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Half and half

I have started attending a creative writing class. I wrote the following poem for Anne:

Aristophanes, the comic, tells his tale of Love:
Once were creatures with four legs and four arms,
with two faces, and two sets of wobblies.
Happy and ambitious, they’re an affront to the gods,
who split each in two, and doom them to wander,
incomplete, always searching for their other.

An aeon’s stretch (and yet so fleeting)
Since the day of our first meeting.
Across the room I smile at you
And you smile back, and we are two!

And, in time, we test and taste,
Our fingers lace, our arms embrace.
We find how neat and snug we fit;
No longer two, we’re composite.

And since we find ourselves at ease
we combine our books and our LPs.
When you’re happy I smile, when I’m sad you sob,
and when we collide, our wobblies throb.

We climb over rocks to a sheltered pool.
We strip and swim and act the fool,
your wet body gleaming in the summer sun,
until a fisherman’s boat interrupts the fun!

“We” are pregnant and your belly swells.
“We” have babies and your breasts fill.

And so, years pass and at the end of each day
we lie together and we talk and we play,
and we roll and turn like synchronised spoons
(Oh, thanks for your light, all you silvery moons).

Our hair grows grey and our features soften.
We’ve grandkids now and they visit often.
And grandma’s hugs are best, they insist,
when she squeezes their puddings, then gives them a kiss.

But then a time comes when your body betrays you
and our fingers lace, and my arms embrace you.
We’re scared, despairing, hopeful, confused,
and when hope is gone we each say “I love you”.

And now, at night, when I turn on my side
my arm grasps at a you-shaped void.

The comic poet has had his laugh
and I am sundered, broken, half.

The trip to Butser Farm

I just found a journal Anne kept of a trip she made with the Archeology Society to England in Easter 1981. I mentioned it in an earlier post about the Evening BA she completed 1980-1984. I love this as her personality shines through. Please remember that these are rough jottings not intended for publication.


We left at 2:00. Drove to Rosslare. We stopped at Roscrea and Freshford on the way. Supposed to go at 20 to 10. Didn’t go until 10 past 11. Got a seat and never left it. A bit rough to begin with but then it calmed down. Didn’t get sick. Slept on and off. Mary slept well.

Got on bus and then went off. When we didn’t see customs we drove on. They (police) followed us and we had to go back, empty boot and go through customs. Alsthough asked to remove duty-free, George left his one bottle on bus. When searched it was found and caused hold-up for all. I think it was confiscated. 

At 4(ish) drove to Frenchman Hotel in Hollyhead. Motel. Our room fine – warm, shower, toilet, closet and 2 single beds. Didn’t notice the instructions for operating the hot water and couldn’t have shower. We got breakfast which was ample and nice and we left. 

We were a little way out of Hollyhead when we saw a sheep on its side. 3 of the MEN went to rescue. Meanwhile, George noticed that he had left his jacket at hotel so all and sundry returned to hotel, except the 3 MEN who got on with their job of “concerned sheep erectors”. Came back to spot and discovered men had walked on. On observing fields, saw many more non-erect sheep, but we left well enough alone. Drove on to St. David’s. Beautiful day. Took some photos of cross, Cathedral, and bishop’s palace – Rose window, red ochre outline of knight, romanesque doorway. 

On to Carew Cross 1033-1035. Beautiful design, seems to have been erected in two parts. Very difficult to find – off main road. Nearby Carew Castle. At one time could be reached by boat. Beautiful location. 

Bypass Cardiff and on to Severn Suspension Bridge. About 110’ up and 1 mile long. Into Bristol and reached Clifton Hotel. Unpacked and went to wine bar for drink and roll. Went walking around and finally found Pizzaland and had a meal. Returned to Hotel 11ish. Declined offer of trip to disco (in supervisory capacity, due to our advanced years). Woken up at 3am by very loud singing of “I want to go home”. The many singers seemed in some pain. Apparently someone took pity on them and dispatched them, I know not where, as it’s 7:30 now and Mary is doing her hair. 


