and yet are so different. I used to be so angry with Disney for not sticking to the ‘real’ story, though I was comparing to the Grimm Brothers who apparently collated different versions and streamlined them into one.

There really is an emphasis on the threes. The three sisters, a common theme in Russian fairytales and literature.Three daughters, three sons, three chicks, three tsaroviches. Well in my family there are three daughters and three sons, so a perfect fit for a fairytale. Unfortunately that would never work out well for me, as I am the eldest sister.


While out walking near Gaucin in April I had an idea for a children’s book following on from my quest near Jimena. Well, another for the backburner. Someday I’d better start writing, not just talking or blogging about it. Spring is a beautiful time of year. The rain seems to have stopped (though, it always keeps sneaking back…well into June). The sky is blue but everything is still green or verdant, is it? Is that the word you use when green just will not do? Ah Gaucin, the hiding place of Carmen, that most famous of gypsies.


On the way back we slowed down yet again to glance at the monstrosity of a palace that seems to have got past all planning laws. I wonder what fairy tale character is most likely to be hiding there. We stopped at the Genal river and dipped our feet. It wasn’t quite swimming weather yet.

The book’s introduction explains some of the influences of the magic tales on Russian traditions, such as Mishka the bear and Myshka the mouse, where a girl has to play blind man’s buff with a bear but a mouse helps her by taking her place. Even in today’s weddings the groom often has to search for his bride. By the way, I love the tradition of games at Russian (maybe all Slavic?) weddings. I thought about having some at ours, but it would have been too complicated to organise when guests aren’t used to it. Though I have to say, at this stage so many Irish people have been to Polish weddings and everybody seems to have a good time, maybe it might take off in the future?


Mayday brought us a fairytale fog. A few years back the government in Gibraltar decided to break the tradition of the UK where you got the first Monday and give us the 1st instead. That’s great, I love bank holidays and all, but when it’s a Thursday and you just have so much to do at work you feel like maybe you aren’t going to enjoy it.

There was some walk going from Casares that I thought I might join. Sometimes when I’m, not sure if I want to do something I leave it to the last minute, maybe even beyond and if it’s still possible I feel like that’s a sign. Sometimes this works perfectly, sometimes I realise too late that I really wanted to do that thing (see Devotchka concert Dublin 2008….. what do you mean it’s sold out?)

So the way our house is built you can easily have no idea what the weather is like outside. It stays cold and dark until summer when you realise it isn’t cold anymore. I was dithering over breakfast, wondering what do, then I caught a glimpse of the fog outside, raced upstairs and saw that once again the fog was everywhere. I was so worried I’d miss it that I grabbed my camera (finally replaced the one stolen last year, yay!) and my bag and headed out. After taking a few around the town I realised I had missed the opportunity of going on the walk and didn’t mind too much, I was thinking of heading to the edge of town to try and get some good shots and then I realised there was only one place for it, so hiked up to the refugio and the amazing mirador.


While I can tolerate insects as well as most (they’re obviously a very important part of the biosphere etc. etc. ) I just hate cockroaches and there were some humongous looking cockroach type creatures up there. I suppose In fairytale world the cockroach would offer me a wish in order to save his life and then would turn out to be a prince in disguise..

So I was back at the refugio to write. It is a very fairytale like setting itself, if more the woodcutter’s abode than the palace. I just had to stop every 5 minutes of so and take some more photos of the fog.

If you are kind and brave people (or various animals) will come together to help you. Look, we all know life isn’t like a fairytale, but sometimes there are lessons you can learn and if you are good to people I truly believe that they will mostly be good back.Of course in fairytales you will always get your just rewards, whereas in real life you may not be so lucky.

One of the tales is called ‘The Frog Princess’ We are well aware of the Frog Prince and as far as I knew the frog princess was just a fantastic Divine Comedy song. This was one of the many examples of a prince or princess trapped in the body of an animal until their true love sets them free.


As enjoyable as the stories were sometimes the stories of the writers/collectors were more interesting. From Ivan Aleksandrovich Khudyakov, who was convicted of complicity in a plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander II and while in exile in Siberia complied a Yakut-Russian dictionary to Nadezhda Teffi, the Russian émigré in Paris.

While I enjoyed reading the fairytales a few at a time, there is no denying that they can get quite samey and that you can become immune to people getting killed at the drop of a hat (a bit like Game of Thrones, eh?) and also falling in love at first sight with little or no emotional resonance.

So the stories of Teffi came as some respite, in particular ‘The Dog’. It is only in the very vaguest sense a fairytale and has emotional resonance in spades.


Coincidentally while writing this I came across a review of a newly published book on the works of Teffi (Subtly Worded, and Other Stories). Once I get home I’m going to seek it out. I’m beginning to realise that this ‘no book-buying lark’ is not going to work very well. On the one hand I feel I should be reading a larger portion of the books I already own, but on the other hand I know that whether I end up reading them or not my buying interesting oddball books will result in publishers continuing to publish interesting oddball books. And if I buy them in a bookshop as opposed to online I am, in my small way, keeping bookshops afloat. Sometimes independent, sometimes chains. I like independent bookshops but I like some chains too and I don’t think it’s evil to give business to a well-run bookshop like Waterstones (also have I mentioned Hodges Figgis is my favourite bookshop? Maybe once? Oh ok then…..) or Easons. Also I feel it’s payback for all the books I read for free in those shops while I was in college. Anyway loads of people are talking about unread books at the moment. Apparently it’s perfectly normal to have half of your books unread. There’s no shame in it.

I know I wasn’t finished on the subject of this book, but I think I will finish up anyway. Teffi was a high point. Russia/Ukraine has hit the headlines again and probably if you google Russian fairytales at the moment you will be more likely to read some wildly outrageous accusations about the perpetrators of MH17 than classic bedtime stories. I don’t feel like burying myself in the more traditional ones right now.