7 Things I Want For You

A letter to my girls

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o my two beautiful, scruffy, dishevelled daughters,

When I was a very little girl, a little bit older than you are now, one of my favourite fairy tales was Sleeping Beauty. The best part, for my money, is right at the very beginning, long before the spinning wheel or the handsome prince even get a look in. At the princess’s christening her fairy godmothers lavish her with gifts they think will help her in life. I think they opt for beauty, wit and musical talent, not bad choices, as it happens. I loved the idea that you might be able to get qualities, talents and virtues given to you instead of stuff, and wondered endlessly what my fairy godmothers had given me. All I ever seemed to get were book vouchers and BHS knickers. I would much rather have had beauty and wit any day. So, as we approach your second birthday, I have been thinking about what gifts I might bestow upon you if I had the choice. Here are some things I want you to have. Promise me that you won’t spend them all at once.

Courage

Too many people shy away from life as they get older, they stop going on holiday because so-and-so told them about somebody-or-other’s daughter getting mugged in Milan, they stop swimming in the sea in case they get an ear infection. They don’t climb trees. The courage they took for granted as children withers away as adulthood sets in and doubt clouds the mind. I want you to experience everything life has to offer, and in order to do that, you must be brave.

As you get older I want you to embrace every new opportunity as if you were still children. Don’t follow the path of least resistance, don’t be sluggish, or accept other people’s opinions without question. Be brave enough to challenge those that oppose you, and big enough to realise when they are right in their opposition. Carry on climbing trees, if only to check out the view from the top.

Lightness

You have a choice. You can allow the weight of the world to bear down on your shoulders like a massive granite slab, take every depressing news story at face value, moan endlessly about the weather (whether or not it is actually miserable) read the Daily Mail and worry about your pension into the wee hours – or you can wear it lightly as if it were made of silk. Take it from someone who’s never quite mastered the art of living lightly, the latter is preferable by far. I wish I’d learned this lesson when I was still a kid. I’d have had much more fun, now I am trying to make up for it as a thirty-year-old woman. You don’t have to do it this way round. As your mother, if there was anything I could be certain to teach you, it would be this: most things come out in the wash. Anything that doesn’t most likely needs to be put back through at a higher temperature, or gracefully made-do with.

Sleep

Quality sleep is massively underrated. Learn to sleep well and you’ll begin each morning feeling refreshed and ready to cope with whatever that particular 24-hour period has to throw at you. Neglect sleep and you’ll feel pissed off, run-down and disorganised. As someone who has counted herself among the sleep-deprived for almost two years, I feel qualified to tell you this; when you can’t do it anymore you will miss it like hell. Sleep in. Create a space in your head, a private and untouchable sanctuary that only you know about. I have one. I go there when I am ready for sleep. I also go there when I am at the hairdressers, on the loo, on the bus, pretty much whenever I can actually. Sometimes it will be very easy to access, at other times you’ll struggle to get there and it will feel like a thousand-mile hike, but struggle you must. Sleep is a skill, master it.

Love

Firstly, be aware that no one, NO ONE, could ever love you as much as I do. I have no doubt many will try. Some will get close. I hope those that do are worthy of your energy. I hesitated about putting this one in because it sounds so schmaltzy, but let’s face it, what mum wouldn’t want her daughters to experience love. The best kind is the sort that thumps you in the stomach and tickles the back of your neck at the same time, and that’s the kind I want for you, the thumpy, tickly kind.

Great teeth

If you care to look, you will see that a lot of women cover their mouths when they laugh or smile. Your aunty does it, I do it too. I know I do, but I don’t know why. I suppose I don’t like people looking at my open mouth. It feels vulgar somehow, improper, as if I am leaving myself prone. I’ve never liked my teeth. If you have great teeth you never need worry about covering your mouth, you can continue to smile and laugh just like you do now, without any hint of awkwardness. I wish for you lots of lovely, straight, sparkling, milk-white teeth, so that you can laugh like a drain.

Laughter

I should probably have put this at the top of my list, because I think it’s the most important. Life without laughter is like a Sunday roast without gravy; bland, uninteresting and hardly worth the effort. Laugh at yourself at least as often as you laugh at others, preferably more, because you can bet anything you like that, if you don’t take the chance, others will. There is nothing more attractive than a woman who knows how to laugh, and laugh often, apart from one who reads, and reads well.

Books

I can’t physically give you most of the things on this list, but this last one I can. I can’t make you love reading, but I can make sure you have access to the same thing I did, a bookshelf full of all kinds of stories for you to plunder and pick-over whenever you like. I hope you’ll find something in there that grabs your imagination and shakes it by the scruff of the neck. I don’t really mind what it is. Books can transport you through time and space, and help you to see the world through somebody else’s eyes. If you can do that, you can learn any number of lessons. Wuthering Heights taught me that love can be destructive and mental and incredible all at the same time. A Picture of Dorian Grey taught me that beauty really is only skin deep and from The Little Prince I learned that sometimes the most interesting questions are often the ones left unanswered.

