Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nut Magnets and Handicrafts

I'm a nut magnet. Nutty people love me.
It's not - as we say in Ireland - off the ground that I licked it. My mother is a nut magnet par excellence, she's the Pied Piper of the Needy, Insane and Broken-hearted. My father will grumble that she gives off eejit vibes, attracting every nutcase in the county with her compulsive politeness, kind-heartedness and inability to just say No. And her children all have it, to a certain extent. Some more than others: as her blog will attest, my little sister Emily is brimming with bonhomie and she exudes good-natured eejitry. My sister Eithne has the ability to create a tow-tide of madness in her wake, managing to attract The Crazy without even trying.

It's a curse, I tell you, a curse.

'Course, I have it, too. But I tend slightly more towards my father's side - and he prefers people in small doses, as do I (which is ironic, because I have a very social job. I'm an introvert trapped in an extrovert's career) but despite my anti-social tendencies, I still attract my share of very strange people.

Let's look at exhibit A.
This was posted through my letterbox on Sunday. It reads - and I quote verbatim -

I am in search of my identical twin-sister "Gail". She have darkbrown haircolour and have 3 childrens. Iam in search of her since 1986 already, through the german trial/court! We are halfblood's of native americans! We have a noble title! We are "sharemen-daughters". We work with the power of the nature! My twin sister "Gail" is making her own native americans jewellery! I saw her 2 time's in the USA/America. In 1992 and 1995! Why Germany and the USA/America didn't helped us? We are not allow to know the real truth? Did they killed her already? Only because they like to get our money and heritage? Is Germany and the USA - are they guilty?

Mr Gingerbread and I were - and still are - perplexed. The top of the page boasts two photos of the same woman, one is marked Princess Hope (darkbrown) and Princess New Hope (darkblond). Aha! It's not the exact same photo, oh no. They're identical twins!!! The note is handwritten in English (we're in Germany) and if one were not already questioning the sanity of the writer, the plethora of exclamation marks and underlining of random words seems to push you to a certain conclusion. At first we thought it was some sort of elaborate swindle, to be followed up by Princess New Hope looking for money to find the long-lost "Gail", but no such appeal came. She didn't drop by to heal us with the power of the nature and her shareman (presumably shaman) abilities.

More's the pity. My plants could do with a wee raindance.

Sadly, I think that Princess New Hope is simply a person suffering from a persecution complex, with a sprinkling of paranoia thrown in, to boot. This saddens me, actually, to think about what kind of mental torture this poor soul is going through - to feel the need to plaster the neighbourhood (we later found more of them in the neighbourhood) with flyers whose message is almost incomprehensible in its madness.

On a more positive note: we started feeding Baby Gingerbread some solids. He loves it - so much so, that he will lean forward and eat the bowl if the food is not shovelled into him fast enough. See the fear in his eyes? He thinks this might be his last meal. Ever.

We'll work on the table manners next.

And when I'm not brandishing a spoon, trying to get some puréed carrots into my child's greedy mouth, I'm crocheting. I need lots and lots of hexagons before I can figure out how to put them together. There is yarn everywhere. Ever.Y.where. It's a testament to the love of my husband that he doesn't complain when he removes a skein of brown yarn from the baby's cot before he puts him down. This is a man who has made his peace with life with an addict.

The slipper on the left represents the fact that I am taking a step in the right direction.
It was not a mistake, it was an artistic choice.
Of course.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stained Glass Flowers

I've always loved the Cathedral Rose pattern, published by Annie's Attic. So much so, that I even bought a copy of it... but although the end result is always beautiful (and there are dozens to be seen on Google Images), the pattern is a bit daunting: lots of text, no photos or diagrams. For a visual learner like me, it's a little off-putting.

