It’s OK to remember the simple, happy, fun-filled days of our lives

It's difficult to think of happy times with everything that is going on in the world - but it's important to treasure the small things too, says Ailin Quinlan
It’s OK to remember the simple, happy, fun-filled days of our lives

BEST BIRTHDAY EVER: Ailin’s favourite birthday memory was when she was aged 10 and she spent the day in her garden reading - she had received loads of books as presents. Her mum had warned her siblings not to disturb her. Picture: Stock

WORLD Happiness Day. God.

Russian soldiers strip-searching and humiliating fleeing refugees at checkpoints. Mariupol in dust and ashes. Bodies in the streets. Families in cars being shot at and shelled as they try to escape the war in Ukraine.

The Taliban changing their minds at the last minute about letting girls go back to school. Covid numbers rocketing back up. Disapproval from the World Health Organisation about our over-eager abandonment of pandemic restrictions.

Somehow, some way, World Happiness Day slipped under my radar.

I finally got around to reading an article that felt like it was from another era. Another dimension. Before Covid. Before Putin got bored with the isolation of the Covid era and started to entertain himself with plans to invade Ukraine.

The article featured politicians like Ivana Bacik of Labour and the authors Marian Keyes, Paul Howard and John Boyne. As I read the piece, I felt guilty that anyone should be sharing happy memories It seemed somehow wrong.

And then, as I read on, though, I felt a sense of warmth. Why, I thought suddenly did, it feel wrong to experience a sense of warmth about something small and good? (The rule for the exercise apparently excluded memories involving babies or weddings).

In truth, sometimes some of our happiest moments are simply the small but the good.

My 10th birthday was my best ever. Not only had I got loads of books, not only had the great day fortuitously landed on a beautiful sunny warm September Saturday, but my mother let me bring out the big, squashy cushions from the sitting room armchairs to make a reading nest on the wide front step which was a glorious sun trap.

Not only that, but she issued a stern warning to the smallies (there were at the time four younger siblings with a fifth on the way) that they were not allowed to interrupt or pester me in any way.

That was the most wonderful birthday.

Needless to say, I was a bit of a bookworm. I still remember the touch of the sun, the tweedy smell of the soft thick cushions, the silence of our front garden devoid of squabbling siblings, and the glorious scent of new books.

Another happy memory; going fishing for tiddlers with my grandad at the little stream on the outskirts of the town where he and my granny lived. First, my granda would carefully tie a cord around the neck of a glass jar, making a handle for me to hold. With the jar swinging from one hand and my fishing net in my other hand, we would set off down the town in search of tiddlers.

It always seemed to be hot on those days, and it always took ages to get down to the stream because Granda knew everyone and everyone knew him and we had to keep stopping for a chat. While he did that, I would munch the fresh grapes I had picked from the vines growing in a little glasshouse next to the kitchen and packed for our journey, alongside a couple of my grandmother’s jam buns and a bottle of milk.

Gran herself often went out and collected the fruit for the jam she put into the bottom of the buns, which would be served on a fragile china plate with a glass of milk. She was a gifted baker.

A warm memory from adolescence was tromping up to my bedroom after school exams one day to find, carefully displayed on my bed by my mother, the Number One fashion item of that season – a pretty cotton gypsy skirt with a matching shawl. It was wonderful, printed in tiny grey flowers against a white background with a broderie anglaise slip underneath it. I felt like a queen. I wore it to rags. She couldn’t get me out of it.

When I went to college first, everyone went home for the weekend, every weekend. One weekend, I didn’t go home. I lounged around the student lounge. Everyone else was gone so by 5pm on Friday evening things were quiet and I was regretting my decision. The only other occupant of the normally heaving lounge was a tall, quiet string-bean of a fella in an army jacket sitting on his own down the other end.

My friends had provided me with a large a box of Maltesers to sustain me in their absence. I went down and asked him if he wanted a Malteser. He said he would. He took one. Then another and another. We got talking. We went to a film that night. We went walking.

 I was 17, he was 19. That was 40 years ago and it was one of the most thrilling weekends I ever had.

Later, when the tall, quiet string-bean became my husband and we built our house and moved in, there was nothing in it. There was no furniture or utilities apart from the bed, a cooker, a fridge and a washing machine. There were no floor coverings. Everything was bare concrete. There was a stairs but there was no upstairs – just a long empty space running the length and width of the house.

We lived for a long time in the bottom part of the dormer bungalow. Our kitchen had no built-ins or worktops. There was not even a table or chairs for a while so we put the kettle on a baize-covered card table and ate our meals on it, while my husband set about making cupboards and work-tops.

Later, we bought second hand heavy Dutch oak furniture - a solid table and chairs that is still in the kitchen to this day, a couch and two armchairs. We were on air that day.

Outside the house were enormous mounds of dark sprouting earth leftover from the building that would have to be dealt with. There were endless mountains of other important things that would have to be dealt with. But the first night I lay in bed in the bare-floored, un-curtained downstairs bedroom, and listened to the silence. During the night a cow poked her head in the window and mooed crossly at us, waking us with a start.

The next morning I lay in bed listening to the pigeons cooing in the trees. I looked out and a fox was strolling across the lawn. There were rabbits. It felt like we’d found a little piece of heaven.

And finally, believe it or not, a good Covid memory. Some time in the middle of the first lockdown I was having a socially distanced walk across a field with my little grandson near his home. He was then not quite four years old. Eventually he said, “Granny, will you put on sanitiser and hold my hand, just for a little while?”

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