Had an extremely greasy breakfast. So greasy that I put tissue under the egg and it soaked it and still was greasy. It was so hot we were permanently red-faced and puffing. Went off to shop. We went to Department Store and bought Easter eggs etc. Back and put cases in boot and rushed to be there at 10. Only ones there. Looked around a bit. Wrote post cards and left for Bath in bus after a few delays and detours back to hotel. Arrived in Bath at 1:00. Looked at Bath abbey. 

Built and rebuilt and added onto. It stands today in only  portion of the original area covered. Begun about 1500s. It was paid for by tithes on the Kingdom as a whole, Ireland included. It has two sets of Jacobs Ladders with angels both ascending and descending. The 12 apostles are there. Also, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Inside the ceiling has a fine decoration in vaulting. 

We then visited the Roman Batch. The sulphur springs and Bath’s particularly impressive because of the beautiful day and steam rising from the water. 

Had a quick bowl of soup and left only to find no bus. Really pressing need to find a toilet. Followed one of the boys down underground and spotted Gents. Gratefully rushed at the other door to find Gents also. Desperation had its way and with Mary on guard outside the door I relieved myself. 

Bus eventually bore us off to Winchester. We saw the lovely Cathedral at a distance but, alas, it was not to be. We sailed on, into the fog and into the unknown as we headed for Petersfield and Butser Farm. Arrived at 6:00 approx. Tables laid out in the coldest room in a granary. Staff and elderly students seated at a top table and issued with wine. Served a passable dinner. Retired to our dorm. Mary and I lucky to get bunks. Mary determined to stay close to the floor so it was the top bunk for me. Fortunately, good sense prevailed and I removed the mattress and slept on it on the floor. 

Dorm in the process of construction with exposed beams and insulation and holes etc. One can assume it also has its own native inhabitants – rats, bats, mice, etc. Fortunately, they laid low and perhaps this was due in no small way to what happened next!

Mary went to the bus. Out of the darkness loomed the bulk of Noel. Approaching her, arms outstretched. Panic seized Mary. She saw the “predator”, and behind him lurked the watchful but dulled eyes of Seamus. Panic stricken, Mary stood. Arms surrounded her. Anger overcame her and triumphed. “Get away, I’m a lesbian!” “Wisha, we all feel like that sometimes,” said Noel. Seamus’s eyes sparked and died, watchful. Mary returned very angry to the dorm. We debated about the pub and decided to go. After a few attempts into utter darkness, and a few retreats, we finally reached the bar. Entered to a bar overcrowded with UCG and a few retiring local couples. UCG singing and roaring. Noel takes over, even to the extent of going behind the bar. To get accepted by local hards he drinks three double whiskeys straight down. After many nationalistic, sexist, racist songs etc. we decided to go. Prof wants to get to know Mary better. I squirt soda water to area near his crotch (two events unrelated) and we leave. 

Back at Butser Farm Mary opts for bed and I decide to bide my time, act socially, and see what happens. 11:00 I go to bed too. Very cold. Doze until loud laughing, singing etc. wake me up. Masses of women come to bed amid loud voices etc. Mary wakeful. I doze. I awaken slowly to the disgruntled sounds of Declan R., objecting to being put in a particular position and the soothing tones of Lois “It’s alright, I understand. I have four sons. It’s alright. I have children myself. Go to sleep dear.” “Grunt, grunt.” Guffaw, etc. Lois goes to bed, not before making sure that everyone is in bed and happy. She goes in, out, in, out. Tucks Declan in, turns off light, takes off dressing gown and climbs into sleeping bag. At last, sleep, or so she thought. 