So I started thinking about my own stained glass pattern. It's what the Réalta pattern was supposed to be but didn't quite become. Creating a nice motif isn't hard, what is tricky is lining up the colours:

 I want to have the effect of light shining through the window, so the centre has to be the lightest, brightest point, with the colour graduating in shade towards the black frame of the window pane.
A little bit like this:

I'm pleased with the result so far. The first hexagons are lush with colour and I can't wait to add more. I've dug out every scrap of coloured yarn I have to line up shades and tones, just to find a nice colour sequence. Oooh, I like this!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Adventures in Ireland, Part III: Uncle Joe & Rummy

There's a thin line between lunacy and lucidity. Most people sit on one side or the other, others wobble down the middle, occasionally tipping to one side. My 85-year-old great-uncle Joe riverdances down this line, high-kicking on either side when the fancy takes him.
Is he eccentric, you say?
Is he what?
One day, when visiting my parents, he pulled my father aside.
"Listen!" he hissed and pointed out the window. "Listen to those pigeons: 'Cooooo! Coo!'"
My father made a listening face but he couldn't hear much through the double-glazing.
"It's that blasted MI6!" he growled. "They're spying on me again. Those pigeons are just decoys - they're bugging devices, they're tapping me!"
They didn't have to tap him - he's already tapped ... in the head, that is. My father didn't even try to explain why the British secret service really didn't need to go to the bother of installing remote-controlled robo-pigeons with listening devices in the trees outside our home. There wasn't a van hidden behind a hedge somewhere with three or four British agents taking frantic notes about Uncle Joe's dinner conversation. Her Majesty's Secret Service is not interested in hearing about his trip to Capri. If my father had even hinted at any of the above, Joe's eyes would narrow suspiciously, and he'd make his exit as quick as a flash, suspecting that the pigeons had already got to my father.

Despite the fact that his movements are being tracked by feathered vermin, he is brimming with (physical) good health and appears dapper and smart to anyone outside the family. We have just had to come to terms with the fact that while other elderly people have a touch of gout or arthritis, Uncle Joe has a touch of a persecution complex. The MI6 might be on his case, but it hasn't stopped him travelling the world. He literally - and I'm using literally correctly here, as opposed to any empty word for emphasis - walks into Dublin Airport, walks up to a ticket desk, buys a ticket to, say, Spain and ... flies there. He doesn't speak a word of Spanish - or any other language apart from (Dublin) English. And when the foreigners don't understand the elderly bald man in the three-piece suit, he just speaks more loudly. Even more loudly, that is. The MI6 don't actually need the pigeons at all, as he can be heard at a significant distance. My parents have a small pile of postcards from different destinations around the world: Jamaica (he felt like a cruise, so he went to the Carribean), Lourdes (nothing like an aul prayer now and again), Capri (he loves Italy) and, if memory serves me correctly, the Florida Everglades (don't ask.)

And when he's not travelling the world with multiple intelligence agencies on his heels, he goes shopping. Not in shops, oh no. He likes markets - flea markets, second-hand markets,  auctions and estate sales. We're pretty sure that he regularly gets fleeced - unbeknownst to himself. He triumphantly brings his purchases to our house, where he distributes them bountifully. Sadly, there are too many Gingerbreads for him to keep track of our ages or stages in life, so the presents are often wildly inappropriate. We've received close to a dozen second-hand lambskin coats, countless pieces of jewellery - real jewels mixed in with plastic-and-paste pieces - toys of every description and every state of disarray. A variety of electrical and mechanical equipment that either does not work or is long obsolete. As soon as he has left, they're gathered up and disposed of tactfully. I can't count the number of times I've arrived home in Ireland and spotted something bizarre - a CD player without a laser, a gold medallion with an anchor on it, a coffee machine without a glass carafe - lying around. I only need to point and ask, "Uncle Joe?"
"Of course!"

Hence Rummy, a Donald Rumsfeld talking doll.
I think he thought this was some kind of Barbie-esque action figure - maybe Barbie's new Sugar Daddy. Maybe Barbie had an internship in the White House and Rummy took her under his wing. Maybe Barbie and Rummy enjoyed a brief but passionate affair in the heat of war. So many possibilities! But none of the Barbie-playing target audience (my nieces) wanted an action figure of an old guy in a suit, so my mother gave it to my husband at Christmas.

I cannot tell you how happy this made Mr Gingerbread. We couldn't take the doll back after Christmas - we had no room in our cases for action figures, no, sorry - so I took pity on Mr G and brought him back his action figure after this trip. Every time he picks it up, he laughs.

