An Affair To Remember

Extra-marital affairs have a tendency to turn the lives of the protagonists and their families upside down. But having an affair in a small town in rural Ireland was devastating for two women

I never considered myself to be particularly unhappy in my marriage. In fact, many would have said we were living the dream. A beautiful home, three wonderful children, financial security and a relationship which, while it may not have set my world alight, was comfortable, easy, and full of genuine affection. We had our ups and downs but all in all, we were plodding along nicely. After 15 years together, I felt we had a lot to be thankful for and while I often privately yearned for something more, I accepted that this was the way my life was to be. Had I never met the man who made me fall down the rabbit hole, it’s most likely I would still be skirting the edges of a life half lived. It took just one life-changing encounter to make me realise how wrong I was. Once the penny dropped, the life I knew went out the window.

And so I began an affair with a married man. Nothing too unusual in that perhaps. Oftent married people indulge in extra-marital dalliances which remain undiscovered. Indeed there is a school of thought that upholds the notion that an affair can breathe life into a stale relationship. Not so for me. I was smitten; head over heels; truly, madly, deeply and all the clichés in between, in love with a man who was not only married, but to a close friend of mine, and also, to complicate matters, father to my children’s best friends. The playground gossips in small-town Ireland were about to go
into overdrive.

I first laid eyes on him at a children’s birthday party. It wasn’t love at first sight, or even lust for that matter. It was intrigue. We barely acknowledged each other during the five-minute encounter, but the memory lingered for a long time. I wasn’t exactly sure why. I found him mystifying; wasn’t sure if I liked him or loathed him. Over time our children became close. Playdates, sleepovers and school events ensured we met from time to time, each chance meeting impacting me more than the last. But life carried on. Over the years, his wife and I became good friends and eventually we began to socialise together as a foursome. I didn’t have any idea how he felt about me, in fact I was convinced he disliked me as he often treated me with barely masked disdain. His penetrating gaze made me uncomfortable and not sure what he was ever thinking, I assumed the worst. I wasn’t accustomed to being disliked for no apparent reason and it baffled me. Truthfully, I wasn’t spending my days mooning over him, or even really thinking about him, but whenever I did run into him it always left an impression on me.

This story appears in the April issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday May 7

Turning The Tables

Research suggests the houseproud woman is becoming a thing of the past. Are we gradually becoming slobs, asks Penny Mc Cormick – and are fastidious men taking over the chores?

Two empty bottles of Absolut vodka and one of Stolichnaya among discarded Marlboros, aspirins, condoms, tampons and plasters. Not forgetting the dirty knickers and soiled bedlinen. No, not a description of a landfill site but one of the most polarising pieces of modern art; Tracey Emin’s seminal work, My Bed (1998). Last year the installation sold at auction for £2.2million (to art collector Jay Jopling). Apparently it’s a reflection on heartbreak as well as being a self-portrait; Emin explains that she stayed in bed for four days following a painful breakup. While she turned her self-indulgent “duvet days” into a highly controversial artwork (and some would say a career), in the wider social context, Emin perhaps unwittingly defined a growing phenomenon. That of the untidy woman. Bang up to date is the photographic record of Canadian Maya Fuhr whose series, “Garbage Girls”, shows the bedrooms of some twentysomethings that can only be described as health hazards. Fuhr’s work is ultimately a visual diary that holds a mirror up to modern femininity. It’s neither pretty nor particularly artistic. Yet is resonates with the “undone” vibe which is sweeping fashion at the moment. For the record, “undone” is now an adjective to describe everything from hairstyles to flowers, as well as make up, weddings and cakes, whilst the ongoing “sport luxe” trend is just another excuse to dress down not up. Which begs the question; are we in the process of unravelling completely?

Emin’s and Fuhr’s work seem to affirm this notion. I’m frankly appalled. Far from being a paragon of order, I want to know what happened to Little Miss Tidy when she grew up? Clearly we are a nation of women who no longer yearn to be Domestic Goddesses. Indeed it would appear that messy is the new black. And many A-listers don’t mind confessing to a less than glossy lifestyle behind closed doors. Shortly before her recent highly-acclaimed AW15 show, Victoria Beckham told The New York Times “I’m naturally a very messy person. David is constantly complaining at home because I’m really, really messy.” She also let slip she rarely ever wears heels to her Battersea, south London office, focusing instead on “comfort” over style. Likewise the epitome of red carpet chic, designer Georgina Chapman (of Marchesa) has said, “I’m actually an incredibly disorganised, messy person.” Even the saccharine Girl Next Door Katie Holmes has admitted, “I’m definitely a messy person. I know where everything is but I just can’t organise. I find scripts on the laundry machines and under my bed or in the bathroom. It’s bad. I need to take control.”

This story appears in the April issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday May 7

Splitting Heirlooms

Divide the heirlooms, not the family, says Sarah Breen. If there’s not a will, there still might be a way

Family quarrels are bitter things,” wrote F Scott Fitzgerald in Babylon Revisited. “They don’t go according to any rules.” Nowhere is this more true than in the division of heirlooms following a death. Items with a clear monetary value, like the house, the contents of bank accounts and investment portfolios are easy to split, but it’s the personal possessions and sentimental mementoes that end up causing rows. Whether it’s a final, tenuous link to the fond memory of a parent or a piece of familial history, handed down for generations, vying for a bequest is an intrinsically emotional experience.

