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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

Adventures from the Island

There are six of us in the house. Five humans and our 13-year-old dog Lily, who is the most important, in her own mind. Each of us shut away from the world, atop a sleepy hummock, encircled by the gently rounded ridges of the Boggeragh Mountains. Each peak casts a blue shadow over the surrounding woods and farmland, reminding us that nature endures, even when the whole world has shut down.

A recent diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 32 has meant cocooning with my parents and grandparents in this strange, restricted dystopia. We have created a quiet routine in our idyllic surroundings. Our cheerful postman, letters brimming from his weather-beaten van, lays the mail at the gate amidst a flurry of helpful offers. Medicine is dropped off by kind neighbours, and our food and wine supply is delivered in overflowing, cardboard boxes by the local shop. As the days blend into weeks, we have accepted our new reality, for the most part.

Having recently retired, my parents are still busy planning to sort out the plethora of boxes in the garage that have been stowed away for future endeavours. Like so many backburner projects, there are many other welcome distractions. Having worked for over 40 years, my father has found himself antsy without the distraction of office life. Our lockdown days are often spent staving off attempts to further burden the HSE, after pandemic projects go awry. Having successfully created unfinished projects in every room in the house, he has spent the last day and a half fixing a chainsaw. His latest ambition; to trim the tall hedge skating the perimeter of the garden. Optimistic, given the deluge of rain dumped on us by our mountainous micro-climate.

Ignoring the heavy drizzle and thick layer of fog weighing down upon the hillside, he was determined to immediately put the chainsaw to good use. Soil subsidence and branches encumbered by wet leaves were no match for his dogged determination. Having never wielded a chainsaw, or cut a hedge, he felt now was the time to start. In the pissing rain. With the enthusiasm of a novice, he strutted confidently across the lawn. His shoes slipping and squelching in the sodden grass, he held onto the chainsaw with the smug, self-satisfied expression of a man on a mission. A childhood spent in Kenya, and later Bahrain in the Middle East, leaves him somewhat detached from the realities of living in the Irish countryside. After several minutes, my mother followed. All furrowed wet brows and fury at having to wade across the garden, she promptly put an end to this idiotic endeavour. The ladder and chainsaw were grudgingly dismantled.

Hedge trimming plans thwarted by common sense, the following morning he announced to all that he was yet again off to cut the hedge. It was sunny so we didn’t think he could get into much trouble. We were wrong. I was just finishing coffee at the kitchen table when I spotted him emerging furtively from under the balcony, like a child venturing out for his first day at school. Off he strutted, chainsaw in one hand and a giant, rickety ladder, bumping against his knees, in the other.

There were a few obstacles like the deep moat of nettles in between the hedge and the opposing raised flower bed. This, plus the uneven ground, made it impossible to stand the ladder upright. Instead, he put the ladder on the slope of the flower bed, leaning it against the outer branches of the hedge. He put his full weight against it so that it formed a kind of bridge over the nettled trench. He thought this was a great idea until the soil, already soaked from the day before, began to subside as he began to climb the rungs. The ladder now pirouetting precariously on the edge. Curiosity getting the better of her, our dog Lily had also made her way out to stare inquisitively at my father, head cocked to one side as if to say, “Have you lost your mind?”

As he revved up the engine on the chainsaw, I yelled down at him to stop. My father, being very British, doesn’t like being told what to do, especially by his officious daughter, which meant I was swiftly given my marching orders.

“For God’s sake, stop being so bloody annoying. You’re afraid of your own shadow!”
“Well, balancing a ladder against the hedge with a chainsaw is a great idea.”
“It’s absolutely fine! I know what I’m doing!” he plunged his foot onto the second rung.
“Well, no you don’t.”

I was relieved of having to argue any further as my mother, having also witnessed this cunning plan, stormed out, eyes wide, seething. My father, opening and closing his mouth like a goldfish, realised he was losing this battle. He sheepishly slid down the ladder. Vindication after being reprimanded like a four-year-old. Unfortunately, I was then roped into holding the ladder and spent the next hour dodging rogue branches, and ducking the chainsaw, as he swung it about as though hacking through thick Boreal forest in Siberia. If this pandemic has taught him anything, it is that life spent on the desert island of Bahrain, where little grows amongst the date palms, is a stark contrast to Irish hedgerows and the unpredictability of Irish weather. It’s going to be a steep learning curve, for us all.


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