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By Joan Zambelli

It was one of those lovely sunny days when everyone usually feels happy, especially if you happen to be a duck. Overhead, fleecy clouds drifted along in the blue sky. Whilst below, the reeds swayed in the gentle breeze and ripples danced on the pond.

But, Dulcie Duckling was unaware of her beautiful surroundings. She was too busy preening herself and gazing at her reflection in the water.  She liked what she saw.
In fact, she liked what she saw very much indeed!

Then she shook herself and stretched out her webbed feet before gazing at her reflection again.   

The other ducks always invited Dulcie to play with them in the pond. But it seemed she preferred to gaze at her reflection, rather than go into the pond and have fun playing in the water with them. They couldn’t understand her at all.

But then, none of them knew that Dulcie had a BIG problem. You see, she couldn’t swim. Just imagine being a duck and not being able to swim!

“Come on now, Dulcie, dear!” Mummy Duck would encourage her.  “It’s time you could swim. You’re not a little duckling now. Danny is a strong swimmer already.”

Danny Duckling was Dulcie’s twin brother. He was always boasting what a brilliant swimmer he was, especially each time he won a race. And just like all the other ducks, he couldn’t understand Dulcie, either. Perhaps that is why he often teased her.  Luckily though, Dulcie didn’t really mind at all.

What nobody knew was that Dulcie was AFRAID of water.  She thought that if she went into the pond, she would sink right down to the bottom! And this was the reason why Dulcie just sat and watched the other ducks swimming on the pond, instead of playing in the water with them.  Of course, she looked at her reflection in the water every so often, too!

“If I had a face like yours,” Danny teased, “I’d never look at my reflection, in case it scared me.”

“Now, that wasn’t very nice,” Mummy Duck quacked sternly.  “Tell Dulcie you’re sorry.”
Danny didn’t hear her though.  Being such a quick swimmer, he had already swum right over to the other side of the pond.

One night, when the ducks were all fast asleep, there was a terrible storm. Luckily, the ducks slept so soundly they didn’t hear the wind howling, the thunder crashing, or see the lightning flashing.

Next morning, when Dulcie went down to the pond to see how pretty she was, she had such a shock, and wondered whatever had happened. There were small branches of trees, twigs, and leaves, floating on top of the pond. These made the water so dirty, that Dulcie’s reflection had disappeared completely!

“Oh dear!” Dulcie sighed, near to tears. “Perhaps I’ll never see myself again.”
Then she noticed a branch floating near the edge of the pond. If I jump on that, she thought, I can float around the pond looking for my reflection. So that is what she did!
“Look everyone – I’m on the pond!” Dulcie quacked excitedly. “I’m looking for my reflection.” All the ducks rushed down to the pond to have a look.

Soon Dulcie was blown into a clean part of the pond. She looked down into the water and – lo and behold – there was her reflection! She certainly wasn’t going to let it get away from her this time.

Without thinking, she dived head-first into the pond…SPLASH!

Of course, Dulcie didn’t catch her reflection, but suddenly that didn’t matter any more.
Now, for the first time in her life, she was swimming.

“Look at Dulcie!” the other ducks quacked excitedly, hardly able to believe what they were seeing. “She’s swimming. Bravo, bravo, Dulcie.”

Next day, Dulcie hurried to the pond. She was pleased to see that the water was crystal clear once more. When she looked down into the water, her reflection looked up at her. She couldn’t wait to swim and play in the water with her friends again, so she ran into the pond as fast as her little webbed feet could carry her.

Each day, Dulcie practised swimming until she could swim further and faster. And then one day, she actually beat Danny in a race!

“Your swimming has improved a lot,” Danny praised her. But Danny couldn’t stop himself from teasing her as well.

“With a bit of luck, your face might improve one day, too!” he quacked, but not loud enough for Mummy Duck to hear! Now that Dulcie was able to swim well, too, she simply ignored Danny’s teasing.

After that, she could always be found swimming on the pond and having fun with her friends. In fact, she hasn’t felt sad since, not even when, at times, her reflection disappeared!

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“That’s a horse of a different colour,” stated Dolly Harney one evening recently in her Select Lounge. I can’t remember what she was referring to, but the phrase itself got me thinking. I could feel the old Conway cognitive mills begining to grind beneath my hat, and a myriad of horse-phrases galloped across my mind.

