Reasons to be cheerful: Brent geese, sunsets and a carved tree overlooking Dublin bay
Hilary Fannin: Tonight is Nollaig na mBan, a last dance, a chance to regroup
Monterey Cypress carved by sculptor Tommy Craggs at the corner of St Anne’s Park, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
I was thinking that given this is my first column of the new year – a year whose promise is uncertain – I would make sterling efforts to write with optimism, clarity and calm. I thought, in an effort to assuage the feelings of anxiety and panic this turbulent world is so very good at inducing, I should try to write something uplifting and life-affirming.
I began well, making mental lists of all the things that make me feel good and whole. Brent geese, for example, and the way they tattoo the winter sky, the squadron forming and reforming like words or notes on a cloudy page, figure prominently on my inventory of reasons to be cheerful, as do the big dog-like seals who bask in the pale winter sun at the end of Dollymount beach in Dublin. Slovenly, lugubrious, taking their lying-around-doing-nothing awfully seriously, flopping back into the water every now and again to eat some unsuspecting marine life, they remind me of pyjamaed teenagers throwing themselves into the fridge for leftovers.
So, there we are then, geese and seals and seals and geese. Oh, and sunsets that bleach the sky above Dublin Bay a tender pink, causing the walkers on the seafront to stop and watch. There is the water too of course, sometimes glass-still and streaked with fingers of orange light that are almost like wet flame, the burnt shadows of the seabirds resting on the surface, as if they too have been stilled by the mad beauty of the light.
Yep, seals and geese were certainly near the top of my affirmational agenda. Seals and geese and the beautifully carved tree that stands on the edge of St Anne’s Park, looking over Dublin bay, a stunning piece of craftsmanship, depicting seabird and woodland life, a piece of art that exists purely for itself, something extraordinary to behold in its wild stillness.
And other people’s dogs cheer me up no end. Each time I see a fellow walker bend over, poo bag at the ready, to scoop up the gently steaming offering from the yappy thing on the end of his lead, I feel a dog-less glow of self-satisfaction.
Nature is the perfect antidote to these tricky times, as is gin. But I decided, given that as we’re camping on the purgatorial, self-flagellating shores of January (and also because I’m attempting to be a healthier, nicer and more mindful person this year), I couldn’t possibly write about the pleasures of gin or indeed of wine, tortilla chips or reality TV, all of which make me happy but all of which will have to be cleared out along with the wilting tree, the limp angel and the leftover turkey stock on this Little Christmas, this Nollaig na Mban, this time of new beginnings.
On the subject of reality TV (really, were we?), rather than waste my efforts and resolutions on serious thigh reduction this year, I’m going to reduce the fat content of my brain by imposing a blanket ban on myself watching any television whatsoever that involves the word “contestant”. Nothing shall pass my eyes that requires members of the public, celebrity has-beens or spray-tanned wannabes to run, jump, shag, sing (on key or off), starve, eat kangaroo penises or do any amount of fasting, weeping or waistband gasping.
Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, life affirmation in turbulent times.
I was also firm in my resolve in this first column of 2017 that I wasn’t going to write about the fleeting pleasure of stealing cigarettes from someone else’s pack and blowing smoke at a convivial moon, or the simple delight of bread and butter or fish and chips, or the giddy loveliness of unravelling those long slivers of cucumber you sometimes find curled up in fat glasses of designer gin.
The party is well and truly over. I can consign those festive memories to the green bin, along with the empty tonic cans, the scribbled weight of the long-gone turkey, and the torn envelope that brought welcome love from Western Australia. The only decent place for the gin bottles and the juiced wine bottles at this spartan time of year is the shattered grave of the bottle bank.
Instead, tomorrow, in a spirit of great sobriety and desperate cheerfulness, I am going to raise my head very slowly over the parapet of the future and look unblinkingly at the vista of the coming year.
But tonight is Nollaig na mBan, a last dance, a chance to reflect, to rejoice, to regroup. A night to soar like the geese, to tattoo our hopes on a January sky