HERE’S TO A MAGNIFICENT 2021
I am not sure if I live on a roller coaster or not, but all our lives are full to the brim with family, excitement, illness, tragedy, love and new life, that’s for sure.
I am up earlier today than usual, it’s 4am. I find lying on the flat of my back hard but right now I must, as I now have a shiny new two-day old titanium hip. Lying in one position all night is one of the hardest parts of this, as is not being able to clean the house, the rest is a doddle.
But just to go back 24 months.
I woke up this day two years ago in Ballynahinch Castle in a spectacular room with my incredibly relaxed daughter, Sophie. We had come as the advance party for her wedding, really, we stole a few days away and used the wedding as the excuse. It was full on Autumn in, possibly, one of the most beautiful places on earth, magical, misty, wild Connemara.
We had a glorious room. Her dress hung like a snowy mountain in the corner of it. She was organised, laid back, calm and so excited. We went for a walk by the river after brekkie, it was truly breath-taking, the calm before the storm, before new family and old family arrived.
I watched my beautiful girl get ready for one of the best days of her life, it would truly give you a pain in your heart, but in a good way. Her attention to detail is off the scale, there is nothing she did not think of, right down to the foreign arrivals getting brown bread mix to take home in their bags, that, among a billion other wedding details.
We were plucked, polished and groomed to within an inch of our lives, but to be honest, we are both low maintenance, ha-ha if any woman can say that, but no plastic to be maintained or Botox to be pumped in, so that’s a good thing.
Our nearest and dearest arrived slowly, all overwhelmed by the prehistoric mountains, the blue lakes, the forests, the colours, the sun splitting the rocks, the sheep, the heathers, the boggy smells. We were all in paradise.
The wedding day dawned. She was, as expected, breath-taking. Her Connemara man had stolen her heart three years earlier in a competition that the charity ran in Clifden. She met Tom that night and the rest is history. We had a stunning day, an intimate, perfect, wedding, followed by a day in Cleggan, his home village and a night in Oliver’s pub with his Mam’s curry and his Dad and crew singing into the early hours. We swapped our Castle for a B&B that night. The surroundings changed, the rain lashed down on us, but the magic continued.
Early the following morning, as the crab and lobster men dragged in their hauls in Cleggan Harbour, we packed up and left for Dublin. It was hard to leave the magic behind.
But I had another mission ahead.
My trusted Samsonite was quickly emptied and a very different set of clothes to be repacked and fast, as I was on my way to the Kremlin to see President Putin. I thought I may see him in the distance in a large crowd, but nevertheless it was a first for me. He was to bestow the highest Order in Russia for a foreigner onto me and our little charity. Trisha McGrath, as always, was with me. We were in a dazzle from the wedding and full of pre-Kremlin butterflies. It is hard to describe the following few days really, but I will try in a few sentences.
We were met in snowy Moscow by a stunner, literally a female from a James Bond movie, who was ‘in charge’ of us for the next few days and was definitely not trained or used to the informality of the Irish. We squeaked and squawked at the Presidential car waiting for us, we did not pretend that we were used to this type of luxury. We were like two wans up from the village in the back seat of Maeve Binchy’s Lilac Bus in the big city for the first time! We were whisked away, blue lights flashing, to the President’s private, beautiful, old Soviet style hotel. There were other VIPs arriving from all over the world, pretending not to look like they were in awe. Trish and I had our jaws hanging open as we took photos of the olives, the glasses, the receptionist, the giant security men. We were a disgrace, but the fun of it!
My room was a giant space looking out on Peter the Great’s statue on the Moscow river. We arrived at dawn as the sun rose over Moscow. We whispered in the rooms, sure that every word was being recorded, as we have seen in all the Tom Cruise movies. If they were, then the poor eejits listening got an earful of “Oh God, did you bring rollers” to “I am not wearing that bra to the Kremlin” and all the giggles and hysteria in between. We phoned home, as you do, “Hi Mam, we are just here in Vladimir Putin’s private hotel”. Mam’s reply “Oh you and Patricia behave now”. Who wouldn’t phone home to spill that? Trish cleverly had a stash of drink in the handbag, so we had vodka at dawn looking out on one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, toasting Sophie and Tom’s future.
Well, if our hotel was an adventure, the following few hours were off the scale. We had to re-fluff the Clifden blow-dries, put on the suits and were driven by cavalcade though the streets of Moscow at breakneck speed. We were dying to ask the driver loads of questions, but he was a bit short on the answers. He would not get a job as a Dublin taxi man! He may get a job getting the President to a secure destination though, in the event of a nuclear crisis! Under the Kremlin arches, up the Cinderella type staircase, down the velvet and gold lined halls, trying to look calm. The Kremlin is something else.
Two massive golden doors swung open to reveal a golden room, tables dazzlingly dressed for 600, orchestras playing, champers everywhere, people from all the cultures of Russia buzzing around, bedecked in their national costumes. We were separated (nooo!) in horror. Trish was off at one table, while I was brought to the top table. I guess it would give me a better view of His Nibs if he came, I thought.