I’m not a great aficionado of horses, but I don’t entirely agree with Ian Fleming’s quip about horses being uncomfortable in the middle and dangerous at both ends (it would perhaps seem that the esteemed author didn’t excactly ‘bond’ with his trusty steed). I’m more inclined to agree with the picturesque ancient Arab saying, ‘the wind of heaven blows between a horse’s ears’.

There are horses for courses, of course. But then again there might not be, if it is a two horse race. In that event, it could be altogether a horse of a different colour. Foinavon was grey, I think. And he emerged from an even greyer mist at Beecher’s Brook to win the Aintree Grand National. Some say he hid in the shrouds of mist, and made only one circuit of the course.

Subterfuge or not, Foinavon pulled off one of the greatest upsets in racing history, winning at sixty-six to one, according to Johnny Begley, who claims to have backed him. Anyway, he was a bit of a dark horse, wasn’t he?

It was the subterfuge of the Trojan horse, otherwise known as ‘the wooden horse of Troy’, that led to the cautionary phrase, ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’. It seems the Greek army was often worth a trick or two.

When Croton Greeks were outnumbered three-to-one by the rival city army of Sybaris, in the southern Italian region of Calabria, some one came up with the amazing strategy of playing loud music at the advancing enemy. Someone had remembered that the horses of the Sybaris were famed for being trained to dance to music Still, one imagines the Greek soldiers were more than a bit nonplussed at this strange order to play dance music on their flutes. No doubt they were as surprised as any when all of the Sybaris horses started dancing and threw the cavalry into confusion. Faster and faster played the flutes, and faster and faster danced the horses, thus allowing the Crotonian Greeks to complete an unlikely military victory. No doubt, when the music stopped, the Sybarians had to face music of a different sort. Or so the story goes.

Horse-racing has been big business since the earliest days of the Roman Empire, and probably long before that. The notorious mad emperor, Caligula, built a stall made of marble within which stood a manger made of ivory, and all for a stallion named Incitatus, and then he went even further by granting the horse the status of senator (Mister Ed, eat your heart out).

That senatorial appointment, needless to say, met with strong disapproval among the Senators themselves, who no doubt, knowing their Caligula, had nightmarish visions of an equestrian takeover of the Senate while they were ‘put out to pasture’, so to speak.
Nowadays, top racing horses get our modern equivalent of marble stalls and ivory mangers. ‘Stars’ such as Arkle enjoyed the limelight, having twice consigned Millhouse to second place. SL Crawford’s painting of Arkle, Red Rum, and Desert Orchid, three of the greatest steeplechasers in history, hangs on the wall of my living-room. It is captioned ‘We Three Kings’.

Other horses had less pampered lives, as we’ve seen from the plethora of WWI horse articles and documentaries following upon the success of the film ‘War Horse’. And then there was the fictional work-horse in George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm, which was rewarded, not with ‘grass years’ but a one-way trip to the glue factory.

I’ll leave you with the thought that Anna Sewell’s much-loved ‘Black Beauty’ paved the way for a greater understanding of animal welfare.

Read Dan Conway every week in Ireland’s Own

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My Purgatory

If I fail to dodge purgatory, I suspect I will be sentenced to one or more of the following: stuck in traffic jam for hours on end; put on a committee; or lined up in an endless queue.
Sometimes people say about the sick that they have put their purgatory over on ‘this side’, and when it comes to committees I have paid my dues. However, I’ve still to reconcile myself to the fact of traffic jams and queues of various sorts, finding it hard to describe them as anything but a shocking robbing of time, and designed to raise the blood pressure.

“I’ve a lot to learn,” says she, because “you don’t know how lucky you are with what passes for a traffic jam around here”, and “I’ve never know you to be in a queue for more than one hour.”

So you see, I’ve no ally there, and what she says is true, but there are different strokes for different folks.

First the traffic jam. Have you noticed Olwyn Foley and others on the traffic bulletins in the morning: ‘slow off the M50 at such-and-such an exit’, ‘horses causing delay on the Childers’ Road in Limerick’, ‘traffic heavy at the Jack Lynch tunnel’, in Cork.

Sometimes, even with their matter-of-fact voices, you’d think that it was a privilege to be in a car getting news that you are about to be caught in a traffic jam.

It happened to me on the N11, where they are doing a stretch to make it the M11. It’s a nice piece of engineering, but, on the day we had to cross it en route to Wicklow, it just happened that a ‘stop-go’ system went all ‘stop’ on our side.
Herself started to ‘hum hum’, and fiddle with the radio until she got Ronan Collins. I was fidgety and hot and sighing those deep sighs you make when you are highly frustrated. We were held up for forty minutes, to which she said ‘it could have been an hour’, but I felt I had put over another slice of my purgatory.

