There is a very busy expansion program for CONTACT rattling around in my head – so, 2016 is shaping up to be a very busy year.
I’m not daunted though. I’ve had plenty of practice juggling the demands of a ‘media empire’ 🙂 with life, love, family and work.
Running CONTACT has always been a hectic business. When I started, it was a sideline to a full-time job. In fact, all up, CONTACT has been a sideline to ‘a real job’ for more than half of its 12 years to date.
‘A real job’ has structure to it. My ‘real jobs’ were (mostly) 9 to 5, so I could nearly always plan to work on CONTACT from 6 to midnight plus weekends.
But, it’s when things that are not planned or structured or certain that juggling two things at once can get a little hectic.
2014 was one of those years when it seemed I was barely ever home and constantly looking forward to slowing down to smell the roses, or the gum trees.
Don’t get me wrong, though – while it was hectic, it was also very rewarding, for the most part.
Let me give you a quick chronology of the ‘other stuff’ in my year, before I come back to the ‘main event’, which happened in June.
It started in January when I spent 10 days on an Army Reserve training course in Bandianna, about five hours drive from home.
In February, I was back in Albury to help my brother on a building site for a week, which, aside from spending ‘quality time’ with my bro, was most memorable for 12-hour days outdoors in Aussie-summer heat. It near wrecked me – and him.
In March I went home to Ireland for three weeks to help my Mam to pack up after selling the old farmhouse. While this was a big deal for Mam, it wasn’t as traumatic or sentimental for me as I thought it might be. I guess I’ve been away so long now that the farm didn’t really feel like ‘home’ any more.
In April I spent 10 days on a cruise ship with wife Rosie, daughters Leane and Ashling and Leane’s new husband Jarred (the wedding was in September the previous year – and the first grandchild was ‘in the oven’).
In May, I spent the whole month away with the Army Reserve in Puckapunyal photographing other soldiers working hard. Not that long days of photography and writing stories isn’t hard work in itself – but when it’s what you love doing, it hardly seems like work.
I was only home four days from Pucka when, on 3 June, I was back on a (Malaysian Airlines!) plane to Ireland again – this time to help Mam move into her new house.
July and August finally afforded me an opportunity to catch up on a lot of neglected admin around CONTACT.
But, it wasn’t long until I was back on the road again, for several more Army Reserve jobs in various places, two more building projects with my brother, a wedding-photography job in the Snowy Mountains, plus a baby shower and a kitchen renovation for Leane and Jarred in Canberra.
And all that while still publishing CONTACT Air Land & Sea and COMBAT Camera magazines – without missing a single deadline.
But enough of the chronology. I want to take a side trip down memory lane here, if that’s OK with you (if not, just skip ahead to the punchline).
I explored My Roots in an earlier blog and told you I grew up in a little Irish village called Castlebridge.
Well, in 2014, with Dad having passed on some five years (already!), Mam eventually brought herself around to selling the farm and was in the market for a new home. She had certain criteria in her head about where she wanted to live. Most of these ideas had to do with convenience to shops and friends and community – but she also only had the much larger “Wexford town” front and centre in her thoughts.
Thanks to the Internet, I had been helping her in her real-estate search for months, Then, during my March ‘pack-up’ visit, we visited several houses in various quarters of Wexford town, but nothing seemed to suit – nothing tugged at her heartstrings. But, with the farm actually sold, there was mounting pressure to find a new place.
Then one little gem popped up. We went round for a look and fell in love with the place. In fact, it never even made it onto the open market. Mum got first dibs. I was actually in Dublin Airport on my way back to Australia when she txt’d me the news that her offer on the house was finally accepted.
And my Mum was going home – to Castlebridge.
I was so thrilled for her I cried with delight.
I also came to realise that Mum’s ‘going home’ was almost literal.
I think I learned more about my own mother that year than I had know all my life. It was a bit of a shock – an embarrassment even – to realise I actually knew so little about my Mum.
I don’t know why I was so ignorant. It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care. I’ve wondered since if it was because I was so close to her that I simply assumed I ‘knew her’.
On the opposite side of the parental coin, I knew a lot more factual detail about my Dad, probably because I asked a lot more questions about him over the years, and probably because I was emotionally more distant from him. It’s a male thing, I suppose.
But with Mum it was different – and only by helping her to ‘move home’ to Castlebridge did the stories begin to flow. A lot of gaps that I didn’t even realise existed were suddenly being filled in and a lot of questions I hadn’t thought to ask were being answered.
Like the fact that she was born in a house a mere stone’s throw from where she lives now. And, when she was six, she moved to another little cottage, near the church. Both houses are still standing, occupied and looking well kept, and Mam proudly drove me past, reminiscing.
I did a bit of my own reminiscing too, taking the opportunity for the odd walk around the village I grew up in. So many things had changed – and yet so many things had stayed exactly as I remember them.
So anyway, the new house was found, the legals organised and I was back to Castlebridge in June to help with the move-in.
Boxes and boxes of a lifetime’s stuff were stacked, moved, opened, restacked, half unpacked, shuffled about, rearranged, fully unpacked and eventually flattened.
Doors, walls and skirtings were cleaned and/or painted, things mended, new flat-packed bits and pieces assembled, a new lamp acquired, a sideboard ordered – until, eventually, a strange new house took on the look and feel of a bright new home.
But ‘coming home’ – coming full circle – was not just about the house.
The 200m round trip to the village shop often took Mam half an hour or more as this person or that was bumped into and news of the week was told and retold. Hugs were often exchanged and the odd “welcome home Mary” delightedly, warmly and genuinely proclaimed.
The heart of Castlebridge is still beating. It’s community. It’s home. My Mum has come full circle – and I’ve never known her happier.
But, back to 2016.
I have big plans for CONTACT this year. And, thanks to my wonderful audience, I now have even more ideas to explore.
I know 2016 is going to be a big year. But I’m well practiced in balancing the CONTACT empire with the ebb and flow of a busy life.
So I’m relishing the challenge.
And still looking forward to that slowdown that never seems to come!
Until next time, love life and love your mammy 🙂
P.S. Oh, yeah. I nearly forgot… Mrs CONTACT and I are planning a trip home to Ireland later this year – our first together for more than 10 years.
P.P.S. The photo is another trip down memory lane – outside the Guinness Factory in Dublin 🙂