“Ha ha ha George ha ha.” Declan is not asleep. “I’ll kill that child in the morning,” says Michelle. “I’ll do it now,” I said, raising my clog. Declan like a dog raises his big face, one eye open and looks in at us. “Lie Down,” I shout and he obeys. “We can sleep now.” Lois is heard above loud bellows, shouts and laughter from downstairs. They are extremely drunk. Declan is still awake. “Shut up Declan.” It’s no good. Lois is utterly surprised and disappointed, leaves her bed and opens door. Declan immediately lays his head on bed and closes his eyes. “He’s asleep,” whispers Lois, “Good boy.” She puts a bag to the door to keep it open and returns to room, removes dressing gown and climbs yet again into sleeping bag. A large face raises itself. Eye looks in and stubby finger pushes the door closed. He then starts, “Ha ha ha George ha ha ha.” Lois jumps from bed, puts on dressing gown. “Declan dear, you must get to sleep. I understand. I have four boys…” Lois returns to bed. It is pitch dark. Suddenly a voice “No, Lois, this is not your bed.” “Sorry” and Lois goes from bed to bed. 

We get up. Breakfast is mounds of cold, burnt toast, tea/coffee and cereal. We eat and are in the bus shortly after 9 for a tour of the South Downs. We stop and climb up from road to inland promontory fort. It is massive with deep bank. It is in the care of government. 

Experiments are under way to test how long the trees will take to grow to such a state as to be an impenetrable jungle. These trees start as bushes which grow from seeds dropped by birds. They grow quickly but are useless because they grow so close together that the trunk cannot get big. Sections of trees of varying ages are kept to see how long they take to get to different stages. The fort is iron age and some bronze age dates. There are many shards of pottery, some flints. There are three round barrows within the fort. These were undisturbed by the fort inhabitants but disturbed by a few vicars in nineteenth century. These antiques dig into the top of the barrow. The view from the fort is breathtaking high up in the Downs. 

There is a dew pond, which appears to be a stupid thing to have done as material underneath is unavailable for discovery (easily). 

We left the fort and made our way to Little Butser Ancient Farm. The walk up is arduous but when you reach the top you look down on the farm and down to one side on a steep V shaped valley. The underlying geology is chalk. Thus the soil is very poor. We walk down to the farm taking one of the three pathways that have been identified as (1) medieval (2) Roman (3) Prehistoric. They converge at a crossroads which is visible to the eye. 

School Strike 1969

Newspaper cutting with photo and report of march

Newspaper report of march

This memory is from my secondary school days. wrote the following post for the Facebook page Drogheda Down Memory Lane. I reproduce it here with some edits to add in detail provided by commenters:

The school strike for climate reminded me of the time in 1969 when we set up a secondary students union and went on a march to Dublin. We were definitely influenced, second hand, by Paris 1968. Was it Br. Kilkelly (Killer) who told us about Danny the Red in Religion class? He told us in order to warn us about the dangers of student politics, but we were intrigued. There were boys from CBS Sunday’s Gate and girls from Greenhills involved in the union, though we never had any proper structure or programme as far as I can recall. Seamus Murray (JC or Che) was the chair. I remember us talking about abolishing corporal punishment and homework, though both seemed equally utopian.

We decided to go to Dublin to protest outside the Department of Education in support of the teachers who were then on strike, in February 1969. I think Terry Corcoran drafted the petition which I typed up along with a girl further down the road from me in Ascail a hAon, though I can’t remember her name. We had both learned typing at evening classes in the Tech from Mrs Keane.

Over 30 people said they would go to Dublin and we booked a coach from Mary McCormack’s father. Only 17 of us turned up, the rest having been stopped by their parents, but we went ahead anyway. Someone promised that he would bring over a hundred students from Skerries or Swords to join us, but only one turned up. We got the coach to Swords and walked in from there. Several of us made banners but the only slogan I can remember is the one we all criticised. John Keelaghan had made one saying “Lenihan, the Paisley of the South”. A garda on a motorcycle encountered us at Whitehall and accompanied us the rest of the way into Marlborough Street.