The last queue which I had to endure involved the local doctor, David.

The ‘Movember’ awareness of men’s health prompted me to go for the check-up. I wasn’t sick, as other poor cratures in the waiting room were. But I found the waiting frustrating. There was no cure, I had nothing to give out about, because a nicer middle-aged doctor you wouldn’t fine the length of the country.

Herself warned me I could be about an hour, so ‘bring a book, and don’t be annoying yourself’. Which I did, and as usual, she was right. And I got superb advice, and went home happy.

But I still hate queues. Or maybe it’s the waiting I hate, feeling I could be doing good and useful things instead of hanging about. I have a strategy now, thanks to herself: a relaxation tape in the car, a book in the waiting room. Purgatory still!

Read Cassidy every week in Ireland’s Own

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I love Lettice. Let me explain. That isn’t a mis-spelling of the little green salad star, but the first name of an amazing star whom I first saw on Britain’s Got Talent. Her full name is Lettice Rowbotham, and she is the most talented eccentric I’ve ever come across in song and in story.

She sings, she plays a mean rock violin. She’s got all the modern moves. Still, she plays The Londonderry Air (Danny Boy) on the violin with a depth of feeling and passion that belies her “with it” persona.

Lettice has a string orchestra which plays at various venues, and I hope that someday I’ll be able to be among her audience, whether in Chelsea or some more obscure hostelry in her native Surrey.

I watched her being interviewed by a young lady of her own age group (early twenties, I’d guess), and it was, as the blurb said, hilarious. How much was “put on” and how much the real Lettice, one can only guess. However, I doubt that anyone could be consistently “eccentric” without having at one’s core the heart of a true eccentric. For some reason, it warms the cockles of my heart to come across someone who is simply and profoundly eccentric. Perhaps it is more and more important—and rarer —in this overwhelming world of “Apps” and digital conformity, to find someone who is naturally outside of collective culture.

Nowadays, though, people don’t seem to notice very much. Everyone has access to communication devices, which are very useful and even essential for modern living, but which are also high-tech toys that are fast becoming our ball-and-chain. Governments love it. Security firms are in ecstasy over it all. So, I say, thank heaven for wonderful folk such as Lettice Rowbotham.

Why, even the very name itself is nothing if not an eccentric nomenclature. And it’s real. At least, I haven’t heard of anybody who says otherwise. Lettice, when being interviewed, has a head of iceberg lettuce on her lap and which she adverts to at the smallest opportunity. “My little lettuce,” she coos, obviously quite happy to send herself up. And that is very much a part of her charm.

She reminds me a little bit of Susan Boyle, in character, and in the amazing talent at her command. It’s a great pity Lettice didn’t win the final of the competition. But then, neither did the singing Scot.

Lettice also sings in a very good operatic voice; Susan has a voice that, when she touches a high note, seemingly borrows the wings of angels to reach truly celestial heights of performance. I feel, though, that Lettice’s talents are being overshadowed by her eccentricity, whereas Susan’s blessed simplicity and charm of personality are an integral part of her persona on and off the stage. There is also a ‘vulnerability’ about Susan that endears her to us; there is no such sense of vulnerability about Lettice Rowbothan as far as public performance goes.

But there is, however, a danger that Lettice’s talents may play second fiddle to her eccentric persona.  

That would be a shame. Much as I love the idea of her eccentricity, this multi-talented young lady has a great capacity to enrich the world of art and entertainment. As well as being a virtuouso violinist, she is also a visual artist, and has a fine operatic voice (as she showed for a few brief seconds in her semi-final performance on Britain’s Got Talent). She writes songs, too.

There’s a video of her on YouTube, from a few years back, performing her own composition ‘In The Orcan’ (apparently a place specific to orchids).
A bit on the naive side, perhaps, but an indicator of the kind of talent that peeps out from behind the eccentric blonde bombshell named Lettice.      

By the way, I love lettuce too.

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By Pat Boulton 

The gentle swish of water as it flowed down the river bumped Rory’s creaking bows against the side of the bank.

Poor old Rory rowboat was showing signs of wear and neglect, as it had been left tied to a post, for a long time. Now, it bumped up and down all day and every day by the side of the river.