I was seated beside the Russian Pope, their Patriarch. He was bejewelled beyond imagination, a big, tall hat and long beard. Holy Mary Mother of God, what was I going to talk to a Pope about? We chatted about Ireland initially, but very quickly, he was to become a very small problem as the guest seated to my right took his place and a giant security man whispered in my ear “Mrs. Deegan, the President Of Russia will be joining you for dinner”.
Well let me tell you, the initial feeling of fear that swept over me was like an ice-cold shower. I turned to say hello and was eye to eye with a face that is so iconic, it did not seem real, the face of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
Had I been in the wilds of beautiful Ireland, in calm beautiful Connemara 48 hours earlier? Dear Jesus, I soon forgot about the Pope, all brain cells had to redirect and fast. It never dawned on me he would be sitting with me, simply because he is one of the most powerful men on earth and I didn’t know he sat with mortals, especially ones that are more used to orphanage kitchens!
He was the perfect host, the perfect dinner date. We chatted for over two hours. He filled me in on the concert we had in front of us, a big Riverdance type of thing, we discussed Ireland, amongst other things. Joe Duffy did his best the following day to find out what we discussed for so long. The KGB wouldn’t get that out of me ;). I did extend a dinner invite to my own kitchen though. That will be fun if it happens! He is articulate, multilingual, informed, he knew his Irish poetry and, like most world leaders (not all, as we see daily), he was polished and charming.
I have no doubt we could have had a longer chat about his views on certain things that bother me, but his glittering table, dressed with Kamchatka crab and golden cutlery, was not the place to have an argument. He invited me up to speak on stage as 600 million viewers watched on TV around the world. I had to say we need to see the end of orphanages. He nodded in agreement… watch this space.
Order of Friendship in place, Trish and I left like two Cinderellas, on a high, in awe, hysterical with the giggles and went to join my dear friend Andrei Malakhov for drinks, then dinner with Avril Conway, Gerry McCarthy and the Irish ex-pats in Moscow, along with some of our close Russian friends. We were all on a high. It is an amazing day out in anyone’s life.
It is good to talk, no matter what your politics. It is good for Presidents and paupers to sit together and chat. All people need to communicate. It is when that breaks down that the rest comes tumbling down.
The following year took on its own energy after that. The wedding was over, Sophie and Tom settled down, I was building up to do a TEDx talk in Kingston upon Thames, London, which was another major event for me and my butterflies, but I loved every minute of it and thanks to the British visa gang, I was able to bring a very special girl with me who I had met in 1998 on our first day in Russia. She was the reason I had promised to come back to Russia and she is still very much in my life. She came onto the TEDx stage at the end for a giant hug and kiss. She was the highlight of the talk, not me. I had a huge crew from Dublin with me and we had an absolute ball of a weekend in the UK, pure positivity, all love, all very high with the thrill of TEDx, all fabulous people, all on the one page, a very powerful energy.
The following months brought lockdown, which I loved almost every second of (bar the pain it brought so many). My talented hubby built me a stunning little ‘She-Shed’ from literally nothing but special bits that we had been collecting for years. I interviewed people all over the world from my kitchen about their lives, people from Mary Kennedy, to people I did not know across the globe and ended up with the amazing Mary McAleese as one of my final guests.
The rollercoaster of all of the above was topped entirely by one event, the birth of our magnificent grandson three months ago. The grimness of the year disappeared, the joy of new life takes over from everything else, weddings fade, Kremlin jewels cannot compete with the sparkle. It is an amazing thing to become a Nana. There really is no describing it, a pure unadulterated joy. It is what life is all about.
To end up where I began. I have a shiny new hip, as the last one was totally fucked from 22 years of brutal travelling, dragging cases through snow, lifting onto trains, millions of miles travelled. I am just out of Santry Sports Clinic. If ever you need a hip, it is the place to go. Gavin McHugh, dishy and relaxed, is a brilliant surgeon and the team were just fabulous. I loved having no visitors, as there was no need to brush my hair for three days. One day of pain and then getting used to annoying crutches is a job, but, hopefully, that will not be for too long. I have a life to get back to. I am just home, just up and my goal for today to walk down to the sea has just been crushed by Nurse Mikey, mmm, we will see about that.
My little family, all creative in different ways, are starting a small business, borne in the lockdown months, that will be crafty, Irish, stylish and lovely and hopefully bring us all much fun and loads of family meetings. We are loving it, launch due soon.
We need a vaccine fast. We all have lives that we need to get back to and a world to save. Mother Nature needs us to work with her, more now than ever before. If you work in a company that is abusing our planet, change the job or improve the practices. We all must do more. If we do, we can change things for the better.
Here’s to loads more excitement, loads more weddings, dinner parties, loads of new habits, more business, loads more sun and sea and Factor 20, loads more positive changes. Here’s to our paradise planet that I want our little grandson to grow and thrive in.
Let’s drink to that.