We handed in our petition, did some shouting, then put our posters in rubbish bins and headed off to Trinity College for a meeting with the students union there. I had forgotten about that meeting, but Seamus Murray recalled it in a response to my post. He remembered being hauled in front of the principal, the Gug, when school restarted and the focus of his anger was the fact that we had visited that Protestant den of iniquity. There was a report of our march in the local newspaper, but I think the union must have fizzled out after that and I don’t remember any other activity.

A comment from Christopher Meade on Facebook recalls that students at the other CBS in the town, St. Mary’s, decided to mount their own march when they heard about ours. They made banners and marched through Drogheda but a Garda told them to stop being silly and to go home, and they did!

Two anecdotes

I see it is more than three months since I posted here. I distracted myself by standing for the local elections in May, but afterwards found myself thrown back to a deep grief that was inconsolable. That has eased a bit now. In this post I’m going to just recall two anecdotes from before we were married as these have been going through my mind recently.

When we were together first, I was still living in Drogheda but I was spending more and more time with Anne, staying over in her flat in Rathmines. One evening we got into a terrible argument. I don’t remember what it was about, but I’m fairly sure it was our first real row. We went on and on at one another. It was exhausting and devastating. There seemed no way back, no way for either of us to concede, no solution in sight.

I said I’d go home to Drogheda and Anne agreed. We both realised that if this happened it would probably be impossible to repair our relationship, but still we couldn’t draw back from the brink. It was a standoff and I began to gather my stuff to leave for the train. I didn’t have a watch and asked Anne for the time. She showed me her clock and it turned out I was already too late for the last train. “I suppose you’ll have to stay here”, she said, and I did. Over the next few hours we did sort out our problem and we reconciled. I figured it was lucky that I’d been too late for the train. It was several months before she revealed that she had put the clock forward an hour to make it seem like I’d missed the train, to give us the extra time we needed.

The second anecdote concerns the first time Anne brought me down to Glandore to meet her family. We arrived in Cork city too late to hitch the last leg of the journey from the city to West Cork so we checked into the Metropole hotel. From our room that night we could hear the laughter and shouts of late night drinkers as they left the hotel. There was a bit of boozy singing, and then from directly under our window a sweet baritone voice started to sing “If ever I would leave you” from Camelot. It was, to our ears, a glorious rendition, sung specially for us, and the final words were like a pledge, “No, never could I leave you at all!”

A poem

After Anne’s funeral I was looking through her stuff and I found a sheet of paper tucked in the pocket of her laptop bag. The laptop and bag were new, only a year old, but I had not seen this particular piece of paper in more than forty years. I was stunned to see it, surprised and moved that she had kept it close for all those years. It was a poem that I wrote for her in, it must have been, late 1973 when we were both twenty-one years old. We had been together for only a few months.

The room is rich with memories of my love
Sweet odours of her skin upon my body
The posters her friend gave her pinned above
the bed, her nightdress tossed in shoddy
fashion across the chair as she rushed out
to work, and on the table there are still
the breakfast’s dirty dishes, and no doubt
it is some hours now since she went into the chill
morning air, having kissed me goodbye
and I have lain here since then in her bed,
her face alive in my half-sleeping eye
have lain with thoughts of her going through my head. 
When I’m with her I’m living with each nerve
Such love and joy I don’t think I deserve.

The love and joy continued, the living with each nerve, for the next forty six years. I miss her terribly.

Anne goes to college

In early 1980 UCG put on an access course for their evening BA, which was to start in the Autumn and Anne signed up for it. It consisted of taster sessions for the various courses on offer and she found it wonderful. She applied to do the full course. This involved an interview with the Dean so she could matriculate on mature grounds. Presumably to test her commitment to study, he asked if she would not prefer that her husband bought her a fur coat rather than pay the fees for the course. She was outraged by this and highly amused at the same time. “I already have a fur coat,” she said, and she did have one she had bought in the Dandelion Market! As it was, we didn’t actually have the money for the first-year fees. Luckily, Digital agreed to give me an advance on my wages when I explained the reason, and we were able to pay it back over the next few months. We managed the fees okay in later years, so I only needed an advance this first year.