Rory rowboat used to be a busy little boat; it would take people back and forth across the river, or take them for a ride along the river. Rory’s proud owner, a strong young man, would hold firmly onto two oars, and safely steer the boat.

As time went by, the strong young man stopped coming to see his rowboat, and he no longer used Rory to ferry people across or down the river.

It wasn’t long before Rory knew the reason why. All the people that Rory’s owner used to take for rides in the rowboat were now whizzing past in noisy big boats, which made the river swell as they came past, and almost turned Rory upside down many a time.

Rory felt sad and upset, to see that one of the big noisy motor boats was being steered, by none other than his owner, the big strong young man.

The strong young man was shouting over the noise of the engine, and pointing to Rory, telling his passengers, “You see that little wooden rowboat over there, I used to take people for rides in that, but its old now, and people much prefer to ride in the motor boats.”

SWOOSH, SWOOSH, went the water as it went past, covering Rory with water, making it sink and them pop up again. All the people on the big motor boat laughed at the sight of the little rowboat popping up out of the river.

Nobody is ever going to want to ride in me again, Rory, thought. I will just stay here and bob about in the water, until I just fall apart. Rory felt so sad, and unwanted.

Poor old Rory, the days and nights passed, and no one even looked at him as they walked along the river bank. The constant banging on the side of the river bank was breaking up the little wooden rowboat, and big holes were beginning to appear.

Then, one day, just as Rory was beginning to think that he would soon break up and sink to the bottom of the river, he heard a child’s voice. “Dad, come and look at this little boat,” a young boy shouted. The young boy’s dad came running over to where the boy was standing and took hold of his arm. “Come back from the edge of the river bank, or you will fall into the river.” “But look, dad,” Rory said, pointing to the side of the little boat. “The little boat has my name painted on the side of it. LOOK, LOOK, dad, can you see the name Rory?” “So it has,” answered his dad, sounding as surprised as the little boy. “I wish it was my little boat,” the little boy Rory, said longingly.

Rory and his dad both stood in silence for a while. Rory wishing he could own the little boat, and his dad, wondered why someone could leave the boat to fall apart in the river, and not take care of it. “I won’t make any promises, but, I will try and find out who owns the rowing boat, and why it has been left in the water to rot away.”

Rory’s dad patted his son’s head, and suggested they make their way home. Rory’s dad made endless phone calls, trying to find out who owned ‘Rory, the little old rowboat’, but in the end Rory had to go to bed, still not knowing who the owner was. The next morning, Rory was up early, and raced down the stairs, to find out if his dad had found the owner, only to find that his dad had already left for work. As he made his way into the kitchen for his breakfast, his mum called out that there was a note for him on the kitchen table. It was his dad’s writing. It read, in big letters. HAVE FOUND THE OWNER, GOING TO SEE HIM AFTER WORK. It seemed a very long day, until his dad came home from work. At long last, Rory heard his dad’s key turn in the door and he ran to meet him.

The glum look on his dad’s face didn’t look very promising, but, before Rory had a chance to say anything, his dad suddenly gave a big smile, and said, “Rory the little rowboat is ours now. The owner doesn’t want the little boat anymore.” The next few weeks were so busy for Rory and his dad. They first had to get help to take the little old rowboat out of the water, and find a dry place to do all the repairs and paint the boat, making sure that the name RORY, was painted again in bright colours on the side of the boat.

At long last ‘Rory the little old rowboat’, was ready to go back into the water on the river. It wasn’t long before they were taking passengers across the river, and on trips up and down the river. There wasn’t just one Rory, who was happy, but two Rorys, because ‘Rory the little rowboat’, was very happy too. The little boat had a new owner, who would look after it now. 

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HELLO AGAIN! Recent research has shown that consumers believe that lamb is the tastiest of all meats. Remember to choose lamb with the Bord Bia Quality Mark for the reassurance that your meat has been produced with great care and attention and can be traced back to the farm of origin. The recipe below is for lamb with a mustard and rosemary dressing. Serve with roast potatoes and some simple steamed vegetables and you will have a great meal for family and friends. I do hope you enjoy it.


