There is a glass of Merlot on the table, a sleeping little dog called Pepper at my feet, a gently crackling log of ash in the hearth, and a peaceful wraith of mist over Killaloe outside as I deploy my trusty rusty alphabet for the first time in yet another year. Good wishes to all of you as normality returns after the festive season.

I have a rattlebag of yarns this minute rather than a single story, so bear with me as I try to dispatch them all.

And I begin with a reality I perhaps mentioned here before about that phone on the wall of the Clare FM radio newsroom during the years I was news editor there, and its poignantly powerful connection with the rhythms of the currents of life.

It was a designated phone for the funeral directors of the county and region. Each time it jangled somebody had died and the funeral director was calling with the death notice.

And, incredibly, unbelievably almost, the pattern of the calls on that phone on the block wall from mid-December each year always touched me to the heart.

You see, except for accidents and tragedies, it stayed mute for the week before Christmas. It was clear the old ones near the end were hanging on to their lives so they would be able to be part of the welcome home for family members from England, the U.S., Europe, Australia and all the quarters of the world inhabited by the diaspora. And they did that.

And then, in the subsequent days, the Death Phone would begin to jangle again. It would often be incessant.

The old ones, having been part of the festive season, relaxed and breathed their last and headed off into the next eternal dimension to which we are all bound. I am four or five years out of the radio station now but I will never forget the tolling of that bell on the newsroom wall.

I daily peruse those death notices on the station's website, and that brings me to the next element of my rattlebag this week. I was shocked the other day to see the death of my friend John Campbell of Corofin's great Inchiquin Bar and Restaurant where I spent many happy hours during the years the Dutch Nation and I dwelt in Corofin on the edge of the Burren.

I last met energetic John last spring and he looked as spry and wry and witty as ever behind the counter on Main Street. He was only in his sixties and full of life and craic.

I always enjoyed his company and, moreover, he and his wife Anne were behind my coronation, 20 years ago, as life president of the All Ireland Stonethrowing Association. My greatest honor.

The idea had been mine, at a local community council meeting, and the event is still held every Whit weekend in the backyard of the Inchiquin Inn -- get there sometime if you can -- but I never thought I would be president of anything.

Contestants pay a few euros to throw stones across Campbell's backyard at empty bottles mounted on iron spikes. It is not as easy as it looks either!

I qualified once for the final but had to leave before the event to go to Ennis and read out the evening news. And I bore the brunt of John's wit many times thereafter for that.

A Scot in a kilt, a visitor, won the male title that year. There is also a lady champion and the competition is always fierce. Great fun.

John Campbell, a lovely gentleman, was a native of Strokestown in Co. Roscommon and they brought him back home there last weekend. RIP.

And, not being maudlin at all, I was hit quite hard earlier this very evening by another jangle of that phone. It revealed that my first cousin Bridie Clair of Lahinch had also gone away just after Christmas.

Bridie, the daughter of my father's only sister Mary Ellen, was colorful and flamboyant back in the gray forties and fifties in Fermanagh because she was the highly qualified nanny in London to a very wealthy Greek shipping family called Pateras.

She raised their kids and in return, when she was coming home, she showered the extended family with an amazing consignment of designer-label clothing of all shapes and sizes which the Greeks had given to her. Remember these were the postwar years of rationing and shortages, especially of clothing.

I got a pair of lederhosen once with a brass belt that was the pride of my boyhood. The clan womenfolk, however, in a conservative era, were unable to publicly wear many of the Greek gowns because if they were not slit up to the hipbone they had almost no tops at all in an era when even a hint of cleavage in our parish was a mortal sin.

Bridie eventually married happily in Lahinch, and I deeply regret not having seen her for years. My fault entirely.

Finally, maybe on a lighter note, I was at a New Year's party in Ballina where much of the chat was about the appalling flooding damage created upriver by the Shannon foaming past the front of the pub.

Boasting a little I said, truthfully, that I had jumped across the Shannon as a boy because the Shannon Pot, where it rises, was only a few miles away from home. (I was probably wearing those lederhosen at the time!)

I thought everyone in the group would be highly impressed until a well-traveled Dutchman at the other side of the table said, yes, he believed that because, under the same kind of circumstances, he had jumped across both the Rhine and the Rhone! That shut me up for a while!

But I will be back blethering away again next week unless that phone has cause to ring in the meantime…

Good wishes to all of you as normality returns after the festive season.Cathy Bartholomew