Anne loved every aspect of her course, even though it was very demanding on her time and she had three children under five. She had to attend three evenings a week plus Saturday mornings. I learned to make dinners on Saturdays and nobody starved. “First Year” was taught over two years, then one year for second year and one year for third year, so it took four years to complete a three-year degree. She took English, Archaeology, Geography and Economics in first year, then dropped Geography and Economics for subsequent years. She used to come home every evening after class exhausted but full of stories, and whenever we went anywhere with the children she would speculate about the kinds of rock to be found there, or the ancient peoples who lived there. She also loved English and she raved about the English lecturers she had on Saturday mornings. She never felt like she had enough time to do the readings or to study properly or spend in the library. That cohort of the BA bonded very well. They organised a Christmas party in the Banba Hotel and Hubert McDermott was invited as special guest. In his speech he remarked that the had chosen the only hotel in Galway that already had two BAs in its title!

Anne and Mary in “dormitory”
Anne on dig

One year the Archaeology Department organised a Summer trip to sites in England. Anne went on it with Mary Kelly, a friend of ours from Digital. On the first day, Anne saw a lovely concrete cat that she thought would be an ideal present for Heather, who was besotted with cats at the time. So she spent the next week carting this cat, as heavy as a brick, through Avebury, Stonehenge, Wookey Hole and all the other sites they visited. Mary remembers sharing the burden, lugging it around sometimes to give Anne a break. She also remembers that Anne was so used to travelling with the children that couldn’t stop herself pointing out things to Mary on the bus journey – “Look, Mary, there’s a field of cows”, “Oh see, isn’t that a funny shaped tree?” They got a chance to participate briefly in a dig at Avebury and they saw so many wonderful things on that trip that Anne had stories for years to come.

Mary at Stonehenge

When the degree came to an end Anne wondered what she might do next. She briefly considered doing an LLB, which some others from her course were also looking at, but in the end she opted to do the H.Dip. in Education, which was training for secondary teaching. She only had one teaching subject to degree level, English, but she qualified with the Geography she did in first year as her second subject. She could not visualise herself ever working in a secondary school, and in the event she never did work in one. She asked around the second level schools in Galway but none of them would take her on for teaching practice. “We need to keep places for our own students”, they said. It was acceptable to do your teaching practice for the H.Dip. in the senior classes in a primary school (fifth and sixth class). She was accepted in the school the children were attending, Scoil Caitríona in Renmore. I remember her using coloured markers to draw out an overhead of the water cycle for a geography class, and also preparing handouts for a poetry class with an old spirit printer that I acquired somewhere. She did very well with her teaching practice and qualified with her H.Dip. in 1985.

Anne, 2nd left, with Dr McDermott, Mary Gleeson and Jan Nagle. I don’t know the woman on far left

The circus comes to town

A couple of times a year, the circus came to town. The announcement would appear in multicoloured posters pasted to telephone poles all over town, with the names of the acts and the show times. The circus would usually spend just one night in Drogheda, arriving early in the morning, putting on a show in the afternoon and another that night, and they would have moved on the following morning to the next town.

Word would spread like wildfire on the morning the circus arrived and we children would all head over to the circus field in the Crosslanes, to help with assembling the big top. We would crowd around the circus hands asking how we could help, and they might get us to pull on a rope to raise one of the poles or help to roll out a canvas. When the tent was up they would hand out a number of free passes to those who had helped the most. I’m sure I wasn’t much help and I never got a free pass, but it was all very exciting. In the afternoon we would go back to find the whole field was transformed. One truck formed the colourful entrance and ticket office. You went up a small stair to buy your tickets, or show your free pass if you had one. You then went through a curtain and down more steps on the other side and into the circus tent. The sunlight shining through the colourful big top combined with the smell of the grass made it all so exotic and exciting. You knew you were in for a treat.