INGREDIENTS 1 leg of lamb, 21/2 kg, well trimmed Topping 2 tablesp. good quality mustard 2 tablesp. soy sauce 1 clove garlic, crushed 1 teasp. rosemary leaves, chopped 2-3cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated 1 tablesp. olive oil

METHOD 1 – Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) Gas Mark 7. Place the lamb in a roasting tin. Mix the mustard, soy sauce, garlic, rosemary and ginger together and then gradually stir in the olive oil to make a paste. Spread this mixture over the lamb. 2 – Put in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C (350°F) Gas Mark 4 and continue to roast for another 50 minutes. The lamb will be cooked medium at this stage. 3 – Remove from the oven, wrap the lamb loosely in foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving. Serving Suggestions Roast potatoes and red onions roasted alongside the lamb – peel and quarter potatoes and some red onions and mix with a little olive oil, bay leaves and seasoning. Roast for the last 50 minutes in the roasting tin with the lamb. Steam the vegetables.

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A Trick of the Trade

Miss Flanagan was horrified at what she was hearing after returning from her short Autumn break.

Winnie Burke’s beau, 69-year-old newcomer to the area, Harry Beresford, had been accused of robbing a house half a mile away from Winnie’s house.

He was seen on his bicycle in the vicinity of the house by Benford native, Teresa Cunningham.

“Winnie’s in bits,” Essie Corcoran told her friend, Miss Flanagan, over the corner shop counter. “Apparently, apart from Teresa spotting Harry getting away in a hurry on his bike a bit of that chewing gum – you know the stuff that people chew to help them stop smoking – was found in Tom Rafferty’s house and they’re saying it was definitely Harry’s so it’s looking like he hasn’t a leg to stand on. He’s denying it, of course, and Winnie doesn’t know what to believe, and her planning on marrying him! She’d want to be thinking twice, I’d say!” “It looks like I haven’t come back a minute too soon,” Miss Flanagan said, concerned.

Her opinion of Harry, someone that she’d met on only two occasions, was that he was a big teddybear of a man.

This accusation just didn’t fit. Just then her phone rang. It was Winnie Burke. “Thank God you’re back, Brigid. Please come over straight away.”

Miss Flanagan rang her friend, Sergeant Reilly, before she hopped on her bike. “Can’t tell you much, Brigid, but you have it right – Harry Beresford was seen and the forensics are tying him to the place. A good bit of jewellery was stolen so it’s considerable enough of a theft.” Harry was at Winnie’s house when she got there, along with Winnie’s nephew, Cecil, and Cecil’s girlfriend, Dot. Harry was looking very downcast. “I can’t believe it – that anyone would think I’d do such a dreadful thing! I’d never rob anyone!” “You have to find out who did, Brigid, so that everyone will know that Harry didn’t do it,” Winnie said.

Miss Flanagan took copious notes. No, Harry had no alibi for the morning of the robbery. He was at his own house in the village he said and had stayed in bed late as he had a cold. The first thing he knew about the robbery was when the Gardai turned up at his door. “It’s a mess all right,” Cecil Burke said. “Nothing’s worse than being accused in the wrong.” “Bummer, yeah,” said Dot, his girlfriend.

At least Harry had support from Winnie and her family. It would be important that people believed him until she could sort this out properly. “I will certainly try to do all I can,” she said, before leaving for the witness, Teresa Cunningham’s house. “It was him all right,” Teresa said. “You’re sure? Perhaps you’d tell me exactly what you told the Gardai?” “Certainly. I was coming home from Kilmullen after leaving my daughter to school like I do every morning and as I approached the Rafferty’s house I saw that English man, Harry Beresford, cycling out of the entrance, at speed, and up the road. I’d have known him anywhere. Who else is that stout build, has side-locks and wears them tweedy-looking trousers tucked into his socks?” “You saw his face?” Teresa now looked a bit flustered. “Well, not exactly, he was wearing that cycling helmet of his and his glasses! Of course it was him!”

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Saint John Paul II said that a “democracy” disconnected from truth becomes a “thinly disguised totalitarianism” where, among other things, basic rights like the right to life and religious liberty are subverted.

The word democracy is thrown around so much these days in support of this or that agenda, that one can only laud the truth and clarity and timeliness of John Paul’s statement.

Karol Wojtyla was a wise and heroic figure even before he became Pope John Paul II. There have been countless books and biographies about the newly-canonised saint, but the most enlightening and enthralling, for me at any rate, is the book simply entitled “Stories of Karol – the Unknown Life of John Paul II”, translated by Peter Heinegg from the original Italian of Gian Franco Svidercoschi.

The book chronicles the schooldays of the future Pope, his family life, his vocation and the theological and intellectual training that stood him in such good stead as he prepared the ground for the deconstruction of the old Soviet Union and the re-construction and re-unification of nations within Europe and eastern Europe.

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