Now the doll sits in its box on his desk and its beady little eyes follow me around. I fear I've opened the floodgates: before long, the house will be full of Uncle Joe's mad bargains. We'll be tripping over broken chess sets and African statues made-in-China.

Oh well. At least now I know why that pigeon has built her nest in the tree outside our front window.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Adventures in Ireland, Part II: And he made off with her coat!

Thank you all very much for your lovely comments about my last post. I'm glad I made some of you laugh. This post, however, is on a more serious note. It concerns CRIME. Brace yourselves!

My aunt Cathleen is a respectable woman of ... mature standing (we won't say her years because her youthful good looks and trendy style belie her age) and a well-known figure in our town. She is a lady. I have never heard her raise her voice, never seen her lose her temper, not even move at a speed that could be described as anything faster than 'stately'. All the more shocking to learn that she was recently the victim of a most dastardly crime. She was standing in her own driveway, outside her front door, when she was approached by a strange young man who wanted money. In her own driveway! She said she didn't have any money on her, but he proceeded to roughly pat her down - pat her down! (if you knew my aunt Cathleen, you would understand that she is not the type that should be patted down by anyone for anything) - then the bounder grabbed her purse ...
... and he took her coat.

Yes, indeed. The last thing she saw was "her coat flying away" as the gurrier absconded with her belongings.

Upon hearing of Cathleen's mugging, my mother reacted as she usually does in these situations: she gave an incoherent shriek, ran for the door, a cigarette already lit, and made for the car. Normally she'd leap into the car and drive away like a Formula One driver on crack cocaine, in fourth gear in about 12 seconds, but my father intercepted her at the back door and persuaded her to let him drive her as a favour to  road-travelling society in general. So my parents and a gang of siblings, another aunt and a family friend who happened to be visiting when my mother got that fateful call all hopped into their respective cars and drove in swift convoy into town to my aunt's house. While she was being gently interrogated by a member of the Garda Síochána (the police force), tea was brewed, threatening noises were made in the general direction the thief took off in and my mother flung homoeopathic pills into my aunt - who probably had had enough to contend with and now had to deal with my mother's flower remedies as well.

It was a crime that shook the town and, strangely, it was the disappearance of the coat that affected many people most:
"She was mugged? In her own driveway? And he stole her purse? AND HE TOOK HER COAT????"
My brother Michael wanted to round up a vigilante group on Facebook but, you know, it was February and reeeeeeaaaallllly cold and he had a bit of a cough and had to get up early for work and all, so it was enough to throw shapes and make growly noises on a social medium:
"I'm saying this now: the guy who mugged my auntie and stole her purse, took her coat and gave her a fright had better not cross my path..."
The reaction from other posters was instantaneous and to the point:
"He took her coat? Is she alright?"
"The fecker! What's the world coming to if someone gets robbed in their own driveway and has their coat stolen?"
"I can't believe he took her coat!!!"

Honestly. The coat could've set up its own Facebook page.

But some people were concerned about other things. The next day my aunt visited her cousin, a lady in her 80s with a heightened sense of drawma (and just as an aside: the last time I saw this lady, she was wearing a zebra-print coat with a mustard beret and matching scarf. Just to illustrate the colourful character I'm introducing here), and broke the news of her mugging to her, lest the cousin hear it first from another source.
"Dear God, Cathleen!" she wailed. "Don't tell me he pushed you into your hall and ... interfered with you!"
My aunt gawped - in a ladylike fashion, of course - and reassured her that, no, the junkie was more interested in her money than ravishing one of the town's premier dowagers.

Within a fortnight, the thief was arrested. The guards (that's what we call the police, by the way) could not recover her purse and the whereabouts of the coat have not yet been ascertained. My aunt remains - putting it in the local vernacular - a bit shook, but her driveway has been vagabond-free since then.

But the story does not end here. My mother met a woman who told her about a recent train trip to Dublin. She got into conversation with the passenger in the seat beside her - a lady from the neighbouring county - and when the other passenger heard where the woman was from, she said,
"I heard that some woman was mugged there outside her front door there a few weeks ago."
The local woman confirmed that this was true: "She was! And that in her own driveway!"
"Did he get any money?"
"He did indeed. Sure and didn't he take her purse and all off her."
The other woman tut-tutted and then leaned conspiratorially:
"Tell me this," she said, "Is it true that the pup ... made off with her coat?"