Some kids would try to get in for free by crawling under the sides of the tent. The circus people guarded the sides to try to prevent this, but there were always some who were successful. If lucky they would find themselves under the seats, which were just wooden planks on a frame. If you were already inside you might find another boy under you asking you to move over so that he could hoist himself up and squeeze in beside you. The most expensive seats were the ringside chairs, and there were always some children sitting there, usually accompanied by older adults, probably their grandparents.

The ringmaster would announce each act in turn in a booming voice. A favourite act was the trained ponies which would perform various tricks for the ringmaster, running first one direction, then the other around the ring and posing in various formations. Then a person would stand on a pony’s back while the pony ran around the ring, and they would skip rope while doing so, or take another person on their shoulders. The trapeze act was particularly exciting. A safety net would be strung out across the ring and the performers would climb up a rope ladder nearly to the very top of the tent and perform on a swing, or they would fly between two swings in the bigger circuses. The ringmaster would hype up acts with references to death-defying tricks never before attempted. Some performers used the safety net as their way down from the trapeze, launching themselves from the swing into the air to then land gracefully on their backs onto the net, and tumble off onto the ground to bow to the audience and to receive their applause. The tight rope was another staple and occasionally there was the even more exciting slack wire, which swung wildly while a performer crossed and recrossed it, performing various tricks while doing so. There were some innovative acts, such as a trick motorcycle act I remember once in which bike and rider sped around the ring then shot up a wire to the top of the tent so that they were riding around way above our heads. It seemed impossible and we were left gasping.

The clowns came out for various turns throughout each show, but the highlight so far as the clowns were concerned was the clowns’ car, which would move when no one was in it and stop moving when the clowns got in, and then suddenly start moving again and finally fall apart as the clowns rode around in it. The clowns were funny, but also a bit scary and you would not want them to catch you when they ran around jumping up on the edge of the ring and advancing into the audience.

The circus band performed from a bandstand on top of the truck which formed the entrance arch, and the band personnel kept changing throughout the show as most performers doubled up as musicians. After the show some circuses had a zoo which you could visit on payment of a small additional charge. You would access it through the performers’ curtain at the back of the ring, which added to the mystique. Here you’d find a few cages and pens containing various animals, such as ponies from the pony act, and some small monkeys. I remember once there was the most amazing sight, a five-legged calf with an extra leg jutting out behind him. Most regular circuses I went to didn’t have exotic animals like lions or tigers, but occasionally larger circuses came to town, such as Chipperfields and the Bertram Mills circus.

A Galway Girl

Anne was heavily pregnant in 1976. We had a number of visitors in the house. Fran and Pauline had got married and moved in with us for a while, and Jane was just visiting. I cannot remember who else was there. Anne had gone upstairs to bed as she was tired. After a while she came to the top of the stairs and I remember Jane looking up at her and asking was she okay. Her waters had just broken and the panic began. Fran had a green second-hand Renault 4 that had previously been a post office van. He offered to drive us to the hospital so Anne and I quickly gathered the hospital bag and we were off. Fran’s eyes were fixed on the road, but I didn’t realise how panicked he was until he drove through a red light at the Claddagh Palace. Luckily, it was late in the evening and there was no other traffic. We continued up to the hospital.

Unlike with Andrew, I was allowed into the delivery room in Galway. I think this is because things were a little more haphazard in the Regional than they had been in Hollis Street, rather than that they had a more accommodating policy in relation to fathers. I stood at Anne’s side saying soothing things and not really knowing what I was doing, except being there. Sometime after two in the morning Heather came out in one smooth movement. I remember seeing here purple crumpled body before I heard her cry. Afterwards I skipped all the way home, delirious, and was nearly back at the house before I noticed I was still wearing the surgical mask from the delivery room. I wrote a poem about it later.

