Of Cats, Jennifer Johnston, Armagh and Debates

Some animals really suffer. Cousin’s cats are discouraged from coming indoors, though they stroll through the house with remarkable insouciance to seek out favourite spots.

As for the garden, there are insulated houses for them in poor weather, and one they particularly like on a neighbour’s property which pleases the neighbour no end, as he says there is not a mouse or a rat anywhere near.

His contentment even extends to forgiving Marple for stealing the meat from his plate when he was out of the room.

But the moment the sun shines, the favourite spot is the sun chair with its striped cushion.

Fido seems to have established the greatest claim, and has worked hard on perfecting his lounging technique.


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Today, Cousin’s Friend and I went in her car to Armagh. I am fairly confident that I have never visited Armagh before. There is some story of an ancestral farm in the county, but we have no relatives there, and thus it has escaped my attentions. Fermanagh, which does not make the family mythology, was a favourite haunt of a huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ uncle and his sons, so we spent one family holiday in a Dormabile on a disused airport by Lower Lough Erne. As it turns out, the last family holiday. I was eleven.

Anyway, back to Armagh. We were headed to the Market Place Theatre to hear Jennifer Johnston read from her novel, A Sixpenny Song, published last year.

However, JJ had other plans. Immediately after agreeing what she would read, she had forgotten, and so turned up with a sheaf of pages from a new novel which she hopes will be published by the end of the year. That scuppered her interviewer a bit, but there are no flies on Jennifer Johnson.

She is now 84, and although the body is showing signs of age and she walks with a stick, her mind is gloriously clear, and her humour is sharp edged and knowing. Her son-in-law tells her he has the telephone number of a very good old people’s home at the ready, but my guess is that her family are as proud as Punch of her.

She was dressed for comfort, not to impress. The same could not said of all the audience. There was a certain amount of bling on show, and the hairdressers and colourists had obviously been kept busy.

Cousin’s friend and I just wanted to spend the weekend with her. She made a remark about champagne curing most ills which sounded most promising. And you could bet the conversation would zing. Both of us got our books signed, though at the point, only I had paid for mine.

Still high with excitement, we decided to attend the debate on the idea of region later in the afternoon. Cousin’s friend had studied under Duncan Morrow, and she recommended Malachi O’Doherty’s writing to me.

So we got the tickets, ate and drank, then Cousin’s Friend went in search of cigarettes while I marvelled at the number and variety of churches, and took a few pictures.

The debate started slowly, and at first I was near to regretting our decision, then it started to get interesting. I really liked Duncan Morrow, and felt his analysis could apply to many places, where fingerpointing at difference blinds us to the future we need to build together.

We drove home tired but stimulated, and very hungry.

The days are flying by. Tomorrow the plan is to meet an old friend either here in Derry, or maybe in Antrim. Sunday is the clan gathering at my cousin Tom’s house just outside Belfast, and by Monday I shall be starting to think about being home again.


11 thoughts on “Of Cats, Jennifer Johnston, Armagh and Debates

  1. This should be the setting for a short fiction writing assignment: “camping at a disused airport by Lower Lough Erne.” The thought of frolicking about with luggage carts came to mind.

    Sounds like a lovely holiday. Cheers.

      • That sounds so much more inviting; I am hoping the countryside was lovely.

        BTW, we are looking at last week of November for pond hopping. Are you free? I have x-rays.

        What a tidbit to dangle!

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