The Word for a Bird

When I discovered that the word for “bird” in Polish is “ptak”, I decided that I had to learn the language. I was located in Bari at the time, in the Púglia region which forms the eastward-pointing heel of the Italian peninsula, teaching English language as a “lettore” at the languages faculty on Via Garruba. For the very first time in my life, age 23, I was living entirely on my own, in one half of a holiday villa in Palese, a village on the coast a half-hour bus ride from the city centre. Being alone, I found, with no possibility of unexpected interruptions, gave a different quality to one’s thought processes. There was definitely sufficient room inside my head to accommodate some Polish.

Read More

On Sigismondo’s Side

As a child growing up in Glasgow, my experience of theatre was confined to the yearly pantomime at Christmas. The whole family attended. A Highland scene, with tartan costumes on stage and, if we were lucky, an entire pipe band entering from the foyer and marching up the aisles, was an unfailing component. The principal male role was irritatingly taken by a female, a “breeches role” like Cherubino in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, or the contralto hero/heroines in serious operas by Rossini such as La donna del lago or Bianca e Falliero. Who can tell by what strange process the practice had been passed on to the world of pantomime?

Read More

Redheads, Mad Worlds and Scapegoating

In spring 1991 Morag, one half of the lesbian couple whose lodger I was in Edinburgh at the time, asked me if I would be interested in acting as a “guinea pig”. The next in a series of seminars in which she was training as a Gestalt therapist was scheduled for Saturday. I could pay £20, sit in for the day and, when appropriate, take part in sessions as a client.

Read More

Being Mad

Between the ages of 13 and 16 I suffered what was effectively a nervous breakdown. When I was already in my thirties, my mother told me: ‘Oh, I could see that something was wrong. But I felt too diffident to intervene’. So she did nothing. Even expressing concern, or laying on one or two extra treats, would have been going too far.

Read More

She looks as if she hasn’t even washed her face!

One reason my mother felt inclined to classify Euphemia MacFarrigle and the Laughing Virgin as “delirious” may have been that so many elements in that novel were familiar to her. Not only the solemn liturgical celebrations of St Aloysius’, thinly disguised as St Ignatius’, or the preposterous pronouncements of the clergy associated with the institution, but also the group of Catholic women in the novel duped by their leader into hoarding condoms as a means, they fondly imagine, of limiting the scope of illicit sexual practices.

Read More

An aunt behind bars

Two of my mother’s sisters were nuns. ‘When one of your sisters becomes a nun,’ she informed me, ‘there is no hope of competing. They win hands down.’ If she is to be believed, then when a priest came to preach in the hope of eliciting vocations, at the convent boarding school in Armagh her parents sent her to, she joined her hands and fervently begged: ‘Please God, not me! Please God, not me!’ Which did not prevent her from assuming that I, her youngest child, was ripe to be sacrificed to the church. ‘I was only waiting for you to name the order,’ she told me, to my total astonishment. The notion had never so much as entered my mind.

Read More
Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from Youtube
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google