Q&A with Martha Long, author of “Ma, He Sold Me for a Few Cigarettes”

December 13, 2012

Q. Who are your heroes?

A.   My friend Brigid.  She left behind the wild beauty of the west of Ireland with it’s desolate land and the roar of the Atlantic ocean. Its fields lay scattered with the ruins of old stone cottages, now long abandoned since the famine. The curse of Connaught never lifted.  Few could eke out a living from that land.

With the wind at her back, Brigid, at seventeen, a simple country girl from Mayo, made the long exhausting journey to Dublin.  Leaving the poverty of that city behind, she took the night mail boat across the Irish sea.  The ship heaved and bucked, stuffed to the gills with immigrants from every part of the country.  All hoping to make a better life for themselves, and the little ones still left at home with a mother trying to survive on a ‘Wing And A Prayer’.  

Brigid arrived into an England fighting for it’s life.  It was almost on it’s knees. London was a blackout city.  It’s nights were disturbed by the roar of the sirens giving the warning, ‘the bombers are coming’.  Night after night, the city was rendered to the ground. The night was lit up with the raging inferno, outlining the blackened faces of the people below, scrambling through the smoke and the rubble, trying to dig out the bodies of the living, the dead, and the maimed.  

Side by side, Brigid worked with these shattered people who had lost everything.  But they would not be defeated!  And yes!  They did rebuild their England.

Brigid married and had six children.  They had a comfortable little council house and worked hard to raise their family.

 The crowing glory came for Brigid after a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice. When she sat in the great Hallowed Halls’ of Oxford, surrounded by her well educated, close and loving family.  She watched with pride, as her grandson stepped up to receive his first class honours degree, with distinction.  

Brigid still lives in her little comfortable house. She lives alone, all her family are spread out across the continent. They leave her only enough time to get her breath back.  Then she is off again. They take it in turns to mind and cosset her. She wants for nothing. 

She is now a little old lady well into her eighties.  She only has a few teeth left, but you will see her grind them with a flint in her eye.  As she beats back that crippling pain, trying to twist and gnarl her poor tired old bones. 

 When you knock at her door, she will invite you in.  It does not matter to her whether you are ‘The Prince of Wales’ or a pauper.  You are all the same to her.

She will welcome you like you were a king or a queen.

Yes!  Brigid is my hero!  There are many like her. Ordinary people, who have done extraordinary things.  The quietly forgotten, unsung heroes. Who made this world a better place for us.  We need that fighting spirit back, as we once again, face into hard times.  We forget, history keeps repeating itself!

 Q. What song would you like played at your funeral?

 A.   ‘Non je ne regrette rien’ sung by Edith Piaf, singing her heart out!

Q. What record sends a shiver down your spine?

 A.    Music from ‘The Mission’ by Ennio Marconi. 

Q. What is your favourite place in Ireland?

 A.  The great blasket island. The best holiday I ever had.  Just me, the black faced sheep, and the incredibly bright stars twinkling out of the deep dark night.  With only the lonely sound of the seagulls, and the thundering waves crashing against the rocks, trying to demolish the little island cliffs, as it once demolished the great Spanish Armada, when it limped in, mistakenly trusting the ferocious power of the blasket sound as a place of refuge.  It all happened, just feet away from the island.

Q. What is your most treasured possession?

A.  A little black and white faded photograph. I still stare at it in awe, not able to get over the idea, ‘It really is me’!  Yes, it is immortalising me as a very young child.  I waited over half a century to find a reminder, that once! I really did exist  as a little child.  Without really knowing, I must have always thought of myself as a little old woman.  

Someone who once knew me, got it from someone who once cared about my mother.  They then carried that photograph half way around the world and back.  After so many years, so long ago, It found its way back to me, all the way from Canada.

Come to think about it!  I only started writing the books after I got  that photograph. It must have triggered the ‘Little Martha’ I once was, back to life.

Q. What makes you angry?

A.   Being dictated to.  Arrogance.  Vulnerable people being bullied.

Q. What book influenced you most?

A.  George Orwell.  ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ written in the ‘forties.

He was right.  It tells me, nothing happens overnight. 

Our ruling powers that be, plan well into the future.

‘Big Brother’ was no figment of his imagination.

 He was an old Etonian working in the foreign office.

Q. It’s a special meal – what’s on the menu?

A.  Bottle of Chablis.

Soup, Fish chowder.

Lemon Sole, Duchesse potato, Asparagus.  

Sticky toffee pudding, home made ice cream. 

Glass of iced, Caramel Baileys cream.

Q. If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?

A.  Wear a chastity belt when I was eighteen. I’d have less grey hair, more teeth.  I could probably now be doing TV ads for..  ‘Which is the mother, and who is the daughter’?  Use ‘Pongs Cold Cream’ and look like Martha Long.  She is actually in her?…  Eh!  Never mind!  I stopped counting after fifty.

 Q. What gives your life meaning?

A.  My children, my work.  Waking up to a magnificent sunny morning. 

A smile from a stranger when I need it most. Taking time to look around me.

I love old people, with their years of experience, their wisdom. They have time to talk to you, their company is so easy.

Little kids, they’re so innocent, their honesty can give you a belly laugh. 

Q. Can you tell me a joke?

A.  Certainly! 

Two Dubliners taking their baby for an airing up to the phoenix Park. 

( Her)   ‘Mind te babby for a minute, Mockey,

             I want te fly inta this shop an get a few cigarettes’, she says.

