We all experience setbacks and challenges. These are invariably painful. The most encouraging response is to surmount your fear and try again: as the saying goes ‘when you fall off a horse, you have to get back on’.
I’ve actually fallen off a horse only once. I was ten and I vividly recall lying dazed and winded at the edge of the lane as the fat pony I had been trying to ride trotted off home for its tea. The pony was owned by a lad in the village and I had been pestering him for months for a ride. It took me a good while before I got the courage to try horse riding again. On our recent trip to Cork and Waterford I had to get back on a (metaphorical) horse after twice falling.
In April 2011 I was admitted as an emergency patient to the City Hospital and then told that I had a large tumour which would require very major surgery. I lay in my hospital bed, dazed and in fear, and was given a series of procedures and invasive tests in preparation for the ‘big op’. I had to cancel everything I had planned for the months ahead. One of these was a reading tour of Ireland and Britain I had arranged to promote my first book of poetry, launched just four months earlier.
My recovery from the ‘big op’ was prolonged and challenging, and intensified by my then partner leaving me after three months. One of my coping strategies was to try and restore some of what I had been forced to cancel. I managed to rearrange only a couple of my poetry readings, the first of which was at O Bheal in Cork in April 2012. Unfortunately I wasn’t in good form, I was still taking daily painkillers, and the reading didn’t go too well. Afterwards I tried a farmhouse B & B in West Waterford, but despite the good hospitality at Kilcannon House I spent an unhappy and sleepless night there.
In November 2015 I was diagnosed with a recurrence of the same cancer which would require further surgery at the City Hospital. I had to again cancel everything I had planned for the months ahead. But the big difference in my recovery this time was that I now had a deeply supportive partner who helped me every step of the way. Thank you so much dearest T, I don’t know how I would have coped without you.
Our recent trip South was first for a poetry reading at O Bheal and second for a short break at Kilcannon House: encountering the two horses that had dislodged me previously. At O Bheal this time I felt good and read a series of new poems, which seemed to be received very well. At Kilcannon House we were given the same marvellous hospitality and slept in the same room as I had done before. This time the stay was lovely. After an extremely tasty five course breakfast, I hired a bike and went cycling through country lanes between Dungarvan and the River Blackwater. T had an extended cookery lesson with Gertie our hostess, she was trained as a chef by Jane Grigson and used to run a local restaurant. That evening’s three course meal was prepared entirely by Gertie and T, it was delicious.
On the way back, at our host’s recommendation, we stopped at Curraghmore House near Waterford. This huge estate with beautiful gardens and woodlands has some of the grandest trees in Ireland. In the gardens were four impressive and dramatic sculptures by Pierre Rouillard, who was celebrated for his animal pieces in 19th Century France. A snarling wolf was paired with an angry hound, at either side of a leafy avenue. We strolled, picnicked beside the lake and then drove home. All in all it was a fine trip, with T’s support I had overcome my fears and got back on the horse – twice.