No word of a lie.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Adventures in Ireland, Part I: The Half-Thompson

Goodness me. What have we been up to?
Well, the Limpet and I headed off to Ireland for a fortnight to surprise my father on the occasion of a Significant Birthday. While there, I came down with a very, very nasty cold and a dose of laryngitis, which I passed on to my husband upon my return. He wanted me to bring him back something from Ireland, but I don't think he was reckoning on a full-blown headcold.

In any case, Ireland was ... Ireland. It's really quite a bonkers place to be. I always return to Germany with lots of stories, inevitably with a cast of dozens that my husband does not know. But never mind that - he's learned to smile politely and look interested, because every conversation he has with my parents includes enlightening information about the families of people he does not know.

You see, my parents come from a small town. My father's family have been there since the 18th century and my mother's family for much longer. For them, part of the attraction of living there is knowing who people are - their seed, breed and generation. Like most people living in rural Ireland, they possess a vast database of genealogical information and no story is complete without a minor detour into someone's stock. This information is often pivotal to the story. Very often, this information hijacks the original story and becomes the narrative itself. It's a massive, meandering, complicated web of births, deaths and marriages.

Thus, conversations run like this: for example, my father might raise a finger to launch a discourse on the errant behaviour of some ne'er-do-well in our town and my mother interjects to supply his ancestry. My father corrects her and they get into an argument about the person's grandparents. Some of my siblings might chime in to further detour the conversation. Three hours later, we're discussing how the world might be if it were taken over by chimps and no-one knows how we got there. If it were a screenplay, it would look like this:

Father: ... And the guards caught him in the act, spraying graffiti on the church door. The little pup was standing there with a spray can in his hand when the squad car happened upon him. You have to feel sorry for him though, no rearing on him at all.
Mother: His mother was a Delaney from Leighlinbridge and her brothers were terrible troublemakers when they were younger. One of them even went to prison for a while.
Father: Was she a Delaney from Leighlinbridge? I thought she was a sister to Eileen Delaney from Ballylinan.
Mother: No, Leighlinbridge! Remember their father, Paddy Delaney? The man with a squint? He used to have a little Jack Russell and suck butterscotch in Mass.
Father: You're thinking of Eileen Delaney's father. He used to walk like this [stands up to demonstrate a man limping] and he drove a Morris Minor. He was from Ballylinan.
Mother: I'm sure they came from Leighlinbridge. My sister Maureen went to school with Eileen Delaney till she left to work in the shirt factory.
Sibling 1: I used to go to school with a Patrick Cullen and his mam was a Delaney from Ballylinan, they owned a sweet shop. Is that the one?
Father: No, they're different Delaneys. They were related to the O'Sullivans from Ballyadams, I think their father's mother was an O'Sullivan. Or did an aunt marry an O'Sullivan? Maybe it was the aunt. Now, the O'Sullivans were terrible tearaways but nothing like the Delaneys.

And so on. The fact that my husband is from A Foreign Land and I am generally clueless is really no defence. For example, my parents' dishwasher broke down before Christmas and they got a repairman in to fix it. He provided a short-term solution but, ultimately, the machine died a slow and painful dirty-dished death.
"This dishwasher is useless," I complained, looking at the inside of a cup that had just been "washed".
My father leaned in and said: "That's because the man who repaired it is ..." [dramatic pause] "... a Thompson."
"He wasn't a Thompson," my mother said, tsk-tsking.
And added: "His mother was."
"He was a half-Thompson," said my father, satisfied that his point was proved.
They looked at me, content that I'd understood what that meant.
"What does that have to do with anything?" I asked (and, really, you should never ask.)
They looked at me, incredulously.
"They're fierce rough," my father said. "Everyone knows that."
You see?

In any case, my father told the rest of the family the reason for the dishwasher's demise and, to his credit, it sufficed to only mention that the repairman was a half-Thompson. The fact that they're fierce rough went without saying - sure, everyone knows that.