I still believe that the women in our lives really do give us gifts. My Aunty Grace gave me the strength to say ‘no’ once in a while without feeling guilty, although I’m still working on it. My Grandma gave me a tongue I could peel carrots with. My mum gave me loads of things, the most precious of which is the friendship we share. So here they are, my gifts to you. My dirty-faced darlings, you have so many lessons left to learn; make sure you learn them from the treetops.

From the Estate of Zachariah Falla, № 002

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etter to Mr Stanhope, Bellefonte, Center County, Pennsylvania

June 18th 1857

I am writing to you to share my knowledge and personal experience with a dreadful and bizarre creature; The Nauga.

The creature is, I conjecture, a mutation of the common English-common dwelling Womble commonly found in parts of southwest London. A natural scavenger in its homeland, the more demanding environment has forced it to adopt a curious change in metabolism.

The Nauga sheds its skin, some say the process occurs in cycles, others that it is akin to the salamander fire-lizard that sheds its tail when under attack. Both views are poppycock. The skin itself is not unlike leather but with a shinier texture, and it is more easily torn than the tough wearing hides many of the men over here wear for protection. Some even say the skin is gaudy, poor creature. To be born a victim of human fashion!

How dare I compare the Nauga to the Womble? One is a hairless hide-shedding beast whilst the other is a hairy tool-manipulating rodent? At first this was mere conjecture, hot air warming the evenings in some of the most respectable clubs in London town. Being over in America on various businesses I ventured to catch one of these curious beasts and return with it to England.

I set off armed with only a net and some corn for bait, for I have no real stomach for the gamesman’s hunt of shooting first and ruminating over the head later. Many hours I wasted in the wilderness searching for the creature, until one night, as I lay half-dozing, I heard something rummaging in my belongings. I swung a leg at my pack only to glimpse, too late, the shiny hide of the Nauga!

It reacted, of course, like any small mammal or child does when presented with a clumsy kick and bit me on the leg before fleeing. At first I made chase but grew feverish, most likely from the bite, and so returned to my belongings to rest.

In the morning, by great chance as I wandered dazed through a wilderness, I stumbled into the arms of your daughter, out picking flowers, who is of a most high and admirable character. She took me to your home to have the wound treated.

There I began to feel faint and though your daughter is admirable and her character is of the highest, I cannot help but notice that her social graces are less than graceful, for she led me to her room to where I could lay down. Were I in my right mind I would have demanded to be left on some sort of sofa or simply laid upon the dining-room floor rather than to be put into such a compromising position as to be left alone in a young lady’s quarters.

I was not, however, in my right mind. The Nauga bite had set my temples ablaze. I must have shed my clothes like the Nauga; so you see this curious quirk of the creature is not a part of its basic nature but more akin to some sort of disease of which the Nauga is simply a carrier.

This is why I believe this creature shares some familiar genus with the Womble, another beast whom I have the misfortune to be bitten by. Those who know of the Womble cheerily talk of the creature’s penchant for using refuse as ‘making good use of the things that it finds’. Applied not to furry paw but to human hand, such as my own, this penchant becomes a dead albatross pendant around my neck. You may have noticed some small items missing from around your house, remember it is a disease and it cannot be helped!

I have heard professionals of a medical bent even attribute to the domestic feline this capacity to transfer behavioral modifiers in its scratch and bite. This seems rather far-fetched although it might explain the growing number of young ruffians and rogues that prowl London like alley cats.

I fear this dreadful plague has passed onto your daughter. I can only apologize for what your maid may have mistaken for an inappropriate scene at the lake down by your home. She had stumbled on two sets of clothes, one mine, the other your daughter’s. We had had the misfortune to be subjected to Nauga shedding at the same time and realizing, like Adam and Eve, our immodesty, had dashed into the lake. I find it most reassuring that you employ a woman of such iron character and recommend her for any pugilistic competition in the land based on how she went about me and drove me fleeing into the woods.

Given the truth of the matter, which your maid was ill acquainted with at the time, I can understand the misconception of the scene which dawned in her brain. Were I a harsher man I would demand recompense, but being a good hearted sort, a letter of apology would do. However I fear I must leave the area and live, for a while, in solitude until I can cure myself of this shedding syndrome, thus I have no forwarding address for the apology. I will write again as soon as I find a cure.