Anne was determined to feed Heather as soon as possible, to avoid any of the problems she had with Andrew. You weren’t allowed to breastfeed in the ward in case you offended the other mothers or their husbands or other visitors, which meant she had to haul her worn out and bloodied body to the special feeding room a few times a day. Meanwhile visitors gathered in the ward admiring the little babies, new to the world, while chain smoking over them. Different times, different priorities. 

A road trip to Florida

Work trips with Digital provided much excitement for the family, as often I was able to bring them along . When I was sent to Massachusetts for a few months in the late ‘80s to prepare for the introduction of the VAX 9000, Anne and the kids came over for a few weeks in the middle. To makethe most of this we decided to embark on an epic family road trip to Disneyworld in Florida. I had been working twelve hour shifts for half a week at a time, which meant that when I finished one shift I was able to arrange a full one-week break before starting the next. I figured that we could make the 1,300 mile journey to Orlando in just two days, then take two days to visit Disneyworld, and another two days to get back. We had use of a rental Dodge Caravan, a decent people carrier, to make the journey.

We headed off in the early morning the day after my shift finished and I was keen to make as much progress as possible before we stopped. Once I am driving I can continue for hours without either food or toilet stops, and this was the regime I envisaged as we headed off. But of course, Anne and the children had other ideas. “Can we stop now?” “Just a few more miles.” “We’re hungry.” “Just a few more miles.” “We need to go to the toilet.” Just a few more miles!” We made the necessary stops, but always with me fretting about time lost at each stop!
At one stage on the journey, Heather said something that sounded like “Love you”. Anne responded, “I love you too”. A few minutes later Heather said, more insistently, “Love you” and again Anne responded, “I love you too”. This was repeated a few times before Heather said, more insistent still, “No, not ‘love you’, I’m saying ‘Low Fuel’.” She had noticed an alert light flashing the words on the dashboard; Anne and I had completely missed it. Luckily, we still had time to find a gas station and fill up. A few hours into the journey we were driving through New York City, with me awestruck by the sheer volume of traffic on the multilane roads and Anne worrying that if we broke down we would be attacked by gangs and our murdered bodies left at the side of the highway. We crossed the Hudson and soon joined the New Jersey Turnpike, where Anne and I regaled the children with a ropey rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America”.

We stayed in Charlotte NC the first night and eventually made it to our Comfort Inn in Orlando at the end of a second long day of driving. We bought discounted tickets for Disneyworld at the hotel, then worried all night that they were fake. But they did the job and gained us admission the next morning. In the giant parking lot stewards directed us to park in a grass section, shouting repeatedly the name “Goofy Grass” as we exited, so we’d remember where we had parked.

I suppose like most people who have ever visited Disneyworld, we were totally bowled over and charmed to an extent that surprised us. Though it was early in the year, the weather was warm and the sun shone all day. We had a busy day of flashy parades and well-designed rides, with Disney characters turning up unexpectedly to greet the children and sign autographs! We were there from early morning and we stayed until the park closed in the evening, finishing with another parade where they handed out glowing necklaces to the children. We stopped at KFC and bought a family bucket of chicken and potato to bring back to the hotel.

The following day we visited Universal Studios, in some ways an even better experience. I remember the children reaching to try to catch butterflies in the 3D cinema, and a replica movie set that showed how special effects are created. Next day we started the long ride home. I don’t remember where we overnighted on our way back, but the receptionist was not quite unflappable when I rang ahead to book the hotel just before leaving Orlando. When I said where we were coming from she replied, “and you expect to get here this evening!” We made it, and continued our journey the following day, when we encountered the heaviest fog I have ever driven through. We made Massachusetts by nightfall, everyone safe, sound and sleepy.