March 2016


Today, folks, is the most significant date in the Irish calendar: the feast of St Putty. Born in Wales, or England, or Scotland, assuming he existed, Putty was the son of a Roman landlord, kidnapped by heartless Irish brigands and sold into slavery. He spent many years minding pigs and eating rashers before going mad and escaping.

After returning to his homeland, wherever that was, the Irish people came to him in a dream (look, we’re doing nothing else at night) and beseeched him to return. And to bring some beer, which was unavailable at the time.

Potty became a priest (partly because, one assumes, he was the second son) and resolved to introduce the Irish to God. As dinner parties are excellent for introductions, he went to the Hill of Slane and started a big fire. Because King Laoire was organising his own dinner party that night about ten miles away at Tara, he went over with a few heavies to stop Potty’s fire. The resultant feast of shamrocks was so amazing that Laoire was happy for Ireland to convert to a new religion, thereby beginning Ireland’s transformation into an import economy.

It was a hard time for Pitty, but happily the Catholic Church had not yet insisted on priests being celibate. So he married St Brigid (she of the swastika-cross and the giant cloak) and because she was terrified of snakes, he sent them all to work in the growing financial district in east London, where they remain today.

As Petty grew old, he began to see the fruits of his labours. He confirmed the national colour as blue (no, really, it is, I’m not making this up – go check) and witnessed a country dotted with churches, dancing and people writing everywhere, even on tombstones, which annoyed him. Today, we commemorate Petty: snake-whacker, shamrock-eater and rasher-inventor. It’s a great day to wear blue. Or green, if you must.

Technically, it’s all true except for one paragraph. Brigid was too classy for him. And not yet born, which was probably a small factor.

The more sober among you (yes, I realise that it’s St Patrick’s Day, but being drunk isn’t actually compulsory) will have noticed that I didn’t call him Patty. American friends (& other overseas people who think getting drunk on March 17th is a desirable thing): It’s Saint Patrick’s Day. Or “Paddy’s Day”. You may not under any circumstances refer to it as “Patty’s Day”. Wish someone a “Happy Patty’s Day” and you will be beaten – & not in that naughty bottom spanking way. Call it “Patty’s Day” & none of us will rest until we see your headless body floating in a shallow lake.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone. An entire nation will silently rejoice if you remember that it’s “Paddy”, not “Patty”. We could all do without the image of St Patrick’s Day being tarnished by being associated with an Irishman crying into a giant glass of beer before coming out fighting.

Today’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s birthday. One of the greatest poets of the Victorian era, she was regarded as a contender for the post of poet laureate when Wordsworth died. She wasn’t appointed for two reasons: firstly, the other contender was Tennyson, and secondly, she was a woman.
 
It’s also Mother’s Day in the UK, Ireland and Nigeria. As most of you probably know, Mother’s Day was originally a religious holiday called Mothering Sunday. Its name has nothing to do with mothers and all to do with this day (the fourth Sunday in Lent) being a day when servants would be given the day off to travel to their home area – their mother church – for the feast of Laetare Sunday. It was usually the only day when whole families could be together, as their duties typically prevented them from travelling for other holidays. As a family day, it gained association with mothers and when the festival was revived in the 1920s, mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day became one holiday.
 
Even as separate concepts, both Mother’s Day and mothering Sunday have at their heart thoughts of being mindful of your origins and what you owe to your existence. Mothering can be one of the most difficult tasks ever undertaken by a person and joyous as it apparently is according to people I know, it’s perhaps a lifelong, frequently thankless endeavour that never ends. So it’s rather deserved that the holiday calendar is littered with different countries having their own special day to celebrate the efforts made by billions of women in raising children.
 
My relationship with my mother is currently non-existent, given that she’s dead. That’s a far too simple view though, as the ripples of past actions will always echo on, for good or for ill. It’s akin to the lord in Monty Python and the Holy Grail waving at the window (and the curtains) and exclaiming “Some day, lad, all this will be yours!” My mother almost certainly suffered from some form of undiagnosed bipolar depression but somewhat fortuitously, it appears that some day that will not be mine. Small mercies. I would like to think that my mother did her best with the tools that she was given.
 
There are mothers who are mothers by virtue of giving birth. There are mothers who are mothers by caring for children to whom they did not give birth. There are fathers acting as fathers and mothers. There are mothers acting as mothers and fathers. There are grandmothers who care for grandchildren as though they’re their own. There are daughters and sons caring for aged parents as though they’re mothers to their own parents. At its heart, Mother’s Day is a celebration of love, of respect and of caring. And that’s the best that anyone can ever offer anyone else, up to the limit of their ability.
 
With that in mind, I selected this poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to close. While she’s these days better known for her Sonnet 43 (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”), that poem’s gentle tenderness was hilariously stolen from me in a re-enactment of Roger Rabbit’s letter reading in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. So I’ve selected her Sonnet 14, which embodies love for love’s sake and nothing more. Happy Mother’s Day, in whatever capacity you find yourself.
 
“If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.”