My Story: A sample from Nic’s Book

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The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.”

C.C. Scott

Chapter 1: I’m not done yet.

 Where to even start about my life? It’s 2014, I’m 40 years old and I want to celebrate lifting the pension by jumping out of a plane solo. I want to feel the exhilarating rush of wind against my face as the earth rises to meet me.

You see, I just can’t stand a boring mundane life. It has to be filled with adventure and excitement. I must admit though, I would rather pass over the events of these last few years. There was the disastrous marriage; then both my baby girl and I got diagnosed with cancer; she passed, I survived and all the while I was stuck 12,000 miles away from home.

Many people have asked how I survived it all; others have told me that it has happened to me for a reason; some even told me that God loved my baby more. I have no answers, right or wrong. All I do have is my own belief and convictions about the whole thing and what I can do about it.

To paint you a picture of the person I was and who I have become, I need to take you back to the start.

I was born on the 15th November 1973 in Newry, a border town in Northern Ireland, to John and Patricia Russell. I was their first child, and my brother, Mike, followed nineteen months later.

Our home was in the small seaside settlement of Cranfield, which was located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains overlooking Carlingford Lough. Local legend has it that our home was built at the turn of the century by my great grandfather. He was a publican and wealthy farmer, who wanted to build his wife a dream home that had an indoor loo. What resulted was a rather palatial building, three stories high, nestled amongst a rookery and was aptly named Cranfield House.

How true this version of history is, is anyone’s guess, but my earliest recollections of life in Ireland revolved around the old house, before my grandfather renovated and converted it into a hotel. I still remember the big kitchen, the old Aga with the tea pot on it, and the people who used to come and go, discussing farming matters and the state of the country as they went.

The grounds to the old house were one big adventure playground for Mike and me. Trees, hidden burrows, long driveways, hedgerows, fields, gardens and out houses. It played host to every childhood game and prank you can think of.

There were so many trees on the grounds that we didn’t need climbing frames or monkey bars back then. Though I do think one of the many falls I endured has left me with my innate fear of heights.

My love of speed is something else however, and no matter how many tumbles I have taken, I still have an insatiable thirst for it. My earliest recollections of me and fast moving objects is centred around some old wooden carts my grandfather had for collecting seaweed.

The carts were made out of planks with wheels set in the middle of the base, giving them a see saw action. We used to line them up at the top of a hill with one of us seated on it and the other commanded to push for dear life. How I never managed to break a limb back then is beyond me, but may be I was saving my breakage quota for my adult years.

By the time I was six years old, the old house as it was, was in need of serious repair. My grandfather was a rather entrepreneurial sort of chap with an acquired love for entertainment and fine Irish whiskey. So he decided to combine his love and passion for both and converted the house into a hotel.

The renovations began in 1979 and Cranfield House Hotel was eventually opened for business in 1980.

Being a wise old cote, my Grandfather had little intention of working as an hotelier himself in his mature years. Rank has its privileges so they say, and he delegated the role of management to my parents and adopted the role of host for himself.

Now the life of an hotelier and vintner is not an easy one, especially for those with a young family. Up until the hotel opened, Mike and I were rather used to having the undivided attention of our parents and extended family. With the grand opening of the hotel, all that changed.

As children, Mike and I didn’t quite understand or comprehend the enormity of the commitment Mum and Dad were put under or why they needed to work as hard as they did. Being the sensitive soul that I am (and yes I do mask it rather well these days), I really missed Mum and Dad a lot and I ended up turning to food for comfort.

As you can imagine, this calorific overload turned me into a rather rotund little thing, which formed a catalyst for jokes and taunts at school. Being the brunt of fatty jokes definitely left a lasting impression on me, though I must admit, I smile with secret delight when I see some of my childhood tormenters of face book now!

At the time though, the teasing only exacerbated how lonely I felt and I learnt early on to be the chameleon of my emotions, an art which I have perfected as an adult.

Mum and Dad’s sacrifices did pay off though. The hotel became a great success in the 1980’s and 90’s, and the dances and discos were renowned locally as the place to be in summer.

Easter Monday kicked off the summer party season, with the Disco being on everyone’s annual calendar. Even though I worked in the bar at these shin digs, the craic was mighty and I certainly didn’t miss out even though I was on the wrong side of the bar!

With the hotel beginning to pay for itself, Mum and Dad were able to reap some of the rewards of their hard labour. Dad got to indulge in his love of cars and golf, while Mum enjoyed the simple pleasure of walking the beaches and forest parks with her beloved German Shepherds. As a family, we also got the chance to go on holidays and I loved every single one; the Channel Islands, Cyprus, Florida, and Barbados.

Barbados sticks in my mind to this day, for it was on a trip out on the pirate ship ‘the jolly roger’ that a middle aged, pot bellied English man decided to streak and swing off the rope swing. As an impressionable 15 year old, all I could think of was: well if that is what men turn into, and their manhood shrinks to that size, I’ll happily remain single for life thank you very much!!

Back on home soil, it was a case of navigating the teenage years in the throes of a small community. For those of you brought up in small communities, you tend to fall into one of three camps: either you love them, loathe them or have a mixed bag of thoughts around them. I fall into the latter category.