(Him)   ‘Yeah, righ, but hurry! I don’t want te be left standin wit him!!

             when he starts roarin’!  He says. 

            Big crowd around the pram when she hurries out. 

            Mockey in the middle, shouting PO LECE!  GET TE POLICE!!

(Her)    ‘HERE!  Wats goin on’?  She roars. 

(Him)    Jaysus! Nelly, tha’s not our babby!  He shouts!

(Her)    Wat?  She roars, looking around in confusion!  Then it hits her.

            Shrrup’ she whispers, hitting him with her elbow. 

            Don’t be lettin everyone know! Yer only drawin attention on ta us!

(Him)   But te babby, Nelly!…. 

(Her)   Ahhh!  Will ye stop!  Will ye never mind the babby!  She snorts.

(Then she whispers)    Sure looka, Mockey!  Can’t ye see it’s a better pram!!

 Q. Can you recommend an interesting website?

A.  Yeah! 

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

A.     You can’t be hanged for what you don’t say.

Q. When did you last cry?

A.   Recently. When I tried to reach out to someone very dear to me.  Their heart was colder then the grave.  It frightened me, because I don’t understand. Humans can have a very dark side.

 Q. What do you see when you look in the mirror?

A.  Faded blue grey eyes that still hint a sparkle of mischief, staring out from a face that looks lived in, my character is written in this face. The eyes hold hidden depths, that could only come with the ravages of a life time, that has seen much. 

I like what I see, a face that speaks volumes.  It’s gentle lines and wrinkles carved over time and mellowed into a maturity, that has served a life time.  It is me.

Q. What is your favourite film and why?

A.  ‘Midnight Cowboy’.  Blonde, good looking country fella wearing his best cowboy outfit, hits the bright lights of New York, looking for sex starved women, and the streets paved with gold.

He steps off the greyhound bus, only to be robbed by Enrico. A desperate, down and out, failed con man. 

So, two lonely people, pool their resources.  Enrico with his street sense, tries to make the young fella into a successful ‘Gigolo’.  He’s too stupid!  They starve.

Enrico drags his bad leg behind him, coughing and sweating.  He is dying, as they crawl through hail rain and snow, trying to find some way, the dense young fella can make a few bob so they can eat.

Their dependence on each other grows.  They need each other desperately.  Neither has a family, home, or friends.  Even their dreams are gone, it is now raw survival. 

The music is haunting, a simple harmonica playing, while a voice keens in song their inner most feelings.  ‘I’m goin where the sun keeps shining, through the pouring rain’….  They’re freezing with the cold.  Enrico thinks Palm Springs will cure his TB.  The young fella is desperate to get him there.  Enrico is now his family. The family he never had.  He will kill if need be, to get him there….

Q. What is your passion?

A.  Playing level one chess on me lap top. I’m passionate about not letting that little piece of metal beat me.  That’s why I won’t go up to level two!

Trying to knock some sense into me two teenage kids!  They think I’m a walking talking, nagging machine!  Not human like them! 

Q. What do you have hanging on your walls at home that you like looking at most?

A.  A huge black and white engraving.  Two nineteen century French priests, sinking their teeth into a lovely Sunday lunch with the full works. Then sit back with their full bellies, telling each other dirty jokes.  Probably something they heard in the confessional. 

Q. What was your most formative experience?

A.  Being asked for advice by my mother as a five years old.  I needed to think how we could get ourselves off the streets.  We were homeless.  I learned fast, adults don’t have all the answers, depend on yourself.  Use your own resources.

Q. What do you believe in?

A.  We are not alone.  There is a higher power, it has given us the gift of goodness and love.

We are here for a purpose. We have something to give, unique only to us. We do make a difference, even in small ways. 

We are very precious to have been given life.

Q. What trait do others criticise you for?

A.  You mean very brave people?  Hmmp!  Well!  I talk too bloody much! I won’t shut up, I’m trying to exercise me democratic rights! 

How much time do you have?… my faults are long! If I was a metal bucket, I would leak like mad.

Q. What is the funniest thing you’ve ever seen or heard?

A.  I’m sick warnin ye,  NOT TE BE RUNNIN ACROSS THA ROAD!

So don’t come runnin te complain TE ME!!  if ye get yerself kilt stone dead!!

Q. What is your favourite word one-liner or retort?

A.  I’m not waving, I’m drowning!

Come up and see me sometime, when I’ve nothing on, but the radio!

 Q. What would your motto be?

A.  My word is my bond.

 Q. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A.  An actress.  Then again, some people say I never stop acting!

Q. What are the best and worst things about where you live?

A.  Oh Gawd!  Think!  Yeah!  the neighbours!  (You wouldn’t believe the things they get up te!)  Wait ‘till ye hear this…?!  No, better not say that.

The view!  Yeah!  The view!!  ‘Jaysus, it’s to die for’!  I heard someone say. 

I wouldn’t really know, I usually have me head buried in the kids business, or I’m banging away on this thing.  Like now!  Answering all these questions!

Q. Which Irish work would you recommend most highly?

A.  Sean O’Casey, ‘I knock On The Door’.

All his books and plays, really. 

And…. Eh?… cough!  My own!  Yeah, that too.

‘Ma He Sold Me For A Few Cigarettes’

…and…eh me next one… drone.. Hang on!  Wait!… it’s comin te me!

Me latest book.

‘Ma, I’ve Got Meself Locked Up In The Mad House’.

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