As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column for the Waterford News & Star
FIRST of all, I know that I am one of the very lucky ones to have as my main job, staying at home. I don’t have to get up early, work long shifts on the front line or perform an essential job. All I have to do is stay out of everyone’s way and not catch the virus. For that I’m grateful and I will do that job to the best of my ability.
But there are times when even that simple task feels like too much to bear. I can’t help missing my family and friends, missing the trip I was about to take, missing rambling around town. I’m worrying about what could happen, who might die, how everyone will cope. Feeling gutted for the families of two people I vaguely knew, who have already died.
But between ourselves, do you know one thing I’m really missing; everyday, harmless, women’s chit chat. Because I now realise that generations of chatting over the washing, at the corner shop, at the school gate, has developed a fierce chatting muscle in women which we need to exercise regularly.
I can be transfixed by tales of children’s exam results, of chickens bought and stuffed, of holidays taken or planned. One cup of coffee can lead me on a merry dance across continents, under duvets, climbing walls. The content doesn’t matter, because as my Father observed, it’s the eye contact, the cocked head, the narrowing of the eyes, the whole physical experience of women talking together.
There’s nothing that will bring me back to my childhood quicker than being in the company of women chit chatting. It’s the ease, the intimacy, the friendship. The comforting world of my Grandmother sitting at the corner table in the cafe she ran for most of her life. Her best pal arriving in for the morning cuppa, when it would all kick off.
The same chat every day was helped hugely by the pair of them gazing out the window and commenting on every “craythur” that passed.
-“Did you hear about Ned? He has taken to the drink again.”
-“Is that Marie, did she have that baby?”
-“There’s what’s her name, isn’t she married to what’s his face?”
They never really took much notice of kids being present except the odd time when they would lower their voices and say “you know yerself.” Code for, I can’t talk now; followed by nods, winks and nudges.
Being a quiet bookish kid, I used to be found lying behind sofas or under tables reading. The adults would regularly forget I was there. On family occasions, especially when a sherry or two had been taken, voices would be more raised than usual and the women would go for broke. What he did, what she said and who saw everything. I would hold my breath, listen up and learn the ropes.
Jane Garvey, host of one of my favourite podcasts of women chit chatting, (called Fortunately) was reading out a letter from a man in Dublin when it hit me. Some men actually love the comfort of women’s chat too!
Having just flown back from Australia, this man was in social isolation for 14 days. He ended up in his Mammy’s back garden blowing kisses to her as she sat in safety, at her kitchen window.
He had grown up in that house where she ran a hairdressing shop in their sunroom extension. All of his childhood was spent sitting under the feet of women.
He wrote how he loved the sound and the experience of women gossiping! How universal these conversations were, how special to be present with them as they talked, and talked, and talked.
Every Sunday morning, since I don’t know when, a few of us meet for a walk, a coffee and a chat. We often laugh that the coffee and chat are much longer than the so-called walk. Sometimes there are serious matters to be discussed, other times we sit and stare into the sea and bask in the sun. Week in week out. Sure I’m never bored with it!
I’m in 7 or 8 WhatsApp groups. But it’s not the same at all. My friends and myself have resorted to the onscreen thing but I find it exhausting. The blurry faces, the view of other people’s ceilings, looking up your friend’s noses.
I miss the hugs, my own three sisters talking into the night, delving into each other’s wardrobes. What one of them is wearing to that wedding? Did she buy anything new? No but wow she got a dress in a second hand shop for a tenner.
Can’t wait to see you all again and have a harmless chit chatting session about nothing at all. My chatting muscles could do with a good workout!
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com