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Mattie Lennon's Recommended Reading For Christmas

By Mattie Lennon

Dancing on the Edge

"Reminiscences make one feel so deliciously aged and sad."
...George Bernard Shaw

"Dancing on the Edge" by Kay Forristal makes me feel aged and sad and a lot of other things.
Many Irish autobiographies are an uneven mix of love, cruelty, rain, sunshine and hope. This book has all the above with the added, unusual, ingredients of healing and forgiveness. Kay Forristal has a power of observation to equal that of Alice Taylor coupled with Mannix Flynn's ability to accurately recount suffering without bitterness.

She was born the youngest in a family of ten, in a Munster town in 1954. The book opens with a trip to the airport, aged three, when her parents ".... Were about to lose their first born to Emigration." Her brother, aged seventeen, was going to America.

Everything from the tough colourful lifestyle of the visiting Gypsies to catching "Kissans" in a jam-jar, under the supervision of a loving father, is described in detail with feeling and humour. She had an active enquiring mind and today looks back on many childhood experiences, which "fired my imagination and sharpened my curiosity."

One stormy night, when her mother was giving sustenance to a Tramp, Kathleen was looking at a picture of the Eiffel Tower. The man-of-the-roads asked, "What's that?" (I am familiar with Kathleen's native town and one thing you won't find in it is a person who is stuck for an answer). Kathleen replied, "It's down town beside the ESB and it was all lit up for the festival."

Many readers who were born around the middle of the last century will understand when she says how her father was incapable of affectionate contact. "I didn't hear the words 'I love you' in our home. We had the presence of love instead." (She only once saw her parents kiss; it was on a Christmas Eve.)

Because she was the youngest, her parents kept her together with them "in a safe bubble of protection". This left her "quite unprepared for life on a larger scale" when old enough to go to school. The cruelty of the first Nun she encountered, in school, was unbelievable. But then (and this is where her balanced memory shines) she, "....met Sister Catherine, when I was five, an angel in a Nun's habit." Sister Catherine was one of a minority of Nuns who showed kindness to Kay, who was the victim of violence, humiliation and all sorts of degrading treatment. Years later, as the mother of a growing family she was on a visit to her home town when she spotted a Nun from her school, in the street. "I froze. Panic waves swept over me and I was afraid I would be physically sick......." She spoke to her mother about the incident to be told, " The day you were born I cried bitter tears.........Because I knew I would have to send you to the Nuns, and I knew that you would suffer as a result of that."

Of course visits home bring back more pleasant memories, like her "initiation" in her first job in a furniture store in her native town. This emporium boasted a large display window and on Kay's first day there she was called into the window by a male member of staff who was making up a double bed as part of the display. Soon a sizeable crowd had gathered outside to view……………If you want to know what they were watching you'll have to read the book!

The author has published two volumes of poetry "Poetry in Motion" and "New Beginnings". However it was with some reluctance that she embarked on "Dancing on the Edge". Perhaps, for a while, she believed Emerson that, " Poetry makes it's own pertinence and a single stanza outweighs a book of prose". When she took up the pen she immediately became aware of her self-worth.

The reader is taken by the hand and brought on a journey from the fifties to the present time. As a 49 year old grandmother the author re-visited her childhood through a class re-union in her old school. Once again she experienced the camaraderie of her old classmates and the support of her best friend, Maggie, "who could sing." She asked a kindly geriatric nun for a go on her motorised wheelchair. She also confronted (and forgave) her erstwhile tormenters, setting herself-and possibly them- on the path to healing. That's when she left her past behind her, including her name. (She parted company with the "Kathleen" by which she had been known for almost half a century and became Kay.) That was when she realised that she had a story worth telling. "When it was suggested to me that I write a book about my life, my answer was that I had done nothing with my life and had no real achievements...........I was wrong."

And, now, the author's peace of mind, contentment, sense of fulfilment and well rounded attitude to all facets of life are testimony to the words of Dag Hammarskjóld' "Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean."

"Dancing On The Edge"
is available from the author:
Kay Forristal
7 abbey Park
Ferrybank, Waterford.
Price 12 Euro ( including P&P)

* * * * *

There's Love and There's Sex and There's the 46A

"There's Love and There's Sex and There's the 46A" is a collection of short-stories, essays, articles, ballads and poems all written by bus workers and ex-busworkers.
Some were produced recently on state-of-the-art word processors while others had been, evidently, written on the backs of Waybills and Defect Dockets at termini many years ago.
There's something for (almost) everybody in this collection.
It contains sentiments, philosophy, history and humour.
There's even advice there; if you are a budding Alice Taylor or John McGahern "The Finished Novel", by acclaimed novelist/ bus-driver Ciaran McCann, is for you. Here's what Professor Brendan Kennelly says about it in the Foreward:

Having these delightful stories led me to think how we, the travelling public, tend to take bus drivers for granted. Buses are like mobile mountains of help and comfort: they take you to your destination and they allow you to think, observe, relish conversation or silence, and feel perfectly safe. And there's that man or woman up front, guiding the mobile mountain along with patience, courtesy and pleasant, easy-going style. How often do we thank our pleasant guides? They certainly deserve our warm gratitude. And now these bus angels have given us a charming collection of short stories. I think that masters of the short story, such as Frank O'Conner and Sean O' Faolain, would have really enjoyed these stories. I certainly did.

A good short story gives the reader permission to enter a new world. The form demands that the writer should have an energetic sense of narrative, an ear for revealing dialogue, a controlled sense of drama, a feeling for the sometimes contradictory subtleties of character, and an ability to allow narrative, character and dialogue to create a special atmosphere that completely fits the world evoked, worked and sustained by the writer. When I had finished these short stories, culminating in the delightful "There's Love And There's Sex And There's The 46A," I was grateful for the special insights, the sympathies, the humour, the quiet feelings of these talented bus people.

As writers, they are keen listeners, sharp observers, constantly in touch with the foibles of humanity and, most striking of all they are gifted storytellers. Readers will, I believe, love this collection. In fact, I think we may find that, thanks to these talented storytellers, buses will be even more crowded in the future.

Here's a sample from the "Poets Corner" of the collection:



Here by my seat the old ghosts meet.
Here, the place where the old menagerie
Relentlessly soldiers on
Remembering the old green dragon, me,
On the feast of the Apostle of Ireland.

Ye greeny, greying catechumens
Will cease to stage this ceremony
Only on the command of Sergeant Death.

Then break not the heart of poet past
Nor that of preening poet present:
But know, ye prodigies of prosody
That multitudes in times to be
Will listen to my lays
And look askance
While cods forever fake
Their own importance.

"There's Love and There's Sex and There's the 46A"
is available from;
P.O.Box 9963
Lucan, Co.Dublin.
Price:11Euro (including P&P)

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