Yours very truly,

Zachariah Falla

A first-person account of Dr. Hurley’s Restorative Baths & Spa

When a research colleague from Northern Germany contacted us recently, claiming to have found a document pertaining to Dr. Hurley’s Restorative Baths and Spa in Skibbereen, we were thrilled. Little did we know, however, that this document – a personal letter from one of the doctor’s patients to her sister (back home in Germany) – would provide such insight into daily life at the Restorative Baths.

The letter-writer – one Mrs. Antonia Gallagher – details the complaints that led her to go to the spa for recovery, describes the activities undertaken by the patients in residence there, and hints at the various treatments prescribed by the doctor. It appears that his assertions about tedium were borne out in the everyday operation of the spa as well as in the courses of treatment he espoused.

This document was uncovered by our esteemed German colleague while she was clearing the attic of a distant, recently deceased relative. It appears that this document survived against stacked odds – there is a good deal of water damage to the paper, a number of tears (the corners of the document seem to have been ripped as our colleague extricated it from behind a badly jammed desk drawer), as well as some evidence of a fire. Our colleague only has this one document to share at this time, but intimated that there may be others of a similar nature.

You may inspect the letter in its original form by clicking to expand the images. For those whose German is lacking, we have provided a translation below.

My dear Sister!

You have most likely been asking yourself why I have not written. Be reassured, there is no reason for concern. In fact, I am not spending the Spring in Cork, but have been sent south by Eamonn while he continues to conduct his business. I was, in any instance, terribly bored in Cork! Yes, I became acquainted with several Ladies from the church congregation, but everything is so strange here, both in the city and in the church. There really are only Catholics over here! You could not even begin to imagine!

I meet with them regularly to do needlework—with the Ladies from church, that is—but it is not really something to which I am suited, and I find it difficult to make myself understood. I continue, diligently, to learn English, but only with difficulty have I become used to the queer dialect of the Natives. Of course, I do not regret that I followed Eamonn, my one true love (for such he is!) to his native land, but the strangeness has begun to go to my liver. And all the rain! In Winter, there was hardly a week when the sun shone for more than one day! I could no longer be happy, and grew ever more querulous.

By chance, Eamonn heard of a place that was supposed to breathe a new joie de vivre into life. And now here I am, at Hurley’s Restorative Baths and Spa. Aside from me, there are eleven or twelve other guests, but the majority of them stay only for a few days. I, on the other hand, have been here for seventeen days and am recovering from the trials of city life. The establishment is overseen by one Dr. Hurley. He is indeed a young man, no more than five years older than I, and to all appearances in his mid-twenties, and is best equipped to raise and

reinvigorate the spirits of dispirited Men. Every morning, before breakfast, I walk on the beach and breathe in the fresh air and stretch my body as much as I possibly can. The Doctor says that it is good to expand the lungs in order to be well-armed for the day. And the day is always filled with one thing or another.

The Doctor believes, in fact, that boredom may be the death of modern society, and I am only too grateful that he has made it his goal to combat this. I play guessing games with the other guests, we paint and draw, for the ladies there is a crochet group and for the gentlemen a smoking room, and in any case, everyone here is in the best of moods. Of course, even here I have problems with the language, but everyone is so helpful and patient with me! After our evening meal, Dr. Hurley often holds forth on his newest discoveries, and he even hands out potions, herbal remedies and tinctures that help combat all of the ills that have afflicted the people here during their lives.

Often, of an evening, I have a brew of whiskey and different herbs that the Doctor grows in his garden behind the main building. What exactly is in it, he won’t say, but I tell you, it helps marvelously! Rarely was my mood so good as after partaking of this drink! However, the Doctor warns that you should only enjoy it in moderation, otherwise the potions can have the opposite to the intended effect. I myself take care to avoid drinking more than the prescribed measure. I heard from another guest that she woke up with a terrible headache after having drunk her sister-in-law’s portion (she had had indigestion) the evening before.

I plan to stay here for a few more weeks, and to return to Eamonn in Cork during the Summer. I miss him terribly, but I realise how good Dr. Hurley’s prescribed ministrations have been for me. I am quite

excited to see what will happen after my third week here. I have yet to taste any of the Doctor’s tinctures or herbal remedies, but I will let you know as soon as there is anything new to report!

And—how are things with you? Every evening I imagine how things might be going, and what you might be doing. You must certainly have a lot to do, but I am relieved to hear that Johann came to his senses and that you now have a housekeeper.

My most heartfelt and loving kisses,

Your loving sister Antonia


P.S. I am so looking forward to your next letter! Here is my address:

Mrs. Eamonn C. Gallagher
c/o Hurley’s Restorative Baths and Spa
Skibbereen
Ireland

As always, we would be thrilled to receive any further reports or information pertaining to Dr. Hurley’s beliefs, history, and practices.  Please send any pertinent information and/or documents to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.