I would probably have urged you to buy Des Allen’s book ‘Wanderings & Ponderings’ because the proceeds are going to benefit the Irish Cancer Society. Having read the contents, I can also recommend that you buy it because Des is a fine writer and his collection of writings – recollections, musings and even some stories of places he visited and people he met while travelling through France and Spain – will make you laugh and cry.
Writing as therapy
The writing started as a form of therapy while Des battled a difficult cancer over a 16-month period. Unable to sleep (one of the downsides of chemotherapy) and struggling with ongoing hiccups, he began to write about his illness, the treatment, the uplifting moments and the setbacks and the slow recovery that was helped by the support of family and friends. While still undergoing treatment, one of his stories was published in the Irish Times (read here) which gives a real flavour of his writing skills.
The first part is a very honest account of what he went through (the photo below shows how bad it got) and the crippling depression that followed, but there is also a feeling of gratitude that he survived against the odds.
One of the more unusual side-effects of the chemo that Des encountered was an improved long-term memory and there are four pieces included which relate to experiences from his Midlands’ upbringing.
As a girl from the Midlands myself, I could relate to many of the characters from his childhood, such as the lonely, alcoholic bachelor farmer who allowed him to borrow books and records, but whose crude remarks shattered his early romantic notions of love. I too remember men like that, who spent their days working their small farms and their evenings on bar stools.
It is obvious from the book (even though he is reluctant to call it that) that Des is a reader, a habit fostered from a young age, helped by the neighbour’s collection of Reader’s Digests and the Mobile Library. Like me, he has a particular affection for the Irish writers Heaney and Kavanagh, so it is no surprise that his own style is descriptive and evocative.
When teaching Kavanagh, I always told my students that he could transport us to a place and time through his words, that our senses were engaged by his imagery. Des also has a talent in this regard. Whether he is describing his bicycle rides around North County Dublin, or Christmas mornings as a child or a visit to Omaha Beach in Normandy (scene of a D-Day landing), he will take you with him.
The third section deals with a road trip he took around France and Spain accompanied by his dog Roger (female seemingly) and joined by his partner Karen for some of it, post-recovery and following his retirement as CEO of Tennis Ireland. The photograph below is of sunset at Sotogrande in southern Spain. I particularly enjoyed his encounter with the Belgian Ladies’ Volleyball Team! Des obviously believes in in utmost honesty and is not overly concerned with diplomacy!
The last section (he calls them essays) includes a bike rant – he is a cyclist so you know what side he is on – visits to Heaney’s and Kavanagh’s home-places, and finally a rather philosophical piece about a view of the Rock of Gibraltar which reminded him of his neighbour Frank’s lonely death.
The last line will give you a flavour – ‘We just need love, the glorious intimacy of a lover’s touch and then we are never alone’.
Des is pictured here with John Treacy, CEO of Sport Ireland, and renowned as an Olympic Silver Medallist in the Marathon in 1984 who launched the book last week in Malahide Tennis Club.
The book is available from the Club (Tel: 01-845 2480) and also from Des (firstname.lastname@example.org) for €20 (all of which is going to the Irish Cancer Society). This will make a wonderful present for friends and family and prove particularly inspirational for anyone battling cancer.
Read the post-launch book review in the Irish Times here