A delicate, antique china tea set has become one of Susan Brodigan’s most treasured possessions. “I have three sisters, and a mother who loves china,” she explains. “The many tea sets at home have come from a variety of places; some were my parents’ wedding presents, and some were inherited from other family members who have passed away. We have all picked a set as our ‘inheritance china’, and they have been boxed up and stowed away. Mine came from my great uncle. It’s short a cup and I’ve spent far too many hours online trying to find a replacement – but it dates from about 1945 so I’m not having much luck.”

Úna Morrison was lucky enough to inherit her beloved grandma’s writing box when she was 32. “My mom and aunt were undecided as to who should get what and I was the lucky one,” she says. “I think it was because I like to send letters and cards, so they thought it would be appropriate. I love it; every time I open it I think of my grandma. She always signed her cards ‘grá mór’ and she was full of love, particularly for her grandchildren and great grandchildren. I can’t imagine it leaving the family.”
But not all family heirlooms are acquired so painlessly. Even when a will is present, the deceased’s estate, and its numerous personal effects, are often directed to be split evenly between its heirs. Sounds easy in theory, but the reality can turn a once harmonious family into a group of grappling opponents. What should be a time to grieve and heal becomes fraught with entitlement, anger and greed.

The true story of Mourne Park House and the bickering family of aristocrats who lived there had all the ingredients of a gripping Sunday night television drama: a bitter feud, a cherished collection of family relics and one determined heiress. Located halfway between Dublin and Belfast, in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains, the remains of Mourne Park sit behind an imposing twelve-foot granite wall. Once the seat of the Earl of Kilmorey, over the years the 900-acre estate, the playground of Ulster society, played host to guests from the late Queen Mother to playboy actor Errol Flynn, who was a regular visitor. Today, after being partially gutted by a fire in 2013, what’s left of the house is for sale.

This story appears in the April issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday May 7

Still Curious at 88

Blessed with a talent for sculpture, Imogen Stuart left her native Germany for Wicklow in 1949. Now one of Ireland’s leading artists, her star hasn’t diminished, writes Catherine Ann Heaney

A lovely thing happened to Imogen Stuart recently. The German-born sculptor was at home in Sandycove, Co Dublin, on a Saturday afternoon, when she received a phone call. It was from her four oldest friends, all of them gathered together in Cologne – girls she had gone to school with in the 1930s and 1940s and all of whom, like Stuart herself, had survived the bombing and upheaval of the Second World War and gone on to thrive well into their eighties. “I talked to them all,” she says delightedly, “We are all still alive, all in the top of form and the best of spirits. It was so wonderful!”

Wonderful is a word that crops up again and again in conversation with Stuart. To spend time in this 88-year-old’s company is a refreshing and invigorating experience. Bright-eyed and energetic, she has great warmth, a quick wit and is terrifically well informed – perhaps a result of reading The Irish Times religiously each day (“I’m addicted to the blasted thing”). She holds the prestigious post of Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Hibernian Academy and works every morning in her nearby studio. On the day that I am welcomed into her beautiful book- and art-filled home, she has just returned from a trip to Connemara. She and her stone carver (she has stopped carving herself in recent years – one of her few concessions to age) were visiting a quarry to select a piece of granite from which they will make her latest commission, an eight-foot cross for a church in Spiddal. Tomorrow there’s an Aosdána meeting, and a couple of days after that she’s giving a lecture at Alexandra College – “it’s non-stop! I find the older I get, the worse it gets too; the more demands there are on my time.” One gets the impression, though, that this energy and industry are hard-wired into her, and she credits the city of her birth for giving her and her friends a singular outlook on life and the strength to survive whatever challenges it threw in their way. “I put it down to Berlin and growing up there at that time,” she says. “Berliners are really strong people.”

Stuart was born in the city in 1927, her father the writer and art critic Bruno E Werner, and describes her early years as wonderfully happy, in spite of growing up amidst the turbulence of Hitler’s Germany. Inevitably, the outbreak of war brought that existence to an end and in 1940-41, as bombing in Berlin worsened, Stuart, along with her mother and younger sister moved away. They returned for a brief period before finally fleeing to distant relatives near Vienna in 1943, after the schools in Berlin closed. Her father later came to take her away to Bavaria, and in the chaos of migration that followed liberation, the family became separated, each half not knowing what had become of the other. “We were split then, and for months we didn’t know anything and we had no way of finding out,” she explains. “At that stage there was no contact. It was total chaos.” Fortunately, the family was reunited, her mother and sister arriving “pretty starved” after their journey from the east, and they eventually settled in an apartment in rural Bavaria. That Stuart recounts these astonishing snapshots of history with such immediacy, such matter-of-factness, is testament to the formative effect they must have had on her as young woman, forging early on the stamina that would serve her in later life.

This story appears in the April issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out Thursday May 7